Mombasa and Diani Beach

Posted on December 13, 2011

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While some friends decided that hiking Mount Kenya was a suitably relaxing way to spend the Independence Day weekend (yet another excuse for Kenyans to take a day off work) we decided that hitting the coast was a better way to end the year. With this in mind we boarded the very colonial Nairobi-Mombasa train. This was actually remarkably comfortable, though it did not look like the train had received an upgrade since 1963. At our allotted time we staggered down to the restaurant car for a surprisingly decent meal, with added humour as a waiter tried to serve soup as the train bumped and clunked along the track. Our cabin was comfortable and the next morning I had the first lie-in I had been able to manage for a long time.

But yet the train didn’t reach Mombasa. At some point it ground to a halt and just stayed there. Some people disembarked and stood by the side of the track, watched by surprised locals. It emerged that a train in front had derailed and that it would take some time to fix. Once we had taken the standard photos standing on the front of the train and it had become clear that we were not going anywhere anytime soon, we managed to fix a matatu to take us to Mombasa. Even this did not prove simple, given the amount of people that had also given up on completing the journey by train and the fact that we became stuck in supreme traffic on the road into the city (there is only one lane and all freight needs to be checked before it can enter), meaning our matatu driver had to go to strange and dangerous lengths to get us into town.

It was obvious from our arrival that Mombasa is a different kettle of fish to Nairobi. The climate is warmer and more humid, there are more mosques than churches and the Indian aura was more pronounced than the African. It was clearly a different place with different people, with one person describing to me over the weekend how Nairobi and Mombasa are “different countries”. This was no bad thing, it was nice to get to the warm coast and see a different part of Kenya. After travelling by matatu, archaic ferry and then motorbike we were finally at our lodgings in Diani, where they had messed up our booking. This is Africa. We headed down to what seems to be the go-to place on Diani Beach, Forty Thieves, for a red snapper dinner, some bottles of wine and a party.

Beach blogs are essentially pointless, as there is little to say for the next day other than we lounged around on the beach, which was surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend and all the better for it (aside from the inevitable hassling to buy useless rubbish). The sea was warm, the bar only a short stroll away and the sun baking. We strolled to an Italian restaurant on the main road for another seafood lunch, and wound up back at Forty Thieves for oysters and a seafood pizza.

The next day was slightly more adventurous, as we jumped on a boat captained by the interesting character of “Captain Ananas” to the reef at Robinson Island. It is best to do this in the morning as the tide is low enough to walk around on the reef, but it certainly made getting there an effort as we spent more time grounded on rocks than actually afloat. After a stop for snorkelling and a walk on the reef, it was back to the beach where we had persuaded some of the local hawkers to buy some fish and make us a barbeque on the beach. The fish was excellent, as were the sides, and we shared the food around to give these local people an Independence Day celebration, before lounging on the beach for the rest of the afternoon drinking beers and the bizarre-tasting palm wine. The only downside was that our laziness and unwillingness for more travel hassle meant we missed out of Fort Jesus, promising to do it next time.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel