mombassa arrival

 I had forgotten the testing which occurs with intra-country travel is far worse than the inter-continental shifting from Canada to Africa.  The foreshadowing came perhaps when Jay went to purchase train tickets for our journey at the Kenyan railway station only to be told (quite literally) that they have lost the train and to please inquire after a few hours.  That was not the confidence boosting propaganda that we wished to hear on just having at arrived at a decision that we would indeed brave the mixed reports (some harrowing and others reassuring) and take the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombassa.  After inquiring again and discovering that the train had indeed been sighted as broken down, needing substantial repair, we thought perhaps we would investigate alternative transportation.  Thus, the “luxury shuttle bus” option was revisited.

If one has even driven, ridden or observed road transport of any kind in Kenya, one would understand our hesitation.  True, we had just had a rather decent experience aboard the Arusha shuttle, but that we were told was primarily because the drivers were Tanzanian, and not the “mad Kenyan sort” as proclaimed by the shuttle operator.  About 1/2 hour into the drive I questioned at the choice of the word “luxury”.  The bus depot consisted of a few plastic chairs in a mud parking lot, with the exception of a chicken and chips joint, a squat toilet out back and a car sales lot in front did not hold much allure.  The kids excited with the anticipation of travel and of a new place did not seem to mind.  They have been adapting gloriously to Kenyan life and seem to understand that most momentous events occur within in these “characteristic” surroundings, most of which involve mud or an animal of some kind.  This time it was a cat which caught their attention as it wandered lazily on the ledge of the wall with its broken glass barrier atop, coloured and shining in the early morning sunshine.  The bus sat 4 across with a little aisle which gave way for a bus attendant who seemed quite unused to the routine of walking the aisles. Perhaps the element of advertised luxury was the two cello wrapped sweets, miniature package of peanuts and accompanying soda.  I was quite surprised by this little sentiment of comfort, albeit was also also annoyed at the delivery of full bottles of sugared soda to small bladdered and hyper-active children 20 minutes into the 8 hour bus ride.  The television and air condition (both not working) and windows with their sticky panes were reminders that maybe next time we should have chosen the “ultra super luxury bus’ for the few extra hundred shillings.  Being the economical and Dutch blooded individual that I am I was certain that the only difference between the luxury and ultra super luxury (other than the 300 shilling difference per seat) was the added adjectives.  Perhaps on retrospect I was sorely mistaken.

The ride was relatively comfortable, despite the humid air hanging about and the driver who drove at fast speeds and carefully played chicken with the oncoming vehicles.  It was actually rather tame by most Kenyan transport standards.  A few times we passed the railway lines and looked longingly and looked out also for the ‘missing train’.  We saw some zebra and Grants and Thompson gazelle as we passed through the middle of Tsavo East Game Reserve.  Much of the drive was acacia wood and scrub brush dotted with intermittent villages and even more sporadic interruptions of mabati towns, in which we would occasionally stop to let a passenger on or off.  About 8 1/2 hours after our drop off we arrived in the bustling city of Mombassa.  The white mosques with their green fringed ornamental windows and doors and arabic wording looked like middle eastern sand castles upon the landscape. Prayer hats and burkhas became more of the norm.

As we exited the bus we were surrounded by taxi and tuk tuk drivers (a three wheeled motorized vehicle that seems to be the evolutionary pre-runner to the “smart” car (in both size and stupidity)  As always,  the luggage seemed to be claimed into one or two different taxis and the quandary of whether to stay with the children or the nomadic luggage is always difficult.  Of course, the logical answer would be,- the children,- however there is also a good argument that involves the keeping of children, but the loss of the stuffed rabbit, tiger and lion which would render the children quite ornery, unable to sleep and with a grudge that their parents couldn’t keep it together at the bus station.  Already I have the anxious inquisition, “Mom did you pack everything?”  I have lost some respect given in the last of the 12 (or more) pack up itineraries, I left a teddy behind squished underneath and at the bottom of bed covers.  Thankfully “teddy” was found, but this continues to be my fault, and with it a renewed need to clearly outline the items that are most definitely on the packing short list.  So, we pick a combo of dragging a line of children (linked by a weak sibling refusal of hand holding) with us as we rush towards the luggage.  Thankfully, the AIM guesthouse we were to be staying had sent a reliable taxi.  Austin met us with his broad smile and chipper voice which seemed rather exaggerated given that in that moment, feeling a bit like I was standing in a “red rover” line, while covered in grit and sweat and with a baby taking advantage and biting at my arm, chipper was not registering as an emotion that was possible in the context of the moment.  After buying 2 apples from a street vendor, mostly for the reason that they looked like MacIntosh and gave me a thought of home, we were ushered into the taxi which was thankfully a spacious minivan where we all could claim our own seat.  A short drive to Nakumatt, which to the best of a description feels like Super Walmart meets Biway, and we proceed to purchase supplies we will need for the week.  It is getting late and dark and we feel the pressure to hurry up, tossing various items into the cart without real significant forethought.  Let’s hope it will keep us going for a few days….While Jay stands in line at the checkout to pay by cell phone (literally you can transfer funds with your phone)… again a technology that I have not the desire to truly understand (up there with the fax machine) but which I feel thankful for the option of…

Jesse is in desperate need of ‘refreshing’  Looking for the choo- I see a small posted hand written sign “new toilet 10/- charge”.  There are three young men sitting at the entrance of the ladies.  For lack of a better place I used the floor to change the babe, wash hands and leave…. “Madam,- I am sure you missed the sign, but you owe 10 shillings.”  On one hand, it would be much easier to give these loitering youth  the 10/- and let it be.  But given my state of irritation from our journey, the fact that I only had an 1000/- note and was not inclined to wait for change to be made (which consists of looking around and asking friends to come up with change) and the reality that I actually did not use the choo, simply the floor space,- I argued my point to the claimant.  I think taken aback that I was preposterous enough to announce my immunity from the charge by the evidence that I did not require a ‘flush’, seemed to give me enough time to walk briskly back to the store with the fear that I had a lynch mob following close behind.  Somewhat perturbed with the state of things,- and anxious that I am going to be accosted by the choo police in the Nakumatt we quickly call for our taxi to once again resurface.  Transport check, groceries check… on we go, few minutes more and we will get to Amani Acres…. oh to see the ocean.

Driving down the road in twilight, my senses are heightened by the smell of the salt which hangs in the humidity, the neon lights of the decorative matatus or glow in the dark mosques. The air feels charged with a night time energy, and which mostly on the streets of large cities in Africa, an immediacy to be tucked somewhere inside and safe and not exposed in the night time greyness.  We head for the ferry and get in queue, it is now 7:00pm and we are fading much like the sunlight behind us.  Austin in his friendly chirp announces, “Ok, well, we are in the line for the ferry, it looks like it will be a 2 1/2 hour wait from here.  So lets just rest here and be happy.”  Uhhh,- what did he just say, Jay and I exchange glances, as perhaps we heard him wrong, the smile disorienting to  the declaration that we would be sitting in traffic (with groceries spoiling) for 2/12 hours…. After the energy dispensed for the day, I did not seem to have any left for either a negative reaction or crying fit, or a facade of brave, so I sit there staring into the window.  Nathan and Luke decisively open up their backpacks to take their bedtime animals out…. I think that was probably the low point of the trip.

BUT…We made it.  And in retrospect it was a rather seamless travel day. We arrived safely, with groceries to a bed with all of our children (and luggage). About 15 hours long, but we made it.  Thanks to prayers and mercies that we may never be aware.