Following immediately after our five day Tanzanian safari, and prior to our Kilimanjaro climb, my new friends, Sharon and Narelle, and I, joined forces again for our next little adventure.
Maybe not so 'little'.
We had dared to brave the Nairobi to Mombasa overnight train - where I had read that you need to chain your luggage to your legs as you slept...hooray! Then off to snorkel on Zanzibar...not the most ideal way to prepare for high a high altitude climb, but at least we'll be rested...?
But first, let me take you across the Tanzanian/Kenyan overland
border crossing - something we had to do to get towards our train. THAT was an experience!
This again, is continuing from my 2007 journal, picking it up straight after our safari...
At the Arusha shuttle bus station, we hung out with Mungure (our safari guide) for as long as possible, and consequently nearly missed our bus across to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
And by means of nearly missing it, I mean we had to run after it to jump on. This wasn't going to be the last time I chased a bus today!
Unfortunately, as we were last on the bus, we were relegated to the cheap seats no one wanted -
right at the back (bumpy) end over the wheel arches.
With our knees seemingly up around our chins so we could fit our back packs with us, that was going to be our spot for the next few hours.
It was a tedious journey, and apparently the Tanzanian side was a better road than the Kenyan side.
After a couple of hours of ass pounding over the road, we arrived at the border crossing. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE THIS WAS TO BE!!!
Dust, buses, armed guards, tourists, hawkers, thieves you name it - oh, and tonnes of Maasai traders.
We piled off the bus and were just pointed towards the Immigration office - just sitting by itself in the middle of nowhere.
We were way behind the rest of our bus occupants as they had already been given immigration forms, but because we were too busy yakking with Mungure for so long, we missed being handed them.
Once I knew what we were doing, I looked outside to see our bus driving away - SHIIIIIT! I bolted after it, banging on the sides for him to stop, yelling "WAIT, WAIT!"
To his credit, the driver stopped and told me
"it's ok - you have to walk the border yourselves."
So I ran back inside the Immigration office to lodge my papers, (which I still hadn't filled out) and I passed Sharon and Narelle walking out saying that they'd meet me over the border. Hakuna Matata - no worries!
I finished lodging my paperwork and as I was walking out, backpack on, towards the tall border security fence, I saw Sharon and Narelle walking back towards me.
All they said was "You don't want to do this alone..."
Safety in numbers we thought and best not split up, we decided to run the gauntlet together. Well, what ensued was something you'd only see on documentaries such as 'Race around the World' kind of stuff. Let me paint you a picture, as no photos are allowed at these crossings.
(And no sneaky phone photos, as no such thing as smart phones back then.)
You leave Tanzania through high gates and a fence that goes for miles in either direction, and past armed guards only to enter a 'No-man's land'. A strip of land between countries, this one about 150 metres long, (but some can be kilometres long, and totally black market run..) and this is where all the riff-raff hang about to hassle, haggle, barter, sell and steal etc. They were all over us in seconds. We did kind of stand out... a blonde, brunette and redhead, walking together breadth ways, linked at the elbows! I called ourselves 'Charlie's Angels', (haha, that may be a stretch), nah, more like 'Mungure's Angels'. Yep, that'll do.
We charged that gauntlet with gusto and made it to the Kenyan Immigration office with everything intact, getting our passports stamped without a hiccup.
THEN the fun started.
The girls needed to pee, and what better place than a dusty, seedy border crossing to find a pitstop - NOT! Although, we had been getting used those holes in the ground by now...
We saw a sign for toilets, although they had to pay a few shillings -
when you gotta go, you gotta go. I'll 'camel it' and hold on.
I was left outside by myself which means I may as well have had a sign above me saying 'target-right here!'
I was besieged by hawkers and Maasai with armfuls of jewellery to sell or trade.
One elderly Maasai lady asked if I "had pen?", so I realised that I should have brought more 'click pens' to trade. I found one floating around my pack, so I traded it for a copper bracelet. It's amazing what things they put value on, and others not.
(I later saw that pen being traded amongst the other hawkers.)
By now I was bargaining like a maniac and it was hilarious. I shouted to the girls, "hurry up, this is costing me bucks...!" I think I remember saying that on safari a few days ago...
Apparently they were in the loo cacking themselves laughing,
listening to me bargain like a local. If I had've known how it worked here, I would have had an armful of pens to trade for armfuls of jewellery. Most of the pens I had brought with me I left with my climbing gear in Arusha as I had planned to take them with me to the orphanages in Cape Town. Bugger.
But common sense prevailed, remembering why I had them with me, and they are for the children, so I mustn't be greedy.
That said, if you wanted to buy stuff, the time to do it is when you're sitting on the bus ready to go as they are desperate to sell and the bargains were coming thick and fast. We had Maasai arms hanging through every window, with armfuls of jewellery offering them 5 for 10,000 Tanzanian shillings = about $5US, so I bargained again, getting 8 necklaces and 1 bracelet for $5. Not bad considering we paid $5 each for such trinkets at the Maasai village and road stalls.
Welcome to KENYA.
The road to Nairobi was a nightmare.
Fast, slam brakes, fast, swerve, fast, brake, fast, swerve to avoid car sized pot hole in middle of the road, etc, etc. It was exhausting and nerve fraying. We got to the outskirts of Nairobi around noon, after leaving at 8am, but it took another one and a half hours in thick traffic to get to the city centre.
Here - to cut a long story short, we were to meet up with the rest of our Kilimanjaro expedition team, and do some of the charity work that was the focal point of our fundraising.
We visited the Mathare slum, right in the heart of Nairobi - home of 600,000 people (c 2007), that had no power, or running water, and only 4 toilets that were so bad they just went outside on the ground.
We donated a lot of our raised money to an informal school here, and despite the filthy conditions, the children were adorable, and still bright and cheery.
They loved seeing their faces in the viewfinder of our cameras. Probably don't have mirrors... Poor loves, knew no different. :(
Many of these kids are abandoned and abused.
The lucky few get to put on a uniform
and get some schooling, still yet, in the confines of the slum. Education is the only way out for them.
There is so much to this emotional story, but it is a whole other tale.
We'll spend a few days at another school after Kilimanjaro, as well as help fund the building of a clinic for pregnant women with AIDS, in Cape Town. Like I said, another story.
For now, and for this blog,
it's late afternoon and we have a train to catch.
We scored a lift to the Nairobi train station, and even though we pushed through the awful traffic, we made it with a few hours to spare. We holed ourselves up nicely in a booth, stowing all our bags up against a window, and just sat and giggled at where we were, what we were doing, and what may lie ahead.
We already had our tickets, so we were happy to grab some water and continue writing up our journals. Nice to have this time to write as it's usually done in a rush.
At about 5.30pm it started to rain, and by rain, I mean a tropical downpour, and we watched the hundreds of locals that were outside in the carpark (waiting for buses), all scramble for cover. Glad we were inside. But not for long -
Suddenly we looked at the wall behind us and a 'wall of water' was pouring down from the ceiling at a tremendous rate of knots! This became quite comical eventually, as there was more water inside the dining room than outside on the platform. It was ankle deep in some areas. A good thing our luggage was up off the ground.
Come 6.30pm, we decided to grab all our stuff and head out to the platform and wait for our 7pm train. I was quietly hoping is wasn't going to be delayed by the storm, or worse still, not turn up at all. It is Africa after all, and their services sometimes can be scratchy at best.
If it didn't turn up, we would have been cactus as there are only 3 trains a week that go from Nairobi to Mombasa. Anyway, we took some typical touristy photos whilst we waited, and hoped.
Finally, ever so slowly, the train pulled in. Our tickets read 3315 - 3317, so we were looking on the outside of the carriages for the corresponding numbers, but they seemed to be all
over the place. Instant confusion!
Panic started to set in with us, so we raced to what we thought was the front of the train, but now we were amongst all the locals, and piles of bananas and potatoes. We - think - wrong - end - of - train!
Panic rose up fast as people all seemed to be sorted, but us. We found a guard and asked him for help, so he took us to a whiteboard where there were seat allocations but we couldn't see anything remotely resembling our numbers.
All the while the platform was emptying. This was excruciatingly nerve racking. Suddenly, the guard realised that although we had out ticket -
we didn't have a boarding pass!! Boarding pass??
How the hell did we know we needed that?
The guard grabbed Sharon and took her outside the gates, more panic, but she was quickly issued with 3 boarding passes which at least indicated which carriage we were to get on.
We then realised from the white board, that we had to literally high tail it right down to the other end of the train - and this was one looooong train!
Finally, through lots of sweat and anxiety, we found our carriage and quickly piled on, just as the train was about to depart.
Our quest wasn't quite over yet... There were NO LIGHTS on the train, and it was really dark and the corridors were so narrow we had a hard time dragging our luggage down them. Panic set it yet again, as we couldn't really understand our passes, and to which sleeping booth was ours. Eventually we had walked all the way down the carriage and grabbed the only vacant one on the end, at least just to put our bags down for a second to orientate ourselves and get our head torches out. And guess what?
Low and behold this was our cabin!
Relief at last. We chose our bunks, and I scored a top one. We had a sink in the room which looked more like a toilet, and we were scared even to lift the lid...
We settled in and gave a shrug and had an exhausted giggle.
Crikey, that was nerve racking! What an experience, and we had barely left the platform.
Worse still, it was now 8pm, and because of the fact that we got our boarding passes so late (instead of 3.30pm when we first arrived), we were stamped
'3rd sitting' for the restaurant car - 9.45 pm. We were famished! We were beyond thankful that we had our head torches handy, otherwise it'd been pitch black.
*Here I originally wrote that that was a good tip - but now we all have torches on our phones...
We decided to stretch out and close our eyes and wait for the dinner bell.
When the porter walked the narrow passages, it was lovely to hear the chimes of the dinner bell (exactly like the sound of a children's 'triangle' instrument),
only wishing the bell was for us.
Hours later, about 11.30pm, we were 'chimed' to finally come to the dinner car. Narelle was sleepy and decided to remain in the cabin, so Sharon and I found our way along the dark, narrow corridor (picture The Hogwarts Express- we were just waiting for the Dementors to get us) - bumping from side to side as we clambered along.
We must have walked through about 5 carriages until we saw some lights -
and tables! We sat there, starving, waiting patiently to be served, or at least spoken to,
but after about 10 minutes of being ignored,
we asked someone if this in fact was the dining carriage which they replied;
"No, it's in the next carriage."
We wandered along and found it, all set up with tablecloths that, by now, after two meal sittings, were quite the worse for wear to say the least. Then.., we got scolded by a porter who said
"We've been waiting for you, WHERE HAVE you been?" We were waiting for him to crack a smile, but he didn't so we guessed he was serious! The waiter came along offering wine, so even though it was quite late by now, we thought "what the hell" and ordered the white. Ewwwww, was my response upon tasting this local brew, to me it had a 'cheap moselle' taste to it - and yes, I do remember those days about 20 years ago of cheap moselle - out of a box. UGH, shudder, lol. We looked at the label and it was made from Papaya! Gross. That's a new one!
Photos are a tad blurry, but precious to me all the same. Love our wine glasses too. :)
Dinner was basic, soup, chicken and madeira cake, but we were famished and it hit some sort of spot.
We managed to scrounge some cake with custard to sneak back for Narelle.
At the end of our meal the porter told us we better get back to the cabin to make sure Narelle was OK, as it was unsafe to be left alone...
Wow, NOW you tell us! But as she was going to lock the door behind us, we didn't see the problem.
I think it may have been a way to get rid of us as we were the last ones in the dining room and it was quite late by now. Fair enough.
However, the security issue is always prevalent, and our windows can't be open at night, even with a screen, as people often jump onto the side of the train, climb in and steal your stuff. (Hence, if you were in standard seating (no rooms) you chain your bags to your legs whilst you sleep...Sheesh.
Oh, and if you needed to go to the loo...it was a squat hole in the floor of the toilet room at the end of the carriage, with no handrails... and a rock'n'rolling train - get the picture?
We're smashing this cheap ass travel business, hey! :)
So we settled into our made up swags and tried to sleep.
That was, until we hear that dreaded high pitched familiar sound once you turn the lights off and get comfortable.
So I 'torched up' to find the bastard and kill it so we could get to sleep. There are over 200 million cases of malaria each year, with half a million deaths,
so it had to go.
This routine of torching up, killing a mozzie, going back to bed, repeated 5 times before I got them all and it went sort of quiet.
It was a looooong night. We were told that if the train stopped at all in the darkness, do NOT open your doors to anyone. Great. Sounds fab!
Well, it rattled to a halt often in the middle of nowhere, and once we remained still for over an hour, as we lay there quietly imagining the worst.
. ~DAY THREE~
We're still here! Yeay!
We woke grizzly and tired after next to zero sleep, but we were still relieved we had our private cabin, feeling somewhat safe behind the locked door.
Otherwise this would have been quite a hazardous journey to say the least, and I'm totally relieved I'm not travelling alone, although, that said, if I was, I would have flown. I remember when the three of us were planning this leg back in Australia, I was voting to fly, and Sharon, bless her cotton socks, kind of indicated,
"where's the fun in that?" Fair call. I wouldn't be writing about a one hour's flight, would I? Life's little adventures.
The breakfast chimes rang, and this time we were informed
it's first in - best fed.
However, by time we organised ourselves and meandered through the carriages, with all our valuables in our backpacks (as we had to leave the rest of our luggage in our cabins, unlocked and unattended), we arrived at the dining car only to find it was full.
We stood there for at least half an hour before people started to move on. We waited a further hour before we were fed. Oh well, nought much we could do about it. "Where's the fun in that, now Sharon?" LOL
Our porter was a sweetie and looked after us, telling us when to open and close our windows according to our safety, and how long before our arrival etc.
He scored a good tip off us...not much for us, but probably a week's wage for him.
He was happy.
As we chugged along, we were entertained by all the children, smiling and running alongside the train, waving frantically, - most asking for "lolly, pen, dollar?" But for the most, they just ran and waved. It was just lovely.
I didn't get to photograph the kids, but I managed this one shot late.
She was a really long train! Now you can see how far we had to run to get to our carriage as we were all the way down the wrong end.
Finally, after 16 long hours, we stopped, but we didn't see a station so we didn't do a thing. After about 5 minutes I looked up the corridor and saw foreigners all alighting with their luggage, but why?
There's no station. What could be wrong? So I hung my head out the window and off in the far distance,
I saw Mombasa Station. It was because of the sheer length of the train, and we were right near the end, we had to disembark onto the grassy train tracks and haul our luggage a good 300-400 metres to the station.
Ahhh, Africa. :)
Once outside the station we were met by the usual myriad of drivers,
all scrambling for our business.
Let the games begin.
I had read in my 'Lonely Planet' guide, what the average price was to be taken downtown, and that you could bargain it down. Step aside ladies, let me at 'em!
A man came up to us and asked "You want taxi?"
His name was 'Kombo-Kombo'. We haggled over the price and in no time, we were happily on our way to the other side of town to the Kenya Bay Beach Hotel.
This guy was such a character and started telling us what
Kombo could do for us.
Always in the third person. ;)
"Kombo take you on town tour?" "Kombo take you to disco tonight?"
"Perhaps you sleep with Kombo?"
"We have many wives here so is OK."
We were in stitches. Yikes, like WT?
But he threw his head backwards and roared heartily, and we brushed it off and let him know in no uncertain terms, that THAT WAS NOT ON OUR AGENDA, so let's move right along.
Welcome to Mombasa.
What we DID do, much to our fits of laughter at the situation, was to negotiate with Kombo to drop us at the hotel, where we said we needed an hour and a half to shower and organise ourselves-
(1 shower, 3 girls, um, yes, one at a time, haha).
He then said he could meet us out front at 2pm, then take us:
*around town for 2-3 hours, * visit a woodworking co-op where they had a wholesale showroom that shipped worldwide,
* Drop us to Fort Jesus - an ancient Portuguese Fortress - and also a sad reminder of the slave trade *Then shopping at the markets *Eat some local cuisine ALL FOR THE SPECIAL KOMBO PRICE of $20 each.
Sold! Let's do it.
Our private guide of Mombasa.!
Also, he was to come by the hotel the following morning to drop us at the airport for our flight over to Zanzibar.
All refreshed and ready to tackle Mombasa, and Kombo, we headed out the front of the hotel, to find he'd been asleep in his taxi all this time. I guess we were his fare for the day - he was set!
First stop was the incredible Akamba Woodworking Co-Op.
This was an absolutely fascinating visit and a must see for anyone visiting Mombasa, if you want some fabulous wooden carvings.
We got to walk around about 2 acres of little corrugated iron lean-to's, with men and women chopping, carving, shaping, sanding and beading all sorts of wonderful creations. Animals, masks, bowls, utensils, Maasai warriors etc. The women do all the beading work. This was far the best woodwork we'd seen yet, and was really cool watching the guys make it from scratch. When they finished an item, they'd put their own ID sticker on it and when it gets to the showroom - and sold, the right person gets their commission.
Once we had wandered around for a while enjoying delightful Swahili banter with the craftsmen and women, we headed into the showroom.
Well, it was bloody amazing!
Talk about kids in a candy store - all I needed was a trolley, but never fear, Kombo Kombo is here! He helped me load up.
We probably spent about 2 hours there, looking, selecting, buying - we could have spent so much more time! Kombo was very patient and constantly said "Hakuna Matata, no worries -
take all the time you want." I felt a little rushed at the end, as we had a lot more planned to do around town, but he'd just say "Kombo cool". I ended up buying some excellent pieces, that I organised to be shipped back to Australia, as one piece was a 5 foot high giraffe.
I was excited to get it home and into the new house we were building! (Well, when we eventually move in.)
We also got loads of souvenir gifts, so we were sorted.
Moving on, we were totally famished, and seeing we were a little now pressed for time, we asked Kombo to by-pass the local food tasting, instead we just bought a hand of bananas from a local, just thru the car window, just like on safari - Drive thru, African style. :)
We made our way downtown, and stopped at these giant replica elephant tusks, a real symbol for Mombasa.
The moment we were out of the car, we were besieged by hawkers and I couldn't get away. Honestly, I don't need anymore stuff! They were desperate for me to buy off them, and this old guy pleaded with me to buy his 2 copper bracelets. I only had 200 Kenyan shillings on me, and he was happy with that. What? That was equivalent to 20 cents.
I also gave him a click pen that was in my bag.
Help my guilt!
He was much happier.
Kombo escorted us through the maze of locals so we could get to buy some 'khangas' (African sarong/wraps) and t-shirts for the family back home.
Next stop: Fort Jesus. The most visited site in Mombasa, and it has had a chequered history. The worst being a place where captured slaves were imprisoned, then processed and sent to Zanzibar to be sold and transported to the Middle East and India.
A very dark period in time. (More of that on Zanzibar.)
A pretty long 24 hours for us now, considering what we did last night, and we were starting to fade a little. We stopped by a local store on our way back to the hotel, and bought a couple bottles of wine (1.5 litre bottles - score!) - one as a gift for Kombo to share with one of his wives!
He even loaned us his membership card so we received a store discount.
He was full of surprises.
Kombo dropped us back and we gave him a hefty tip for the extra time he spent with us, and he assured us he'll be by in the morning for our
airport drop off.
Unfortunately, by the time we returned, we were too late for a sunset beach camel ride, which is something I was looking forward to...and the local beach party was wrapping up - which is a bummer, but the weather had picked up so maybe everyone bailed early.
This would have been wonderful.
We opened our gigantic bottle of red and had some pre dinner drinks, headed to the buffet, but didn't last long - we were completely knackered! We ended up leaving the rest of our giant bottle of wine for the cleaners. :)
We were really hoping our washing we had dropped off, would be ready in the morning, as we had a huge downpour just before dinner,
and they don't use clothes dryers over here,
they just line dry..
.Fingers crossed, we don't want to pack wet clothes.
The flight to Zanzibar was a quick one, and I got to enjoy the company of a lovely Kenyan man named Humphrey. He asked what we were doing whilst in Africa, so I told him about our charity work and upcoming climb of Kilimanjaro, and he was very interested and appreciative. We talked (I listened mostly) about his life growing up in poverty and how he said "You can't really know poverty until you walk in my shoes." He recalled the times where he used to rinse his clothes out at the end of each day as they were the only ones he had. Also, he remembers sitting around with all his family members, telling funny stories and making each other laugh - as there was no food, and laughter he said - helped ease their hunger and give them hope for the next day.
I really listened to Humphrey, and took a lot away from talking with him. Now that he has his own wife and kids, he has to leave his home in Mombasa to work on Zanzibar in a hotel for 4 months at a time. He says ALL his money goes to his immediate family,
and his Mum, Dad and siblings. He feels no desire to purchase 'stuff', he just wants to give back to the family that gave him so much love, and now he's working, he's very grateful and happy to be able to help educate his family members. Family is everything to these people, and I was humbled in his presence.
It was no accident I was seated next to Humphrey.
Sometimes we Westerners need a swift kick up the butt to realise how
good we have it.
We exchanged emails and I hope we can remain in contact, as he particularly wanted to know how we go with the big climb.
Narelle and I, with the lovely Humphrey.
Once out of the busy little Zanzibar airport, and free from all the porters and touters fighting for our tips, we jumped onto the shuttle to the
north of the island. This was to take about an hour and a half, but the air con was welcomed in the humid island heat. The streets were a hive of activity, but the amount of rubbish strewn everywhere was a shame. This is a beautiful island, but the human stain can often overshadow it's natural loveliness. This can be said for many, many places.
Finally pulling off the bumpy road, and it was all looking rather dodgy, but at the end of the driveway we saw our 'Amaan Bunglows' and we were very much looking forward to getting out of the van.
This place was all about the deck, and the view. Really, to me, what more do you need?
It was gorgeous.
It was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the tranquil Indian Ocean at sunset.
Such a stark contrast from where we have come from in Tanzania and Kenya.
First bottle - dead. Waiter?!
I was determined to order lobster, as I had heard it was only $5, but I guess that's a street food price,