Saturday 27th January, 2018
Newcastle to Sydney
We catch the 2pm train from Hamilton Station to Sydney where Jillian meets us at Central Station. She walks us to the new apartment she and Michael are renting in Chippendale. We all walk to the Everleigh Hotel in Darlinghurst sitting on the pavement for food and drinks catching up with our lovely mates. Home about 9.30pm.
Sunday 28th January, 2018
Sydney to Johannesburg (South Africa)
Up at 7am to shower and pack before walking over to Central to catch a train to the international airport. At check-in we don’t have any luck getting window or aisle seats so we’ll just have to sit up the whole way. Immigration is fast with the new Smart Gates then we buy duty free Bacardi before experiencing our first sushi train for lunch.
We board our Qantas flight at 11am to find that we’re in the middle section with a spare seat between us and a friendly South African/Indian lady. She tells me that she was hoping to sit near ‘someone who smile’. Sweet! We chat for hours. She has been visiting her son in Sydney for three months and has four children, eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Mark is happy to watch the whole Season 7 of Game of Thrones while I watch Goodbye Christopher Robin, Victoria and Abdul and the whole season of Big Little Lies – not like we don’t have the time. The food is good and I take a Temazapan to try to get some sleep – only half an hour out of the entire fourteen hour flight. I look a fucking wreck!
At 4.30pm we land at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa. There are long lines at immigration but baggage pick-up is quick. We’re not actually staying in Johannesburg tonight but our flight to Rwanda isn’t till 3am tomorrow morning which means we need to be back here at midnight. Instead of hanging out in the airport, Mark looks up booking.com for somewhere cheap nearby where we can crash out for a few hours.
In minutes we’re off to the Aero Guest Lodge in Kempton Park, just a five minute drive. Our black driver drops us down a dusty side street where only coloured families only are walking around. It’s obviously a poor area but we like the feel of it anyway. Of course, like everywhere in Johannesburg, the guesthouse is protected behind tall metal gates where we need to use the intercom to get inside.
The nice girl on reception shows us around – a pool and a dining room but we’re too tired to do anything but fall into bed. Our room is just off the jungly garden – we have a tv, our own big bathroom and comfy beds. It’s also very quiet so for AUD$90 it’s worth it. I have a shower then we both sleep from 6.30pm until 11.30pm when we’re woken by the alarm.
Monday 29th January, 2018
Johannesburg to Kigali (Rwanda) to Nairobi (Kenya)
Mark has a shower then we meet the airport shuttle outside. At Terminal B we hang out in the coffee lounge for hot chocolate, coffee plus bacon and egg croissants. We text Lauren as Abi is going back to school today and Elkie back to preschool tomorrow.
At 3am we take off on Rwandair for the four hour trip to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. We couldn’t get a direct flight to Nairobi, needing to have a stop-over in Kigali on the way. Originally this trip was to be Rwanda and Uganda to see the gorillas but after endless research we realized we’d have to do a tour which doesn’t fit in with our dates. We decided to do Kenya this trip and do Uganda and Rwanda in a year or so.
The Joburg/Kigali flight is a breeze with three seats each so we both manage to sleep for a couple of hours. Coming into land at misty Kigali International Airport, is quite an experience with the airport and runway seemingly built on top of a hill with its head chopped off creating a plateau overlooking the city. The terminal is small as we expected but we amuse ourselves people-watching for the one and a half hour layover.
At 8.30am we’re off in the air again with three seats each again meaning we both have a window seat for great views of Lake Victoria dotted with lots of small islands and the impressive Mount Kilimanjaro sticking up through the clouds.
I cry for Angie – just comes out of the blue sometimes.
Breakfast is croissants, yoghurt, tea and juice then we read a magazine article about Mali – add it to the list! The captain tells us to put our clocks forward one hour before we land in sunny Nairobi at 11am at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Mark withdraws enough cash to last us the next few days – 1AUD = 67 Kenyan Shillings.
So this is what I’ve learnt. Nairobi is Kenya’s capital situated in the south-central part of the country, on the eastern edge of the Rift Valley, 1661 metres above the sea level.
The city originated in the late 1890s as a colonial railway settlement then in 1905 it became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate establishing itself as a major trading centre.
Today Nairobi is the home to 4.5 million people and they all seem to be on the road from the airport today. Only eighteen kilometres from the CBD, it takes nearly an hour and a half to reach our guesthouse through the horrendous traffic jams. This is Manyatta Backpackers which we love on sight although it’s hidden by a tall fence and gates – we are in Nairobbery, after all!
Even though it’s almost in the heart of the city, it has a rural feel with a tangled garden, crowing roosters and we can see chickens running around outside our window. Our $50 AUD double room is basic to say the least and the shared bathroom is a bit dodgy but we love it even more. The website boasts ‘a communal dining and living area’ with a fireplace, restaurant and bar located outside’. A bit of a stretch – ha – but the friendly Mum and her daughter at the desk just add to the appeal. When we ask for a key, the Mum has to rifle through all the drawers to find one.
They do manage to book us a safari to the Maasai Mara for tomorrow – three days and two nights for $920AUD for the two of us. This is a budget deal and about what we expected to pay.
After showers and Mark washing some clothes, we ring a taxi even though I feel very jet-lagged and a cold coming on. Not going to miss out on anything and, anyway, I’m sure alcohol will help!
Our driver is Maxwell, a friendly local who takes us to a shopping centre as Mark wants to buy some boots. At the entrance, security guards with rifles look inside the car and the boot and even the glove-box. And we have to be body searched and our small packs scanned before entering the main entrance – so lucky not to have to put up with this shit at home. Anyway Mark buys his boots for $24 then a SIM card as we want to be able to book things ahead.
Even though we’re not far from the CBD, it’s another hour of nightmare traffic and choking fumes and me feeling even sicker. Finally back in the city, Maxwell drives us to the Sarova Stanley. This historical five star hotel was built in 1902 and still retains its gorgeous heritage character. We always seek out these colonial hotels – for the bar rather than the food – can’t afford to stay but love to hang out in luxury for a while.
We make our way to the first floor Exchange Bar so-called because it was originally the site of Nairobi’s first Stock Exchange. With a polished dark wood bar, oriental carpets, old leather couches and luxurious drapes it’s a haven from the chaos outside. Grace introduces herself as our waitress – we order chicken drumsticks and a cheese platter – all beautifully presented and tastes awesome. But best is two margaritas for me and two Tusker beers for Mark. And, yes, I’m feeling one hundred percent better already!
Downstairs we visit the Thorn Tree Café. The original thorn-tree noticeboard in the courtyard inspired Lonely Planet’s online Thorn Tree travel forum so I leave a note – ‘Thanks for the memories, Lonely Planet’. We never travel without one.
Now it’s time to head back to Manyatta. Maxwell charges us $36 and we think he’s ripping us off. But then we ask him where he lives, ‘one hundred kilometres away’. So ‘where do you sleep?’ He says it’s in the car ‘but I lucky today. I can go home because I have you’. Oh shit, now we feel like total assholes and give him $40.
At Manyatta, we sit around the fire pit which one of the staff has set alight. We order hot chips from the open-sided little kitchen as we’re not too hungry. The girls in the kitchen take forever – God love them.
Drink Bacardi and beer then bed at 8.30pm.
Tuesday 30th January, 2018
Nairobi to Maasai Mara
Both have a good sleep but woken by the roosters at 5.30am then the call to prayer soon after. After a snuggle and showers we order pancakes for breakfast sitting outside again.
The tour company sends a van to pick us up about seven o’clock. The streets today are completely different. With barely any traffic we pass trucks of soldiers carrying rifles, police everywhere and a noisy demonstration of young men. We ask our young driver and his mate what’s happening? They try to avoid answering so we get the impression they’re too scared to say anything against the government or army or whoever is behind it all.
The city centre is almost deserted and we’re finally told that people have been warned to stay away from the inner city today as it could be too dangerous. So why are we here??
At a travel agent we wait half an hour for other passengers to arrive. So far we have an Asian girl called Leela and Rizzy, a friendly Turkish man. At another stop we pick up a handsome Italian couple who introduce themselves as Francesca and Eduado. Everyone seems really fun so we’re looking forward to a nice time with these people.
The only downside is our new driver called Jackson who is already giving off bad vibes. After an hour we stop at a lookout with fabulous views of the Great Rift Valley stretching forever into the distance. Down there somewhere is the Maasai Mara where we’ll be staying for the next two nights. We all take photos then drink tea in one of the little basic tea houses next to the market stalls.
Here we also pick up two more people – a shy young Japanese couple called Kwan and Li. Poor Li suddenly faints for some reason but she soon seems to be okay. Meanwhile we’re all ready to leave but Jackson is having a lovely time hanging out with other drivers and gives us filthy looks when we ask if we can go now.
Heading down into the Valley, the red soil must be very fertile – lots of greenery, bougainvillea, green houses for flowers and corn fields. We pass through small towns where women sell watermelons from the side of the road then tea pickers in the many tea plantations. Cows, donkeys and goats are a common sight but we’re especially excited to see our first real Maasai herding cows towards a large waterhole. More Maasai are herding goats as we head up out of the Valley.
Through lots of little dusty towns we eventually arrive in Narok Town, 1800 metres above sea level. It’s the major centre of commerce in Narok district with a population of around 40,000 people, mostly Maasai. It’s also the last major town before the Maasai Mara – we’re getting close!
But first we have a toilet and lunch stop at a roadside café. This is a buffet lunch paid for as part of the tour – rice, chicken, vegetables and dosa. While I just stick to soda water, Francesca buys beers for everyone to share – love this crew! Mark has another beer before we leave – why not!
On the road again, Jackson continues to spend the whole time either on the phone or on the CB radio to his friends. He’s so fake, pretending he likes us but he’s fooling no-one.
Half an hour later we turn off the paved road of highway B3 onto a bumpy dusty road leading towards the Maasai Mara Reserve. But things only get worse the closer we get to the Park. Jackson says, ‘everybody ready for a Mara massage?’ The road becomes a rutted mess as we bounce from one pothole to the next. Of course, Jackson is driving like a maniac so we ask him to slow down! And guess what, he’s pissed off and deliberately slows down to a snail’s pace – ass-wipe! Everyone is pulling faces at him behind his back – ha!
Despite the horrible Jackson and the horrible road, the one and a half hour drive is fabulous as we pass Maasai herding goats, sheep and cows and even lots of wild life – wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, warthog and gazelle.
Relieved at last to reach our camp for tonight – the Miti Mingi Eco Camp which is located just five hundred metres from the Ololaimutiek Maasai Mara entrance gate. There seems to be a few other camps nearby and also a real Maasai village. We’re welcomed by Regina a jolly local lady who shows us our tents. These are permanently erected army green canvas types nestled under a canopy of indigenous trees creating a cool retreat from the heat of the plains.
Inside we have a painted cement floor, two single timber beds and a curtained off bathroom at the back. The bathroom is far from luxury with a cracked cement floor and a shower that’s supposed to be hot but isn’t. Regina has told us that lights are only available between 5.30am and 7.30am and in the afternoon between 6 and 8 – no electricity outlets in the tents so we’ll need to charge our phones etc at the dining hut.
We’re given half an hour to settle in then we all meet Jackson in the carpark at 4.30pm for our afternoon safari. With the park entrance only five minutes away, we’re soon inside the Maasai Mara seeing zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, cheetahs, giraffes and, most exciting, lions! Some are just lying around and others are eating a buffalo. And we’ve still got all day tomorrow!
Returning to the Camp at 6.30pm, we drive past groups of Maasai men wearing their traditional red checkered cloths wrapped around them and carrying long wooden sticks. We meet the crew for dinner in the dining hut but I can’t eat anything much – just prefer to have watermelon and pineapple.
Later Mark and I find a table next to an open fire outside for a couple of drinks. We’re soon joined by Francesca, Eduado, Leela and Rizzy. We knew these people would be fun and they are – a good night sitting under the stars.
Finally chased inside at 9.30pm by the mozzies.
Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Up at 6am ready for our big day in the Maasai Mara. Breakfast is toast, baked beans, sausage, tea and coffee then we all meet Jackson at 6.30am.
‘We are team and I am the leader’ – we all just look at each other thinking wtf? – ‘Ask me anything you want’ then ‘You all have water’ (a statement not a question).
We set off with Rizzy in the front seat next to Jackson. Soon Leela pipes up from the back, ‘What happened to the one litre of water we’re all supposed to get according to the itinerary?’ Jackson screams to a halt and turns to face Leela giving her death stares. ‘I tell you to bring water – here take mine!’ as he shoves a bottle at her. She’s totally unfazed and says ‘I have water. That was not my question.’ We love this brave little girl standing up to this pig. But now he’s even more pissed off especially when poor Rizzy tries to calm him down by saying ‘Sometimes you say things that upset people’. Jackson’s eyes nearly bulge out of his head, ‘Me? me? I am good! I am good!’ he yells. But then comes the biggy, ‘I can ruin your safari!’ Oh my fucking God, this man is a lunatic!
The rest of us are sitting here like stunned mullets but realise that this prick really could ruin it for us so we all try to brush it off and make out we’re all friends again – not! Like yesterday, we all pull faces behind his back – ha.
Setting off again sweet Rizzy tries to engage him in conversation by asking him questions but Jackson completely ignores him. On one of Jackson’s many cigarette breaks, Rizzy cracks everyone up when he says in his broken English, ’this guy, I give him zero!’
Soon the sun rises over the mountains and we can see how very lovely it is here. A seemingly endless green plain stretches towards far rolling hills. The landscape is more appealing than Kruger National Park that we visited in August 2007. It’s much greener here but maybe it’s just the different season.
It’s thrilling to suddenly see three lions hunting a gazelle. They manage to trap one by forming a circle but it manages to escape – weirdly we were rooting for the lions. Nearby is a pride of lions and even some little bubbas wrestling – cute!
Of course, the goal of all safaris in these big game parks is to seek out the Big Five – elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino. So far we’ve seen buffalo, hundreds of them, and lions but now we see two rhino on the side of a hill. We drive closer for a better look.
Other trucks, lots of other trucks, are in the Reserve as well but because the Mara covers over one and a half thousand square kilometres, we’re not actually on top of each other. All the drivers carry CB radios so they tell each other if they spot something good. Jackson spends all his time on the radio talking to his mates mainly we think so he doesn’t have to talk to us. And he never tells us anything unless we specifically ask.
Whenever we come across a truck he stops to chat to the other driver for ages. One van is carrying a group of tourists who are all wrapped in Maasai blankets. Mark says, ‘looks like someone’s been to the gift shop’ – ha ha.
In the meantime, we see two gazelle fighting by locking horns while a group nearby are running around like maniacs – must be teenagers. Later we see ostriches on the side of the road then black and red necked Ground Thorn Bills as big as vultures.
Someone spots two big baboons who scarper up into a giant tree which sets off hundreds of them who drop down off the branches and make a run for it into a gully apparently to hide from us. Little heads keep popping up to check us out. This should be cute, but baboons are horrid things always screeching like they are right now.
Later we come across a herd of elephants with cute babies sticking close to their mums. Then we find three lions lounging around on a small rise. We drive up close to them but they still don’t move. Seeing lions is what we hoped we’d see here as we only saw one from a distance on our Kruger safari.
Suddenly Jackson gets a call and off we fly in the opposite direction. In the distance are about twenty or so other trucks parked close together. Joining the crowd we watch five cheetahs walking stealthily in the long grass. We soon see that they’re heading straight for a small herd of gazelle and then the chase is on – thrilling!
About 1pm we stop to check out a pile of stones that represent the Kenya/Tanzania border then we all do wee wees in the bushes – no toilets in the Mara. From here we drive to a hippo pool on a bend of the Mara River. John, dressed in camouflage and carrying a very big gun, introduces himself as one of the park rangers. He tells us that the the hippopotamus is apparently the world’s deadliest large land mammal, that kill about five hundred people every year. They submerge themselves in the river water all day then come out to look for food at night. John said that they’ll kill you – bite you with their very big teeth – if you get between them and the water because that’s where they feel safe.
Right now in the river are families of them, each group separated by about thirty metres. John says that the group nearest the carpark are accustomed to tourists but the further the group gets from here, the more aggressive they are.
So, with all this scary talk about hippos why are we now going for a walk through the bush? We are being accompanied by a couple of other rangers with rifles but I just hope they’re a good shot because apparently hippos can run really fast despite being big fatty boombas!
At a pretty spot under shady trees we come across Jackson who has spread out blankets on the grass. He hands us each a lunch bag provided by the Camp – apples, poppas, a chicken leg and a sandwich. While Jackson sits back in the truck and ignores us, Eduado juggles the apples. He’s actually a circus performer and performs all over the world!
Now Jackson gets another call that someone has spotted a leopard – pun, get it, leopards have spots!! We find it curled up in a tall tree so, yes, we’ve seen the Big Five once again – lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and, the hardest to find, a leopard!
On the way back to Camp we see a family of warthogs with lots of cute little ones, a family of giraffes and three rhino at the top of a hill. Jackson drives off-road to get closer and tells us he’d be in big trouble if a ranger saw him. Is he actually being nice to us?? Don’t believe it!
At Miti Mingi, Mark and I have a cup of tea in our tent then meet the group at 4.30pm for our visit to the Maasai village next door. Our guide is Moses, a proud Maasai man who leads us over to a grassy area just outside the boma. This is a group of huts surrounded by a circular fence of thick, thorny bushes to keep out the wild animals.
Here we meet a group of about fifteen Maasai men carrying wooden staffs and wearing a sort of cotton tunic under a mix of striped or checked wraps all in different shades of red. The men also have long knives in sheaths hanging from a cord around their waists. Moses introduces us to Alan, the chief’s son. Alan will become chief when his seventy-five year old father kicks the bucket. He’s a gentle soul who explains the adamu or jumping dance which the Maasai are famous for.
The men gather in a line away from the crowd. They make loud grunting throaty noises while pounding their feet. They move forward not as fifteen men, but as one. There are no drums, only their voices as instruments. They move in a steady rhythm – up, bend, forward. Mark, Kwan, Eduado and Rizzy are all good sports being wrapped in Maasai cloths and joining the men in the dance.
Now the men take it in turns to jump straight up, each time higher than before. Apparently the higher each warrior jumps, the less bride price that he has to pay when he finds a girl to marry – this is usually about ten cows. Cattle play a big role in Maasai lives – the more cattle, the wealthier the warrior and the more wives he can buy. Our guys try really hard but can’t match the height of the warriors.
Seeing this Maasai jumping dance is a bucket list thing – it really has lived up to our expectations. And these people are really sweet. Alan takes us into the boma where some of the men show us how to make fire with a hard stick twirled on top of soft wood. Mark has a go, too.
Alan tells us that about two hundred people live here and that the houses are all built by the women. They use sticks, straw, mud and cow dung so they really are very primitive. He takes Mark and me into a tiny house where two adults and four children live in the most basic conditions imaginable. There are two bedrooms no bigger than a cupboard and a fire pit dug into the dirt in another miniscule space which is the kitchen.
It’s so dark inside we can hardly see until our eyes adjust. The hut has only one tiny window so the mosquitos don’t invade them at night. Besides these three rooms there is another ‘guest’ room (another cupboard) where we could stay the night. We really, really should do this but it looks flea ridden (sorry, judgemental) and anyway underneath is where the family will bring in the baby animals for the night. They need to do this so predators won’t kill them – mainly those horrible baboons.
A little boy comes home from school and we give him whatever we can find in our packs – lollies, pens and perfume for his Mum. Outside the other kids are playing in the red dirt then Alan takes us behind the hut to sell us crappy trinkets – we pay $70 and think of it as a donation. We find out later that everyone else did the same thing – ha ha.
Now we find the village ladies sitting outside the boma with more stuff to sell laid out on the grass – we buy more things we don’t want.
At our Camp, Mark has a shower but I don’t because it’s cold water only. We read, doze then meet the others at the dining hut at 7.30pm. Like last night we move outside to sit around the fire and have a great time bagging out Jackson. We all hate him with a passion!
Thursday 1st February, 2018
Maasai Mara to Nairobi
Today we’ll be heading back to Nairobi but first we’re doing a nature walk with Moses. Mark and I have a snuggle then breakfast at six o’clock. We all meet Moses at 6.30am and set off on foot. The morning is beautiful with clear skies – the sun rising on our right and the moon going down on our left.
Moses shows us termite mounds that will eventually eat the village houses which means they have to move every three years. I stop to talk to another warrior who has huge holes in his ear lobes, then he twists the lobe up and over the top of his ear – gross!!!
Most of the men have their ears punctured like this but if you go to school it’s forbidden. We also come across a plaque for some poor man from Cambridge University who in 2000 came out of the Camp to take a photo of an elephant. It wasn’t happy and gored the guy to death.
Moses explains what all the wild plants are used for then we follow him down into a leafy gully where a small stream is the only source of fresh water for the village. After a group photo we head back to Camp. This group has been a lovely surprise and really made this little trip so much better – won’t mention Jackson.
Back at Miti Mingi we pack and set off at 8.45am. We pass lots of Maasai men herding goats and cows on this long bumpy ride. In one small village Jackson turns off the main road to detour along narrow dirt lanes behind local houses. He tells us that he’s hiding from the police who are after him for going off-road in the Park yesterday. He’s obviously made this up to make himself look like a hero – wanker!
Another small town is having a cattle market on today and herds are being led towards it from both directions. Soon Jackson informs us that we’re having a toilet stop which is really just an excuse for him to have a fag. A tree just near our van is full of little yellow birds who have built perfectly cylindrical nests – the cutest thing! Pretty blue birds are here as well so we feed them our potato chips.
Later we stop again for lunch but I can’t eat anything. We ring Lauren as we haven’t had wifi for the last two days – 9pm at home. Kwan and Li go off with another driver as they’re not going back to Nairobi today. Hours later on the outskirts of the city we drop off Leela, Francesca and Eduado.
We’ve all noticed that Jackson has been trying to be friendly today – all gushy smiles and teeth. And we know why – he wants a tip! Kwan and Li had given him the equivalent of $2 – he was so disgusted that he refused to take it. We don’t know how much Eduado and Francesca paid but we know that Leela only gave him $5 – more disgust and he winges about it all the way into the city. We get out with Rizzy and hand over $25 for being good at finding animals and not for being an asshole! Goodbye and good riddance!
We decide to stay at the same hotel as Rizzy – $50 AUD a night right in the middle of everything. After hot showers we meet Rizzy at the hotel bar at 5.30pm where we sit out on the verandah overlooking a nice park. We have wifi again so Mark books a train for Mombasa on Saturday. We would have preferred to go tomorrow but the website says no seats available either on the morning or afternoon train. I should have booked days ago!
Never mind we’ll do some sort of day tour with Rizzy tomorrow. The three of us walk around to a Turkish restaurant (he’s Turkish remember) where we all order kebabs and then free drinks come out – hot and coloured either red, orange or green and all very sweet.
Rizzy decides to go for a walk which is good as Mark and I would prefer to be on our own now. Our plan is to find Fairmont The Norfolk for cocktails so Mark checks out the map. I’m not really sure we should be walking around here in the dark but we get there eventually. The hotel is gorgeous and we drink caipirinhas and margaritas, probably one too many. A taxi home to bed at 10pm. There seems to be more mosquitos here in our hotel room than in our tent in the Maasai Mara!
Friday 2nd February, 2018
Nairobi to Mombasa
I wake at 5.30am to the sound of mozzies buzzing around our heads. Mark is up at 7.15am to shower then we meet Rizzy for a buffet breakfast at eight o’clock. This is great – French toast, bacon, sausages, baked beans, juice plus tea and coffee. We ring home to Lauren and our dollies. Abi is happy to be in the same class as her boyfriend Ollie – ‘that handsome devil’, she says! Elkie tells us a long story about pweschool and cockroaches that we can’t quite follow and, thankfully, Lauren sounds rested.
At 8.30am we check out then meet Rizzy outside with our driver for the day, Raphel. We’re paying $70 to have Raphel drive us to the main tourist sites on the outskirts of Nairobi – a good deal.
The first thing we need to do is to confirm our train tickets for the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa tomorrow. Raphel drives us to a shopping centre to look for a travel agent. As before, we have to go through strict security but then realise there isn’t a travel agent here anyway. Rizzy and I wander off to look at the shops while Mark and Raphel get on their mobiles to pay for the train tickets – it’s totally confusing! We end up buying two more train tickets just to make sure we can go tomorrow – Mark gives Raphel a generous tip for helping us.
All done, or so we think, but anyway now we can go ahead with our day trip around Nairobi. First on the agenda is the Giraffe House. Heavy traffic in the city slows us down until forty-five minutes later we reach the lovely leafy suburb of Karen – obviously named after Karen Blixen – more about this awesome woman soon.
This area is about gorgeous old houses behind tall vine-covered walls and the home of the very expensive Giraffe Manor. This is a plush guesthouse where the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes roam free and stick their heads into the dining room while you have your meals. Another bucket list thing but at $700 a night it won’t be happening for us – waaaay too expensive!
But what we can do is visit the Giraffe Centre to check out the Rothschild’s giraffes for only $10 each. This is a lovely leafy area with an outdoor café and gift shop plus a raised platform where we can feed the giraffes at eye level. But the best bit is when we stick a pellet in between our front teeth and the young ones pick it straight from our mouths.
Here we see a glamorous woman all decked out in safari clothes – white blouse, khaki skirt, white safari hat and tan leather shoes – ha ha! She must have a stylist!
From here it’s only a fifteen minute drive to Karen Blixen Museum. Situated at the foot of the Ngong Hills, this is the former home of the famous Out of Africa author Karen Blixen, also known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen. She lived in the house from 1917 to 1931, where she ran a coffee plantation. The house is a bungalow-style colonial farmhouse in vast leafy grounds. We pay $12 each for a guide, Sharon, to show us around and explain the history of the house. We try to tell her that we’re in a hurry but it doesn’t seem to register as she slowly explains the Karen Blixen story.
Back in the car we’re now off to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This is an orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program set up by Daphne Sheldrick in 1977 in memory of her late husband David who was a former warden at Tsavo East National Park. The centre cares for young abandoned elephants and rhinos and works to release them back into the wild. Hundreds of people are here all crowded around an enclosure where a dozen or so baby elephants are rolling around in muddy ponds.
More ‘on safari’ tourists are here as well including the woman from the Giraffe Centre. One man is resplendent in a pith helmet and long khaki socks. They must be Europeans as no self-respecting Aussie would bother.
Meanwhile, we’re given a long winded explanation about the elephants’ rehabilitation then get bored and leave.
Now we’re having some doubts about the train situation to Mombasa and ask Raphel to drive us to the train station. This was originally in the centre of Nairobi where you would expect it to be and the train to Mombasa was romantically called the Lunatic Express. But tragically for us this was replaced by a brand spanking new Chinese train called the Madaraka Express just a few months ago. The Lunatic Express was an overnight train taking over twelve hours to get to Mombasa while this new Chinese train only takes five hours. Obviously Mark and I are devastated to have missed out on the old train which would have been an awesome experience.
But for now we have to either fly to Mombasa, get a bus or get the train. We’ve opted for the train but the new station is way out of the city in an ugly industrial area out past the airport. We finally arrive at a huuge modern monstrocity amongst weedy fields and light industries. Hate it on sight!!
Even worse is that to just get in to the station to check out if there are any seats for today, we have to go through the weirdest security. In a shed we have to place our day packs in a row then stand opposite while station security paces up and down in front of us and sniffer dogs check our bags and then us. The bags then still have to go through a scanner and then we’re body searched. This is to get on a train, not a bloody airport!
Inside we’re told that, despite the website info, that we can actually buy first class tickets for this afternoon at only $30 each. Racing back out to the car we say goodbye to Raphel and our lovely new friend Rizzy. He’s flying back to England tomorrow where he’s been living for the last few years.
Now we grab our big backpacks and go through the whole sniffer dog/xray thing. The security people pull out our duty free Bacardi – ‘Is alcohol?’ – yes – ‘you cannot take alcohol on train’ – ok then it’s not alcohol, it’s water – ‘but you say alcohol’. They make a phone call and a new security guy arrives letting us take on our unopened bottle but then confiscates the opened one. Again this is to get on a train! Chinese rules, not Kenyan!
Mark lines up for a refund of our second class tickets that we’d bought this morning. Funny how huge and ultra-modern this train station is, but they can’t get their bloody online booking right!! And even more weird is that there isn’t anywhere to buy food and drinks. Over it – wish we’d just caught a flight.
First Class boards first but we’re held up having another argument when they put our bags through yet another x-ray machine and try to take our unopened bottle of Bacardi. They make a call to another guy who also wants to confiscate it until the original guy comes to our rescue and tells them we can keep it.
The platform rigmarole is a bit of a joke with female Chinese guards standing to attention as we board the train. On board is very clean and totally boring/featureless/soulless. Anyway we move to the dining car after an hour but can’t stomach any of the hideous food. We end up with potato chips, juice and Tusker Light for Mark.
At one stage, a recorded announcement tells us tell that we’re entering Tsavo National Park where we will see elephants, zebras, and giraffes – don’t see any! The scenery is generally forgettable but the five hours passes quick enough.
Darkness has fallen by the time we reach Mombasa about 7.15pm at another huuuuge train station. The train holds one and a half thousand people who are all trying to get into the city. Outside is very dark and the whole place has a bizarre, unreal feel about it. Passengers pile into buses and waiting cars while we’re left almost on our own until a guy in a car (a taxi he tells us) says he can drive us into the city.
His name is Joel and tells us ‘traffic impossible’. This is because the whole way in is convoys of trucks keeping traffic to almost a stand-still. It takes an hour of traffic jams, pollution, noisy trucks and police stopping people for nothing but to collect bribes.
So relieved to arrive in the city which is comparatively quiet. The first thing we see are the famous giant Mombasa elephant tusks crossing Moi Avenue. The tusks were built for the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 1952. It’s hard not to think of McDonalds.
Joel drops us at the New Palm Tree Hotel on Nkrumah Road (old Fort Jesus road) in Old Town Mombasa. Inside the bland exterior is a cavernous busy space with a pizza oven and cake stand on one side and the hotel desk on the other. A lovely old timber staircase with fat carved posts leads to the next floor where the rooms are set around an inner courtyard. We’re pleased with our $40 room with air-con, television and hot water in the bathroom.
It’s time to eat so we head down to the Al-Yosra Restaurant next to the main foyer. The hotel is Muslim run so no alcohol and all food halal. We order one chicken and mushroom pizza and a coke but end up with two chicken only pizzas and a water. What? We give away one of the pizzas to a large local family then head straight for bed at 9.30pm. Sooo tired!
Saturday 3rd February, 2018
After a good sleep we have showers at 7.30am then breakfast is buffet style in the first floor courtyard – juice, tea and coffee while one of the staff cooks us eggs and sausages. Most guests are Muslim families with all the ladies and little girls wearing head scarves. There’s a nice old-world colonial feel with shuttered doors to all the rooms and lots of potted palms around.
Despite really liking it here, we plan to walk around to look for a different guesthouse for tonight – always like to experience different places to stay. But after checking out the area on foot we decide to get a tuktuk to the heart of the Old City. Our driver is Moses, a friendly local man who drives us to the only hotel in the old part of town but it’s just too dark and dingy.
We really like the Old City, though, with its narrow streets, Arab houses and shops with carved doors. Moses takes us to the elephant tusks to take photos and then to check out the Lotus Hotel. Yes – we love it and book in for the night. Moses drives us back to the New Palm to pick up our bags then on to Lotus to book in.
After a quick rest we’re up at 11.30am to walk to Fort Jesus which is the most popular tourist spot in Mombasa. But first we want to have lunch and run into Moses just near the Fort. We tell him we’re going to Rozina Restaurant first but apparently it closed down three years ago, obviously we’re using an old Lonely Planet – so Moses takes us to Fodorhani Restaurant on the water. At first we sit on the lower level but it smells like a toilet so we move to the top deck. Here the view is spectacular – clear torquoise waters at the entrance to the Indian Ocean and a lovely breeze to cool us down. We order prawns and fish in coconut sauce with rice.
From here we walk with Moses to Jesus Fort which was built by the Portuguese in 1596 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site. After the Portuguese left it was used by the Arabs as torture rooms and prison cells where slaves were kept before being shipped away – awful but we want to see it all. Moses acts as our guide because he’s probably brought tourists here hundreds of times. He shows us canons, a whale skeleton, Portuguese toilets, look-out towers and steps that lead down to the water where the Portuguese brought in supplies but later where the Arabs took the slaves out to the boats.
Leaving Fort Jesus we walk down to the water to see wooden boats from Tanzania then through the narrow alleyways of the Old City where men wear long white robes and white kufi caps. Women are in the full black burqua with only slits for their eyes – so interesting!
Other narrow streets wind between a mix of Portuguese and Swahili architecture while robed men pull wooden carts piled high with fruit, men and women sew on old treddle sewing machines right on the street and curbside stalls sell fruit and vegetables. Wooden balconies hang over the street some with flowering vines, arched doorways and heavy carved doors reminding us of Stonetown in Zanzibar.
At the clothes market we watch people using sewing machines then we buy pineapples for the three of us – best we’ve ever tasted! At the spice market we buy a bag of passionfruit for $2 then ask Moses to take us to a bottle shop. Yes I need more Bacardi after having most of it confiscated on the train! And amazingly we find it!
Back at the Lotus we shower then sleep till 6.30pm, when we head downstairs for a drink at the bar. From here we tuktuk to Tarboosh Café that I’d seen on a traveller’s blog. This is a very local, busy and very interesting place – love it! We sit outside under fairy lights with metal tables and plastic chairs. Mark has a beef curry and chips while I order a shish-kebab sort of thing plus a passionfruit juice. I also have to embarrassingly kabumbah in the bathroom.
From here we catch another tuktuk to the Casablanca Club over near the Tusks. This is a big, open-air place pumping out very loud doof doof music. A young woman is dancing by herself and all the other ladies are obviously prostitutes.
After one drink each, too loud, we meet a young woman outside who says ‘where you go madam. I did not dance with you’. What???
Back at Lotus we head straight for the bar where a guy is smoking his head off so we move to the dining area.
Bed at 9.30pm.
Sunday 4th February, 2018
Mombasa to Kilifi
Like last night I’m still shitting but I’m dosing myself up on Imodean and trying to ignore it. After showers and a snuggle, we have breakfast downstairs – juice, tea, coffee, sausage, bacon and eggs.
After packing we catch a tuktuk to the bus station as we plan to head up the coast to the coastal town of Kilifi. At the bus station we’re confronted with desperate touts vying for us to get on their bus. ‘Express Malindi’ and ‘we leaving now’. We head straight for the bus where a man with food all around his mouth sell us tickets at $1.50 each. As Mark throws our big packs underneath, we ask when will we be leaving – ‘in few minutes’ – ‘but the bus isn’t full’ (we know only too well the transport system in these countries, only leave when full to bursting) – ‘we go anyway’ – big fib!
At least the bustle outside keeps us amused while we wait. Tall spreading trees shade makeshift kitchens and old wooden benches where people sit to eat. Other stalls sell drinks and local food while tuktuks buzz in and out the gate. Most ladies are wearing head scarves and wrap around sarongs while some wear the full burkas.
Half an hour later we’re still sitting on the bus and I know that even if we miss it I have to get off to look for a toilet. I’m frantic to find it and a nice man shows me the way.
This is not something I’m looking forward to as I know, without even seeing it, the toilet will be a horror chamber. And it is – a filthy squat type with a poo in the bottom! No choice but to go and ahh the relief. After much hand washing, I’m back on the bus swallowing more Imodean. Can you overdose on Imodean? The pains and urges keep coming in waves as we drive north up the coast.
We cross a wide, lazy river then pass corn fields, cows and goats grazing on the side of the road. The vegetation is lush – palms, giant flowering bougainvillea and coconut trees. Markets are busy in every village where ladies sell vegetables and fruit laid out on the ground on small squares of canvas – nearby is the ever present pile of rubbish.
Roadside villages are made from scraps of wood and all with rusty corrugated iron roofs. Village people come and go either on foot or on motorbikes, usually with the driver plus two more on the back.
People just flag down the bus any old where then unhurriedly climb aboard while I’m sweating it out trying not to poop. Going over road humps is the worst.
We pass signs to other beaches like Watamu and Nyali but they’re a bit close to Mombasa and so maybe a bit touristy. That’s why we didn’t head down to Diani Beach which is the most popular beach in Kenya probably because of its close proximity to Mombasa.
For kilometre after kilometre we drive past plantations of sisal as far into the distance as we can see. Sisal looks like a rosette of sword-shaped leaves only about a metre tall and is used to make rope and twine. There must be a huge market for it somewhere.
After a few hours we arrive in Kilifi which lies on Kilifi Creek at the estuary of the Goshi River. We’re dumped at the bus stop in town then desperately (me)
ask about a toilet – ‘come this way mumma’ a friendly guy beckons. The toilet here is worse than the one in Mombasa and I almost can’t go in there but I’ve no choice. Oh and no water here to wash my hands. Tip – never use a toilet at a Kenyan bus station!
Catching a tuktuk out of town, we’re headed for the Distant Relatives Backpackers – awesome name and the photos looked good on booking.com. The road out here is unpaved dirt and rocks, very bumpy so more urges to poop. Oh God, I’m frantic again but at least out here I could make a dash for the bushes.
After ten minutes passing thatched villages we arrive at the entrance and we bounce into the dirt carpark. The path to the reception is just sand and tiny rocks that clog up the wheels on our backpacks so Mark ends up having to carry them. While Mark books in, I make a run for the nearest loo. Why isn’t the Imodean working?
The people here are lovely and one of the girls takes us to our hut called Guava Bungalow. This is made of tan mudbricks with a thatched roof and shaded by tall trees and surrounded by pretty gardens. Inside is a towering vaulted bamboo ceiling and a four poster bed draped with a mozzie net. With no glass on the windows and gaps between the roof and the walls, I think we’ll definitely need it tonight. We also have a roughly built table and chairs. Our private bathroom is an outdoor setup surrounded by a woven bamboo fence with a hand basin, shower and urinal under the eaves and the toilet in a little hut up five stairs. This toilet experienced is something new.
Distant Relatives in an ecolodge so the toilets are dry toilets meaning that your wee wees are caught in a cup at the front and the poopadoops drop into the dry leaves at the back. When you’re finished you scoop in crushed leaves from a big cane basket then shut the lid.
After settling in, we check out the volleyball court (no thanks), the sunbathing beds (no thanks) and the pool (yes please). This is a kidney shape with little bamboo cabanas and just outside the main chill-out room. This is a Portuguese style with arched windows with fancy metal grates, white stucco walls, cane lounges covered in colourful cushions, swirling ceiling fans, a What To Do blackboard and a bar. All we need for a fabulous stay!
We meet Steve the barman and Mwanase the female manager. Before lunch we decide to go to the beach which is four hundred metres down through the grounds along dirt paths overhung with thick vegetation. This is not actually a beach as we know it but a pretty sandy spot on Kilifi Creek. Some of the boat guys are being overly friendly but we’ll probably go out with them later anyway. We swim around with some African guys in the warm water – gorgeous.
Back up to swim in the pool then order lunch of a warm chicken salad for me and a beef curry for Mark. Bob Marley music is playing – ‘No Woman No Cry’ for Angie – and we do.
Later I have a massage in our room with a local lady called Josephine – one hour for $30. Her husband was killed in a road accident five years ago and she’s supporting four sons living in a mud hut in the neighbouring village. I love her.
After a rest, a sleep and reading on our Kindles, we walk over to the chill-out area in the dark. Dinner is fish and vegetables for Mark and nothing for me. Don’t feel like eating but I do feel like drinking. Mark has Castle Light while I have my usual duty free Bacardi.
We chat for ages with Mwanase who tells us that our plan to get a bus right up the coast past Malindi isn’t a good idea as the road is terrible and too dangerous as it’s still a hotspot for terrorist attacks. Last year, insurgents attacked passenger buses and even police vehicles.
She says we should fly from Malindi to Lamu and will help us book a flight tomorrow. Love these change of plans! Bed at 9pm.
Monday 5thth February, 2018
I’m still shitting! I take Imodean then we have breakfast by the pool – fruit salad and yoghurt with passionfruit juice and a coffee for Mark. We’ve decided to stay here again today firstly because we love it and secondly so I can try and get rid of this bug.
Mark has a massage with Jospehine at nine o’clock and I book her for a half hour one this afternoon. We spend the rest of the morning hanging out on multi-patterned colourful mattresses and pillows in a big airy room with wide openings decorated with black ironwork.
We book a dhow ride for this afternoon at 4.30pm as long as I’m feeling okay. For lunch Mark orders chicken wings and we share a cheeseburger and chips. Mwanase turns up to tell us that she’s booked us a 3.30pm flight tomorrow from Malindi to Lamu for only $30 each!
Josephine turns up late but still in time for both of us to have a half hour massage each. We give her the bag of passionfruit we’d bought in Mombasa to take home for her kids.
I’m still constantly on the loo so we have to cancel the boat ride but still have to pay 2,000 KS anyway. Later we chat with Mwanase who rings her parents who live in Lamu town. They own a guesthouse which she books for our first night on the island. Their hotel manager, Kesh, will meet us at the airport. She also gives us the number of the boat captain who can take us to Shela Beach. All a bit confusing but we’ll sort things out when we get there.
Tonight a movie has been set up outside where we all sit on the sand. Lovely here under the stars having our drinks but we’ve seen the movie before – Inglorius Basterds – and we can’t read the subtitles anyway. Besides that a Rasta guy is smoking a bong so we move to the pool.
Tuesday 6th February, 2018
Kilifi to Malindi to Lamu Town, Lamu Island
I’m feeling heaps better this morning so after a good sleep, we have a snuggle then havebreakfast by the pool. The weather is perfect once again – same blue skies and high temperatures every day so far.
After a swim we laze around next to the pool reading on our Kindles – monkeys are playing in the trees next to us. We ring Lauren – Abi has two new worlds in Minecraft and Elkie has two dummies in her mouth. They have a long talk to Pa about cockroaches.
Time to leave soon so we shower in our lovely outdoor bathroom then pack before paying our bill of $240 for two night’s accommodation plus all our food and drinks.
At one o’clock we set off in a taxi to Malindi with two French girls who are also on our same flight to Lamu. They are Constance who lives in Germany and Aminata who lives in Addis Ababa. Our driver is excruciatingly slow almost coming to a stop at speed bumps and crawling through small towns until we arrive at Malindi Airport forty-five minutes later. This has a small open-sided, pleasant terminal painted white and decorated with Maasai artwork.
Our plane to Lamu is small with propellars but looks ok. We leave on time at 3.30pm for the twenty minute flight. We have lovely views of the coastline and islands but the wind is a real worry and we come into land almost sideways. The tiny airport is actually on Manda Island which means we need to get a boat to Lamu. Kesh from Amu House meets us and we follow him to the jetty where about thirty of us cram into a small boat. The water is choppy because of the wind and we hope it dies down soon. Lamu is only fifteen minutes from Manda so luckily we’re not out on the water too long.
From the boat, Lamu town spreads out before us along the waterfront opposite. It reminds us of Stone Town on Zanzibar where we stayed in 2014 – palm trees, mosques, an Omani fort and crumbling Portuguese buildings. And like Zanzibar, Lamu is a Swahili island.
The Swahili culture embraces all parts of Lamu’s society and is very appealing but very complicated. It’s not a single culture or way of life, but a mixture of traces from European, African, Arab and Asian traditions and cultures brought to the island by sailors and traders centuries ago.
At the busy wharf we jump out while our bags are handed up to us. We follow Kesh through narrow alleyways lined with coral rag walls and where people call out ‘jambo’ (Swahili for hello) and donkeys roam free. This is a different world, not feeling like Africa at all.
Amu House is a very old Swahili house which opens up inside a carved door off one of these tiny alleyways into a sort of courtyard with steps leading up to the rooms. We run into Constance and Aminata – they must have got the same deal with Mwanase from Distant Relatives as well.
Our room is huge with a sitting room between the bedroom and the bathroom. We have a beautiful carved Swahili bed with a mosquito net and louvred shutters at the windows.
On the rooftop terrace we find colourful woven day beds under a soaring thatched roof. All around are other thatched roofs and views of the water. We’ll come back in the morning but for now we need to find somewhere to eat/drink.
We head back down to the waterfront then the main square next to the Fort. Two huge spreading trees shade the square where lots of men are just sitting around chatting while fruit and vegetable vendors sell from wooden carts. The women wear the full burka with just slits for their eyes – they’re very friendly. And there are donkeys!
On dark, we find a locals-only rooftop restaurant called the New Mahrus which has a great menu but they don’t seem to have anything on it including seafood – but the water is just over there!!!! Also the menu has photos of succulent chicken drumsticks but they don’t actually sell them – ever. There is also no beer (Muslim) so we just order a pineapple juice each. These come out in huge glass tankards that we can’t finish.
Down on the waterfront the wind is still up so we seek out the Bush Restaurant as recommended by Lonely Planet. This old place has been a favourite with travelers for years and we love it too. With a rough cement floor, a grass roof, cross beams made from the trunks of trees, cane light fittings and wooden tables and chairs, it has a rustic, unpretentious feel. A group of local men wearing white robes and caps are talking animatedly around a big table but otherwise we’re the only other people here except for Constance and Aminata. Mark orders calamari, salad and beers but there is only full strength coke for me so I don’t bother. Anyway, I’m still not feeling the best on the stomach so we go to bed early.
Wednesday 7th February, 2018
Lamu Town, Lamu Island
We have a bit of a sleep-in as we plan to stay here in Lamu town today even though we will move guesthouses as we always do. Before breakfast we head up to the roof where we ring Lauren and the dollies – all good and we really miss our three darling girls.
On the dark bottom floor we find breakfast set up for us in a windowless dining room – very atmospheric. Constance and Aminata soon turn up so we share stories over fruit, mango juice, toast poached eggs and scrambled eggs.
Next we check out Jannat House then a few other guesthouses along the waterfront. But it’s still windy so we decide on Jannat which is tucked away amongst the alleyways and so totally protected from the wind.
Returning to Amu House, we grab our packs stopping to chat to a local man just outside who says ‘wind make me crazy’. We’ve seen him every time we come and go and he’s always feeding the endless starving cats around here. Word has it that the feral cats of Lamu are the descendants of the ancient cats of the Egyptian pharaos – true story!
We really love Jannat House and especially our room which is actually two rooms with bathrooms and decorated with wood-carved Swahili furniture and African/Arabic antiques. We also have our own private balcony overlooking gardens and the pool. The House is an 18th century merchant’s house, now a guesthouse apparently popular with writers. The rooms are up and down higgledy piggledy staircases with hidden away open-sided seating areas all over the place – it’s easy to get lost. All this for only $50AUD.
And because a pool is usually a luxury on our budget, we head straight for the water. This is heaven!
On our way back out, we talk to Kara who works here. She tells us that she’s going to Shela this afternoon and if we meet her here at one thirty, she’ll take us there to show us around.
So now we decide to just wander around the Old Town with a list of things to check out but mainly to just take in the atmosphere of this exotic town. We make our way through the maze of narrow streets dodging donkeys laden down with anything that needs transporting around the town – rocks, boxes of soft drinks, bags of sand – we feel sorry for them.
There are no cars in Lamu town at all so you have to either walk or ride a donkey. Cars wouldn’t fit through the winding alleyways anyway. Wandering the small streets, we pass Maasai men, more starving Egyptian cats, Muslim women in colourful veils and black dresses and the ever present donkeys. Of course, where you get donkeys you donkey poops so the whole place stinks – maybe we’ll get used to it.
The tiny alleyways are lined with tiny shops usually with the owner sitting on a stool out front. Local people go about their day, shopping or talking in groups – it’s a nice feel here. We find an appealing outdoor restaurant on the harbour – leafy and cool as the day is heating up. We share an expensive hamburger and chips – sooo good.
Nearby is the Al Maawiya School where school girls in crisp white pants and veils with dark blue dresses are playing skipping games out front. Now we check out the Donkey Hospital then the Lamu Museum before meeting Kara at Jannat House.
We follow her down to the wharf where she argues with a boat guy who is trying to charge her too much. She finds another boat but now another woman is screaming at the new guy saying that she sent us to him so he should pay her a commission – poor lady must be really desperate for money.
By the way, Lamu’s port has a horrible history. It was founded by Arab traders in the 14th century when the island prospered on the slave trade until the British eventually closed the slave markets in 1873 – similar to Zanzibar’s history.
The trip to Shela is quite scary with the water even bumpier and choppier today, still because of the dreaded wind. Kara and I are drenched by a couple of rogue waves that crash into the boat but we have a great laugh about it. In fifteen minutes we pull into Shela and jump out into the water – no wharf here.
Most ex-pats live here at Shela but many locals as well so there’s a mix of really beautiful villas and family homes. Kara leads us through the same type of narrow laneways as in Lamu town but this is definitely cleaner although the donkeys roam free here as well.
She takes us to Pwani Guesthouse, an old Swahili house, where the owner shows us a room on the top floor with wonderful views of the water and Manda Island opposite. The room opens up onto a rooftop dining/chillout area sheltered by a grass roof. Oh yes, we’ll take it and book in for tomorrow night.
Just below Pwani is the very exclusive and very expensive Peponi’s Hotel – we never expected there’d be anything like this on Lamu. It’s run by a Dutch family who came across an abandoned Arab style house in the 1960’s and turned it into a small hotel. Today the hotel has expanded but still seem small and intimate with Swahili architecture and a tropical feel.
While Kara leaves us to go to a meeting, Mark and I have drinks inside and enjoy an hour of people watching – mainly Europeans. This will definitely be on the agenda over the next few days.
Instead of risking the boat ride back to Lamu town, we decide to walk. Luckily a couple of motor bike riders are going our way and give us a lift. The bikes can only be used out of Lamu town and Shela. They drop us near the Lamu Palace Hotel where we think we’ll stay when we come back from Shela.
Nearby we meet a lady called Zeena who tells she can do massages for $12 AUD an hour. She walks with us back to Jannat stopping on the way at a tiny shop to buy coconut oil. I go before Mark then we both have showers before heading out for the night. The first job is to find a supermarket to buy Coke Zero or Diet Coke – can’t do the full sugar thing. The supermarket is up a steep staircase but no luck. We’re told that there isn’t any on the island at all.
Tonight we’re back at the Bush Restaurant and because I’m feeling heaps better we order up big – Mark has fish fillets, vegetables and salad while I have calamari, chips and salad. The owner is really sweet and brings out a vase of flowers and lights a candle to put on our table – very romantic.
From here we find Petleys Bar in a dark upstairs room. After a few drinks though we can’t stand the loud music and head back to Jannat to bed.
Thursday 8th February, 2018
Lamu Town to Shela, Lamu Island
Breakfast at Jannat is on the rooftop dining area – passionfruit juice, mango, pineapple, watermelon, eggs and toast. We’re serenaded to the sound of donkeys loudly braying in the laneway down below. We call Lauren who sends us gorgeous photos of Elkie in her new hot pink dance uniform
The guy on the desk arranges for a boat to take us to Shela. After packing we meet Mohammed downstairs at 9.30am and follow him to the wharf. Dodging donkey poop all the way we pass veiled women and white robed men shuffling by. Sadly we come across a group of army or police in camouflage gear and carrying big guns, who are escorting eight bedraggled men hand-cuffed together in pairs.
At the wharf we hand over 5,000KSh to Mohammed for our ‘private’ boat but then a man and a lady jump in as well – whatever. Funnily we stop at a petrol station which is actually an old wooden hut floating in the middle of the harbor. Petrol is banned on the island as it’s too dangerous apparently.
We’re dropped at Shela near Peponi’s and jump out into the water with Mark carrying our big packs above his head. At the Pwani Guesthouse we’re met by Mwini, the friendly, chubby owner. Before showing us our room he wants us to order food for tonight so he can go to the market.
But now we’re ready to settle into our lovely room. Our beds are the traditional hand-carved, wooden Swahili type with fancy wooden footboards and
headboards decorated with glass tiles. The bedroom is big and airy with windows along two walls plus a very big bathroom down two cement steps. The view from our window is picture-postcard – coconut palms, a white sandy beach, turquoise water and picturesque dhows sailing past.
Outside our room is a sheltered sitting area with a palm roof and white stucco arches. Concrete benches are covered with thick cushions plus a big wooden table and chairs are all under the shade.
On the rooftop deck we meet Barbro and Alf who are staying in the only other room that opens up onto the terrace. They’re an elderly Swedish couple who come to Kenya for two months every year to help in a Maasai village. They build schools and do whatever else is needed then come to Lamu for ten days before going home. We love them already.
Now Mark and I walk down to Peponi’s for lunch sitting inside the posh dining room. After club sandwiches and lime sodas we wander back up into the labyrinth of laneways to explore this small Islamic village. Past white washed walls overhung with pink and orange flowering bougainvillea we come across the inevitable braying donkeys, howling Egyptian cats and cute school children walking to their madrassa (Islamic school).
Dinner is downstairs at Pwani in a cool inner courtyard. Our host, Mwini, proudly brings out the dishes – fifteen king prawns for me and a whole fish for Mark plus a huge salad to share. We take our time before heading back down to Peponi’s for drinks.
We watch darkness fall sitting out on the terrace under a pergola dripping with a white flowering vine. People watching is excellent – a mix of wealthy Europeans (no Australians funnily enough) and hippy types – most people are barefoot. Later we move inside to the bar for more drinks – Cascade light for Mark and Bacardi for me. I’ve discovered that if I water down the full strength Coke with soda water it’s sort of like drinking Coke Zero – think I’ll do this at home as well – even Coke Zero is bad shit!
Peponi has a resident dog who spends his time dropping pebbles from his mouth onto our table so we can throw them for him. We don’t stay long but have another drink on our own terrace before going to bed fairly early – sensible!
Fri 9th February, 2018
Shela, Lamu Island
Breakfast is downstairs then we walk along the water’s edge towards the southern end of the island. This southern coastline is composed of mainly sand dunes and a deserted twelve kilometre beach. Of course, I’m not walking that far so we turn back to Shela. On the way we meet a guy with a donkey who gives me a ride. It’s only a few feet off the ground but I’m still scared I’ll fall off.
As we reach Peponi we find a guy tagging turtles in the grounds then we walk uphill to the little market area. Mark decides to have a haircut as he always does while we’re overseas – always a funny experience. Another customer waiting is a guy called Osman who says he will arrange for us to go on a dhow sail this afternoon. This is something we’d planned while we’re here so let’s do it!
Later we see a group of tiny school kids all dressed in white walking down to the beach with their teacher. They’re incredibly cute all holding hands and it makes us miss our dollies even more.
After less than one day on Shela we’ve fallen Iove with it so we think we’ll stay at least again tonight. But while we also love Pwani we’ll have a look at a few other places just in case we’re missing out on something magical. We check out a couple of traditional houses which have amazing rooms but don’t have the view or the appeal of Pwani so we’ll stay there again tonight at least.
Around every corner is something to see – gorgeous white washed villas with thick tropical gardens, little local shops, people carrying baskets hanging from a stick over their shoulders and, at one corner, even a donkey jam. We sit outside a shop drinking soda waters to watch the local life go by.
We eventually come out at the water where Maasai men are selling trinkets and a donkey being dragged into the water to be washed. Lunch at Peponi’s is samosas and wine for Mark while I’m extra happy with a cheesecake.
At two o’clock we meet Osman down at the beach who shows us a motor boat – what?? No we want a traditional dhow so he makes a phone call and in minutes here comes a beautiful old dhow around the corner. We’re to pay 3,000KSh for an hour. Our captain and his mate are lovely telling us to chill out on cushions on the deck as we sail over towards Manda Island and then down to Lamu town and back. Tick this off our bucket list!!
Before going back to our room for an afternoon nap, we stop at Peponi’s for Mark to have a wine and to share a mozzarella, tomatao, basil and ham bagel. The food here is always perfect. On sunset we’re back for hot chips, a beer for Mark and a margarita for me.
But we’re not staying as tonight we’re off to Manda Island with Alf and Barbro. They’d told us that every Friday night the Diamond Beach Resort puts on a movie and organises a boat to take people from Shela across to Manda. About twelve of us wade into the water and jump into a small boat that chugs across the Lamu Channel.
Not sure how safe this is with no life jackets so I don’t think I’ll have any more to drink till we get back. At Manda we again jump out into the water then walk across the sand to Diamond Beach Resort. Lots of people are already sitting in the dining/bar area which is a large open-sided space sheltered by a thatched roof. We sit with Alf and Barbro ordering pizzas and soda water. A nice lady hands Barbro and me little flowers to pin to our tops but they smell so strong I have to sneakily throw them away. The movie is ‘Hell or High Water’ which we’d wanted to see anyway.
Time to go, we all meet back down on the water’s edge but the boat doesn’t appear for ages – Lamu time. Finally we cross the channel under a million stars – have loved this night. At Pwani the four of us have more drinks on our shared terrace.
Saturday 10th February, 2018
Shela, Lamu Island
Today is Jackie’s birthday so we send her a message then have breakfast on the terrace with our lovely neighbours. They’re going to walk to Lamu today to buy wine but Mark and I think we’ll go back to Diamond Beach. So at eleven o’clock we meet a guy called Abdul who says he’ll take us across then pick us up when we call him.
The water is calm today so it’s a pleasant crossing. The sand is red hot on Manda beach which has a few sunbakers lying around under roughly made shelters while a small herd of cows mills arund.
We share a baked chicken salad and a seafood pizza washed down with our favourite lime sodas then I wander around the grounds. I come across a small shop where I buy brass earrings and a glass bead necklace from an English woman who actually owns the resort.
We’re not sure if this was the place, but in 2011 a woman was kidnapped from a resort around here by Somali pirates who had been terrorizing communities along the Kenyan coast. She was returned okay in the end and things have been calmer the last couple of years.
We both have a swim then Mark decides to walk to the point to see what’s around the corner. Not me, I spend the time lying on a comfy rattan cot under a palm shelter. When Mark returns he finds a hammock close by and we both read for an hour.
Mark calls Abdul about three o’clock and we have another swim before he arrives. Back on Shela beach we’re approached by a young guy carrying a reed basket. He shows Mark hot samosas which is very popular around here. We buy some.
Nearby down on the concrete ledge near Peponi’s, a group of Rasta dhow boys ask if we want to go with them on a sunset cruise – no thanks, they all look stoned!
Dinner is with Barbro and Alf in the lower courtyard. They’ve also invited a friend called Momma Sophie who they met when they first started coming here. Momma Sophie is from Germany but lives here six months a year. She has brought along a big bottle of red wine to share and flowers for me and Barbro.
We all share garlic prawns, three whole fish, salad, rice and a big plate of vegetables while Momma Sophie never draws breath. ‘I have a story to tell you’ and off she goes again and again.
Have enough of her in the end so Mark and I escape to Peponi’s. We see Osman from yesterday and a crazy local who’s here every night making a total pest of himself. Fun!
Sunday 11th February, 2018
Shela to Lamu Town, Lamu Island
Today we say goodbye to Alf and Barbro after eating breakfast with them on the terrace. We swap email addresses and hope we see them again one day but know we never will – just too far away. They’ve made our stay in Shela all that much better.
Mark pays Mwini then rings Yusf to pick us up in his boat. The water is calm today with blue skies above, so the fifteen minute trip to Lamu town is the best we’ve had since we’ve been here. At the main wharf we drag our packs down to the Lamu Palace Hotel where we hope to get a room for tonight.
This Arabic style hotel faces the sea front and sits in the heart of town. Inside, tall columns support impressive arches and the spacious foyer has high ceilings with a wide staircase leading up to the rooms. Luckily they have one for us but it’s not ready just yet so we lie around inside on one of the antique lounges while we wait.
We see Zeena walking by so we make arrangements to meet her back here at two o’clock for a massage. Until then we hang out in our room for an hour reading and repacking. At eleven o’clock we set off through the maze of streets in this busy little area that we hadn’t visited when we were here last week.
Our plan is to visit the Fort but we know that we need to buy the tickets from the Museum. An old man latches onto us rattling off things about Lamu that we already know. At the Museum he says ‘you will need at least two hours’ – not bloody likely!
As we sort of expected, the Museum is pretty boring except for the interesting architecture. It was built in 1813 by the Sultan of Oman who was trying to suck up to the people of Lamu as he wanted control of the East African coastline. Now another man approaches us wanting to be our guide but we’ve had enough and take off.
We can hear singing coming from the church next door and stick our heads in to have a look. It’s packed with young girls all dressed in white and green, who all pile outside to buy ice blocks. We do the same then buy extras for two local ladies and their four children – a nice time hanging out with them.
Lunch is in a basic restaurant on the waterfront but because it’s only local food, I’m not game to risk my stomach again. Mark is fine and hoes into rice with a fish soup. From here we walk back to the main square to visit Lamu Fort which served as a British prison from the early twentieth century right up until 1984. We climb up to the parapets for good views of the town and the Indian Ocean.
The square is very busy at the moment with people coming and going to the market. This is tucked away next to the Fort and as fabulous as all fresh food markets all over the world. More stalls are set up along adjoining alleyways – fruit, vegetables and chickens for sale in cages.
Zeena doesn’t turn up for the massage so we spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out in our room then come downstairs at 6.30pm. We decide to have dinner here tonight as the food is supposed to be good. We could have our meal inside the restaurant or out on the terrace overlooking the ocean. We choose inside to enjoy the wonderful Arabic ambience and also to escape the stink of donkey poop. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the smell out of our nostrils for a week.
Dinner is garlic calamari and a seafood pizza. Later we wander around the streets which are even busier and interesting after dark. More drinks at the Palace then bed at 8.30pm.
Monday 12th February, 2018
Lamu Island to Manda Island to Malindi to Nairobi
Sadly this is our last day on Lamu and we wake to a gorgeous day. We’re up at seven o’clock for showers and to pack then we have breakfast downstairs – passionfruit juice, fruit, tea, coffee and eggs on toast – same, same but good.
At 9.30am we catch a boat to Manda Island, flying out at 11.15am. We have a layover in Malindi then land at Nairobi’s Domestic terminal about one o’clock. We grab a taxi to a market where Mark buys a t-shirt and I buy earrings and bangles for presents. Even here there are armed guards who check the taxi inside and out.
From here we drive to Karen where we’ve booked a room at Milimani Backpackers where Julie and Steve stayed last year. This renovated house is set behind a big garden with leafy side and back gardens as well. After reading on couches in the big chill-out area we dress for a night out at Carnivore.
It takes forty-five minutes to get to there through very uninteresting suburbs and lots of peak hour traffic which shouldn’t be as bad on the way back. Someone described the interior as a rustic setting with a medieval banquet hall which is spot on.
Carnivore is known as “the ultimate Beast of a Feast” where exotic meats like ostrich, crocodile, camel and venison are roasted over hot coals then brought to our table on long skewers. Mark tries them all but I stick to the normal boring meats like chicken, lamb and beef. We just choose what we want and how much we want.
This is a fixed price menu which includes dessert and side dishes like soup and salad. It’s all a bit daggy but lots of fun and we’re glad we came.
Back home to bed for a very early start in the morning.
Tuesday 13th February, 2018
Nairobi to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Johannesburg
Our alarm is set for 1am to get a taxi to the airport for our 5am takeoff on Ethiopian Airlines. There are no direct flights to Johannesburg which means we now fly two hours north (not south) to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where we spent a few amazing weeks back in 2017. A two hour layover in Addis then a five hour flight (south finally)
to Johannesburg. Here we have a six hour layover before a fourteen hour Qantas flight to Sydney – a loooong day!
Wednesday 14th February, 2018
Newcastle to Sydney
Land in Sydney at 3.30 in the afternoon then a train to Central then a train to Newcastle to our darlings.