After 48 hours of car rides, buses, subways, trains and planes, I stepped off the plane and we were in Africa. Kenya, to be specific. All day, running through my head, was the music –
“Where, Kenya see lions? “
“Only in Kenya…”
For those of you who don’t know it, you will soon: Where Kenya See Lions
But the song quickly faded…
Mombasa. This city will forever leave an impression on me. Dry. Hot. Dusty.
The woman in the airport says we can’t get a bus from here to Tanzania; we have to go into town first. We step outside and my face immediately starts feeling heavy. Perspiration is forming, first coating my back inside my shirt, then forming droplets on my face, finally dripping off my chin onto the ground below me. This may be the hottest I’ve been when standing completely still.
Drip. Taxi drivers rush up all around us, asking us if we need a ride into town. Despite our quick firm responses of, “No,” they offer us one price after another. They try arguments, convincing. Drip. The woman in the airport told us there was a shuttle into town, but there is no driver to be seen in the van. The taxi drivers tell us the shuttle isn’t running. Drip. We stand our ground, as I silently wonder if the shuttle driver will ever show. Will these taxi drivers be willing to negotiate when we have to go crawling back to them for a ride? A shuttle driver finally appears, and tells us we have to wait an hour for the next flight to come in before he will take us into town. The shuttle can’t leave, but maybe if we pay them more… first they can’t, then they can for a certain price, then they can for another price. I’ve negotiated many things before, but never a shuttle price. It’s clear things don’t work around here the way they do at home. Drip.
Driving into town we see people everywhere. On the streets, on the sides of the streets. It is not abject poverty like we saw in Nicaragua. People are waiting. People are walking. People are pushing heavy carts full of things. Everyone looks busy, although we often can’t tell what it is they are doing.
I can only describe the town of Mombasa with one word: chaos. We step off the bus and there are people all around us. I have not even picked up my bag before people start asking me if I want to go to this town or that town, if I want a hotel, if I want to buy something. The sidewalks are filled and people spill into the streets. But there is a laid-back feeling to it all somehow, for the locals; this is their daily life, and there is no rush. They move about in some sort of weird large rotating circle around us.
Drip. It is hard to figure anything out here. We ask someone to point us to the place to buy bus tickets for Tanzania and we get several different answers all at once. All in English with an accent that is difficult for me to understand. We make our way across the street somehow to the various bus companies and go from company to company. In all of the stalls, there are people behind the windows, speaking very quietly to me. But there are other people next to me who have questions too, and I can barely understand a word with all the noise around me. Elliott is better at it. He finds out the last bus to Tanzania left at 7am. It is 9am, and I realize we have to spend the night in Mombasa. Drip.
I ask the bus ticket lady for a hostel recommendation and she tells me she has one that is “safe” and will cost us 1,000 Kenyan shillings. $10 for a private room. Wow. But first we need an ATM and a SIM card for our UK cell phone. It will supposedly work here, and we need to let our couch surfing host in Tanzania know we won’t make it tonight. We ask for directions to an ATM, since there are no obvious signs around. Everything is hand-painted, some “store” fronts are further back than others. People all around. There is nothing familiar here. The guy in the bus ticket place says he will show us where the ATM is. But instead of pointing to it, he starts leading us. Across busy streets with no crossing points, stop signs, or signals. We keep following him into what would be an alley back home, but here is just a street. And he is angry when we have nothing to tip him with. But he understood why we needed an ATM, right? We apologize many times and I am happy he finally leaves. My first ATM card doesn’t work and I panic until I realize my second one does. Drip.
Luckily Elliott researched the name of the cell phone places here before we arrived, so he recognizes the Airtel. It is another shack. I marvel over the fact that this place seems to have nothing modern or modernized, and yet here is the cell phone shack. No familiar Smartphones, but lots of cell phones. The people refuse to be left behind in everything.
After what seems like an eternity, we leave the shack with our new SIM card and some minutes, and we go back to the bus ticket lady to get directions to that hotel. Another man wants to show us; we insist he just tell us this time. I am glad we asked for specific directions, as we have to turn through more alleys to find it. We would have never found even a hotel without help here. We walk inside and there is a boy lying on a bed and we figure we must have missed the reception area. He speaks no English but motions we wait while he calls for another woman in Swahili. She takes us up four long flights of stairs, sill carrying our heavy packs, to our un-air-conditioned room. Many more drips. Does the sun ever relent here? There is a tiny combination toilet/shower and an old small fan attached to the ceiling over the bed, and I am finally assured we will be okay for the day/night. We have a hotel and a bus ticket out of here tomorrow.
Shower. Lie in bed directly under the mini fan. Listen to the call to prayer ringing out from the mosques. Don’t move a muscle. Sleep. Repeat.