I didn t anticipate that I would have 10 days of free time once on Kenyan soil before traveling to my site in Mutomo. Heavy rains, a broken truck, and staff training have delayed my departure but happily I have the free time to use as I wish.
The first few days I spent touring around Nairobi, a bustling, sophisticated modern city. Heavy traffic prevents rapid transit anywhere. Uber is a Godsend. I am most impressed with the lush foliage and brilliant blooms abounding during this full on rainy season. A city of contrasts, I did not expect to be seated in the actual ArtCafe that was so historically featured in the news a few years back, google it.
My site mate, Joanna, is also here biding time and we have explored the National Nairobi Museum, Karen Blixen Museum and cafÃ© (so romantic), Westgate Mall (again google it), All Saints Anglican Cathedral, Maasai Market and several markets for food and provisions.
We spontaneously decided, well, after 24 hours of research, to spend the weekend at the coast. Happily departing Nairobi by Uber on Thursday morning, we cruised into the new train station 90 minutes later, in plenty of time to wait in a 200-300 person line for admission into the station.
The activities of recent years between Somalia and Kenya have created extra security even upon entering malls and stores where physical pat downs and xray of bags is commonplace. Our belongings were placed on a long belt and we were told to step back. Kenyan military then proceed with 2 dogs that sniff the luggage up and down. We are then allowed to proceed to the xray and pat down by female officers. Once through we enter the terminal, a gleaming silver building built recently by the Chinese. More security.
The 4.5 hour train across the open bush of Kenya was easy and comfortable. Glimpses of baboons, giraffes, elephants and quaint homesteads were available once the train left the densely populated city. Our $7 economy fare seated us in fairly spacious AC cars, each containing 118, passengers, the train carried around 1000! Seats were VERY close together and not so comfortable. Clean restrooms, snacks and service were supervised by spiffily clad men and women dressed like flight attendants. No photos allowed!
Arrival at the station was 7:30 pm so we chose a nearby hotel so as not to travel in the dark. A stark contrast to cool and rainy Nairobi the temp was 85 and very humid on arrival. After a deep sleep under a whirring fan (no AC) we departed for Diani Beach by taxi during a busy Friday morning in perhaps the largest commercial seaport on the Eastern African coast.
Traversing through the market area, the smoke, dust, and vehicle exhaust was overwhelming! Huge semis carrying freight containers bound for the port weaved in and out of motorbike, car and tuk-tuk traffic. The sweltering temperatures created rivulets of sweat down my chest and back, no AC in the vehicle. The market area is always so interesting. Men welding with no protection, upholstered furniture so dusty and dirty who would buy it and place it in their home? Used clothing hanging in the dust, vegetables, used tires, concrete supports, doors, plastic containers, all for sale.
As we approached the ferry that would ford the river to the south beach, hundreds of cars and walkers vied for position on the narrowing entry to the boat. We stayed in the car for the crossing, a mere 10 minutes, baking in the stale air. Once across and through the market on the other side, the road opened to views of lush grass and palms. The crowds thinned and the scene was more pastoral; cows, sheep, greenery and village homes.
Arrival at our guesthouse was a relief and we were served our complimentary beverage on the huge, thatched veranda. The rooms simple, no AC, but the beach and the view and the quiet surely made up for these failings. For $4, a complete meal of rice, meat, veggies and chapatti is served on the breezy porch with a view of monkeys swinging in the trees, anxious to share the food!
A good book, meditation, a dip in the ocean is all the weekend holds for me. Talking to other guests always reveals such interesting stories and paths: a 22 year old Somali woman fled her country as a young girl now serves as receptionist: a 55 year old German man, raised in E Germany, never allowed to publish till the wall went down, has now written and published 50 books on cultural philosophy; a Dutch couple, both studying for PhD have researched and worked in Nairobi for 5 weeks, here on holiday before returning home, young Indian man from Mombai working as a data processor on holiday ..
I will spend the next few days, quiet, grateful, a bit homesick .