Monday, 14 January 2013

New Years in Lamu

After moving Mama Mary and her family in successfully on Christmas eve, I decided to have a few days away from Swahilini so that I could rest, and celebrate. I spent Christmas morning with Aubrey, Jason, Adam, Tom and Baran, who all live or work in the compound where I stay. It was lovely, we all got a present each from Aubrey and Jason, which I was extremely grateful for. I got a lovely scarf made from Maasai cloth, and a bed cover/blanket for when I go home. The blanket is really beautiful, and is made by the ladies who work with Aubrey’s NGO. Jason and Aubrey also cooked for us. It was the first typical American breakfast I’ve ever had, and I enjoyed it so much. We ate scrambled eggs, waffles, sausages, biscuits and gravy. It was a little bit weird for me as I’m usually used to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, but it was still lovely. I headed over to the old volunteer house early in the afternoon, and spent the day there with the volunteers. Chris and I drank a lot, and then ate a lot too. Soon after, we left for Babylon, where we drank more and danced more. I was so tired by midnight that I had to call it a day, so I went home and crashed. On boxing day I didn’t really do much apart from lie in bed, and then I went and watched the football. But I was tired again early on, so I didn’t have a mental one.
The following Friday, I popped down to Swahilini to see Mama Mary and the kids. Lukas, a friend of mine who lives close by came along with me, and we spent a couple of hours there. I wasn’t feeling too good, so I didn’t eat. I let them know that I was leaving for Mombassa that Saturday and that I wouldn’t see them for a week or so. I let them know that my Mum and Terry were arriving in Arusha on the 4th, and that we would visit them on Saturday the 5th.
I had to leave for Mombassa early in the morning, so I took it easy the night before. Five am starts are never nice. I got on the bus in time, and wondered how I would manage a long bus ride with no Ipod once again. The journey turned out to be fine, I had to buy another Kenyan visa at the border which was annoying, but I got there safe which was the main thing. The scenery on the way was amazing. After crossing the border, we drove for two hours on a dirt road, through the bush. Unfortunately, I didn’t see many animals on the way apart from a couple of big birds, but it was still nice. Once we got back on to a decent road, I managed to get a couple of hours kip, and before I knew it we had arrived in Mombassa.
My first impressions were good ones. It was a busy, loud, vibrant and energetic place. I had spoken briefly with the bus driver on the way, so I asked him the best way to get to Bondeni, which was where I would be meeting Ren and Holly from Australia, and where the bus to Lamu would leave from in the morning. He kindly waved down a tuc-tuc for me, and told the driver where I needed to go. The tuc-tuc ride was wicked, I was buzzing. I love getting to a new place and really feeling the madness of another African city. The driver was pretty chaotic, but I didn’t mind. He swerved in and out of traffic and cut in front of about five cars, but oh well, it was a great way to see a little bit of the city. He dropped me in Bondeni and pointed to a hotel, and said that I could stay the night there. I paid him, and then looked at the front of the hotel. I can’t remember the name, but it said ‘luxury’ somewhere in the middle of it, so I didn’t even bother going inside. I walked up a little side road, and looked around for signs to a hostel. I found one within a few metres. There was a guy sitting outside drinking tea, so I asked him if he owned the place. He knew I was from England straight away from my accent, as he had lived in Bristol for eight years, but was now back in Mombassa. His name was Adam, and I knew straight away that he was a decent bloke. The guest house which he was sitting outside of was full, so he took my across the road to another one. I had two options, pay 200 Kenyan Shillings, which is about £1.50, and share a room with somebody I didn’t know, or pay 600 for a room with three beds which I would have for myself. I opted to the three roomed one, as I wasn’t sure I could trust whoever I would be sharing the room with. It was a decent room, with a nice balcony looking out onto the main road. I thanked Adam, and told him that I would see him in a while. I used the toilet, which was quite an experience, but one that I won’t go into, and then had a shower. My stomach wasn’t feeling too great, and hadn’t been for a few days, but I felt fresh after my shower, so I headed across the road to meet Adam. I sat with him, and spoke about what I had been doing for the past couple of years, my project in Arusha, and my plans for the near future. He was a smart guy, and we shared ideas about possible business opportunities in East Africa. I had some tea, but opted for the one without camel milk in. I usually like trying things like that but my stomach really wasn’t feeling up to it. We also spoke about how dangerous Mombassa has been over the past couple of years, and why there weren’t many tourists there anymore. It was scary tobe in a place so notoriously dangerous for terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreign nationals, but I got a buzz of it, and just made sure I had my flip knife on me all of the time. I told him that I wanted to change some money, and that I was hungry too. We hopped in a tuc-tuc and he took me to meet a friend of his who would give me a good exchange rate. It was very good rate, and I thanked him for that. Changing money in Mombassa and Kenya in general is a little different to at home. There aren’t many legit places to do it, so you have to go up to guys on the street, who are all holding big wads of cash, and bargain with them to get an a good rate. Luckily I didn’t have to bargain, and I had no problem changing some Tanzanian shillings over to Kenyan ones. Shortly afterwards, we went for some food at a local restaurant. I ate a beef sandwich and shared some chips with Adam, smoked a couple of cigarettes and then headed to the internet café to check my emails. I was so tired after my journey that I decided to go to bed at about eight thirty. I said good bye to Adam and agreed to meet him once I was back in Arusha. I went up to my room, tried to read a little but I was too tired, so I went to sleep. I was excited to see Ren, Holly and their friends from Australia in the morning.
I think partly because the fact that I had gone to bed so early, and also that I was excited to see some old friends, I woke up very early, around four thirty. I didn’t mind too much though, because I knew that Holly, Ren and friends would be arriving around five. They had flown into Nairobi the day before, but had to get a night bus to Mombassa as Travis had booked a later flight, so they waited around for him. I sorted my things out for the trip to lamu, arranged cash, and made sure that I had everything with me which I needed. All sorted and anxious to get going, I popped out on the balcony for a cigarette. Below me I spotted a three young white people, one blonde girl, another girl who was a brunette and a young guy too. I knew straight away that it was Ren and Holly. I called out relatively quietly at first, as I didn’t want to wake other people in the hostel up, but they didn’t hear me, so I shouted. They looked up and saw me, I waved and told them it was me. I told them to wait there and that I would be down in a second, I had a massive smile on my face, it was so good to see them. I went downstairs, gave Holly and Ren a big hug, and met Calum for the first time, who is Holly’s boyfriend. I asked where the others were, they said just across the road, so we headed over. It was good to meet Nick, Rens boyfriend, and Travis their friend too! I told them that they were welcome to come up to my room whilst we waited for the bus, so that they could have a quick shower, brush their teeth, and settle a little bit. They got their things together, and we all chatted for a half hour or so. I knew Calum, Nick and Travis were safe guys straight away, but then again I wouldn’t expect Holly and Ren to be going out with a couple of plonkers! We went downstairs after a bit to get some breakfast. We got some tea, and mandazi, then headed to the bus. It was a rough ride to Lamu, and it took a good eight hours. The road was so rough, it was impossible to sit still, as we were constantly being thrown around. It was entertaining to an extent, but also annoying as it was hard to get any sleep. I managed to get an hour or so, so I could drain out the sound of the annoying American’s behind us complaining about the road. I was thinking ‘you’re in Africa for god’s sake, if you expect there to be perfect roads everywhere, you may as well go home’. Travis and I shared his ipod, and he introduced me to a band from Australia who I’ve never heard before. They are called Tame Impala, I’m sure plenty of you know about them, I’m pretty out of touch with new music etc. We got there eventually, it was a big relief. Ren had sorted out accommodation in Lamu, but wasn’t exactly sure of the details, and just had the number of a guy called Clinton, who we were meant to call once we arrived in Lamu. To get to Lamu, you have to take a boat from the mainland of Kenya, which is right up near Somalia. We opted for the public one which was much cheaper than using people with private boats. I wasn’t sure whether it was too good of a decision when about fifty people and a lot of luggage was piled into a small wooden boat with a 20cc engine. The scenery wasn’t quite as beautiful as I had pictured, but pulling into Lamu was very nice. We found out that we were staying in Shella, which was about a ten minute boat ride from Lamu town, but we decided to hang around a bit and get some things done whilst we were there. We bought alcohol in preparation for new years, as you couldn’t buy it in Shella, then got some cash, and headed to Shella. We met a local guy called ‘Boss’ who deals with tourists in Lamu and Shella. He took us on his boat for a cheap price, and dropped us off, where Clinton was there to greet us.
Clinton walked us to the hotel, and it turned out that there were only two rooms available that night and not three, so he moved two double beds into one room, and we would have to squeeze in there for the night. We didn’t do much that evening apart from have a little walk around, and go for some food. We had to wait about an hour and a half for our food, which really annoyed me. I get grumpy when I’m hungry or tired. So when I’m both of those and have to wait a ridiculously long time for a simple meal, it really gets on my nerves. All the others laughed at how agitated I was getting. The food came eventually, and it was decent, but not worth the wait. I was full afterwards, so I just sat with Travis and a local guy and tried to learn a local board game which they play all over Lamu and Shella. It’s called Boaw game, which means ‘wood game’, and it’s extremely complicated. I won’t go into detail with it because quite frankly I still have no idea how it works. The others went to bed, and me and Travis went and got a beer at a local bar. The place was full of toffs. English toffs, Italian toffs, and worst of all, French toffs. We left after one beer as we couldn’t stand the place. Sleeping that night wasn’t easy, it was so humid, and with no fan and four people in one relatively small room made it pretty uncomfortable.
The following day was new years day. We were all up pretty early, so we got some local breakfast from just downstairs. Which consisted of fried potatoes, chipati, mandazi and samosa’s as well if you fancied beef first thing in the morning. After that, we headed to the beach, and found a nice spot to chill. It was really quiet, and a nice way to spend the morning. After having a little swim, I went for a walk on my own, and after wandering over the sand dunes, I spotted a really nice Acacia tree right at the top of the dune. I headed back to the others to tell them about it, and said that we should go and chill up there. They all agreed, so we headed up. Getting there was hard, it was all uphill, and although it was only about nine in the morning, the sand had already heated up. I tied my t-shirt around my head and started to do some Bear Grylls impressions on the way up, Travis and I ran most of the way, so we were both really out of breath when we got to the top. It was a great spot, it was in the shade, and right at the top of all of the dunes so the views were amazing. We chilled there for an hour or so, and debated whether to all have a sleep before heading back. But we had run out of water, so we walked back to the apartment and relaxed there for a bit. We ordered a shit load of samosa’s and then started drinking at around five. We all sat on our Varanda, listened to music, drank a load of spirits and then headed out to where the party on the beach was at about ten. It was a wicked night, we danced and drank a lot, and after chilling at the first party for a few hours, we headed over to another island just opposite to Shella, where there was a fire and more music. I was a gonner by then so I don’t remember too much, I just know that it was good. Forgive me!
I remember waking up pretty early the next morning, although it was the first time me and Trav had our own room and didn’t have to share with Nick and Ren, I still didn’t sleep very well. I got some breakfast, and waited for the others to wake up, and then I headed down to the beach. It was the annual sailing boat race on New Year ’s Day, which was good to watch. As you can imagine, the boats in Lamu and Shella aren’t very modern, but never the less, they are all beautiful. I didn’t see much of the race, just the start. I was surprised how much speed the guys could get on the sail boats, considering that they were all pretty old boats, I guess they had been practising all year! I had gone back to the room to use the toilet before that, so I ended up losing all of the others. The beach was packed, but after walking along it for twenty minutes or so, I found them. I swam a little, and then ended up playing a game of football on the beach with Travis, Nick, Callum and some local kids. Although we lost, it was a good game. I had managed to sweat most of my hangover out, but decided that I wanted to play some more football, so walked along the beach a little bit, and played possession football with some local guys in front of the bar full of Toff’s. It was good fun, a fast pace, and pretty challenging physically. The whole time we were playing, there was a local guy, stood up on his speed boat about ten metres off the shore, blasting music out of a massive sound system on his boat. He stood on one of his speakers for around hours and danced by himself, it was entertaining to say the least. Everybody was loving it though, and some of the guys I was playing football with would stop every now and then to dance a little bit. Different world.
It got to about half three in the afternoon, and I was feeling tired, the sore feet from playing on the sand didn’t help either. I went and found the others, who were still on the beach, but sitting in the shade now. There was a local football match on at 4.30, on a full size pitch. We decided to go along, I wanted to play but my feet were feeling so sore, that I wasn’t sure if it was a great idea, I didn’t have any shoes either which didn’t help. I played in the end anyway, I couldn’t resist, it was a nice pitch, and the players were decent. I played for about fifty minutes on the left wing, created a few chances and had a shot on goal, and then played centre forward for my last ten, but I didn’t do too great. My feet killed afterwards, and I could hardly walk, but I still managed to do something that night! We headed to Lamu to go to a restaurant which Sabrina, a neighbour of ours where were staying, had recommended. It turned out to be shit, they had nothing on the menu, and the waiter was useless. When I went to the bathroom, I walked past a guy eating rice and beans with his hand, even though he had a spoon next to his plate. I couldn’t quite get my head around it, I just thought it was one of those backwards things you always seem to see in Africa, but apparently, Muslims are encouraged to eat with their hands, so that was why. We had decided to go on a boat trip the next day. We agreed on 1500 Kenyan shillings each, which is about a tenner! That would involve fishing, snorkelling on the reefs, and eating lunch on the boat.
We were up early to be on the boat by about 8 30am the next morning. It turned out not to be the guys who we thought we had organised it with, but some other amateurs. That was the start of a chain of events which really pissed me off. Our boat, typically, didn’t have an engine, but we were told that we would be towed through the channel, until we could sail to the reef, and that it wouldn’t take much time. Luckily, the boat which was towing us, ran out of petrol, and bailed on us, we managed to sail up to the channel, but once we got there, there was no way of getting up it about from the crew using sticks to push down into the sand and push us along, it took about two hours. Within those two hours, probably about fifteen boats sped past us and denied us a pull. Eventually, one kind rasta dude, towed us up to the channel, but it was too late really, we were already about three hours behind schedule, and I was starting to wonder if we would get to do any snorkelling. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be paying the full amount when we arrived home. The boat crew managed to get us to the reef eventually, after struggling to get around a small island, which was above sea level due to low tide. They really didn’t know how to work as a team together, and at times, it was quite embarrassing to watch, all the others were managing to laugh at it, which I’m usually good at too, but I just couldn’t that day. We got to the reef, and to our surprise, there weren’t enough masks for everybody. They had to go and borrow a couple from another boat, so poor Hemma, a PHD student from Bristol who we had met on New Year’s, and her father Neil, who was born in Tanzania, but now lived in Canada, and was visiting where he was born for the first time in fifty years, had to wear masks that didn’t fit them, and didn’t have the best time snorkelling at all. Another issue, was that it was low tide, so you couldn’t actually swim over any of the reefs, just by the side and at the end of it. Also, due to us being so behind schedule, we had to leave after about twenty minutes, and look to catch some fish. The guys hadn’t thought to buy some from the market with the deposit we gave them the day before, so we were all a little worried when it was nearly four o’clock, and we didn’t have anything to eat apart from rice and veg. Whilst they were supposedly catching fish, and by this I mean buying it from another boat that pulled up, we chilled out in some shallow pools on another island, and found some pretty shells. At around five, the food was eventually ready, and I was in the worst mood possible. I hadn’t eaten since the morning, the portion wasn’t particularly big, and we started to sail whilst we were eating. We made a bet on who would be the first one to throw up. The sail back to Shella was the nicest part, we watched a beautiful sunset, and I chatted to one of the guys on the boat about football. He had been scouted by Malaga when he was thirteen, and was told by the club to finish his education before returning. He had finished a few months before, and was waiting to hear from the club. I wished him the best of luck and then got off the boat. We headed home straight after, all pretty tired, and got ready for the journey the next day. We were going back to Mombassa.
I can’t remember what I did the night before leaving, so it can’t have been very exciting. I think we all had a few beers on our roof top terrace, and then all went to sleep pretty early. It was an early start, we had to be on the bus by 8am, which meant we needed to be up around 6 30am. I was up in time, and got my things together quickly, as I hadn’t properly packed the night before. I was walking around in my jeans in the morning, and kept getting a wiff of this foul smell, and I couldn’t work out where it was coming from. I kept smelling myself in different places, and also different surfaces, to see where it was coming from. Eventually, I worked out that it was my jeans. They stank of something so bad, but I had no idea what it was. Conveniently it was right on my backside, so I had to work out if I’d managed to shit myself in the night or something. It was all clear though, but I got Calum to take a sniff of my jeans, and he said straight away, ‘donkey piss’. Typical, I’d sat in donkey piss somewhere the day before and it had dried and gone horrid on my jeans. I took them off, wrapped them in a plastic bag, and put on some shorts for the journey. All my clothes were either dirty, or damp and covered in sand. I was in for an uncomfortable journey. We took the boat over to the Jetty where the bus leaves from, and realised that we had some time. So we sat on the jetty and ate some breakfast. My stomach hadn’t been too good for the past few days, hence the worry of dropping my guts in the night, so I decided that it would be best to go to the loo before I got on an eight hour bus ride. I walked over to the toilet, and I won’t say that I was appalled, just more shocked to see the state of it. I can’t quite put it into words. It was merely a hole in the ground, filled with faeces, empty water bottles, condoms, and god knows what else. I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to use this toilet, and that I needed to find somewhere else. I showed the toilet to Ren, Holly and Calum, just so they could experience what I had previously. It was funny to see their faces. I asked a guy if there was a toilet in the café, but he said no, as part of it was a mosque. He said he would take us to a place, which sounds a bit weird, but I think he understood that the state of the toilet was too bad for a lot of people to use. We walked behind the mosque, and I say this with confidence, it was hands down the dirtiest place I’ve ever seen/been. The marsh land was covered in garbage, there was a puddle waste with a toxic colour, it stank, and to add to the occasion, there was a small boy taking a dump about five metres away from us, all very casual, and just behind the mosque. It was strange for me, I’d never seen anything like that before, but it put into context the problems that Africa has to face with clean sanitation, and infected water sources. It’s a big issue to tackle, and it needs fixing, but to be honest with you, it’s not one that I’m interested in. The guy continued to show us where we could use the toilet, we walked past the filthy area, and a little further down the beach. He pointed into the marshes, and told us that it was okay to go in there. It wasn’t great, but better than the toilet. I wasn’t too comfortable going there, and my stomach was really playing up, but I managed. I had to deal with two local guys laughing at me whilst they watched me shit through the trees. They were getting stoned, and asked me if I wanted to smoke with them after I’d finished, I turned it down though, laughed the last few minutes off, and headed onto the bus.
The road, as before, was terrible, and I wasn’t able to sit still for the whole journey. I bounced about with my t-shirt covering my face trying to sleep for about eight hours, before we arrived in Mombassa. I had told the others about my friend Adam who I had met a few days before in Mombassa. I found him, in the same place as last time, and asked him to help us find a hostel again. We had some tea, and then booked into a hostel close by. It was a different one to last time. I had a problem with the lock on my door, so I tried not to pay full price for the room, but the guy wasn’t having any of it, and we needed a place to stay, so I forgot about it. We went and got some dinner, then took a short walk down to an old fort close by. It was beautiful, it was just a shame that it was night time, as we couldn’t really see much. We sat on an old cannon, and looked out towards the harbour. Mombassa has the biggest port in East Africa, it was interesting to watch a couple of the huge shipping boats leave the harbour. After an hour or so, we headed back to the hostel. I went across the road and used the internet for ten minutes. I had some messages that I needed to reply to, and I also wanted to check if I’d had any donations. I headed to my room, lay down, and fell asleep soon afterwards. I was looking forward to seeing my Mum and Terry the next day in Arusha. At about midnight, my phone rang, and I was surprised to see that it was my mother calling. I answered suspiciously, she asked me, ‘Where are you?’, I replied, ‘I’m in Mombassa, what do you mean?’. It hit me then, I had messed the dates up by a day, and then had just arrived in Arusha. Half asleep I carried on talking to my Mum and apologised repeatedly. She said that it was okay, but they just needed to find a way to check into a hotel. I thought about calling Mike and asking if he could sort something out so that they could stay in my apartment. But I thought best not to bother him late at night, and just told my mum that she should take a taxi into town, and find a decent hotel, and that I would see her the next day. I was so angry at myself. I had been looking forward to greeting them at the airport for a while. It’s always been my Mother there to greet me, and for once in my life, it was going to be my turn to welcome her to where I was living, and I had fucked it up. I was so tired, and upset too, that I went back to sleep shortly afterwards, and hoped that they would be okay. I woke up the next morning in a foul mood, and just wanted to hurry up and get back to Arusha. We got aboard the bus at 7am, and left Mombassa shortly afterwards. I slept a little bit on the journey, but spent most of the journey thinking about the night before. I got a text from my mother a few hours before I crossed the border, but I didn’t have enough money to reply. As soon as we’d crossed the border, I bought some credit for my Tanzanian number, and called her straight away. She wasn’t best pleased, but the main thing was that they had got to a hotel safely, and managed to find somewhere to sleep. I told her that I was expecting to be back in Arusha at around 4pm, and that I would go straight to the hotel which I had booked them into a couple of weeks before.
 We arrived in Moshi, a town just outside of Arusha on time, and I started to get excited again to see my Mum and Terry. However, once again, something else went wrong. There had been a huge crash on the main road leading into Arusha, a big lorry had lost control and turned over on one of the bridges, blocking the way on both sides. We had to take a detour, and after about twenty minutes, we were stuck in a horrific traffic jam on a dirt road. Every car that I had been told they had to go another way, had decided to take this route. This road, which would usually not have many cars going down it, was completely blocked with all of the traffic coming into, and trying to go out of Arusha. Coaches, lorries, public buses and cars completely overwhelmed this small road, and nobody was getting anywhere. It was a clear example of how the Tanzanian government need to sort out the roads in their country. They have the money, but it’s so corrupt, that most of it goes into officials pockets. How could one crash bring all of the city’s traffic to a standstill? After sitting on the bus for thirty minutes, a Boda pulled up next to us, so I decided to bail on everybody and jump on the back of the motorbike. I spent a little while haggling with the driver over the price, and eventually decided on a fair one, and I was on my way. It was a sketchy ride to say the least, I almost slipped off a couple of times as we weaved in and out of still traffic, and had to drive in ditches as there was no other way to pass. After about twenty minutes, we were clear from the blocked road, and my driver accelerated quickly along a dirt road. The scenery was amazing, I had no idea where I was in Arusha, and although I had become agitated with the journey, I felt like it was all worth it to see how rich and beautiful some of the land around the city is. We came across a little more traffic, but managed to get through it, and then we were back on the main road. I wasn’t sure which side of the crash we were on, but I found out soon enough. As we came over a hill, I looked down and saw the enormity and severity of the crash which had caused the problems. A petrol tanker had flipped around once, and landed back on its wheels, but it had turned 180 degrees and blocked the whole road. We approached with caution, there were lots of people around, some stood on the road, and some stood up on the hills, looking down on the accident. I told my driver to wait for one minute, I needed to get a picture of this. I got a couple, but soon enough I was being shouted at by locals, so I jumped back on the bike and we headed towards the crash. It was amazing, tragic too of course, but I had never seen something like that before in my life. Luckily there were no other cars involved, so it didn’t look like there had been any fatal accidents. The driver was lucky he hadn’t broken the barriers at the side of the bridge, and gone over the edge, it was a big drop. The driver, argued with locals as they told him that he wouldn’t be able to get passed, but he managed somehow. We drove along the footpath at the side of the bridge, I was a little worried that it wasn’t built to hold a motorbike with two people on, but we got to the other side safely. I jumped off the bike and told him that I would meet him up the road, I wanted another picture. I got a quick one, with a police officer in it too. He wasn’t best pleased, so when he started to wave his batten and shout at me, I was back on the bike quicker than last time. We drove up the hill and away from the crash, I looked back down at it, still amazed, but now relieved also that I would see my Mum soon. The driver dropped me off near to the hotel, and I walked the rest of the way, I was filthy. I found the room which they were staying in, and headed upstairs. It was lovely to see them, I had been waiting for ages. I apologised about the night before again, and we managed to have a laugh about it. I chatted about the crash, my holiday in Lamu, and we arranged a little plan of what we could do for the next few days. My journey was over, it had been a great one, eventful to say the least, and now I was back at what I can now call home, I was happy to be there.