Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
37Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
The debate of 'shall we/shan't we' go to Nairobi was still raging through the group. Kirsty was adamant that she wasn't going, and the boys were adamant that we were. I was stuck in the middle. I could see both sides. Kirsty had been through enough trauma not to want to give herself any more - and the boys were arguing that the only reason we were going to Nairobi was for her passport. I left them to it and went off for some retail therapy, wondering through the stalls lining the streets of Mombassa. Eventually we saw a guy with a current newspaper and pounced on it for news of Nairobi. The safety alert had been dropped and the embassies had re-opened. All systems go. At the train station we booked a second class berth for the 4 of us, and then debated how to spend the rest of the day. We would be leaving that evening.
Fort Jesus stands on the edge of the town; it was built by the Portuguese in 1593, had changed hands at least 9 times since then, in numerous bloody sieges, before becoming a prison and finally the only tourist attraction in Mombassa. It was quite interesting wondering around, trying to work out what the different buildings were originally; it is now just an empty shell, with an impressive outside wall that looms against the skyline, with foundations of previous churches, prison cells and antechambers inside. A neat newly built building houses a museum. I enjoyed the view form the highest parapet, looking out to the beaches and the boats docked in the port. Glancing back down, the main wall of the fort was being used as the backdrop for a German indie band to film its music video. I laughed so much as all the tourists crowded round to watch, much to the annoyance of the director who shouted at them to keep their shadows out of shot. Then the lead singer pressed play on his ghetto blaster, and singing tunelessly along, was strutted around in front of the grey fort wall. Covered in sweat, with an Australian cork hat and cocky attitude, he loved the attention from the crowd. Kirsty and I waited for him to stop filming, then called out and he turned to smile smugly, until he realized that we actually wanted to get into the gift shop and he was blocking the entrance!
Leaving the fort behind we wondered into the Old Town, where the Portuguese occupation become even more evident. It reminded me of a family holiday to Portugal years ago; ornate doorways and wrought iron balconies, but all lived in African style - the floors had been turned into mud, material was used as fly screens over the doorways, and women sat in the dark shadows of the corridors, while Hispanic children ran through the streets with hoops and balls.
At the end of the market stood a pure glistening white Hindu temple, and we stepped inside. The peace and tranquility of the place was astounding, the bustle of the market outside was masked by the high walls, while the river that ran between the different statues of the gods was strewn with rose petals. The boys wondered around touching the carvings and peering into the rooms, while I sat in the shade and looked around amazed that I was in Africa.
I was soon brought back down to earth as we arrived at the train station; I was huffing and puffing as much as the train under the weight of my rucksack. The train had pulled backwards into station - the third class carriages nearer the waiting room, and the first and second behind the engine. As we walked down the platform to our carriage, we passed the hordes of children and animals being piled into third class. Now I know why it is called Cattle Class. I could see there wouldn't be enough trestle benches inside for all the people piling on to sit on, and was thankful that as a tourist I had enough money to spend the 12-14 hour trip without a goat on my lap.
We had opted for second class and guiltily, I noticed that despite the crush in 3rd class, most of the 2nd and 1st class carriages were empty. I had a peak into a 1st class cabin - it was identical to ours except it had 2 beds inside of 4, and you got a ladder to reach the top bunk. For future traveller info, the extra in price is not worth it unless you hate sharing! For 2100 Kenyan shillings each, the four of us got a cabin with a window, 4 bunks and sink in the middle of the room. The old train is a relic from the colonial days, the huge black puffing monster of a train making a daily trip between Nairobi and Mombassa. An attendant in a velvet uniform came round to inform us a gong would sound when it was time for dinner.
We approached the dinning car with trepidation; the Lonely Planet described the journey as a must for travelers, complete with a silver service dinning car. But having just stayed in Hotel Excellent, we were prepared for chicken and chips. I was amazed, as the carriage opened up to reveal tables laid with a white tablecloths, silver cutlery, sugar bowls, and napkins. Soup arrived followed by a main course, which even had a vegetarian alternative. I tucked into Vegetarian curry, complete with side salad, two types of potatoes and rice. I was determined not to leave anything - good food didn't come along very often. It was an enjoyable meal, with lots of laughter, as we tried not to slosh soup down our t-shirts as the train shunted and jolted along the tracks. The waiters paraded up and down the carriage, in white (and admittedly not so white) uniforms, carrying more coffee or trying to get you to buy beer (the only thing not included in the ticket price!).
The polite waiters still hovered as Kirsty and Lee returned to the cabin, while Stuart and I settled down to play cards. The lack of a table in the cabin made it difficult there, so the dining car was perfect. The waiters however did not see the genius in the plan, huffing as they lifted up our cards to remove the table cloth, dusting the crumbs into our laps. They then tried the tactic of telling us it was dangerous to sit by the open window in the dining car, so we shut the window. One by one, the waiters left us to it, and Stuart and I got down to a rematch of "Big Two" - he had won last time. Big Two was taught to us by Ben, who plays it with his family in Canada. On the trip, we have found that nearly everyone we have met knows a version of the game, from Australia to Israel - and there have been many 'friendly' matches during the trip so far.
Lady luck was obviously smiling on me that night as I was dealt a royal flush, and wiped the smile from Stuarts face! Trying not to gloat (ahem!) we walked back to the cabin, as the last waiter sighed with relief and locked the dining car door behind us.
Back in the cabin, we heeded the safety advice we had been given, kept the window covered and locked the door from the inside. Many travellers tell the tale of hands coming in through the windows as the train stops at a station, or of their door being rattled. We all slept soundly, expect for the sudden stops as the train rolled into remote stations; the upper bunks had a harness to hold you in, which Kirsty discovered was needed after all, as the train stopped abruptly and she nearly rolled out of bed!
The gong sounded again at 6.30 to signal breakfast, at which we all groaned, and then sat up to fight for a look out of the window. The train was passing through Tsavo Game Reserve, and from the window of the train we could spot impala, giraffes and buffalo. Breakfast was as good as dinner, as the waiters brought Toast, full English fry-ups and lots of coffee.
The environment seemed much greener in Kenya, with Acacia trees, shrubs and flowers dotting the landscape, making the final few hours of the journey a pleasure. We asked what time the train would arrive in Nairobi, and received a noncommittal grunt of somewhere between 7am and 11am. I looked at my watch it was 8am already. However at 9.30, we slid into Nairobi station; I had betted on at least midday, so was pleasantly surprised to hear the whistles of the station guards, as the train come to an abrupt holt.
We had arrived in Nairobi - or Nai-robbery as travellers call it. I held onto my bag nervously, as we passed through the station and looked out over the city.