I am making this post shortly after the 4th of July. A date which means little here in Uganda but a major celebration in the U.S. – Independence Day! So a belated fond “Happy Birthday” to the US of A.
This post is about my recent travels to Kenya. I was fortunate that the Project Director of Omoana, Adrien, had asked me to join him for a week of holiday. Our travels started on Saturday the 25th of June where we boarded a bus in Jinja heading east to the Kenyan border. We arrived in Busia, the border town, a couple of hours later. After paying the $25 USD fee for a single pass visa, we were on our way. I expected that Kenya would look somewhat different than Uganda from terrain, etc, but I found that it resembled Uganda in many ways – building structures, landscape (maybe a little less green). Our first big stop was in a town called Kisumu where we had lunch at a local cafe. From there we continued on until we reached Nairobi at around 9pm. We got a hotel which was nearby and spent the night. My impressions of Nairobi are that it is much more organized than Kampala and the streets are in better condition overall. However, one thing I noticed was that there were significantly more stop lights than Kampala but few drivers heeded them from my impression. We spent the day walking around and checking out the central area of the city. In the afternoon, we walked to the National Museum to take a look around. The Museum was recently renovated and looks modern and new. The exhibits were fascinating and informative – everything from natural history to the political history of Kenya. It was sad to compare this to the Ugandan National Museum which is in a more neglected state unfortunately. While we were in the museum, we did not realize that a huge thunderstorm was pelting the city with rain. We did not think this was an issue until we started our walk back and saw that the main road was flooded and no cars could pass! We asked a local policewoman about a safe alternate route and she informed us of one but that she “could not guarantee our safety”. For those of you who do not know, the unofficial nickname for Nairobi is “Nairobbery”. We struck out on the side street and fortunately found a taxi who got us into downtown safe and sound. We had dinner in a very nice Italian Restaurant, Trattoria. Later we hopped on a bus to the coast and Mombasa. Mombasa has a long and colorful history to say the least. It was once occupied by the Portuguese who built a fort there to protect the wide natural harbor. Later the Arabs came and drove out the Portuguese. The English then came and colonized the area. Mombasa and it’s surrounding areas relies heavily on the port for commercial shipping of goods but also to tourists who flock to the northern and southern beaches to enjoy the warm Indian Ocean waters. The hotel we stayed at was about 15km north of Mombasa. One of the nice things about the hotel was that it was somewhat self-enclosed but accessible to the beach. Why was this important? Well, on the beaches it seems that local Kenyans are free to set up shop and accost passing tourists with their wares – everything from cheap keychains, to wood carvings, to clothes. They are very persistent and often kept me from just walking along the beach if I wanted to. One day we decided to travel to Old Town Mombasa to visit the ruins of the Portuguese fort, Fort Jesus. The old section of Mombasa is an area of narrow streets that are lined with shops, outdoor markets, and local taxis of “Tuk Tuks” (three-wheeled motorcycles). There one can find Swahili mixed in with Arabic, and even Hindi. The aroma from the Spice Market is especially memorable. I had my first coconut juice (straight from a coconut) and also a Custard fruit (very sweet). We then took a tour around Fort Jesus accompanied by a local who just offered his services. He seemed very knowledgeable and friendly but we suspected that a price had to be paid. At the end of showing us around, he did ask for about $25 USD which drew a strong reaction from Adrien. I didn’t blame him for that since we did not ask for the man’s services. We did pay him some money to get rid of him but it sort’ve left a sour taste to the day. One day I got a chance to go scuba diving in the local waters. I was very excited about this but I had foolishly stayed up late the night before. This led to my eventual seasicknesses on the boat ride out to the dive site. However, I persevered and made the dive which I was glad to do. The water conditions were not so great though. A big current and cloudy water conditions which left visibility to about 12 meters. I still got to see many fish, coral, a Grouper fish, and a giant sea turtle! On Friday, we then hopped on a night bus from Mombasa and made the long 22 hour trek back to Jinja via a bus change in Nairobi. If possible, I would recommend flying next time.
All-in-all it was a great week and I enjoyed a chance to visit another East African country before I leave for home! Some pictures posted below.