Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Six)

This series has been in many more parts than I had intended. The memories came flooding back! I will make this the final entry, even if it runs a little longer that the others.

We decided to take a trip by sea, in a glass-bottomed boat. It was reasonably priced, and offered the chance of seeing lots of colourful fish, and the opportunity for snorkelling in the clear water. This last part would only apply to my wife, as I cannot swim, so would be staying on board. We ordered a taxi to take us along the coast, to the recommended place for these excursions. We soon found one leaving about thirty minutes later, and had a coffee as we waited. They didn’t cram too many on board, and we left with the three crew, and a total of ten passengers. Once they had found their chosen spot in calm waters, they dropped anchor, and opened the internal cover on the glass bottom inside. It was a great view; looking down into the crystal clear water to be able to see all the way to the sea-bed was a magical moment. One of the crew jumped over the side, clutching large lumps of bread. Immediately, hundreds of colourful fish of all sizes appeared, nibbling the fast-dissolving bread from his hands. Up on deck, another crewman was dishing out the face-masks and snorkels, and soon everyone (except me) was in the water. They paddled around quietly, occasionally looking back at the boat to give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. Although I didn’t go in the ocean, I really enjoyed the trip, and my wife declared that it was a highlight for her, being able to interact with the fish in the warm water. I had my doubts about how natural this was, as the fish were obviously so used to being fed every day, they seemed to be waiting in queues for the bread. However, I kept quiet, as I was not about to cast any shadow over what had been a very enjoyable morning for all concerned.

Back at the hotel, we decided to relax on some loungers in the gardens. It was there that we had an animal encounter that I did not enjoy at all. Lying back against the cushion, I was thinking how wonderful everything was there. The lush vegetation, the white sands, blue seas, and palms. Turning to straighten the back rest, I saw the most enormous spider firmly attached to it. The thing was the width of a dinner plate, with long legs, and a bulbous body. Not a fan of spiders, and never having seen one this large, even in a zoo, I have to confess that I was up and running in a heartbeat. My wife laughed at first, then discovered a similar arachnid under her own lounger, and jumped in alarm. I ran to get a waiter, explaining that we were infested with terrifying spiders. He wandered over, and picked them up as if they were soft toys. Walking over to a planted area, he flung them deep inside. He said we should not worry; they weren’t poisonous, and had never been known to bite anyone. They liked the shade offered by the loungers, and were often found there. For the rest of our stay, we didn’t sit on any outside furniture without giving it a close inspection first.

That evening after dinner, there was a show at the hotel This was offered free of charge, and staged in the outside area, near the pool. There was some traditional African dancing and singing, followed by some musicians playing unusual instruments, and small drums. After the interval, two men appeared with assorted snakes. They asked guests to hold them or stroke them at first, later displaying very dangerous snakes, at some distance. I was sure that the poison sacs had been removed from these reptiles, or perhaps they had been drugged, as the men waved them around rather carelessly. Then a large chameleon was produced. I have always been fond of these bizarre lizards, so when he offered it to be held, I volunteered. The strange animal walked up my arm, with its distinctive jerky gait. Reaching my collar, it climbed onto the top of my head and sat there, eyes swivelling around, a look of disdain on its face. I shouldn’t have really approved of this show, but I did love that moment with ‘my’ chameleon.

We spent the next day doing little but relaxing. The day after that, Mahesh was arriving to take us out again.

Mahesh arrived as arranged, and drove us into the old town. He showed us the 16th century Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese. This formidable castle was very interesting, and housed a number of buildings within an enclosed compound. We then walked around some of the oldest parts of the city, unchanged in centuries. Most of the residents there seemed to be of Arab origin, with some who were obviously Indian, but few Africans. We went back to the car, and he told us that we were going to his club for a late lunch. A short drive took us to this colonial-style building, set in manicured gardens. The main area housed a bar and restaurant, and outside were tennis courts, and a cricket pitch. It was cool and relaxed there, and he was obviously well-known. This was of great interest to me. Almost all the members we saw there were Indian Asians. Except for the manager, all the staff were African. Before independence in Kenya, it would have been all white members, with Indian staff. Africans would hardly have been seen there, except those doing the menial tasks. Yet here we were, with the Indians replacing the whites, and the Africans now doing all the service jobs. I began to realise why there was animosity to the Asians in Kenya, and why their money-flow was controlled. Independence had done little for the average African. They were still doing the same jobs as their fathers, and grandfathers before them. We had a polite lunch, and Mahesh even ordered alcohol for us; beer and wine were served, and brandy after the meal. He insisted on paying again, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about that.

Back at the hotel, he asked to take us out again the following day. He said that he wanted to show us his temple, so we could hardly decline.

The Hindu temple we visited the next day was dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. It was colourfully painted, and displayed many statues of Ganesh in different sizes, and in various poses. We were welcomed inside, and introduced to a religious leader, who once again treated us like very important guests. He showed us around the building, explaining some basic facts about the Hindu religion to us. Inside, it was a very peaceful place, a great contrast to the street outside, which was crammed with stalls, and bustling with traffic. On the way back, I asked Mahesh if we could get some gifts for his wife and children, to show our appreciation for his hospitality. He would have none of it, and said it was kind of us to offer, but unnecessary. We secretly resolved to send them things from London, once we got home. And we did. With only two days left in Mombasa, we thanked him profusely for his kind hospitality. Having such an attentive local man showing us around had made all the difference. We felt privileged to have been away from the crowds of tourists, and to have seen something of the real life lived there. We told him that we would spend our last full day relaxing on the beach, before the flight back to Nairobi, and our connection to London, the day after that.

His last act was to insist on getting us to the airport. We told him that travel was organised, but he would have none of it. He took the number of the company rep, and phoned to cancel our arrangements. He then sorted out a personal driver and car, to make sure that we arrived at the airport in time, and unstressed. He gave us some small gifts and papers to pass on to his brother in Wimbledon, and said his farewells.

We still had a fair amount of Kenyan money to get rid of, as it was of no use to us back home. We bought some expensive souvenirs in the hotel shop, and paid extra for a la carte meals in the hotel. We also dished out generous tips to our room boy, the maids, and any waiters that we knew well. The driver from Mahesh arrived in good time, and we were sad to leave the lovely coast, and comfortable hotel. We gave his driver a ridiculously large tip, as we still had too much Kenyan money, and caught the internal flight to the capital.

Once at Nairobi airport, we had a delay of around two hours, before catching the flight back to London, via Rome again. We managed to change up almost £50 at the airport, using the original receipt from the first hotel. They must have thought we were very cheap people, as it seemed that we had only spent £30 in all the time we were there! The balance of the money we put away, deciding to ask our neighbours to send it on later, or give it to a charity in Kenya. We then went to board our aircraft. Unknown to me, my wife was still carrying the Maasai machete in her hand luggage. This was detected, and an alert raised by staff. The next thing we knew, we were in a room, being asked by airport staff and police to explain why we were carrying a ‘weapon’ on to a passenger aircraft. We were also searched, revealing almost £150 in Kenyan money, that we were supposedly ‘smuggling’ out of the country. We had no answer to the money, though the machete was easily explained. After almost an hour, we were getting worried, and expecting to be in serious trouble. The staff from the airline arrived, to tell us that we could carry the machete home as a souvenir, but that it would be stored in the captain’s locker, until we arrived in London. The plane had been held, until we could sort out the currency issue. Soon after, an important-looking policeman appeared, holding the cash. He explained that we should ‘donate’ this money to orphans in his country, and if we agreed, we could go. Naturally, we said yes, thanking our lucky stars that local corruption had saved us from detention in a foreign land. We apologised to the other passengers, who all looked at us as if we were some sort of international criminals, and we took off for the return to England.

Despite the tense end to the trip, caused by our own stupidity, I hasten to add, it was a memorable holiday, and one that I would recommend. If you ever consider something similar, get a decent camera, with a telephoto lens. My wife was the photographer back then, and she took just a 50mm standard lens with her basic SLR. As a result, all our photos were less than memorable. And avoid machetes.

So that you know, I changed the name of Mahesh, just in case…

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21 thoughts on “Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Six)

  1. Pete, I just knew it! When you mentioned your wife bringing with you a handmade machete. But, I didn’t see the appearance of a spider the size of a dinner plate, coming within the passages of your story. I would have probably never ventured back out to the patio after that…

    I also, must confess the reasoning I knew you would experience troubles with the machete. My own blunder was not on such a grand scale as your wife, but I’d taken a bath mat and a wooden coat hanger from the Hilton hotel in Caracas, prior to leaving Venezuela. My grandfather was none the wiser….

    It never occurred to me this would cause a ruckus at the airport, alerting the guards to search our luggage in case I was bringing something I shouldn’t in the cases.. My grandfather towered over me, looking bewildered. I was however able to keep my wooden hanger with the Hilton hotel in Venezuela stamped across the wood, and I still to this day use the lush bath mat..

    What a lovely, exciting adventure you and your wife had .. I want to express my thanks to you for being so kind to share this 6 part series with us here on WordPress. I know the time it has taken you to compose this story, and type it all out… Bravo my new friend…..

    Take care and Happy traveling on your next adventure…

    Best wishes returned, Laura. 🙂

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  2. Pete, I think the human body is typically buoyant (BMI and lung capacity are factors) enough that one can swim in sea water with a snorkel without fear of sinking. Many snorkelers have to wear weights to prevent themselves from surfacing. Surfacing typically creates negative buoyancy, but dog paddling usually compensates nicely. Your mention of the glass bottom boat should have made me think of a Doris Day film, but instead reminded me of Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha,” perhaps because it was filmed at Lake Havasu, where London Bridge is located. The most colorful “fish” viewed through the boat’s glass bottom are Kelly Brook and Riley Steele….

    I was hoping to learn what species of spider you encountered. I am not a fan of spiders, either, but always enjoy getting up close and personal with tarantulas. One particularly enjoyable occasion was the day my wife and I picnicked in the Mojave National Preserve near the Cima Dome. The tarantula shared our picnic table, which nature provided in the form of a granite outcropping’s shelf. The only unfriendly tarantula I have encountered was one that I rescued from the middle of California State Route 198 while leaving Sequoia National Park. The spider reared up and hissed at me as I made several attempts to scoop it up with a floor mat. A provoked tarantula can bite, but my only real concern was the occasional swift metal beast that maneuvered around me. Fortunately, I avoided becoming a human speed bump, and the tarantula was delivered safely to the wild.

    It’s always a good idea to avoid machetes, especially when bushwhackers swing them towards you. But since the legal hassle involved in “smuggling” machetes aboard an airplane probably keeps to a minimum the number of tourists who can proudly display them as souvenirs back home, I would seek out machetes rather than avoid them so as to have a sensational conversation piece gracing the dining room wall. Fortunately, I look nothing like Danny Trejo, so airport security would probably have also given me a pass.

    As for the “important-looking policeman” who suggested you “donate” the extra money to “orphans in his country,” I can only wonder if he was honest enough to actually put the shillings into the hands of needy children. He may have simply pocketed the payoff.

    Pete, this latest blog installment wraps up a wonderful account of your trip to Kenya. You very wisely split it up into six parts of reasonable length. Each of the six parts moved along quickly without sacrificing detail. Ultimately, your series on Kenya represents for me a very memorable reading experience. I look forward to reading more beetleypete travelogues in the future.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful and considered comment David. Unfortunately, I never did research the species of spider concerned. There was no Internet back then, so perhaps I could do it now. But as I don’t like spiders, I don’t really want to!
      As for the policeman, I ‘know’ that he pocketed the cash. His expression was too smug to believe otherwise, and it was a month’s wages for him in those days.
      There are many other travelogues to come, but I am having a break from them at the moment, as they are exhausting to remember, and write about.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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    1. She’s very high up in Kings College, London Ro. You can look her up on the Internet, still uses my surname. If I ever went back to Africa as a tourist, I think I would choose South Africa next time. Same animals, nicer wine!
      Take care mate. X

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    1. That is very kind of you indeed, and most appreciated. I tend to avoid blog awards, due to having to nominate other blogs, who do not necessarily want to be involved. However, I will do better than that, and appreciate the honour myself!
      Many thanks, and best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete, I completely understand your thoughts on this matter. It is after all a choice for you, so I accept the tip of your hat. But, just know your blog is truly One Lovely blog, indeed…. Have a wonderful day 🙂

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        1. Thanks a lot, you are very kind. When I started out, I got nominated for a few awards, and I just couldn’t keep up with all the suggestions and questions required. I could also never work out how to get them on the sidebar, as you see on so many blogs. Just a computer dunce really!
          Your input on my blog is appreciated more than you could know.
          Very best wishes from Norfolk. Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Pete, if you can believe it ~ I struggle too with all of the gadgets, widgets, etc. on here as well. It took me two days and the help of another blogger to figure out the little widget thingy…

            So, we are in good company together as we find our way through this new fangled internet presence we’ve found a space on.. Take care Pete, stay warm and Happy blogging to ya…

            Thanking you ever so much for your comments.

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  3. A great trip Pete, your memories are clear, gripping and amusing, of course your writing style brings it all together perfectly. Shame you never got in the water, an old girlfriend of mine couldn’t swim and yet after a weeks training she was able to go scuba diving, something that she still does today, without ever learning to swim! Spiders, burrrrrrh..

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    1. One of my friends told me that I could do scuba without being able to swim. But when I enquired in London, they wanted a minimum pool length certificate, and fully-dressed too! Oh well, I have managed to live this long without it, maybe one day…Glad you liked it though, much appreciated. Pete.

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    1. Thanks Martina. I looked it up on Amazon. Mixed reviews, but I will definitely add it to my ‘to read’ list. Many thanks for reading all this, and for your most welcome comment.
      Best wishes from England, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a strange thing indeed, but they were strict about hanging onto it until we had cleared immigration in London. It cost us an extra hour, hanging around waiting for it to be brought to us. I hope she has still got it!
      Thanks for reading it all Sue.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, you could include this in a travel book if ever you plan to write one. A first hand glimpse of the places you went to in Africa. Thanks a lot for sharing your adventures there.

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