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…