Kenya Part 6: Mombasa, and the Journey Home

Hey friends! Are you ready for the final installment of my Kenya trip?

Since returning I started a new job, celebrated the holidays, and came down with a sore-throat-and-headache virus that I’ve had for a week now and can’t seem to kick (I’m currently awaiting COVID test results). Needless to say, blogging got shoved to the back burner of my life. But I’m here today to deliver the last post of my Kenya trip–the tale of our time in Mombasa.

(And if you want to catch up, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.)

I saw the Indian Ocean for the first time in my life as the plane descended into Mombasa that December evening. The warm humid air crashed into us as we stepped outside. For the first time on this trip it felt like we were on vacation, and I settled into the back of the taxi with Steven as we squeezed through traffic. Steven stuck his hand out the window. “Hey, I touched the car beside us!”

Later, as I researched details for this blog series, I realized that we visited every single city in Kenya. Nairobi, the capital we flew in and out of, is the biggest city in Kenya, followed by Mombasa and then Kisumu. Nakuru officially became a city on December 1, the day before we arrived there, so everyone was talking about it. “We’re a city now!” I gathered that in Kenya, there’s an official difference between a city and a town.

Mombasa, besides being heavily populated, is also undergoing a lot of road construction right now, so it took us nearly an hour to get from the airport to our hotel. We didn’t really know what to expect from our hotel. Dad had just gone on Priceline and found something. I think he picked this particular place because it was a suite–one room had two single beds for him and Steven, and the other room was for me.

It was oppressively hot. Steven and I stood on the balcony to get some air. “Where do you think we can go to get some food?” I asked, looking out over the deserted road we’d driven in on.

“I don’t know, but I’m starving,” said Steven.

“Me too. And thirsty.” It was bottled water only for me now, but where was I to purchase it? I wondered what would happen if I just boiled faucet water in the electric kettle and drank that. I was scared to risk it. Besides, the electric kettle was kinda gross and dirty.

Not gonna lie, the suite had its quirks. Like, there was a propane tank in the middle of the kitchen floor because it was too large to fit in the cupboard under the stove. And the place used real keys, half of which were old-fashioned skeleton keys. We were given a whole ring of them–one for the main door, one for the balcony door, one for each of the bedrooms. That was kind-of charming, actually.

When we discovered the air conditioning units in our bedrooms we breathed a huge sigh of relief. We turned them on and then went to try and find some food.

Steven asked the security guard where we could find a restaurant, and he told us to go next door. Well, next door was another hotel. Unlike ours, this one had a restaurant attached. It was a lovely little place that sold basic Kenyan food, a little bit of Indian food, and some American food, all at a reasonable price. (Dad ordered a hamburger and Steven and I rolled our eyes, haha.)

We ended up eating most of our meals there while in Mombasa. The lady behind the front desk at our hotel got a little annoyed at us, because the place we were eating was their direct competition. But we were just like, um…if you had a restaurant we’d eat here, but you don’t.

Also, yell at your security guard, not us. He’s the one who told us where to eat.

The next morning Steven and I woke up relatively early, and Dad was still asleep. We went wandering down the street to see what we could see. I later learned that we’d wandered in the wrong direction. If we’d turned right we would have ended up in a part of town full of shops and restaurants. But instead we turned left, where there were just a bunch of resorts one after another.

We did cut through a vacant lot and get a good look at the Indian Ocean, however.

Even though it was fairly early in the morning, it was already incredibly hot. I think the temperature in Kenya is mostly based on elevation. Nairobi and Nakuru were quite cool, relatively speaking. I often wore a jacket, especially in the mornings. Kisumu was a much lower elevation, down by Lake Victoria, and was properly hot. Mombasa, on the coast, was oppressively hot.

The main reason we’d come to Mombasa was to hang out with Peter, Steven’s friend/Into Africa brother. But Peter lived in a different part of town and it was going to take him a while to get to where we were. So before contacting Peter, Steven wanted to make sure we had the whole COVID test situation figured out.

Ah, the COVID test.

Traveling internationally is complicated these days, especially because the rules keep changing. When we came to Kenya, the rule was that if you were fully vaccinated, you had several days to get your COVID test before traveling. (If you weren’t vaccinated you had a shorter time frame–I think 24 hours.) But while we were there, the rule changed so that vaccinated or not, you had to have a PCR COVID test dated within 24 hours of when you were leaving the country.

We were leaving Kenya Sunday morning at 1 am.

Someone told us that instead of waiting until Saturday morning to get tested, we could potentially get tested on Friday and they’d change the date on the test for us if they knew we were traveling. I know this sounds dishonest, but we were kind-of baffled as to how else we were supposed to get our results in time.

The thing is, we didn’t even know where to go to get tested. We were in an unfamiliar city after all. Dad and Steven started looking things up and calling different places.

Meanwhile, our hotel decided that today was the day to re-paint the building. So all morning there were just people outside, looking in our windows.

Eventually Dad and Steven figured out what hospital we needed to go to for our test. We were about to leave when we ran into another conundrum. Our balcony door was unlocked, and there were strangers on our balcony painting the building. But how awkward to lock the balcony door right in front of them, like, “hello there, by the way we don’t trust you.”

We solved this problem by putting our laptops and such in our bedrooms, and locking them with the skeleton keys. Then, just before we left, Dad had to dash to the bathroom. I shook my head in an I-told-you-so way, because I’d warned him against eating the raw veggies on his hamburger the night before.

Oh well. I went to get my activated charcoal, but my door was locked. Right. I took that skeleton key and could not for the life of me get it open. Keys and I don’t get along well. Steven had to help me.

Anyway, I made dad take charcoal and then we took a tuktuk to the hospital, only to discover that the receptionist lady was so not jazzed about the whole take-the-test-Friday-and-date-it-for-Saturday business. She convinced us that if we came in Saturday morning, we could have the results by 6 or 7 pm.

Okey dokey.

We had several other errands to run that morning, including getting some more shillings, going to a grocery store to buy a bunch of tea for mom, and buying bottled water. Basically we’d just tell the tuktuk driver what we wanted, and he’d take us there.

A tuktuk, by the way, is a little three-wheeled taxi. They drive all over the city and usually it’s super easy to flag one down and go wherever you want to go.

This whole time, Steven was trying to get ahold of Peter but was not able to. So he and I decided to go spend some time at the beach while we waited. (Dad, meanwhile, just wanted to rest back at the hotel.)

Under normal circumstances, if I’m going to go swim in the wild somewhere, I just wear my swimming clothes under my regular clothes. But it was way too hot for me to attempt this. So I just decided to wear a t-shirt and swim trunks, and that’s what I’d swim in too.

Unfortunately, my swim trunks were still stained by the activated charcoal I’d dumped on myself in the middle of the night.

But I mean, what can you do? I just wore the stained swim trunks and went on my way.

Of course when we got there, someone was immediately like, “hey, if you come into this hut and pay me a dollar you can put your things in this locker and change in this curtained area.” Then I felt a little silly. Look, where I come from no one swims in the freezing-cold ocean so no one creates handy-dandy changing rooms on the beachfront. But whatever.

Then I swam in the Indian Ocean. It was amazing. Gloriously warm.

Look, I match the boat.

The only issue was that there was a ton of seaweed on the ocean floor, and it felt kinda creepy to walk through it. I wished I had a nice flotation device. Later, too late, I realized you could rent them.

At one point, Steven felt something funny on his foot, reached down, and came up with a starfish. It was tan with red spikes, and honestly we couldn’t figure out if it was real or not at first because it didn’t move at all. Maybe it was dead? Maybe starfish just straight-up don’t move? Who knows.

Anyway, after swimming and splashing around a good deal we walked along the beach for a bit. Of course I was dripping wet but it felt rather nice, on such a hot day. Much nicer than our morning walk.

“Wow, I’m the only white person on this beach,” I told Steven. “This must be what you feel like all the time.”

“If you see another white person it’s gonna be like–instant connection!” said Steven.

Oh, also there were camels on the beach. I’m not sure why. Someone who used to live in Kenya DM’d me on Instagram and said you could get camel rides, but certainly no one offered Steven and me rides.

After swimming and strolling we decided to go get something to eat. “Can you take us to a restaurant?” we asked our tuktuk driver. And he took us someplace. It was great. The table legs were made out of bare tree trunks.

Steven ordered wet fry fish like we’d had at the lakeside restaurant in Kisumu. I was gonna try something new, but the bean and veggie mixture I ordered, while fine, was not nearly as delicious as Steven’s fish (which I sneaked a few bites of).

The chapatis were fantastic though, as was the tea.

This whole time I was just in my wet clothes, although Steven said they didn’t look wet. The charcoal smudge was still there–the ocean swim minimized it but didn’t make it disappear–and in general I was a mess. But honestly I didn’t really care, because I was cool as a cucumber. Temperature wise, I mean.

When Steven finally made contact with Peter, it was already late in the day and we agreed that Peter would just meet us the next morning. I’m trying to remember what we did the rest of Friday. I think I took a nap. Our lunch was so late that we didn’t need supper, but after it got dark we decided to walk to the same grocery store where we’d bought tea earlier and buy a few snacks. Which was all great except for the last few intersections. I never quite got the traffic rhythms, so crossing streets felt kind-of hazardous, and Dad nearly gave me a heart attack once when he just went wandering merrily across the street.

Anyway. I had Steven’s name for Christmas so I was trying to buy him Kenyan things that he wouldn’t think to buy himself, while also not letting on that I was buying him gifts. That was a challenge. At one point I borrowed money from him to buy a present for him, lol.

The next morning we went to get our COVID tests for real.

Everything went well, and they promised they’d give us our results by that afternoon or evening.

After that we went back to our hotel, where we finally met up with Peter.

It really was unfortunate that we only had such a short amount of time to hang out with Peter. He and Steven were so close, and had so many memories together, that in some ways it felt like hanging out with a long-lost family member. As they reminisced I learned a lot of stuff about Steven’s life before he came into our family that I didn’t know before. According to Peter, there were six boys who all stuck together through multiple children’s homes and the streets. Today, all of them have passed away except for Peter and Steven.

Peter also told us all about the life he’d built for himself in Mombasa–his church, his career, his music, etc. He told me that he writes and sings music, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to any of it while I was there.

We were getting hungry, but weren’t sure where to go for lunch. Steven and I thought we’d like to go back to the tree-trunks-for-table-legs restaurant, but weren’t sure where it was located. Peter said he was pretty sure he knew which restaurant we were talking about, and it was within walking distance. But when we walked over there, it was a different restaurant.

I think the restaurant we went to was designed to cater to tourists, because there wasn’t any Kenyan food on the menu and the wait staff were all very comfortable speaking English. In fact, one of the really interesting things about Mombasa was that a lot of things seemed set up for tourists, but there were hardly any tourists at all, presumably due to COVID.

Anyway, Peter seemed fine with eating American food, so we stayed and ate hamburgers for our last meal in Kenya.

While we were eating, Steven got a phone call. Our COVID results were in! It had only taken, like, six hours.

Anyway, we were off again. Walked back to the motel, packed up our things, got in the taxi, headed to the hospital to pick up hard copies of our test results, and then on to the airport.

This is not that important, but I realized that the standard paper size in Kenya is different than the standard paper size in the USA, and the sheet of paper with my results was just a hair too tall for my Folder of Important Papers.

It really was a bummer that we didn’t get more time to hang out with Peter. He rode part of the way to the airport with us, and then got out to take public transportation home. Very cool guy. I hope to hear his music sometime, and hopefully we’ll all spend more time together in the future.

Grabbed my new favorite soda.

The trip home was…eventful. I have never, ever, ever encountered an airport as crazy as the Nairobi airport. I’m pretty sure they were updating their COVID system and hadn’t gotten the kinks worked out yet. Thankfully we had a four hour layover between our flight from Mombasa and our flight to Amsterdam. We had to exit the domestic terminal and re-check our bags at the international terminal, and it took literally two hours to re-check our bags.

First we had to stand outside for ages because we had to show a negative COVID test to get in the door. Then we had to send our bags through security as we entered, because Kenyan airports all have two security checkpoints instead of just one.

It was getting late, and I was very groggy. The wheel of my terrible suitcase wasn’t working, so I was dragging it all over, and in general it was a very inconvenient time to get flagged by security. But they were pulling my bag aside and looking around for its owner.

“Um…that’s my bag…” I said.

“You have screwdrivers in here?” they asked.

“Just drill bits,” I tried to explain. “Tiny things.” Please please please don’t make me dig for those tiny stupid drill bits. I got a drill for my birthday last year but had no bits, so on this trip I’d pilfered from my family’s supply. Then I stuck them in my checked luggage and prepared to take them to Virginia with me by way of Kenya. I never expected that I’d have to put my checked luggage through security.

The man was gesturing for me to open my suitcase, so with a sigh I complied. Well, tried to. The zipper was completely stuck. I could not get that thing open.

Look, I’d just randomly grabbed an adequately-sized suitcase from my parents’ attic. As the trip progressed, it slowly disintegrated. The airlines made me sign forms attesting that I’d brought it in this condition, and its disrepair was not their fault.

I was starting to panic. What would happen if I legit could not open this suitcase? And then, with a lurch, it opened. All the stuff I’d crammed in there on full display. And somehow I had to find those tiny screwdriver bits.

Well, somehow I found them in the little plastic bag where I’d dumped them with some hot glue sticks. I held them up for inspection. “It’s okay,” the man declared, and on we went to show our negative COVID test to 5 more people and our passport to 6 more people.

I was so tired and out of sorts by the time I got on that plane, and all I could think was, I still have over 24 hours of travel. How will I survive?

But by the grace of God, that flight was sparse and there was an empty seat next to me. I lay down and slept for a full 8 hours and was fine.

In Amsterdam I said goodbye to Dad and Steven and flew on to Atlanta, and then Roanoke where Jenny picked me up.

That was the end of my amazing journey to Kenya. Overall, except for a couple hiccups, I had amazing health and didn’t even crash when I got home. (Although the one morning when I woke up at 3 am and started frying zucchini, Jenny got a little annoyed at me.)

Now, I did get sick the day after Christmas and I’ve been sick ever since, but someone told me that pretty much the whole state of Virginia has the Omicron variant right now, so I guess I’m in good company. (I still don’t know if I actually have COVID or not. I got tested Friday and my results are still not back, presumably because everyone and their mom is getting tested right now.)

Anyway, take care and I hope you have a marvelous 2022!


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2 responses to “Kenya Part 6: Mombasa, and the Journey Home

  1. I loved, “Look, I match the boat!” and “At one point I borrowed money from him to buy a present for him, lol.” I trust the last comment, “Anyway, take care and I hope you have a marvelous 2022!” will be true! Hoping for the same for you!


  2. I’m praying you don’t have Covid. We had Covid most of December and it was terrible. I’m still coughing like crazy. Take care and feel better!


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