Sunday, 25 July 2010

Misadventures in Mombasa and beyond

The girls travelled off to Nairobi, the night we got back from Murchison, leaving Kampala at around 2.30am in order to catch the first flight to Nairobi.  The plan was that they would follow the route we had taken when we went to Mombasa some time back.  I received a text message to say that the night train to Mombasa wasn't running that night, and so I put my travel agent hat back on...  After several hours of frantic phone calls to bus companies and airlines in Nairobi, and hotels in Mombasa, flying round Kampala on the back of a boda boda to the airline offices, the girls had tickets to Mombasa and an extra night's accommodation at the Castle Royal Hotel.  When they arrived at the Castle Royal, it turned out that there had been no running water for 3 days, and their room was a dump.  It also transpired that there was no other accommodation available in the city.  Travel agent hat went on once more, and although they had to spend the night where they were, the Serena beckoned the next night.  

I flew out to meet them, arriving at the hotel on Saturday morning.  The Swahili coast was as breathtaking as I remember it being, the suntan lotion was slapped on and I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the rays - it felt like I had been in the hospital for so long without having a weekend to properly relax.  Heather and Rebecca took a ride on a camel, and I wandered along the beach, chatting to the touts.  Miriam sells Kangas to tourists.  It was the usual 'look at my stall' in the beginning.  I rarely buy stuff when I'm away, I seem to get it home and it's never quite as nice as you thought it was when you bought it.  And so I plugged my usual 'I've been here for a long time, I have a lot of this stuff and I don't need any more'.  Then I got the 'I have to feed my family' line.  I asked Miriam whether she was married... She said that her Kanga stall was her husband, 'Much less hassle than a human one, doesn't argue, answer back or drink my profits away'.  I agreed to consider going back and having a closer look the next day.  In the distance, somewhere in the direction of the camel, I could hear the girls, now with an entourage of beach boys, singing 'Jambo Jambo' and smiling to myself, I wandered and found a place to sit and breathe in the fresh sea air.  

That evening we had planned to revisit the Tamarind Dhow for a dinner cruise, but learned that both boats were in the work shop for repair.  We settled for dinner at the Tamarind Restaurant instead, that was delicious, oysters, crab and prawns being the order of the day.  Returning back to the hotel, sleepy and sated, I fell asleep swiftly and had the best night's sleep in ages.  The girls had an early flight via Nairobi to Zanzibar, I had a direct flight mid-afternoon, and so took the opportunity of a lie in...

Arriving at the airport in good time, excited about the prospect on being in the tin can for less than an hour, I walked up to the check in desk and presented my passport to receive the dreaded words 'Your flight has been cancelled'.  'What?!'.  'We can fly you to Nairobi tonight, there are no more flights to Zanzibar today'.  'You're going to fly me to Nairobi?  I don't want to spend a night in Nairobi'.  It seemed, however that I didn't have a choice.  And so, off to Nairobi I went, on my own, feeling very pissed off and a little bit sorry for myself.  I had been so excited at the prospect of sitting in the cliff top restaurant at Coral Rock in Jambiani, with a glass of Kilimanjaro as the sea breeze blew in through the open terrace.  

Instead I found my self in the Panari Hotel, a gaudy business hotel with as much atmosphere as a vacuum and decor to match.   I settled myself into a striped black and white faux leather chair and wept into my beer as Germany thrashed England in the football.  Since Kenya Airways were footing the bill, I decided I wasn't going to pay extra for an a la carte meal, and settled for the buffet.  Big mistake.  I woke up at 3am with cramp.  By the time the bus came to collect us and take us to the airport I had become very friendly with the hotel toilet.  As I sat on the plane, I realised that it was not going to be a pleasant flight.  Unable to stomach any food, I really fancied a sip of orange juice.  As I took my second gulp, the captain pointed out Mount Kilimajaro on the right hand side, which I was unable to appreciate as I reached for the airsick bag and emptied my stomach of the previous night's meal.  The woman sleeping next to me didn't even stir, and the stewards ignored the bell.  I was grateful that the bag was wax lined as I carried it up the middle of the plane to dispose of it, chuckling at the message 'If this bag is used for airsickness purposes, please hand it to the steward'.  For a minute, I had contemplated depositing it in the seat pocket.   

The girls came and met me at the airport, with a day of activities planned.  Feeling slightly less peaky, we drove to a spice farm.  Having no sense of smell, is a drawback on this sort of tour, but I was interested to see the processes involved, and what spices actually look like before someone dries, grinds, bottles them and ships them off to Tesco.  Our guide showed us nutmeg, cinnamon, berries for making lipstick, hacking stuff down from trees and putting them into a banana leaf funnel to take home.  We got to the cloves... 'These are cloves'.  'That's lovely, where's your toilet?', as I was gripped by the familiar rumble, accompanied by a profuse cold sweat.  'Now?'.  'Now, now!'.  I was shown to the thatched toilet hut, knowing full well what was I was going to find inside.

At the age of 9, we took a family holiday to Scotland.  Having just left the castle that we had paid a fortune to get into, and entered the forest for a walk, I decided that I absolutely had to pee.  So I was instructed to go behind a tree.  As I squatted, my brother leaped out from behind said tree, scared the living daylights out of me, and I pissed all over my own trouser leg.  Since then, I have had major issues with peeing outside, or in squat latrines.  The words 'Asian toilet' send shivers down my spine.  Try as I may, I just cannot master the art of piddling in a hole in the ground.  And this time, I was not worried about urinating on myself.  It was something far, far worse.
I thought I was better, having relieved myself, and attempted to join in the rest of the spice tour, taking in one further spice - could have been bloody anything for all I know - before running back to the hut, making an executive decision to lose the trousers completely and whistle loudly to scare off other would be toilet users.  20 minutes later, I emerged and parked myself on a bench, lying still and wanting to die, while the rest of the group finished off the tour and had lunch.  They were deposited in Stone Town and I went to the hotel.

I was greeted by Pedro at Coral Rock, who gave me the option of 2 rooms.  'N2, that's the honeymoon suite right?'.  'Yes'.  'I'll take that'.  'Do you want to look at the rooms first?', 'No thank you, I'd like to go to the toilet, get into bed and feel sorry for myself', 'Oh, OK'.  And that's precisely what I did.  When Heather and Rebecca got back from their tour I joined them for a coke, skulking back to my room by 9 and stumbling back into bed.  So much for Island Paradise.  The next morning, I felt significantly better and we took a walk out to the channel to swim in the sea.  I had forgotten how blindingly white the sand was and how warm the water was.  Once more I really did feel like I'd found Heaven on Earth.  A tentative bland lunch seemed to be the way forward, and the afternoon was spent chilling by the pool and reading.  Remembering how good the food was the last time I was there, and craving some real sustenance, I opted for fish, which was delicious.  

My stomach begged to differ, and I was back to square one.  Once more my Zanzibar odyssey becoming a bed bound adventure.  Along with the bad weather, it served to sabotage our planned boat trip.  I can think of worse places to have gastroenteritis, but it's a bloody expensive place to do it.  Coke and water arrived at regular intervals, and by 4.30 I was feeling well enough to decamp to the pool for a quick dip in the water.  I was not much of a fun travelling companion.  Fortunately we rearranged the boat trip for the next day.  Once more, however, stormy weather off the coast, was to meddle with our plans again.  Instead, we headed back to Stone Town, this time I was feeling much better.  We meandered through the maze of streets, stumbling across little boutique clothes and craft shops, enjoying the leisurely pace, bartering with shop keepers and soaking up the atmosphere.  We found the Persian baths, a crumbling testament to former Stone Town days, stunning in their own way, but in need of a little TLC.  We stopped for a coffee before plodding onwards past the markets in the hunt for 'Two Tables' restaurant.  Down a back alley, this place is actually someone's house, that opens  in the evening for dinner.  Consisting of two tables in a conservatory of sorts, it's a gem.  We rang the bell, and heard someone shout down from an upstairs window.  We shouted up that we wanted 3 places for dinner, and were told to return for 7.30.  We continued on to Africa House for a leisurely lunch on the terrace, overlooking the harbour, in the company of 3 menacing monkeys that were trashing the bar with the help of 3 unruly children.

We wandered and shopped a bit more, calling into the Old Fort, and unsuccessfully bartering for some bowls, our final stop of the day was the 'House of Wonders'.  The first house in Zanzibar to have electricity and an elevator, it had clearly seen better days.  The hand stitched Dhow was interesting, but in reality, the Museum is badly laid out and badly maintained.  Which is a real shame, as it could be wonderful.  We wandered into the night food market, sampling some sugar cane juice and grilled bread fruit, watching boys jump into the water from the harbour walls, with varying degrees of acrobatic skill.  We stopped for a beer, before heading back to Two Tables.

On arrival, we were greeted by the head of the household, and invited to take a seat downstairs, and a small living room full of bric-a-brac, that would give any British Antique shop a run for its money.  After a short while, we were invited upstairs to the dining room.  We were served soup, followed by lentil curry and the most delicious Mandazi I have ever eaten, a portion of vegetable croquettes witha  spiced coconut dipping sauce, a small meat kebab, Marlin in coconut curry and fried Elephant bananas to finish.  It was gut busting, delicious, a wonderful experience - the family sat and watched TV as we ate - and incerdible value for money at $15.  Thorooughly recommended and worth hunting for.  Stuffed, we found our driver and headed back to Coral Rock.  We were greeted by a drunken Neil - the owner - who wanted to know what had happened to me since my last visit and why I wasn't being savage.  I explained that I'd been unwell, whereupon he insisted on buying us a drink and made us do the pub quiz which we'd missed.

Suddenly it was our last Zanzibari day.  The weather was dreadful, and plans to snorkel in the channel off the beach thwarted by torrential rain.  No sooner had we set off for the airport at midday, than the skies cleared.  It was a long day of travelling, arriving in Entebbe at around 8.45pm, as our plane was delayed.  James dropped us at Emin Pasha, where we met back up with Lorraine to hear about her 2 weeks at fistula camp, and travelling around South West Uganda.  We decided on a take out curry, which we ate in the hotel room on Emin Pasha's finest crockery, washed down with a few beers.  It was a late night in the end, I got home at around 1.  The following morning, Heather, Rebecca and Lorraine flew back to Blighty.  Having them around for a month had been great fun, it had been fantastic to share Mulago and some experiences there, but also the things we had done together outside the hospital.  I realised I was going to miss them all immensely, and that at the same time them leaving also indicated that with 4 weeks left in Uganda, my time was coming to a close too.

Photos are here

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