Mombasa: Relaxing, Kiting and Old Town

by on February 13, 2014; Africa; Kenya; Travel

Mombasa was a time for kite surfing (for Sean), relaxing with a little bit of sight seeing thrown in. We stayed in Nyali, just outside the main Mombasa centre, at a place called Nirvana backpackers which is run by a lovely lady named Lesley and her lovely staff. This place has been the best place we’ve stayed at in Africa so far! Lesley looked after us really well, helping us plan our day and making sure we didn’t overpay for taxis, tuk tuks, coconuts and pretty much everything else! We met so many lovely and fun people here that (I hate to say it because it’s pretty cliche) but it really did feel like a home away from home. Perhaps, we should have had an inkling of this when we pulled up to the house and the taxi driver didn’t have change for KSH500 so one of the guests just gave us the KSH100 and told us to pay him back later. The backpacker’s location was great, only a couple of minutes walk to the beautiful, palm tree-lined beach. It was quite windy at times though, so not really that great for hanging out at unless you’re in the water, but I guess it was this that made it great for Sean’s kite surfing lessons. He did a week of kiting and obtaining his Level 2 certificate, which is apparently enough to get up on the board.

We’ve had to get used to many things being different in Kenya from home, but one of the easier ones is no longer having to brace yourself for cold when you jump into the sea, the water being incredibly warm. This has been replaced however with bracing yourselves for cold showers at the hostel, the hot water tap being purely ornamental; quite the opposite to the warm showers and cold ocean we’re used to at home!

After getting acquainted with awesome group of people at Nirvana we headed out to Bob’s bar and apparently the saying is “You haven’t been to Mombasa until you’ve been to Bob’s”, which may have been a bit of an over-sell but it was a great place to hang out. We headed there one night with the contingent from Nirvana including Hendrik’s the crazy german, Adrian from Diani with his easy smiles and our gracious host Lesley. On arrival we found out it was karaoke night, which was somewhat bizarre given the traditional Irish-pub decore (which in itself was kind of bizarre to find in Kenya) but some of the singing was absolutely incredible! There were two stand-out singers, a guy who did Elvis and the lady who did Whitney. They were so good in fact that Sean developed a theory that they might have been planted by the bar. Sean and Hendrik made it their mission to speak to the singers to prove/disprove their theory. Unfortunately, having had a few vodka shots (KRRRRRRRRRRGH!) and Tuskers, they initially spoke to the wrong guy (Sean: The bar was dark, OK) and were amazed that a man with such a bad stutter could sing so well. He was pretty stoked with the complement though and confirmed that he was just down at the bar for a laugh and not on the payroll. It was only later on when the Elvis guy sang a second song that they realised their mistake. It turned that both outstanding singers were just out with friends but they did sing for bands that performed at the bar.

Our days were mainly filled with relaxing at the beaching or at the hostel. We also visited Mombasa town a couple of times, which turned out to be fairly chaotic so we were definitely glad to be out in the suburbs. The town had a few sights of note, mainly Fort Jesus which was built by in 1591 by the Portuguese, although they didn’t hold it for long, the fort changing hands many times over the years. A birds eye view shows that the fort is made in the shape of a man (Jesus, apparently) with the lower half of the fort being carved out of a massive block and the top half being extend with a coral/sand/lime mixture. We arrived at the fort via tuk tuk and were immediately accosted by a whole bunch of people who wanted to give us guided tours. Unfortunately we couldn’t find an ATM before getting there so we really only had enough for the entrance fee, which was a bit of a shame since it was the sort of place that would be worth having a guide for. Luck was on our side however and after entering he fort we were approached by a lady named Grace who is a Tourism student and was giving tours for free as part of her course! She showed us round the fort explaining the history and different features really thoroughly and we were most impressed! In the end we remembered we had a few USD singles stashed away that we gave her as a tip and arranged to have a tour of Old Town, a section of Mombasa’s port area inhabited from the 1500’s, with her later on in the week. Old Town’s remaining buildings are mainly from the 1800’s and feature architecture that combines Arabic and Portuguese influences. Narrow walkways wind between the tall buildings and past beautifully carved Islamic doors. The area of town has a bit of a dark past though as it contains an old slaving site where slaves were kept, sorted, washed before being shipped to Zanzibar for sale – a chilling place to be even with the hot Mombasa weather.

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On our final night in Nyali we went out again to Bob’s with Lesley, her accountant (who had spent part of the pre-drinks doing her accounts!) and a couple of Lesley’s friends from Nairobi. The lady from karaokes band was playing; she was an amazing performer and did songs from all over Kenya in the various tribal dialects and also performed some more Whitney, singing “I will always love you” beautifully! There was a lot more dancing this evening and I was taught a traditional Kikuyu tribe dance. Lesley also tried to teach me the Geordie tribe dance (a tribe originating in northern England, rather than Kenya) but I just couldn’t get it! It was great being out with some locals who could translate the various songs for us and l also got the story on all the un-PC reputations for Kenya’s different tribes including the Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo, Lua, Luya and Taita, the accuracy of which may be disputed, but why let the truth get in the way of a funny story?

We were definitely sad to leave Mombasa and the great group of people we had met, but we knew we had already spent too long there (Edit 7th April 2014 – apparently we’re not the only ones! We’ve met two other travelers who also got stuck at Nirvana!). We said our goodbyes and were soon on a bumpy bus ride to Tanzania.