Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Day of Exploration

Today was our last day in Mombasa and most of us decided to investigate a day of snorkeling at Wasini Island National Marine Park, about 60 km south of Mombasa.  As not everyone wanted to spend the day in the water, David offered to take the remainder into Mombasa to experience more of the city.

Brandon writes:

It was an early wakeup for everyone, as the drive to Wasini took well over an hour.  The bus headed to the south side of Mombasa Island to catch the Likoni ferry.   On arrival, David’s party hopped off and watched us drive the bus up the ramp.  The ferry crew worked like clockwork to load and unload the ferry and ours was filled only with cars, contrasting with the others jammed with commuters.   

We arrived at the Kenya Wildlife Service facilities where we purchased tickets and changed our clothes.  A quick walk down the street took us to the boardwalk where we found the boat arranged for us by our tour guide Mohammad.  The Captain directed us to board his somewhat ramshackle boat, which we dubbed Allen, and we headed out into the Indian Ocean.  On the starboard side one could see the waves crashing into the small cliffs along the coastline.  On the port side was nothing but a vast expanse of water.  I asked the Captain’s permission to sit on plank protruding from the bow.  Very, very cool, and soon others wanted to do the same thing, so we took turns watching the sea rush past.  It was relaxing and tranquil.  

…and then the dolphins appeared.

About a dozen dolphins in two different groups joined the group of boats heading to the island.  Many of the dolphins swam alongside the boat and one jumped.  The group fell quiet and watched. 

On arrival at the coral reef the group grabbed snorkeling equipment and quickly jumped into the clear, light blue water.  Once in, we all tasted the water’s saltiness and felt its temperature, the latter coming as a bit of a surprise, as it was similar in temperature to bathwater.  Once everyone was in the water we began to sort out how to breathe with a snorkel, which for some novices was arduous.  The view below, though, was amazing and the world of the reef lay before our eyes, hidden like a precious gem under a plethora of di-hydrogen monoxide (H2O).  The fish were incredible and their colours were in many ways indescribable. As we returned to our boat, two sea turtles were spotted and we spent some time swimming along side them, each with a meter-wide shell. It was a surreal experience.

After some swimming we began to feel tired and hungry, so we climbed aboard the boat for lunch.  We motored to Wasini Island, which is inhabited by approximately one thousand people and transferred to a smaller boat taxi through the shallow water.  Onshore we walked about 10 minutes to our restaurant, which was a small shack at the back of a house.  Our contingent was divided between two tables - those eating seafood and those eating an alternative meal.  Those who were served the seafood meal enjoyed crab and a hand-sized fish.  Four boys ordered clawless lobster (and had to pay extra).  The others were served a mildly spicy seaweed sauce with chapatti as their starter, followed by chicken covered in a spicy coconut sauce, beans, coconut rice, more chapatti and finally Kenyan potatoes (the vegetarians ate the same meal without the chicken).   After lunch our captain led us to an interesting location where the coral reef is no longer entirely covered by water.  It sits above sea level except during a full moon where the water level rises and partially fills the area. The muddy ground was covered in small crabs and by chance, we happened upon a three-foot long monitor lizard racing from one end to the other, directly beneath our walkway.

After lunch we visited Shimoni Caves, a local historical site where slaves were kept during the 300 years of slave trading in East Africa.  We grabbed some refreshments, including local coconuts, before driving back to the hotel.  We stopped at a supermarket on the way to purchase tomorrow’s lunch.  Told shopping would only take ten minutes at most (Kenyan time) we soon discovered it would take about an hour, which was another reminder of how doing many things in Kenya will take much longer than planned.  The rest of the drive was very slow and we found ourselves stuck in traffic several times.

After arriving at our hotel at 9:30 p.m. we cleaned up before heading out to Yul’s Restaurant for the second evening in a row.  This time we ordered our meals and drinks and immediately headed to the ice cream bar to select our dessert for consumption before we received our starters or main course.  A smart decision, as dinner took a long time to arrive.   It was worth the wait, as our meals were unbelievably delicious.  My main course included creamy pasta with BACON and a side of French fries and for dessert I had two scoops of chocolate ice cream covered in chocolate sauce with a warm black coffee complemented by a small brownie.   Others had a similarly memorable meal. 

It was certainly a day to remember.

Ashley writes:

Exploring the city was a different and eye-opening experience.  When we were dropped off at the ferry terminal, David started off the day by taking us Geocaching (and for me it was my first experience).  Geocaching, for those not in the know, is a big scavenger hunt that connects other people around the world to find hidden items or points of interest called “caches” (there are 1.8 million of them worldwide).  The first cache that we found that day was an “earthcache” which just required a photograph of a particular tree found in East Africa: the Baobab.  Walking along the shoreline we snapped more photos and eventually ended up near Fort Jesus, which we visited yesterday.  Turning into the downtown core we stopped at the Aroma cafĂ© and had cinnamon Danishes and coffee.  

After our stomachs were full we continued on foot to the local spice and meat market. The spice market was a bit of a disappointment.   Even though there were a few spices and some interesting colours and smells, it was more of a vegetable market.  The meat market, though, was shocking and disgusting, (but in a cool way).  There were dead animals, flies and cats (not dead) everywhere!   There was a significant stench and the variety of dead animals parts hanging around was impressive.  There was even some goat heads lined up on a counter and one helpful butcher picked one up, parted its lips and said “look, it’s smiling!  

David is a train enthusiast so the next stop was the Kenya Railways train station.  We bundled into a tuk-tuk for the short ride.  Unfortunately, the train only comes once every two days… and today was not a day the train would be town.  The station was desolate and dusty, but that was kind of cool too.  We took a few photos of an abandoned boxcar and some other train cars beside the long, dreary and empty platform.

The next destination was the Mombasa Commonwealth War Graves cemetery.  We had troubles locating it on the map because we were unfamiliar with the city, but a local high school teacher was kind enough to offer assistance.  Coincidentally, he was from Kakamega and was surprised that we had visited the forest, the Rondo Resort and Shiru.  The cemetery is the final resting place for 199 soldiers who served in World War I and II and is well maintained (the groundskeepers were trimming hedges and replacing some grass when we visited).  David pointed out the regimental and unit badges on some of the headstones and we read about the East Africa campaigns during both wars.  We took some photos and then waved down another tuk-tuk to take us to lunch.

We headed north to the Nakumatt supermarket (Nakumatt has several upscale shopping facilities across the country), but first we wanted to find our second Geocache.   We found it at Julius T. Safari and Julius, a nice man, was the one who handed it to us.  It was a plastic box with some trade items inside, so David picked up a Travel Bug (a dog tag that travels around the world as an aspect of Geocaching) and a Geocoin.  In exchange, we left a few Canadian coins.   Lunch was inside the nearby Nakumatt and we had American-style burgers and cold drinks.  I had an ice cappuccino and was in heaven.   

After lunch we hit the road again and headed for Bombolulu crafts market, where locals with physical disabilities make top-quality crafts.  We were amazed at the quality of jewelry and other crafts and bought some stuff to support the program.  As it had been a busy day we boarded a matatu to head back to our hotel for a shower and rest.  We contacted the other group and found out that they were stuck in traffic, so we met up with Tom and had dinner at a small restaurant overlooking the beach that specialized in Japanese food.  The sushi wasn’t as good as that in BC, but it hit the spot.  It was also Tom’s first time eating Japanese and he enjoyed the different taste.  After we were done we headed to Yul’s and found the other group just arriving. 

Both groups had had a good day and lots of fun (but our group didn’t come back sunburned all over, so will probably enjoy tomorrow’s long bus ride more!)

by Brandon and Ashley

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