Waking up on a train ... now that's something. Waking up on a train in the middle of the Kenyan countryside? Damn, that's something else. Our first order of business was to open the windows and take a look at the countryside that had been shrouded in darkness since we got on board the night before. It was a scene right out of The Ghost and the Darkness (or countless other Africa-based movies, I'm sure). I had always wondered why Hollywood seemed include scenes with children running alongside cars and trains ... Thushan and I used to laugh at this, thinking it a bad cliche'. It was interesting for both of us to experience it first hand. I can tell you that it was anything but commonplace when it played out live.
Mombasa was different than Nairobi in many ways. Most instantly noticable - it was much, much hotter. We weren't ready for the humidity. Apparently Mombasa itself is not the actual destination of many tourists, they continue on to resorts and beaches to both the north and south. That info, paired with the fact that it was the first nice day of our rainy-season visit, led to our decision to head to the beach. We took a tuk tuk to a ferry to a matatu. As the infamous chicken bus is to Central and South American travel, the matatu is to Kenya. The matatu at first glance is most easily described as a cross between a taxi and a bus. However, beneath a surface decorated with anything from Eminem and Tupac stickers to the more godly "Biblical Advisory: Jesus Saves" sayings lies an even more colorful experience. I wouldn't waste time arguing the fact that the system of transport is slow and crowded and hot and maybe even a bit odiferous. But dare to call it inefficient, and you'd embarass yourself. In fact, America could learn a lot about transportation efficiency from the Kenyans. But I digress ...
Our first legitimate matatu experience was a trip from the Likoni ferry to Diani Beach. Our goal was really the much closer Tiwi Beach - which brings me to matatu rule number one: do not assume that because you tell the matatu manager where you want to go, he will remember to tell you to get off there later. We were all so caught up in the sights and sounds both inside the matatu and out that we missed the Tiwi stop by miles. That brought us to the fancy resort beach of Diani, although you wouldn't have guessed it. Our trip to Diani was another reminder of how badly Kenya's tourist economy was hurting. Instead of being a mild annoyance, the infamous "beach boys," who are persistent to the extreme in hawking their wares, had no other targets on the beach. We found ourselves unable to walk two feet in silence before being approached with a "hakuna matata" and a flash of a yellow-toothed smile.
The ride in the matatu to and from the beach is still one of my favorite memories of the country. Whereas on the street, walking around with bags and cameras and our two-thirds white selves, we stuck out quite a bit. Squeezed among18 or so people in these 14 passenger matatus while people called me mama to point out where I should sit, I felt like we fit in for the first time. Later, a local asked us where we had been and how we'd been traveling, if we were taking trains, planes or automobiles. When I answered "matatus", he smiled and between laughs said "you have experienced Kenya like a real Kenyan, then." Yes, I really think we did. Testament to that fact? I've never had a harder time finding postcards to send home.
Once back in Mombasa, we found Indian food for dinner (we ordered from the lunch menu, but it was dinner time) and the power went out again, so we had a nice candlelit dinner before heading to sleep under our biblical mosquito nets.