Into Kenya

A couple of hours along boring scenery and new road brings the Tanga express minibus to Horohoro, the Tanzanian side of the border. We pass flat expanses of farmland, and the first herds of cattle I remember seeing. Countries rarely noticeably change character on the border with their neighbours. The most obvious change in Kenya was the switch to English predominating signage rather than Swahili.

At Likoni we wait for the MV Kwale, a roll-on roll-off pontoon-like vessel to take us across the water to Mombasa. Mombasa is a nightmare of confusion, one of the most confusion and chaotic places I’ve been too. Its impossible to walk in a straight line for more than 2 paces. And then I’m into the old town. Less picturesque than somewhere like Zanzibar, with a lot of modern concrete apartments tall enough to prevent the sun getting to street level. Balconies and washing lines make it more claustrophobic. Its difficult to know whether alleys are through roads or paths to people’s houses. No alley is straight for long, all I see on all sides are looming buildings. I’m soon disorientated.

The houses get prettier, wooden upper floors with balconies over stone whitewashed ground floors, but confusion continues. Then, past a couple of antiques shops, I have a choice. Continue god-knows-where through the old town, or abandon it for the ocean. The ocean road leads to Fort Jesus. Yet Mombasa has little to offer me.

The junction with Watamu is at Gede. Other passengers on the matatu (that’s Kenyan for minibus) from Mombasa wail for the driver to stop for me. A passing mototaxi agrees to take me the rest of the way into Watamu.

The wind was up. Waves smashed against the rocks around the tiny bay I found. The sand is so white and so fine that it crunched underfoot. I had to remind myself it wasn’t snow.

By Watamu’s petrol station I’m able to get another matatu, to Malindi. Its a short hop of an hour or so. We never really leave inhabited land.

I spend a good part of the morning heading up and down the same stretch of road, not having a map. I find the tourist office, hidden in an upstairs room at the back of a complex. I tentatively ask if they know about the cross Vasco da Gama planted there.

“Vasco da Gama’s cross?” they say, the 3 having a conversation. “You mean the pillar?” I do. It still stands. Its been moved from its original position at the Sultan of Malindi’s house, and variously altered so it now resembles a fat white traffic cone topped with a Greek cross. There it stands on a rocky outcrop. One of the only original Portuguese navigational aids I’ve been able to find.
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