entering Kenya and Watamu

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Africa » Kenya » Coast Province » Mombasa
August 14th 2011
Published: August 31st 2011
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Next morning we were up early as we had prearranged the shuttle to Nairobi that was to pick us up at 7.30ish. We had breakfast (included) and then raced downstairs. We got on the shuttle and it took us to the actual shuttle that was just out of central Arusha, thank goodness because the first shuttle wasn’t very nice. We got seats and our big bags were secured on top of the bus and we waited until it was full before leaving just after 8.30. We got to the border and it took a long while to get stamped out of Tanzania, almost everyone had to get their finger prints taken and a photo of them taken before the stamp was given. The process into Kenya was much easier including having to get a visa. It cost $50US each and took about 5-10 mins and included the stamp so we didn’t have to requeue like we though we would have to. The driver was annoyed that a few of us had to get visas, but eventually everyone was processed and off we went. We stopped briefly at a curio shop for a browse, but mostly to use the bathrooms then headed on to Nairobi. We had arranged to be dropped at our hotel and we were the last ones bar one Canadian guy who was doing an internship on a research project into micro insurance in Nairobi, sounded really cool.
We checked into Nariobi International Youth Hostel and James, the manager at the desk was very very helpful. We didn’t have enough shillings on us to pay everything until we had gone to an ATM, so he said that’s fine, go dump the bags and he showed us that literally across the road was an ATM. Unfortunately it was out of cash (it was Sunday I guess they only fill on week days) so he directed us to another 2 streets away. The card we had didn’t work, so we grabbed another from the hotel and finally we got some cash! We paid everything including for some internet and had a surprisingly great pizza at the connected restaurant. Then went to bed.
Next morning we had brekky and then wandered into the city centre. We first had to go to the dodgy area of the centre to buy bus tickets for the following day to go to Mombasa. Then we needed to find the place to buy mattresses for our tour at the end of the month, found it but we´re gonna buy them the day before the tour. We bought a safaricom sim card, then we went to the post office to send postcards and tried to find a postal tube to carry our paintings in. Every single stationary stop seemed to show us another shop on the other side of the main road! So we had to cross it like 4 times and finally gave up and walked back to the hotel. Used more internet had more pizza, then my back went badly and I had to lie down for the rest of the night… luckily the mattresses are actually pretty supportive. Next morning we were up early, had brekky as soon as the restaurant opened and James organized a cab for us to get to the bus stop by 7.30am for the 8am bus to Mombasa on Modern Coast Express. We got there with plenty of time, especially since the bus arrived late from Kampala so we left an hour late. We stopped halfway for a lunch break, I didn’t eat anything, my back still hurt a lot and it was way too hot on the bus to feel like eating, Dario at samosas . Finally at about 4 we arrived in Mombasa and grabbed a taxi to take us the 100km north to a small village called Watamu. We got dropped at our hotel Mirajiani guesthouse, very nice! Has a big gate from the laneway we drove up, but the building is lovely with coral stones covering most surfaces, and lovely grounds with coconut trees and also a few resident tortoises, cats and dogs. We had a great room, 3000Sh with a balcony too, giant king size bed with king size mosquito net over the 4 posts. Great place all up, included an amazing brekky too with loads of fresh fruit, mango, passiofruit, paw paw, bananas and pineapple, eggs, toast, tea and coffee on a patio where 2 African Grey parrots live in a giant aviary and whistle to you all morning.
That night we were hungry and had read in the lonely planet about a good Italian restaurant called Ascot, inside a hotel of the same name. We went there and had probably what was and will be our most expensive meal of Kenya but the gnocchi gorgonzola was AMAZING! Handmade gnocchi too! We wandered back to the hotel and went to bed early.
Next morning we had a leisurely breakfast then headed to town to buy some things for lunch, town means walking the winding small streets from the hotel (careful not to fall down the giant gaping holes in the middle of the roads) to thelocal super market called Mamma Lucy´s. We had a fridge in the room for food which was handy and made things cheaper. We had a slow morning of reading the paper and drinking some cold drinks before eating lunch then heading to the beach. Watamu is FULL of expat Italians which was kind of good for us as all the local beach boys as they are called, who are basically touts living at the beach, don’t speak English, they only learn Italian so they can annoy the Italians who all holiday and live there. We were left relatively alone once they realized they couldn’t communicate with us to sell things. We went first to Watamu beach and saw some pretty cool coral rock formation islands just off the seaweed covered beach. Then walked back through the village to get to Barracuda beach, there is no connecting beach. We wandered up the whole beach to the end with less touts and less seaweed and I had a swim. The water was soooo warm!!
We headed back to the hotel as it was near 4pm when Dario had found out there was football to be played on the sandy pitch near the hotel and close to the beach. He went and found out it wasn’t on from some guys so returned to the hotel to help with a car that wasn’t starting. One of the guys called Toni who works there said he could go play with his team that afternoon, so off he went with Toni in his car to Gede primary school which has a nicer pitch and trained with the team (the local adult team) that Toni coaches. Apparently there was one girl there too!! My back was still dodgy so I just hung out at the hotel and found the tortoises who didn’t like me much… apparently they don’t like anyone so I didn’t feel too offended. Finally he came back after dark and showered before we went out to get dinner locally at a makeshift pub. Nyama Choma (grilled meat with chapatti) and a steak for Dario, washed down with some Tusker beer. There was a brawl at the bar too, both of the guys were kicked out.
Next morning we got up and had brekky then took a tuktuk (3 wheel motorcycle type taxi) to the Gede ruins, what was once a rich trading hub from the 13th to 17th century and was mysteriously abandoned and taken over by the forest until the 1900´s when it was excavated. We had a guide and he took us to the main areas of importance in the ruins and told us what is known and what is speculated about the place. There are giant baobab trees that have taken over parts of the ruins, only little by baobab sizes but big compared to other trees, indicating that they have been growing for about 300 years. There are mosques, a palace and houses all built from coral stone that are all derelict and a couple have been slightly restored. The ornaments that were found inside the ruins are on display in the museum next door which we visited. We climbed what is called the community tree, a platform reached by steps all set into a large baobab tree so you can have an aerial view of the ruins. It costs a donation to go up and all donations go to a program that pays for scholarships to schooling for gifted children who could not otherwise afford the education. The view was amazing, but we had to share it with a giant Italian family who was there too. Dario had his concerns about the structural integrity of the platform so we didn’t stay too long. We called our tuk tuk driver and gave our guide a lift into Gede village too then headed back to Mamma Lucy´s and walked to the hotel. We had a late lunch, Dario got ready for football and I settled down into some good chilling out with a tusker and a book. Unfortunately my back was still dodgy  He came back (Toni hadn’t been there so he borrowed a bike and rode the way there and back in the dark) exhausted and smelly. After a shower we wandered towards all the stands that serve grilled meat on the main road, but opted to sit down in a restaurant and has yummy grilled chicken and coconut rice at a restaurant that was packed! They set up a new table so we could sit down, we figured it was a good sign the food wasn’t bad. It wasn’t cheap though. Halfway through a bunch of boys and young men walked down the road chanting something in Swahili and the chef told them to go away, still don’t know what it was.
Next morning we tried to find the Marine Information Centre that was supposed to be in town but no one knew about it, so we just got a tuktuk to take us to the Watamu Turtle Watch which is what we had wanted to ask about at the info centre. We arrived just after a bunch of others, so we paid our 300shilling each entry and got a short tour of the place. They do amazing work rehabilitating injured and sick sea turtles. They had a few patients while we were there, Ridleys, Greens and Hawksbills turtles, some were huge, others like one named Tiny Tim, were small but still were sick, he had a lunch infection and couldn’t dive, he just swam on the surface which is a death sentence in the wild. Unfortunately all the species are endangered so it is an important release program. They also work with local fisherman who accidently sometimes catch turtles in their nets, they call a dedicated line and these guys go and pick up the turtle. If its healthy it is released, if not, it goes to rehab. They pay the fishermen 300shillings each for the trouble. We asked if that means that they just catch them on purpose, we were told that catching a turtle is hard, and they ruin the nets, so it is not worth caching unless they are going to sell on the blackmarket for over 1000 shillings which the guys who call do not do, the 300 shillings probably just cover the net damage so they can resume their job, fishing for fish. We decided to pay the 3000 shillings to adopt a turtle, but didn’t have enough cash on us so got a tuktuk back to town and back out again to pay for the adoption. All the money will go to the treatment of the turtles, yay!
That afternoon we did more laziness before Dario went for the last time to football. We did a very cheap dinner of tuna and pesto on bread and a few fantas (they have yummy blackcurrent fanta here which they don’t have at home) then went for a walk for some chocolate bars in a nearby mini shop before going to bed.


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