A month ago, a friend invited me to Mombasa. I normally foolishly wave away such invites on account of being busy. I didn’t have that excuse this time. Two, I worried that the flight tickets would be too expensive for my monthly post-rat race budget. So, I check JumboJet with one eye closed and find an amazing deal for return tickets ( like a seriously amazing deal, like a ‘pass-this-up- and-you-are- clearly-a- dumbass amazing deal). Three, I needed to empty and refill my creative tank. Clearly, all the signs were there and what they said was Go! Or as my pal Lina Gichure would put it ” Let’s Juzzzz Gowwww!”
So I went.
Mombasa is magical. If you live next to the new highway under construction you would probably disagree but there is just something about it that makes me happy. From the culture (much warmer than Nairobi), to the cuisine (Biriani found a home in coast and has never left), to the weather and sand… I mean life IS a beach!
While day two and three ended up being mostly the usual stuff people do — lounging by pool and Indian Ocean, day one was just the absolute best in spontaneous plans. Somewhere between my airport pickup and this eerily quiet road with trucks that did not move, we found an exit and the idea of visiting Fort Jesus was floated. If you have ever been on a school trip to the Kenyan coast, Fort Jesus is always part if the itinerary. Such trips usually involved: heat, sweat and a thirst for a cold soda or ice cream that makes listening to the boring tour guide an impossible task.
Not this time, our poor tour guide was dispensed with before he could launch into the second Portuguese takeover. For some reason building the Fort did not mean it was their’s forever, poor cousins of Vasco. Not to worry, we compensated our tour guide for his informative five minutes.
We were here for far much vainer reasons. To enjoy a walkabout and take pictures, (the lighting at 4:30pm is perfect by the way) plus most of the tourists have gone wherever they go when it starts getting dark so it is much more quiet and reflective. We end up having a grand old time, enjoying the views, drinking fresh lime juice that left our throats whistling and pondering why the English Point Marina was so called.. are we not in Africa? Why not Swahili Point Marina?
It was soon closing time but even after leaving, we still hang about, checking out the football pitch near the beach and getting photo-bombed by a passerby.
“Nimekubomu!” he laughed.
I bought some mabuyus and mango achari from a kiosk at the entrance, they would serve me well in the coming days. It’s too late to take a walk into Old Town, with its streets now looking like a dance video where youth in tight jeans stealthily follow you before challenging you to a showdown, hmm, maybe next time. We still have to look for dinner and Joe has the great idea take the scenic route aka Mama Ngina Drive.
It was dusk and the drive is mostly filled with small groups of teenage girls studiously ignoring the small groups of teenage boys. Some people come to sit in their cars and watch the waves, like drug kingpins conducting low toned conversations with their bumbling number twos.
Someone walks by and tries to sell us some moyo wa mnazi but cassava crisps and fresh roasted cassava with lemon and chilli seem more appealing for now. Mombasa street food needs it’s own post, my sister introduced me to Mbaazi and mahamri and I have never looked back since. if you see it, eat it, you can confess your sins later.
Our next stop, since woman cannot live on cassava alone, was Tarboush, that Mombasa eatery whose large delectable food portions would have you thinking are a long lost Omani Arab relative.We were getting late so we order on the go..chickent tikka, masala fries, Kiima chapati… This being two days after Idd, Tarboush is decked out with festive lights and families occupy long tables to enjoy dinner together. It was noisy and busy in a comforting way. The smells emanating from their kitchen also had a lot to do with said comfort. My stomach was comforted that it would soon be sated.
One thing we learnt ( and this goes out to Nairobi people and their habit of shortening nouns), do not order chapos.
Viv: I’d like five chapos
Abdallah*: Chapo?? What is a chapo? (blank stare)
Viv (visibly flustered): Five chapatis.
Abdallah: Oh CHAPATI! (Waves at kitchen staff) Nipe chapati tano..(then in lowered judgey voice) ati chapo.. nini chapo?
As you wait for your food, the spinning rotisserie is calling my name and I answer…naaam! A hot chicken sharwama never tasted so good. This was to be my snack on the way back, but of course I am chomping down before we even get to the car, happily waving goodbye to Abdallah who’s probably glad to see the back of these bara people who call chapatis chapo, the nerve.
Till next time, Mombasa, stay pretty.
*Names have been changed to ensure non-judgey service the next time I go to Tarboush