I was squished in the backseat, pinned against a dangerously unstable tower of luggage, as our SUV powered through the East African countryside. The unexpectedly well-paved highway was pleasantly deserted, save for a few lorries and the occasional free-wheeling bus driver.
I’ve always found something strangely comforting about long drives through open spaces, and once tunnel vision sets it, it’s easy to mistake the smooth pavement and waist-high grasses for rural America or backwater Quebec. But then your sightline slips, and just off the shoulder you discover the most curious collections of lush green vegetation – crooked trees, mangled bushes, and a deep rust-coloured earth – in Western terms, it’s the lion king come real (sidenote: you can learn Swahili via Disney. Simba is the word for lion, Rafiki is friend, and Asanta sana is thank you very much). I spent most of the journey with my nose pressed against the window, breathing in every detail and trying desperately to scribble down memories in my little black moleskine (I gave up when there road turned to dirt and we had an hour of listing back and forth as the car dodged potholes, wildlife and oncoming traffic).
We spent three days and four nights at a luxury resort on the south side of Mombasa. The hotel was over-run by Lions – the humanitarian type – but with members spending most of their days in meetings, we had VIP access to the four swimming pools, eight bars, and a very windy stretch of private beach. On the second to last day, we tore ourselves away from the sunbathing and buffet dining for a ferry ride into the city. We went to Mamba Village, a crocodile farm built inside an old quarry just outside the city centre. There, we were guided around giant pools of murky green water, teeming with iron-jawed beasts that lay terrifyingly still with rigid eyes and devilishly fat bellies. There was even one man-eating croc, incarcerated for terrorizing a rural village half a century ago (he took out five people before he was captured).He was 5-meters long, weighed 600 lbs, and had the unfortunate honour of being named Big Daddy.
He was also camera shy, so we made a human version of the twenty-foot monster.
The trip was a glorious escape from the daily grind, and I felt surprisingly at home in Kenya. It’s quite different than Tanzania, but foreign places always seem friendlier when they’re decked out in English. The trip was well worth the epic car journey and the twenty-five dollar entry visa.
Things I learned on the long road to Mombasa:
1. an ipod shuffle can pump out music for over 17-hours (without re-charging)
2. tree branches make good road flares
3. crocodiles have over 70 teeth (thanks William)