The route from Moshi east back into Kenya was an easy one for a solitary hitch-hiker with a big smile. A particularly friendly ride through Tsavo National Park was happy to slow down or even periodically stop when we could see spectacular antelope or other game in the near distance.
When I arrived in Mombasa, I went straight to the port area in search of a place on a boat headed to Bombay (now Mumbai). It was a waterfront right out of a Bogart movie with rambling streets and some dubious, rough and rumble looking characters hanging about. The smell of the sea air was refreshing, after jungles and deserts.
I found a shop selling travel and it was easy to get a birth at what I thought was an extremely reasonable fee of about $20 for the 8-day passage to India. It was July 29. The boat was sailing on August 1. Inspired by the seaside humidity and heat of Mombasa, I had two days to go to the beach community of Malindi north of the city for snorkeling and still get back in time to catch the boat to Bombay.
After I had my boat ticket in hand, I found a hostel to stay in for the night. I found an ocean park where I photographed vistas of the Indian Ocean. The one I was going to cross.
I then wandered around this ancient legendary port city – partly African, partly Arab – for a few hours before turning in to get an early start the next morning for Malindi.
The main coastal road to Malindi was heavily traveled and it was easy to catch a ride. Everything was quick, easy and smooth until we reached the end of the road at the mouth of Kilifi Creek. It was not so much a creek as a large inlet where the highway just stopped. (This was years before the Kilifi Bridge.)
A large ferry and some other boats managed to transport the vehicles, foot and bicycle traffic across the water to resume their way to Malindi. It was all handled well in the conventional African manner of taking everything on as it comes with a slight touch of chaos thrown in.
It was a relatively calm though a bit crowded as I became a pedestrian. Upon crossing to the north shore, I easily caught a friendly ride in a nice car all the way to Malindi.
The Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama had reached Malindi in 1498; by comparison, Ponce de Leon, the first European to reach the U.S., arrived in Florida in 1513. The town showed influences of the Portuguese as well as the Arab traders who had sailed up and down Africa’s east coast even earlier, trading with the Bantu people there. Malindi was also likely visited by Zheng He and a Chinese fleet in the 1400s. A voyage I was hoping to reverse soon.
Malindi had a storied and multicultural past. The people were a mix of these civilizations. Swahili was the street language, but English worked very well. There were also smatterings of Arabic in the names for things. I put my French in my back pocket for later use.
Malindi declined as a port, as Mombasa grew, and evolved into a fishing village. When I visited, it was turning into a resort town, all still very basic and unassuming with a combination of African and Arab architecture. I found a hostel where I could store my belongings, then found a place to rent a mask and snorkel on the ocean road.
At last, I dipped my feet in the Indian Ocean. From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic to the Indian. My feet had not felt salt water in a couple months. I still had the better part of the morning and all afternoon in the equatorial sun to snorkel in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean to my heart’s content.
While I swam out initially to some points a few hundred yards from shore that the dive shop had indicated had some excellent underwater sights, I was soon invited to board a small boat by some young people from Nairobi who had also come here to snorkel.
They knew of some exceptionally good locales further offshore where the reef was less decked with tourists. There we spent the better part of the day. This group of 20-somethings from affluent parts of Nairobi took me under their wing and I was happy to learn from them.
The snorkeling was amazing with many large schools of fish darting about the multi-colored corals. There were jelly fish, octopus, sea urchin, crab, lobster, sea anemone, sea stars. Lots to explore and see. Later they brought me to a great restaurant for dinner before I had to thank them and say good night. I had a boat to catch from Mombasa to Bombay and I wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss the boat.
Early the next morning I was back on the road south back to Mombasa.
My last few days in Africa were intensely emotional, up to the moment that I actually boarded the ship that would take me first to the Seychelles and then India.
I had completed part of a personal odyssey, begun with the simple hope to find warmer weather than I was experiencing in Spain. That took me to Morocco. Then, as I was headed from Morocco to Italy, I took a surprising turn in Algiers, which sent me south 1200 miles into the Sahara. There, in the middle of the Sahara, I met my fellow traveler, Hiro, in Tamanrasset.
From there, I made my unintended way across Africa – through jungle, past questioning authorities, down rivers, up mountains, meeting some amazing people, and… well if you have read this far, you know the challenges and rewards. It was the “great educational opportunity” my Wharton adviser had suggested for me and a most curious route to get to Japan.
Now as I was leaving the continent, I had mixed emotions – I had discovered that Africa was no “dark continent” but for me full of light, joy, love and wonder. But I had promises to keep…