When we lived in Kenya during the 1990s we used to spend Christmas in a beach cottage on the south Mombasa coast. Much of the anticipation (not to say anxiety) surrounding this annual safari usually revolved around wondering if we would get there at all.
Mombasa is a good 300 miles from Nairobi and, in our day, the existence of the Nairobi – Mombasa highway was not to be taken for granted. December is the rainy season, and there were times when sections of the road were washed out. On one occasion when we were heading south, mudslides had created a huge traffic jam not far from Nairobi. Trucks, buses, tour vans and cars were double parked for tens of miles all across Ukambani’s rain-soaked bush country.
Villagers along the route thought all their market days had come at once – so many captive customers to be plied with cups of tea and fresh picked mangos from their shambas. All opportunities for making a few bob were quickly grabbed, and wherever you looked, gangs of of grinning lads were hard at work, pushing grounded vehicles out of the mudslides. Meanwhile the line of vehicles stretched on and on, out across the plains.
And it was then that our Land Rover Defender came into its own. You forgot that it generally leaked, juddered, clanged and banged while rearranging your spinal column and internal organs into ever new and painful configurations. This beast could walk on water. Well almost. Anyway, who needed a road? Not Team Leader Graham (aka My Man In Africa). He simply engaged equatorial swamp-drive, and took to the bush, picking his own route alongside the blocked highway. Being English, I quailed before the thought that we were committing some major traffic offence. This, after all, was ‘undertaking’ of epic proportions, outdoing the maddest of matatu drivers. And just to give you an idea of Mombasa highway jams here’s a Kenyan press photo from April this year – a twelve-hour hold-up:
And so what with events like this, and the other usual highway hazards of broken-down trucks, police road blocks, jay-walking buffalo and the inevitable Likoni Ferry hold up, it was always a huge relief to finally find ourselves trundling along the cliff top track to Maweni Cove. Soon there would be paddling in warm lagoon waters, white coral sands sparsely populated, a cooling sea breeze on the headland, and the sound of the Indian Ocean roaring on the reef edge. Eggs and vegetables would be delivered to our door by a sweet Digo man on a bicycle. The fishermen would call by daily with fresh-caught lobster and parrot fish, and if you gave them a knife and chopping board, they would clean the fish for you. All of which meant that even when we were actually there, it always seemed like a dream.