To The Day Ahead ~ Mombasa Beach Safari

sunrise on the reef

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:

Mombasa Highway Nation Newspaper


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.



42 thoughts on “To The Day Ahead ~ Mombasa Beach Safari

  1. I wish I could spend Christmas there again…so peaceful and beautiful. We used to come to Mombasa’s beaches from Ethiopia and Uganda…flying in of course. I can see how a road trip would be adventurous. We spent the 1991 Christmas there and many other holidays….sweet memories.

  2. After that sort of trip, at least it was a good dream come true! My s-i-l and b-i-l have a Defender, so I’m a sort of member of that club (by marriage and visits, if nothing else.) Quite intimidating on those narrow French roads, I can tell you, but at least I’m in the bigger vehicle…unless we encounter a farm vehicle or truck.

    I especially like your paragraph about the villagers taking the change to improve their bottom line and the local economy. 🙂

    I hope your pre-Christmas is going wonderfully.


    1. Land Rovers definitely come into their own in particular situations. Provide good views too along French lanes, I imagine. So far my pre-Christmas is a bit random in its happenings, so I hope things will become clearer soon. Wishing you and yours all the very best for the festive season, Janet.

  3. What a life you’ve had, and how well you recreate it for us. That road under the trees, and the water colours: stunning. My one cognate adventure was a night journey through backroads in NSW which were under floodwater, with occasional army pontoons and signs pointing in the wrong direction – with three kids under 8 aboard. Could be regarded as irresponsible parenting. Not another car in sight. No wonderful blue waters at the end: just a usually desiccated opal field, with mullock heaps, mine shafts and low scrub where J’s dad had a mining lease. Sorry! You really activate my geriatric memory.

    1. I love your memories, Meg, and you’ve given me a splendid new term ‘mullock heaps’. I guessed what it meant, but looked it up anyway. ‘Rubbish/waste’ for any non-Aussie reading this. I might apply it to my compost heaps in future. It’s more descriptive of their contents which look nothing like compost as yet. Also you make mention of the opal mine as if it’s the usual acquisition. It sounds like the makings of a story. And that night-time trip with three children, escaping flood water must have been a pretty hair-raising adventure. Are you writing these things down? Meg The Memoir is definitely required.

      1. Mullock heaps are actually specific to mining: the dirt chucked up from underground as the mineshaft is dug. J’s got mining in the blood: family when he was a kid had tin mines; his dad was doing whatever you do for sapphires when we were courting; then he staked a claim for mopals near Lightning Ridge. We used to holiday there. His lease was sold when J’s brother died a few years ago, just after we managed a family reunion there, including my Polish son-in-law. There’s an Australian expression woop woop, meaning the back of beyond: for M it was the woop woop as he struggled with the use of an article Polish doesn’t have.

        Oddly, I never see excitement in my own life till someone points it out! Maybe I should begin a Memoir Monday to challenge me when we get home. It’s odd – memories are coming back as I scrounge round for once upon a time stories for my story-addict grandchildren. And always when I read you.

    1. Now you mention it, it is quite a switch. Maybe it explains why I keep staring at the big horizon over Wenlock Edge. And /or delving into its Indian Ocean geological past despite the 400 million year time gap 🙂

    1. And all our very best friends and closest family joined us there at one time or another, which made it even better, though they didn’t think it was real either. Seasons greetings to you and Don.

    1. They can be very grumpy creatures in general and pretty lethal if crossed . We were driving a small Peugeot saloon when we arrived on a stretch of road with a large bull claiming possession of it. Strangely there were no other vehicles in sight. Only the buffalo. Lone ones tend to have very short fuses. We were driving through a very thorny stretch of country so no off-roading was feasible. Nor was there enough tarmac on the road to attempt to drive safely round him – either fore or aft. So we stopped a little way off and stared at one another. Eventually he moved off. Phew!

  4. It looks like a dream. I knew a fellow from Mombasa in Israel. He was from a mountain tribe and had decided they were one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel … so he WALKED to Israel from Kenya. He had no job I ever could see and no home. Lived on someone or others’ sofa … and he was the happiest guy I’ve ever known. He was absolutely full of joy. I don’t think he ever thought of himself as poor. And perhaps he was not poor in any way that mattered.

      1. It was quite a story. And a VERY long walk. The Sudan was occupied by the Russians the year he was crossing it — and he didn’t have any identity papers, much less a passport. I have no idea how he got across all those borders and into Israel.He REALLY dedicated to going to Israel and he made it. It took him several years.

  5. What a picture you paint, Tish! I doubt I’ll ever find myself in commuter gridlock without thinking of you, the lads taking full advantage, and your “escape” off-road. How boring travel would be without these experiences — though they’d be easier on the nerves if they didn’t all come within minutes of each other. 🙂

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