During our last weekend in Mombasa, Michelle and I decided we needed to do a tour of the city. We have been staying in a beach suburb of the city called Nyali (say it like there isn’t really a y there – N’ali). It’s just a few km from the heart of the city… but think it’s pretty much the Bev. Hills of the area. I’ve spotted quite a few mansions and Range Rovers here that I normally wouldn’t expect to see in Africa. Nyali is tucked away from the sewage, trash, smoke and hustle of the city and we have been frequent guests of its beautiful beach. We needed to venture out and see what Mombasa had to offer because who knows when we should ever come back to this part of East Africa again.
Here is some background info on Mombasa before I get into our tour. Mombasa is the 2nd largest city in Kenya with an estimated population of 940,000. The city is actually set on Mombasa Island, which is connected to the mainland to the north by the Nyali Bridge, to the south by the Likoni Ferry and to the west by the Makupa Causeway, alongside which runs the Kenya-Uganda Railway. It is a major port and serves as the main site for coastal tourism. The city is mainly occupied by the Muslim Mijikenda/Swahili people. Over the centuries, there have been many immigrants and traders who settled in Mombasa, particularly from Iran, the Middle East, Somalia and the Indian sub-continent, who came mainly as traders and skilled craftsmen.
Our tour was set up by Benson (Elective Africa coordinator) who accompanied us on our half day trip. The first stop was Fort Jesus, which reminded me a lot of St. Augustine, FL. The Portuguese built Fort Jesus in 1593. The site chosen was a coral ridge at the entrance to the harbor. The Fort was designed by an Italian Architect and Engineer, Batista Cairato who uniquely designed it in the shape of a man, Jesus, lying down. You actually would have entered the Fort by boat through the head and the arms reached out toward the Indian Ocean. The views of the ocean and old port were beautiful. The Omani Arabs eventually ran the Portuguese out of the Fort and it was interesting to see the different architectural designs they added. The Arab style doors were much larger than the Portuguese and had carvings symbolizing scriptures in the Koran.
After the Fort, we walked through Old Town Mombasa. There were a lot of historical facts that I’ve already forgotten but it was neat to walk through the narrow streets and see the old buildings on the water. There was a building in particular that had a cool wooden balcony with detailed carvings which Michelle and I would never sit out on as it looked like it could collapse into the street at any second. The Old Town had a very Arab flavor and you could tell it was frequented by a lot of tourists because the shops had all the same crafts. We went to a delicious Swahili restaurant for lunch and had the best food of the trip thus far. Our next stop was at the south side of Mombasa Island and saw the ferry. We were both surprised there wasn’t a bridge connecting the mainland to the city on this south side because the distance really wasn’t far. The ferry was free for pedestrians but charged vehicles a fee.
Probably the highlight of the day was going to the Akamba handcraft market. It is an ‘artist co-op’ on the outskirts of the city (on the way to the airport actually) where up to 4,500 people (mostly men) created all the wood carvings Africa is famous for around the world. The artists were so proud of their work and would tell you about what type of wood or materials they were using and even showed you the different stages of their pieces. My favorite type of wood they used was ebony (surprisingly the most expensive) but they used Rosewood, ‘Pinca’, Teak and others as well. If you can think of an African animal they carved it… some were so large they seemed close to life size. The nice part was that the men could not sell their work while you toured, so sharing their work came purely from friendship and pride. At the end there was a huge show room with the most African wood crafts that I’ve ever seen. It was overwhelming to shop because of the amount of things that caught your eye but I still managed to pick out the best crafts I’ve seen in Africa.
The last stop for the day was at Mamba Village. It was a crocodile farm with a varietyof other animals to see. The farm had thousands of crocs of all different sizes being raised for both their meat and skins. The guide told us they harvest the crocs between the ages of 5-7 years old. You need to be there by 5pm when it’s feeding time for a swamp full of crocs which was pretty uneventful. We tried a skewer of croc tail, which tasted a lot like gator and I thought it was way too chewy. You can also do a photo shoot with baby crocs, tortoises and pythons if you desire. The nasty smell of croc shit infested swamps brought me right back to the alligator farms in FL which I used to frequent as a kid.
I really enjoyed being a tourist in Mombasa but honestly don’t think I’ll ever come back unless for medical work. It’s pretty here but I prefer the high altitudes and savanas of East Africa . Mombasa looks and feels a lot like FL. to me so maybe the lack of variety is why I am not a huge fan of its ambiance. We are so excited to leave for Safari this Thursday… hope we get to see all the Big 5!!