Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Africa (vii): Walking Mombasa

On Sunday, I was still pretty tired from Saturday's bike ride. I took my time checking out of the hotel and took a cab over to the Old Town area of Mombasa. I started at the historic Fort Jesus that overlooks the bay. Before I even got inside, this tall, thin man approached me and began telling me about the history of the place. As I walked around, he kept following me and telling me things. I tried to go my own way, but it wasn't working. It wasn't until I told him that I wanted to go around on my own that he asked me to pay him for the "tour" he gave me. When I laughed and asked why I should pay him, he stared at me for a second then walked off. As I continued looking around, he came back 20 minutes later with a much shorter, older man who wanted me to confirm that I didn't want a tour. I think they were trying to intimidate me into paying them, as I imagine most tourists would just have done, but I successfully stared them down until they left me alone.

I spent the next few hours just wandering around the streets of Old Town. It was similar to Zanzibar, but Mombasa is much less isolated. It's more industrial and lived in. It's dirtier, noisier, and feels rougher. More than a few times I found myself down a random alley at a dead end with a bunch of guys stoned under archways. At one point I had to jump over an alley that had essentially become a river of oil from some leaking drums.

I did little else that day before heading back to the airport in a mutatu and flying back to Nairobi. My stay in Mombasa wasn't spectacularly eventful since that bike ride really took it out of me. But here are a couple of anecdotes from the rest of my time in Nairobi:

On the short stretch of road between my apartment and the adjacent shopping center, there was this group of young boys that would approach passing people for money. One of them was particularly annoying. Always standing really close to me and looking straight up into my face while walking lock step with me. One night he was being particularly irksome, so I deliberately walked right by this pole because I knew he wasn't watching where he was walking. He walked straight into the pole. Then he never came up to me again. I am a terrible person.

Another night, I went to meet a friend's friend for dinner at a Chinese restaurant two miles from my apartment called Chinese Restaurant (essentially just at a Chinese family's house). I left my apartment while the sun was setting, but it got pitch dark before I got there. No streetlight, no sidewalks. It was not the best idea, but I made it there unscathed. The next morning, in the taxi to work I heard on the radio that on that same street later that night a Chinese man was mugged and murdered. Unsettling. But I am alive.