9/11/91

Low tide was 9AM, so we hung around the camp until then. With the low tide, we picked our way around the point to a shady pool beneath a rocky overhang and swam in the cool, waist-deep water. 

The sun was pouring down upon the shallow waters inside the reef, throwing the black bodies of the fisherman into stark relief against the glare of the sea and the sky.

We walked out to the edge of the reef and turned south along it’s margins, exploring the pools and crevices for small fish, crustaceans and other life. In places the reef was hollow, and the in- and out-draft of the sea forced air out of small holes in its surface, producing a sound like the lungs of an old man. It was as if the reef was a breathing, living thing, and the air rasping and gurgling from the holes was hot, like the breath of a dragon.

It took us about an hour to reach the next set of beach houses, and we sat in the bar there drinking beer. By the time we had walked back up the coast to our camp it was very hot and we were both quite sunburnt.

8/11/91

FRIDAY 8 NOVEMBER – SAND ISLAND COTTAGES

We got up early and packed our gear, then went out to find the market,  leaving our packs in (LOCKED IN!!)  the room. The market was well stocked with fresh fruit and veggies, and we spent about half an hour there, laying in a supply of spuds, cabbage, onions, garlic, tomatoes, beans and mandarins. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a supermarket for some basics: margarine, rice, drink, etc.

Back at the hotel, we shouldered our packs, and walked up to the matatu stand on Digo Road where we crammed ourselves into a matatu for the 5 minute ride to the Likoni Ferry. The ferry was free for pedestrians so we joined the throng of Africans walking on amongst the assortment of cars and trucks. As we were standing by the rail waiting for the ferry to leave, a couple of white folk in a yellow Moke drove on, so we decided to try and catch a lift. We moved up to the front of the ferry as it docked then stepped off and began walking up the steep ramp, keeping an eye on the Moke. As it came towards us, I stuck out my thumb and pretended to stagger under the weight of my pack, so they stopped. It turned out to be a couple of poms from Liverpool and they gave us a lift to the Tiwi Beach Road. We caught another lift down to the beach with an African guy who charged us KSH20.

Sand Island Beach Cottages is run by two white Kenyans, Francis (Fuzz) and Robert Forster, both of them cast in the same white Colonial mould. They invited us for lunch which was brought out by servants and eaten from china plates with Sheffield cutlery. Robert showed us the cheapest hut on the place where we could stay for KSH50 Kenyan each.

So, we moved our stuff into the tiny concrete room and I went back out to the road to look for my compass which I had dropped. I couldn’t find it so I had a cold Coke at the little kiosk across the road, then set off back down to the beach. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the tepid sea water & lazing on the shady sand under a tree.

6/11/91

WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER – IRON HORSE TO MOMBASA Along with Maria [I have no recollection who that was] we checked out of the New Kenya Lodge and walked up to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for breakfast. Maria had a room booked at the Iqbal so we left our gear there and I set off to find the office of the New Zealand Consul.  It took about 20 minutes to walk down Kenyatta Avenue, across Central Park, and up Nyerere Road where the consul’s office was located. It was a simple job to get two letters of introduction printed up by the consul’s friendly secretary.

By the time I got back to the Iqbal it was hot and I was damn thirsty so we walked round to the Terrace Bar at the 680 for a cold drink and while we were there we wrote a few letters.  

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in Maria’s room at the Iqbal and about 6:00pm Lawrence and Gaylyn turned up ready to go. We hired a taxi to take us to the railway station (KSH15 each) and said goodbye to Maria. The taxi, a beat up old Corolla, took about 10 minutes to thread its way through the bustling traffic to the station where we selected the right carriage (neatly labelled “MR & MRS WORCESTER, MR AND MRS KEY”) and settled into our small but comfy compartment.

The platform outside the window was dark and hot, with people running to and fro in preparation for the imminent departure of the train. At precisely 7:00pm the carriage gave a slight lurch and we moved slowly out of the station, gathering speed out into the warm, dark blanket of the African night.

An attendant came round selling beers so the four of us bought one each along with some bottles of bitter lemon to drink with the vodka that Lawrence had brought with him. At 8:45 the gong rang for the second dinner sitting and Linda and I went along to the immaculately set out dining car which was complete with white linen table cloths and silver cutlery bearing the logo E.A.R&H – a relic of the old East African Railways and Hotels company. The meal was tasty and filling: soup, fish, curry, stew and pudding with tea or coffee to follow, all for the princely sum of 160 KSH (£3) each, a small price to pay for sampling the style of a by-gone era!

After a long conversation with a strange Australian over beers in the bar, we went back to our compartment and went to bed, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking and clatter of the train as it rolled across the darkened savannah.

5/11/91

TUESDAY. After changing some money at Barclays, we caught Matatu¹ Number 23 out to the suburb of Westlands where the Pakistan Embassy is located.  Westlands is a lovely, quiet suburb with large houses set amongst all manner of trees and flowering shrubs. The scent of frangipani in the cool morning air was quite exquisite, and the trees were tinged with the purple flowers of jacaranda along with a dozen shades of red, orange and white.

The staff of the the embassy were very friendly and helpful and even though a visa to visit Pakistan normally requires a return air ticket, a little bit of calm reasoning on our part with the diplomat assigned to deal with us, soon convinced him of that our intention to travel overland into India after we’d spent time in Pakistan, and that we had enough money for such a trip, was genuine enough to have our visas granted. The cost was only KSH45…we had expected to pay US$50 each!

Back in the city, we went round to the Iqbal where we had arranged to meet two Americans who wanted to share a four-berth cabin on the train to Mombasa. The four of us walked over to the train station and joined the queue at the ticket office. The two Americans, Lawrence and Gaylyn, had done the trip before so they knew the ins and outs of buying the tickets and we were soon in possession of four tickets aboard the 7:00 PM departure tomorrow.

After that, we went to the Post Office to check the mail again (nothing this time) then we went back to our hotel to rest up and pack. At 1:30 I caught a matatu out to Westlands again and picked up our passports, and then, finally, back at the hotel, we crashed out for the rest of the day.

In the evening, Neil, Linda and I went round to the Terrace Bar at the Six Eighty [readers will remember the Six Eighty as the place we stayed prior to our overland departure back in ‘89] for a cold Tusker, then to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for a snack.  

¹A matatu is a minibus for conveying passengers, as many as you can cram in, around Kenyan towns and cities. The name matatu is Swahili and means “one more”, a reference to the fact that they can always find room for one more passenger.

4/11/91

MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER The flight was uneventful and passed quickly. The aircraft, a Boeing 767, was old and tatty, the food was unremarkable, and the in-flight movie, Home Alone, was funny but in such eye-straining colours and ear-splitting volume that it was hard to sit through.

We touched down in Nairobi just as the sun crested the horizon, shining across the fog-shrouded savannah around the city. Along with our new friends Marina (NZ), Linda (Oz), and Neil (NZ), we caught a black London cab into the city for KSH60 (Kenyan Shillings) each. It was rather incongruous to be sitting in a brand new Hackney cab with open savannah speeding by outside the windows.

In town we booked into the New Kenya Lodge, four of us in a room for KSH75 each. It was early in the day so a whole bunch of us set off to walk over to the Post Office to check for our mail. Linda got 3 letters: two of them from her mother and one from her friends Jennie and Lydia. Once the mail was collected, Linda and I set off in search of a cheap flight to Pakistan. It took us most of the morning and a lot of hassles before we finally were able to secure tickets from Gulf Air for US$252 each. We ended up putting the cost on my Visa card as the rigmarole involved with changing exactly the right amount of money and supplying copies of our currency declarations was too much effort.

After that, we went back to the hotel and crashed out along with most of the people we had arrived with. At five o’clock, it began to rain heavily and the downpour lasted for an hour and a half. When it stopped, Linda, Neil, Marina and I walked up to the Iqbal¹ for a cheap meal of beef and potato stew with rice.

¹The Iqbal was a Nairobi institution among the backpacker fraternity. Lovingly known as “The Dog-Bowl” it was a scruffy, bug-infested shit-hole…but it was cheap, accessible and you could get an inexpensive feed there.

3/11/91

SUNDAY 3rd NOVEMBER – CAIRO AIRPORT. Chaos! The only way to describe the scene at Cairo Airport. CHAOS. The sort of chaos that makes a mockery of security procedures. The sort of chaos that epitomizes the chaotic and mind-bogglingly stupid systems of a chaotic and mind-bogglingly stupid country.

Getting to the airport was a simple matter. We walked up to Midan Tahir where a tout grabbed us and popped us into a brand new minibus which took us all the way for one Egyptian pound each. We were just putting on our packs after getting out of the van when the dirty brown tendrils of a sandstorm began to drift in on the rising wind. By the time we had dashed into the shelter of the arrivals hall, a howling gale was lashing rain and sand across the airport, pummelling the trees and sending pieces of debris racing past.

The storm was short-lived, however, and after sheltering for 10 minutes we were able to walk along to the departure hall. We hung around in there for a couple of hours watching with amazement the total shambles going on around us as sloppily-dressed guards smoking cigarettes tried to control the crowds of package tourists surging through the x-ray area.

Nicky and Melissa left us at 3:00Pm to check in for their 5:00Om flight to Athens and we settled down on the nasty yellow plastic chairs and waited…

Boarding the aircraft was a speedy affair and by the time the call came to board we had teamed up with four other Kiwis and an Australian.

2/11/91

SATURDAY We beat a hasty retreat from the filthy, overpriced slum which is the Hotel des Rosas and ensconced ourselves in the Oxford Pensionne across the road: a far cleaner, brighter and more opulent place which was far cheaper (E£6 each) and was complete with wall graffiti and an assortment of friendly cats.

Linda and I treated ourselves to a surprisingly tasty meal at KFC then spent an hour browsing in the second hand book stalls around Ezlekia Gardens. The collection of books was amazing with everything from Mills and Boon romances and primate endo morphology to Erazmus, Butler and Dickens. The prices were, however, grossly inflated especially as many of the books were obviously cast-offs from western schools. 

We dined well at the Falafel Gardens in the evening then spent a sleepless night as Cairo’s taxis played the Let’s-See-Who-Can-Honk-The-Loudest game.  

1/11/91

FRIDAY 1st NOVEMBER – RETURN TO CAIRO In the heat of the day we trudged down to the bus station, stopping on the way to buy a rotisserie chicken which we devoured sitting on the ground in the shade of a breezeblock wall.

The usual bunch of rag-bag kids gathered around us while we ate and began to give cheek and throw things at us and so Nicky sauntered over and slapped one of them around the head. The kid fled screaming and then a few minutes later a hail of rocks flew over the wall at us. I thundered off after the little cunts and could have caught both of them if they hadn’t collapsed, streaming, in the middle of the street. So I left them to the locals to sort out.

The bus arrived late and was packed to the gunwales with old men and women  dressed in white [Hajjis en route to Mecca]. The luggage compartment was full and the aisles and back seats were stuffed with baggage and strange pink quilts. Nicky and I sat up on the luggage in the back while Linda and Melissa squeezed into seats further up the bus. I relieved the boredom of the journey by listening to a Guns ‘n’ Roses tape lent to me by Nicky and watching the light recede from the western sky behind a jagged range of mountains.

Around 9:00 PM we drove into the vicinity of the Suez Canal. The lights of a line of huge ships could be seen waiting out in the Gulf of Suez for their turn to enter the canal and the air was heavy with the cloying smell of hydrocarbons from the numerous oilfields, refineries and storage facilities. In places, gas flaring off from roadside wells lit the desert for miles around with a flat orange light.

The bus reached Ramses Square in Cairo at 11:00 PM and we got a taxi up to Maidan Talab Haab for E£4. We checked into the Hotel des Rosas (a better name for which would have been the Hotel des Cockroaches) and the four of us slept in the same room – Linda and I on the floor.