We hit the highway for Mombasa around midday. From Nairobi the distance was a little more than 500 kilometres from Nairobi but the driver said he would be able to cover it in five hours. True enough we arrived at the White Sands hotel a little before 5.00 PM.
The highway was very good and we maintained a speed of a little more than a hundred kilometers all through. It had traffic warnings, “safari salama” in Swahili language but written in Roman script on big hoardings planted at frequent intervals. The highway ran parallel to the famous Nairobi – Mombasa metre gauge track on which the Kenyan Railways used to run their well known luxury train. The train was reported to be like the one that plied between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore where they used to serve, inter alia, Earl Grey tea at one time. The train had provision for looking out for game on its two sides as the track seemingly cleaved the two game parks of Amboseli and Tsavo. The highway too did likewise but since the railway coaches are on a higher level the passengers are able to see giraffes and elephants – the tall animals for which the parks are ideal habitat. The highway being on a lower level offers only an occasional impala or a zebra that happened to cross the road. Tall grasses of the expansive grasslands shroud the animals from view.
As we drove down the highway we could see Mount Kilimanjaro on our right with its peaks covered by snow. This is the only mountain in Africa that gets snow. The setting reminded me of the film “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” of 1950s starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward. The film was based on Earnest Hemingway’s novel of the same name. I cannot forget the last scene where a tired and sick Gregory Peck languorously sits on the grassy ground leaning against a tree trunk below the snow-capped Kilimanjaro as a vulture circles overhead.
We arrived at the hotel a little before five in the evening. It was a very luxurious hotel – very well appointed and very good food, western as well as Middle Eastern. The beach was next door and indeed it was a good and clean stretch of beach with, curiously, white sands. Later I found white sands all along the Western coast of Africa, that is, wherever we happened to go.
Mombasa has had a chequered history. It has changed hands several times. Only when Vasco da Gama, the great Portuguese sailor and adventurer went up and down in search of India he came across Mombasa, a bustling commercial port that he thought of capturing it. Even the rule of Portuguese was not stable as the British were out to expel them from the port. They succeeded in doing so and eventually they received the town on a platter from the Sultan of Zanzibar who nominally controlled Mombasa after being defeated by the British. It soon became capital of British East African Protectorate. The English influence that one comes across is because of a pretty long spell of British Rule.
The interior of the town is quite filthy and crowded. There are a number of mosques as the town was in possession of Omani Sultans. We did our work and visited offices. Only surface mails were being routed out of the country through Mombasa. An international airport came up much later. We used to lunch at the hotel as the food used to be delicious. I found most of the waiters wearing very colourful printed shirts that had heavy African embroidery right around the neck and along the front openings for buttons. On being told that these were known as Kitange shirts and were available in the market I looked for them in Nairobi and bought a few.
Having come all the way I could not leave the place without visiting Malindi, a town about 100 kms away. I had heard about it so much. It is also a port town and had attracted European attention. Vasco da Gama during his voyages on the African west coast knocked several times on the doors of Malindi. Eventually he was successful in breaking through the African resistance and establish a Portuguese trading post and he also procured a guide who would show him the way over the Indian Ocean to India.
Like Mombasa Malindi too had a chequered history and was alternately ruled by Omanis and Swahilis and therefore a large section of the population is Muslim. During the World War II it was bombed and was later hosted a PoW camp. Today Malindi is a tourists’ paradise with blue seas and white sands. The sands are so white that they dazzle the eyes when the sun is out. Exotic lobster-based food is served on the beach.
Next morning when it was time for us to leave our UPU Regional Consultant expressed a desire to be driven through the Tsavo National Park. So we drove through the Park – mostly through tall grasses over which we could spot a few tall necks of giraffes and the humps and the backs of elephants. All other small animals like antelopes, hyenas, jackals etc, were successful in hiding themselves from view. An ordinary, everyday automobile is not good enough for safaris. One needs to be at an elevation, say like on elephant back to view the animals in their natural environment. Anyway it was quite an experience to drive through Park.
The day after our return was the last day before my departure for Dar es Salam. I went and met the top bosses of Kenyan Post to brief them about what we had done. As I came down to the DDG’s deputy’s room where we had done all the work an officer came and told me that the DDG wanted us to go to Nakuru. We piled into a car and drove for around two hours before hitting Nakuru. It is a typical colonial town having been established during the colonial era. Its elevation of more the 3000 ft gives a temperate climate all round the year. It is more famous for the Nakuru Lake where hundreds of thousands of flamingoes gather creating a splash of white on blue waters of the lake. It is a sight for the Gods.