September 22, 2011

33 hours in Mombassa

I don't often have songs stuck in my head, but this one Beatles refrain will just not quit. A four word phrase that just loops in a way reminiscent of a mantra: "I am the walrus." Only, the version that plays in my head is a slight variant: "I am the lobster." I wrote that in an e-mail the other day regarding the unseemly sheen of my weekend sunburn, and somehow it stuck (In the same way all of my clothes stick to my skin by aloe vera gel adhesive properties). I am the lobster. Goo goo g'joob.

But how tiresome to hear me complain about a hot and sunny weekend on the coast! Best I begin touting it instead. Mombassa- the East African port city where marriage of Arab and Kenyan culture spawned what became Swahili: the language, the food, the fashion-- it's all a fusion between two separate continents, set in the salty sea-level swelter.

Disembarking the train in Mombassa with 33 hours stretching out before us, we headed straight to the spice market. Buckets of fragrant powders, leaves, and grains, curries, coffees, teas, vanilla, paprika, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, saffron.... the list goes on!

The choices were too bountiful; I couldn't decide. I panicked! I bought 5 grams of cardamom. Cardamom? I have no idea what this spice is. I have no idea why I bought it. And now, I have no idea what to do with it. Any recipe suggestions? Cardamom? Cardamom? Beuller?

In the spice market. I am SO EXCITED to be drinking coconut water.

When traveling with a limited amount of time, one learns to prioritize. Museums, souvenirs, historic sites- not all can make the cut. Sensibly, we chose to make Priority #1= Food. Lunch, snacks, bakery, drinks, street food. Mombassa and the surrounding coast is rich is seafood and coconut curries. Also, delicious drinks. Below, a street vendor selling a drink made of pressed sugar cane, lime juice, ginger, and ice. He has 2 glass mugs, so you shill out the 30cents, sip your drink while loitering on the sidewalk, and then return the glass for him to reuse (and wash?).

Squeeeeeezed sugar cane with ginger and lime.

Priority #2= Balcony spotting. Mombassa is a reputed zion of balconies. The story is that the Muslim women were supposed to remain indoors (for housework, chastity, you know, the usual) yet still wanted a way in which to watch the world go by.

Balcony spotted, on your left!

With the Mombassa tour (food & balconies) successfully completed, we took a ferry and matatu down the coast to Diani beach for the night. The southern Kenyan coast is lined with swaths of sandy beaches and towering palm trees.

The pictures may paint it as remote or isolated, but don't be fooled-- you're sharing the shore with lazy camels and sharing the foliage with chatty Columbos monkeys. I've been to my share of beaches but have never felt sand as silky as this.

Shadow holding flip-flops and a warm can of Tusker beer.

I don't know if I'm ashamed or proud to admit this, but I just realized that I've owned this skirt for 10 years. And I can't sing its praises enough- it never wrinkles, never stains, and is knee-length- perfect for traveling. Most successful relationship ever! Here's to another 10 years, skirt; this warm beer is in your honor.

Day 2 (Yep, all of that was just in one day) brought an excursion into the Indian Ocean for boating, snorkeling at the Marine Park, and lunching on a coral island. We all piled into a pirate-style boat and headed out for land's end as dolphins swam along side to guide our way.


Where land becomes ocean.

So 33 hours in Mombassa, and what did I learn? That I have crazy eyes when drinking coconut and food tastes much better when you have to bludgeon it into submission. Fact.

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