Holiday Trip Part 2: Mombasa

As we alighted from the plane and stepped down onto the tarmac, our senses were hit with the tropics: the smell of the sea, the heat on our skin, the muggy vegetal air of early evening. It was such a change from the stark, arid expanse of Amboseli National Park and the cool highlands of Nairobi. Welcome to Kenya’s melting pot, Mombasa and the Swahili Coast.

Arab, Persian, and Indian traders have been sailing the Swahili coast for centuries trading in spices and, sadly, slaves. The port city has been the site of fierce battles between Arabs and Portuguese forces for control of this trade hub.

We stayed at the Voyager Resort right on the water north of Mombasa. The kids snorkeled around a starfish garden in the Indian Ocean, swam in the pool, combed the beach for shells and crabs, and enjoyed the supervised activities on the “Animation Deck” – which gave us parents a nice break. Each night there was family entertainment such as traditional African dance, a Broadway review, and acrobats. We all had a great time there.

We spent a day exploring Mombasa’s Old Town. Our guide Mohammed started the tour with a stop at the Akamaba Handicraft Cooperative where we saw skilled craftsmen from the Kamba tribe carving all kinds of wooden bowls and figures. Garrett was very interested in their work. We picked up some nicely carved souvenirs. Our guide picked up a golden orb weaver spider – with his bare hands. It was the biggest spider we had ever seen. He said it would not bite and we could hold it, but we did not take him up on the offer.

We walked through the winding, narrow streets of Mombasa’s Old Town. The zigzag street pattern served to slow invading armies. It now keeps the Old Town pedestrian-friendly. When the kids got tired, we caught a ride on a tuk-tuk – a tiny three-wheeled taxi that can navigate Old Town’s alleys.  We passed the crumbling building where Theodore Roosevelt once planned his 1909 Kenyan safari, the site of the old slave auction, and the Mandhry mosque – founded in 1570. The highlight of the walk through Old Town was Fort Jesus. The Portuguese built Fort Jesus in 1593 by carving the walls out of a coral ridge above the harbor. The fort changed hands nine times before the British finally took control of East Africa. Mohammed, our guide, was fantastic. He really made the history come alive throughout the tour, but especially at Fort Jesus.

Mombasa is hot. Africa hot. One night Jen and I had dinner while the kids ate with the other children on the Animation Deck. It was so hot and humid that evening that I could not stop sweating – it was just pouring down my face right at the dinner table. Jen could not even look at me, I was so ridiculous. Right then a little Kenyan girl walks by – dressed in a turtleneck sweater dress and long pants. Not a bead of sweat on the girl’s brow. We both burst out laughing at the contrast.

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