our last weeks in africa

I never got to post about our last week in Africa so, picking up from where I left off in Mombassa…

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after the long night at Casablanca, Joey and I were too exhausted the next day to leave Mombassa. we decided to stay an extra day and take it easy. al of us had some errands to run, so we split up. I spent my time in an internet cafe cursing at the mind-bogglingly slow connection, while I helped put together a website for someone. Joey got a haircut, which is something he had been wanting to do for a while. the night before, at the club Casablanca, he had met a prostitute who said that she worked in a “saloon” cutting hair. he told her that he needed a haircut, got her number, and called her the following day. unfortunately, after waiting for 2 hours, the girl never showed, and Joey went to a regular hair salon. I wonder what kind of crazy story he would have had if the girl had really taken him back to her “saloon”.

that night we went to the movies and saw “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”. I cant say I really liked it. before the movie started, they played the usual film strip of a flag and everyone had to stand for the national anthem. it really shocks me how horrible this filmstrip is. it was obviously shot ages ago, and the screen flickers, part of the flag is off of the screen, and the whole thing just looks awful. you’d think they could make a replacement movie with decent sound and picture quality. how hard is it to shoot a movie of a waving flag?! before the movie started, some people behind us were marveling about what a nice theater we were in. they were totally impressed. I looked around. this was considered one of the best theaters in Kenya, but really it wasn’t anything special. not a huge screen. seats weren’t anything special. sound wasn’t anything special. yet, this place was really impressive to people here. it really makes me think how spoiled we are back home. abroad, so many people marvel about things that for us are just common place. often, we don’t even realize how good we have it.

later, we went back to the splendid view restaurant even though we had just eaten there the day before. the tandoori chicken there was just too good.

the next several days we spent in Malindi, a small town up the coast. we spent the week doing pretty much nothing… but to be honest, it was actually really nice doing just that. the town is near the beach, but we only saw the beach once, and even that was just a for a few minutes and we didn’t go in the water. the only water we went into was the pool at our hotel. we were staying at this place which was really nice, much nicer than what we’d been staying at recently, but tourism was not doing so good here, and they had given us rooms for half off. we spent some of our days lounging by the pool, reading and swimming, and other days just walking through town. actually, the first day in town, we ended up staying at this Lutheran hotel and we felt really awkward the whole time, afraid to talk loudly or drink alcohol, so we moved the next day. one night, inexplicably, we heard all these explosions, and came outside to see some fireworks.

food in town was pretty decent, although a bit expensive. there is a huge Italian influence here, and most of the people we saw vacationing here were Italians. most resorts and restaurants too are owned by Italians. I think I tried 5 or 6 different lasagnas in as many restaurants. one night I got a whole crab at this nice seafood place. this monster was SO difficult to eat. it took me ages, and Joey and caryn stared at me laughing at my problems. we drank tons of passion fruit juice, and I’ve realized that this is one of the best kinds of juice ever. the one thing we pretty much never ate here, or anywhere in east Africa, was local food. I don’t know why. we just couldn’t be bothered to actually get it, and the few times that we did, it really wasn’t that good. one time I got Nyoma Choma, which is barbecued meat. it was *terrible*. literally inedible. I would put a piece in my mouth, chew, chew more, keep chewing, but there was no way to get through it, and each bite I would have to spit out. it was disgusting.

I definitely got the feeling that tourism here had taken a really big dive. people on the streets seemed desperate to sell safaris, bracelets, or anything else they thought people might want to buy. shops were empty. restaurants were empty. bars were empty. empty, empty, empty. in addition to taxis, there are tuk-tuks here which was kind of fun and exciting, but these too seemed desperate and hurting for business.

we did end up taking one excursion from town. we went to the gedi ruins. these are these old ruins about an hour out of town. to be honest, none of us were really all that thrilled by the ruins. they were cool, but nothing all that special. or maybe it was just so hot that we weren’t up to being excited. we did see some really cool monkeys there though, some new species that I have never seen before. we spent some time wandering around and then left.

we took a Matatu both from and to the ruins. heh, riding these matatus is so crazy. they really have no respect for the rules of the road, safety, or anything else. it would be totally hilarious if the consequences weren’t so serious. we’re blazing down the road, narrowly avoiding other vehicles, swerving around vans, passing cars while going around blind turns uphill, swerving off the road to avoid potholes, etc etc. during this whole time, the driver and others in the front are chewing chaat (the plant that is like a mild version of speed), playing blaring reggae, and going as fast as they can. all of a sudden, there’s a `police check ahead. music is turned off. the chaat gets hidden under the seat. the driver yells at everyone to put their seatbelts on. we pull off the road, looking the epitome of innocent law abiding citizens. the policeman waves us on. 30 seconds later, the driver throws his seat belt off, cranks up the music, pulls out the chaat and it’s like the party has started again. too funny.

there is an area of town where there are tons of souvenir shops. Joey had been wanting to buy souvenirs for days, and we wanted some too, so we all went down there. the situation down there was insane. since everyone was desperate for business, once you stepped inside a shop, you could barely leave. people would literally grab your hand and try to not let you go. everyone kept trying to force us into their shops, begging and pleading. it was mentally exhausting. we didn’t want to offend people, and there were some shops that honestly looked crappy from the outside, but we went inside anyways, just to be polite. it was rough.

these people know how to bargain, and we had to battle hard to get good prices. it’s funny, when I went to Thailand a few years back, I had never bargained before. bargaining scared me, and I was shy about it. I didn’t want to offend people by offering a price to low. I wanted to be “fair”. I remember being impressed how Tom seemed to be so good at it and could get some really damn low prices, while I never got hardly any discount. well, I’ve gotten much better at it. this time, I was able to swing some pretty good deals. the thing is, there’s no reason to feel bad at offering a low price. the seller doesn’t feel bad about offering you a high price, so why should you feel bad? the thing is, no one would sell you something unless they are making money. they just wouldn’t, so no matter how low of a price you offer, if the vendor accepts it, that means he is profiting, and so there’s no need to feel bad.

it is pretty crazy what kind of prices they like to throw out though. for instance, I was shopping for statues. the guy started at 800 shillings which was way too much. in the end, I got him down to 650 shillings for *2*. later I decided I wanted some more statues, so I came back the next day to get more. this time, not recognizing me, his initial offering was *1400* shillings!! the other day I had paid 650 for 2, and now he was offering just one for 1400. crazy. the thing is, I bet there are people out there that would pay it. they probably wouldn’t even know to bargain at all and would just shell out the cash.

one night when we were staying at the nice hotel, we decided to be helpful and patronize their bar. they had given us a huge discount on our rooms, so we thought we’d do our part and spend money in their establishment. of course, due to lack of tourism, their bar was empty. it was just us and the bartender. we had been drinking beer for the last several weeks, when we realized that this place sold the hard stuff for cheap. we started off w/ something called “Kenya cane”, a local alcohol made out of sugar cane which had some bite to it. then we moved on to vodka. the small flask-sized bottles were only $2.50. at first we mixed them w/ the only available mixer: fanta, but hen we realized we could make an even better beverage: vodka mixed w/ Smirnoff ice. needless to say, a while later we were totally drunk. it was quite a fun night, reminiscing about old times, telling stories, and being stupid. the next morning on the other hand, wasn’t so pleasant.

so that was it. our week in Malindi. we didn’t swim at the beach. we didn’t go to the marine park. we didn’t snorkel. we didn’t go on safari. we really didn’t do any of the things that Malindi is famous for. but you know what? it was a great week nonetheless. just a week hanging out w/ people, and enjoying the fact that we were in another country. it really goes to show that you don’t have to be always *doing something* out here to have a good time. sometimes you need to just take it easy…

*v

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