|Firstly a BIG Happy New Year to you all !
The next part of our travels took us across the border and north to the small town of Malindi on the Kenyan coast. It read nicely in our Lonely Planet but turned out quite the opposite. Set in an idyllic location, Malindi was jam packed full of 5-Star resorts catering to the wealthy package tourist, some of whom were treating the local people particularly badly. It was interesting to see just how far the money from the tourist industry went in Malindi - about one street back. Behind this was dirt roads, huge piles of rubbish (no waste management here), and some of the poorest most desperate people we'd seen on our travels anywhere.
We hightailed it 20km down the road and found wonderful Watamu, a small Kenyan town in between two most magnificant beaches. We settled in for a few days at a little local guesthouse and it was great doing our shopping in the local markets and eating at the street grills in the evening with the locals.
While at Watamu we got out for a dive on the local marine park and it was like diving in a tropical aquarium, with lots of tropical fish and pretty corals. It also helped diving in 28 degree water with huge visibility. This was a great experience but we did better the next day when we took a local dhow out snorkeling. About 8m long, it was an idyllic way to travel up the coast with the wind in the large, patched sail. No motor, no noise - just the huge grin of Kiteke, our boat captain. We snorkeled around for a couple of hours and then caught the seabreeze back.
We did some shopping here too and Doiv finally had some car tyre sandals made - complete with "rhino horn" and multicoloured beading. Son got herself a bag made so that we could avoid the plastic bags which seem to engulf so much of the planet. It was really good to be able to experience some of the 'real' Kenya and see our tourist dollar going to the locals (not expats). This became quite important to us after witnessing the poverty that is rife in Kenya. It was the first time that we found it difficult to eat in outdoor cafes - especially when we knew that we were spending a Kenyan's averarge monthly salary in a day... While the people are also poor in Tanzania, they all generally have food and do not seem as desparate as some of the Kenyans.
We sadly left Watamu and headed down to Mombasa on our way to the south coast. The only way to describe Mombasa is mad - mad with people and matatus (minivans) everywhere. They all seem to get where they want to go however, and we joined the thousands travelling across the river on the ferry. It was all very orderly for the chaos and pretty fun way to travel. We arrived at Tiwi beach and found another beautiful spot with wide sandy beaches and turquoise water, warmer than most of the showers we had in South America!
Continuing on with our lazing around part of our trip, we headed back into Tanzania, down to a small place south of Tanga. Peponi was a very relaxing place, complete with resident Vervet monkeys, coconut palms and a beautiful beach just perfect for finding shells. We didn't do much here either - some snorkeling off the dhow, swimming and reading - although we did manage a cruise up the Pangani River to visit a village and see the local fishermen at work.
One of the things we've particularly enjoyed about East Africa has been traveling around by the local public transport. Dalla-Dallas as they are known in Tanzania, and Matatus in Kenya, are small 14-seat mini-vans (in various states of disrepair) that provide the only transport option for most of the East African population. They are called cool names like 'Storm Rider' and 'The Dream' and usually have religous or football slogans plastered all over them - perhaps to help them make their destination?
Costing roughly A$1 per hour, you can get anywhere as long as you have plenty of time on your hands, a healthy sense of humor and are not too precious about your personal space. They stop everywhere in the pursuit of more passengers, the conductor insisting there is always room for just one more person. The vans end up completely packed (inside and out) and you often find yourself squeezed into a small spot unable to move with either something (backpack, bucket/bag of something), someone or somebody's armpit in your face. Our record for our time in East Africa was 32 people (8 hanging on outside). On one journey, Sonya found herself holding up a little toddler to breastfeed from his standing mother. The only other lady who could speak english sagely looked at Sonya and commented (she's a) "coconut tree". One thing is for sure, road travel in East Africa is always an adventure. At least they don't carry chickens in the vehicle... they go on the roof !