The Swahili Coast Redux (Xmas, 2018)

Part 1: Malindi Whither Goest Thou?
I was first here in Malindi on the Swahili Coast back in 1982 with my younger brother Harry and his then gf (later wife) Kate Gilchrist.

They were taking a break from the rigours of being teacher trainers for CUSO in the then safe Nigeria. I say “safe” except for when they drove the deadly “Road of death” that they had to endure from time to time, but I digress.

At any rate, they journeyed from tropical West Africa to East Africa and I, from dead of winter in western Canada, where I had been working in -50C climes.

We met up in Nairobi; them fresh from a Masaai Mara safari and me from a steamy week in Bangkok. We took the much-vaunted EAR (East African railways) train from NBO to Mombasa after which, we then jumped on a matatu or mini-van that slowly brought us to Malindi.

We stayed one mosquito ridden night in the Malindi Youth Hostel then bolted to neighbouring Silversands which was, at that time, in the Lonely Planet guide and a favourite amongst overlanders.

Silversands had cabanas on the beach, but also catered to the London/Amsterdam/Paris overlander trucks and folks with a huge area for tents and campers.

We opted for one of the cabanas which turned out to be quite muggy once the on-shore winds died down in the night and then became a mosquito heaven. This, despite the god awful pyrethine green coils from China.
If the malaria didn’t kill you then the toxic smoke caused by the mosquito coils would.

We had already booked our Lamu bound Tan River Bus prior to Silversands, so on the following morning, after a disastrous night’s sleep I might add, we bolted early sans paying and headed to the raucous bus stop.

That was when but this is now, Xmas break 2018.

My wife, two kids and me are staying at some rich Italians villa overlooking the Indian Ocean just east of where my brother, his gf and me had stayed in 1982.

We have been sworn to secrecy by the head house boy since technically, we should not even be here.

A bit of Kenyan chicanery if you ask me, but I’m not complaining especially after enduring a rather gruelling 12 hour Coast bus ride from Nairobi to Mombasa then a 3 hour matatu ride from there to Malindi.

I have done this bus ride from NBO a few times in my younger days, but it does not get any better and the seats have not been repaired since I first use Coast bus either in 1988 or 2001.

The bus seats resemble something from Escape from LA. Bolts for seat levers or none at all, a free bottle of water and no cookies. A few of the passengers have been tippling which has led to a raucous ride.

At least we didn’t have squealing Hindi pop music playing as was experienced on a past trip and, thank god, the drivers were not chewing miraa—the equivalent of Yemen’s qat.

I can’t even take photos of Italian’s Villa where we are staying in because we shouldn’t even be here.

It all started when we took a tuk tuk to our first choice, Tamani Jua, an Italian run resort that we have frequented in the past. We pulled up and I saw that the doors were closed with a sign on it.
Our affable driver told us the place was shut for renovations.
Pray why did he not tell us that before our bone jarring tuk tuk ride from the Malindi town bus stop.

This was not our actual first choice and we were planning on staying at another dive in town, but I offered to pay for two nights at Tamani Jua and relax and give our arses a break from sitting on buses.

So after a brief huddle with our driver, he offered another suggestion of some place called the Mariposa. I had no clue where that was, but we were open to offers.

We drove back through town, past Stardust, Karen Blixen café, the Palentine Café and Lawford’s Hotel where the rich Brits used to stay. We drove a long way past Scorpio’s Villas where Gracie and I had out first honeymoon prior to our marriage in 2001.

We pulled up to a nondescript land coral walled villa.

Then the security guy opened the door and Gracie went in, while the kids, I and our driver waited outside in our tuk tuk which soon became a sweathouse out in the midday sun. Unbearable, I told the kids to go inside a see what mom was doing and, so that I could protect our valuables stowed in the tuk tuk.

I was soon directed to go in and walk around the outside of the building and opened up into a patio, thatch roofing and enormous 3-floor structure in a lovely setting with a view out over the ocean, a working kitchen, palm trees swaying and a swimming pool with aquamarine water—it was too good to be true.

The villa was a private lodging and the owners were back in Italy but soon found out they would be coming for the Xmas holiday.

The thatched villa had three floors, a huge patio with clunky Zanzibar lounge furniture, foldable leather armchairs, a swinging sofa, chaise lounges with gigantic comfy pillows, Turkish lights, lamps and a garden. Frangipani trees and bougainvillea bushes lined the garden and pool.

It was idyllic and ideal for us weary travellers.

Gracie was involved in talking to the guys who took care of the place.

I let Gracie do the dealing since it was all in Swahili. Some agreement was made and I still did not understand how we lucked out, so to say.

Truth be told, I was too tired to argue about anything as none of us had slept much since leaving Nairobi.

Part of the agreement for us staying was that we could not post anything on Facebook or post pictures of the place. I guess the houseboys were worried that the Italian owners would see them and then take action, so we agreed on that proposal to remain silent.

We settled in, the two caretakers took our gear upstairs to our rooms. Initially, Gracie and I were on the bottom floor but then it was decide that we would take the two upper floors—more access to wind seemed better to me.

Gracie went into town and the kids and I stayed behind to relax.

We had only just settled in when we decided to go for a swim in the pool. While changing into our swimming togs, Jeremy came into our room and started playing with the remotes for the a/c wall unit.

I wasn’t paying too much attention when he grabbed one remote and set off the red light on it. The a/c didn’t seem to work with it, so I did not think any the wiser.

In only a matter of minutes, when someone outside was ringing the noisy doorbell on the front gate below us and the one houseboy was yelling at me that we had to get out of sight as some askari or security guys were waiting to enter.

I locked the door to our 2nd floor room and told Jessy and Jeremy to hide in our washroom and remain quiet.

I was, we all were a little nervous, and wondered why the askari security guys were there.  We had only been in the house maybe 20 minutes.

I watched from the second floor window as four tall askari guys walked in brandishing pengas or machetes.

Soon they were banging on our door to open and I froze. What the hell I we gotten ourselves into now?

Then I heard the houseboy telling me to open up with the askaris yelling too.
I fumbled with the set of keys, but they did not open the door which led to more frantic banging by the askaris.

None of the keys worked.

I thought we might all end up in jail.
Christ what a to do—they must have thought we were robbing the place—there was no way out except through this locked door.

I looked at the kids, then Jessie threw me another set of keys and after fumbling with them, I finally got the door open and in strode the now very tall askaris.

The askaris had their pangas or machetes at the ready to clobber some would-be thieves instead just found old, white-haired me and two kids sheltering in the bathroom.

Turns out, they were responding to a robbery alarm that had been triggered by what we thought was the a/c remote that Jeremy had accidentally set off, with my help mind you.

The head houseboy just showed us the robber alarm and said we should not touch it again and removed it from my nightstand and hid it in the washroom.

I had to explain to the head mucky muck that it was my mistake and we had pressed by mistake thinking it was the a/c remote.

Luckily, he didn’t say what the hell are you doing in so and so’s villa and who the hell were we.

We got off with a warning and I felt bad for the head boy who had to, no doubt, explain the mysterious presence of an English-speaking mzungu with two African kids—in an Italianos villa no less.

I felt ashamed, but what could we do, we had only been in the villa less than 20 minutes, and the alarm had only been pressed maybe 10 minutes ago.

I was duly impressed with the speed which these armed askaris guy had reacted to the alarm. Maybe there had been quite a few robberies in this rich Italian tourist area, but I was not sure.

We were wondering how we were going to explain this to Gracie when she returned from downtown—what a beginning to our holiday?

We were also told by the head guy that we could use the swimming pool, but no yelling or making a noise because the neighbour would complain. Imagine trying to tell two kids not to make any noise in a swimming pool. Much like having a bark less dog I reckon.

We also had to sneak out the front door in case the askaris parked down the road saw us. I guess one of the guys in the security vehicle was a friend of the Italian owners, and he might report us.

We had to wait till one of the houseboys gave us the all clear signal that we could leave—seemed a bit cloak and dagger to me, but for being able to stay here in this luxurious villa—worth the wait and trouble.

I noticed that the next-door neighbour’s pool was empty and the place looked ratty. Our houseboy told me the neighbour’s had not been there for 8 years and just did not take care of it or have house boys to guard it.

We would have taken the back exit that led right onto the beach, but owing to soil erosion or high tides, the concrete steps were now a treacherous route to the sea all toppled on top of each other at rakish angles. There was a long fishing line attached to a bell that you could ring that would bring the houseboy to open the lock and the metal gate that lead into the pool area.

I scraped my leg on the rough concrete a number of times and cut my arm and fingers on the cacti that were planted to thwart robbers. At least the kids and guards got a kick out of my attempts to get up it, much to my chagrin.

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