Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kenyan Train Experience

Our time in Mombasa ends today. We leave on the train from here back to Nairobi. Unfortunately for us, we have to check out by 10am. Our train does not leave until 7pm, but we need  to be there by 6pm. That is a whole lot of time to kill doing much of nothing. After breakfast and storing our luggage, it was still cool, so we took a tuk-tuk to Fort Jesus. We had gone there before, but had not gone in. When we reached the top, we found that contrary to what we were told, there is an entrance fee of 800 shillings (8 euros). From what we could see from the gate, it was not worth the money, so decided against it.

Beyond the fort was a walkway that lead to the water, so we went down there to enjoy the scenery and waste some time. We followed the walkway, which took us into Old Town. Most of the shops are souvenir stores, proprietors begging you to visit and look over their wares. It continually reminds me of the number of African pieces that have been imported to the US over the decades. Stores in CA have been selling many of these products for years, one such store's mottos was "We shop the world so you don't have to". Well here I am shopping the world, but have seen it all before and have a lot of it in storage, so there is no need to buy it again. How many ebony giraffes or sandstone sculptures does anyone really need? We really tried to spend time here to wait out our late train, but it was a strain. Stopping near a restaurant, we were greeted and asked to come in. Wanting a drink we obliged and looked at the menu. A date shake sounded interesting, so I ordered it. "Sorry, finished, no more." Second attempt was the avocado juice, something I will never get anywhere else. "Sorry, finished, no more." Rather than continuing to play this game, I asked what they did have. Tamarind and orange juice. Fine, tamarind it is then. Another couple came in, looked at the extensive menu and tried to order lunch. Same story "Sorry, finished, no more." for her first three attempts. She wizened up fast and said "Why don't you just tell me what you do have." As it turns out, they only had one meal available. Why they bother with the menus is a puzzle.

The porcelain god was calling again. I knew my chances of finding something suitable here were slim to none, so we thought it best to head back to the hotel to use the public facility. From 1:30 to 6pm, we were held hostage at the patio restaurant. To ease our conscious of waiting, we ordered a beer, then a water, this was followed by two samosas, later more samosas. I think the staff thought we were going to take root there. We had a table under a fan, so I didn't want to forfeit it by leaving and returning later. We sat and read our books the entire time, making good use of the public facilities, but making me leery about a long train ride.

At 6pm, our driver Dennis, from the previous day came for us and drove us the fifteen minutes to the train station. He should us where to present our tickets. We were assigned our car and a porter took us with our luggage to it. The train station looked like something from an old time movie. All of 2 tracks, there was our train like a giant centipede, waiting for us. Our assigned car was about twenty-two cars toward the front. This is one of the oldest train lines in Eastern African running from Uganda. Not knowing what to expect, since our tickets were only $40 each, we bought a supply of water and a few snacks just in case. We had paid for 1st class, which was a sleeper and included dinner and breakfast tomorrow morning. Our sleeper room looked like any European train's sleeper car. Due to the heat, we waited on the platform until it was ready to roll.

By 7pm, the departure time, the announcement was made that the train was ready to go. We were in our seats, a long lounge type seating with an upper bunk that came down for a second bed. Within fifteen minutes, we were called to the dining car for dinner. It was suggested we take all of our valuables with us. I keep them all in my shoulder bag, so no worries.

The dining car tables were spread out with linen table cloths and china. They started with soup and then we had the choice of a beef, chicken or vegetable dish. Dessert was a fruit cup accompanied by coffee or tea. By 8:30pm we were ready for bed, because our overhead light was not fully functional, making it difficult to read. The porter had our beds made within ten minutes. The window opened and had a screen on it, which was fortunate because the fan did not work at all. By this hour, it was black out; there was no scenery to try to pass the time. I love the rock and roll of a train, so was looking forward to a great night of sleeping, but it was interrupted by having to get dressed to use the facilities down the hall. The toilet paper disappeared rapidly, so I went armed with my tissues and every paper napkin I could get my hands on in the dining car. Other than a lot of fumes coming in the window, exhaust type pollution, I slept well. It was a comfortable experience. We are due into Nairobi around 7:30am, but have been warned by others that it could be as late as 11:30. We have no pressing engagements, so it does not matter.
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