People say the train to Mombasa is a poor choice. It is a 16 hr. ride on average (bus is 9 hrs), when or if it leaves the station. Nick-named the “lunatic express” the Kenya Railway was built nearly a century ago and got its name after going insanely over budget. During construction over 2,500 workers died (malaria, lions, exhaustion) in an attempt to expand access to East Africa’s interior. Today the railroad runs between Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu. If it leaves the station and you have some flexibility in your schedule, it’s a beautiful way to see the Kenyan countryside.
After 16 enchanting hours and a proper English breakfast I arrived in Mombasa. Mombasa is a densely populated island within an estuary that leads into the Indian Ocean. Although the streets are packed with tuk tuks (three wheeled motorcycle taxis), boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) and cars jockeying around roundabouts, the equatorial beach climate gives the place a slightly more laid-back vibe than Nairobi. In the morning, as you walk through Old Town, you will see wazee (elders, wise men) sitting at coffee shops, sipping on kahawa tangawizi (Swahili ginger coffee) while enjoying a mandazi (Swahili Doughnut). It is definitely more my pace.
Mombasa’s charm is hard to explain unless you provide a bit of context. It is a merchant city that, prior to Kenya’s independence from Britain (1963), was occupied by the Sultanate of Oman, Portugal and Britain. It was and still is a key hub for trade that attracts a diverse group, each weaving their traditions and culture into the fabric of the city. Swahili coastal cuisine is a mix of traditional Kenyan fair spiced up with Arabic and Indian influences. And, the architecture of the city is an amalgamation of Portuguese, Islamic and Swahili styles; the older buildings have a crumbly charm, highlighting the city’s ancient roots. If done right, Mombasa is magic!