Mombasa, Kenya – If you’ve never been in a car, bus or van that’s had the privilege of having a national police escort in a third world country, here are a few survival tips to take to heart:
You have to give credit where it’s due, and these guys know how to drive. But bear in mind that this ain’t no ride at EuroDisney. The rundown cars, beat-up trucks and rickety three-wheeled taxis that are abruptly ordered aside after being nearly driven off the road, and the people in them, are all real. So are the pedestrians and those pulling carts full of bananas and papayas to market.
Don’t be too freaked out by the humiliating look of terror that takes over the face of an oncoming driver who’s been pointed to and scolded by the heavily armed police officer as he speeds by. They’re used to it, and they’re probably just playing along.
When a policeman firmly suggests that you don’t take his picture, he’s not joking.
Sit back and enjoy and don’t be a back seat driver. Your driver knows as well as you do that the traffic light he just sped through was red.
Thank your driver. He’s only doing his job. It’s not his fault that some of the people he’s forced to follow are mildly insane when they get behind the wheel. He’s got little choice in the matter.
The sprawling palm tree-lined private beach that belongs to the White Sands Hotel and Resort is certainly a sight and setting to behold. The most invigorating breeze one can imagine is blowing from the Indian Ocean, the sands are indeed white, and the stars on this night too numerous to count. For many holiday makers –it’s high season and there are many– it’s an ideal setting. But the problem, if you want to characterize it as such –and I certainly do– is that, besides the ample supply of Tusker beer, this isn’t really Kenya. I could be sitting on a Club Med veranda in Haiti, Nicaragua, Tanzania or Sri Lanka. Or Florida, for that matter. The primary, indeed only language spoken is English. The music coming from the scratchy speakers at the beachside cocktail bars is British and American pop, there’s nothing particularly Kenyan about the cuisine on offer at the various open air restaurants, and nothing is particularly cheap. In short, everything about this heavily-secured tourist compound makes you easily forget that you are Mombasa. Some people like that, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m stuck here for a few more days but am already looking forward to moving on.
That said, the throngs that such a resort employs are charming, friendly, knowledgeable, and extremely hospitable. Even the gun-toting security guards, polite as can be, greet you with a smile. Earlier I was showing Ernest, the young man on night watch on my end of the beach, some pictures of Slovenia, and he’s now a big fan.
“Oh my,” he said, his gun resting against his long skinny left leg, “such a very, very beautiful place.”