Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Adventures of Disco

I would like to introduce you to Disco.

This is Disco. Disco is a maroon/red 1999 Landrover Discovery and the newest addition to my friends' Laura and Cameron's house. And last weekend the 4 of us, Laura, Cameron, Disco and I travelled to the Coast for our Easter holidays.

Car packed, ready for an adventure

The trip was not without its adventures. Even before we had left Nairobi we had a few.... false starts shall we say.

False Start Number 1
No more than 10 minutes after pulling out of the driveway we were stopped by police at a checkpoint. The policeman's suspicions were aroused by Disco's number plates, which are temporary until Laura is issued with the permanent ones. The policeman said that the number plates didn't have the seal of the KRA (Kenyan Roads Authority) and therefore the car should not be driven on Kenyan roads. After some reasoning, some pleading, some phone calls to Laura's work, the policeman decided to let us off. Which was good because the alternative involved hauling our asses to the diplomatic police station at the complete other side of town.

False Start Number 2
Police dispensed with (and we prayed we wouldn't face the same problem at every police checkpoint between Nairobi and the coast) we made our way slowly through the Nairobi traffic and made it to the Mombasa Highway. But before we even got as far as they airport what appeared to be smoke started billowing from the engine. We pulled into a service station and discovered that there was no water in the engine at all and that the car was overheating. So we decided to get water and let Disco rest for a while.

False Start Number 3
So car cooled, driver and passengers refreshed with a sneaky Tusker, and we were ready to hit the road again. Cameron decided to run the engine for a few minutes to double check that the water was flowing correctly through the cooling system. However, thanks to a gust of wind  and Disco's temperamental electrics the car door closed and locked itself with the keys inside and the engine running. However Disco electrical issues also brought with it the solution to our problem. One of the back windows was a bit open (as it refused to close) and so a young guy from the garage was dragged over and stuck his skinny arm through the window and managed to unlock the car. Crisis averted and we were back on the road, albeit a few hours behind schedule. We drove for a couple of hours and then pulled into a little roadside hotel for the night, and got nyama choma (roast meat) and Tuskers, and got an early night so we could be up bright and breezy for the drive to Shimba Hills National Park the next morning.

The road may not look like much but it was the
bumpiest road I have ever travelled on.
Which is saying something cos I'm from Meath

Camping in Shimba Hills
On Friday evening, after driving along a road which was supposedly a C-Class road (ie 3rd best grade in Kenyan, equivalent to a regional road at home) but was honestly the bumpiest road ever, we arrived at Shimba Hills. Shimba Hills is a small national park about 17km from the coast, which you can actually see from some of it's highest points. We arrived around 5, just in time for a quick drive around and to put up the tent before the sun went down. We cracked open some gin, Cameron lit a campfire and we prepared a dinner of noodles, beans, instant pasts and toast - yum! The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn, grabbed a quick breakfast and drove to the other side of the park for a mini hike to the stunning Shelrick Falls. Sadly, throughout all of our time in the park we didn't spot a single elephant or leopard (which the park is famous for) but we did see one of the park's few giraffes, and lots of antelope, buffalo, beautiful birds and baboons. Then we hopped back into Disco for the final leg of our journey to the coast.

Giraffe and antelope in Shimba Hills

A fine looking tent

Laura kicking off gin o'clock

Cameron's campfire

Post dinner gin (are you sensing a trend?)

The huge spider that we found under the tent the next morning

Toast, Jam and Blueband - Breakfast of champions
Shelrick Falls

Shimoni and Wasini Island
And so at about 3pm on Saturday afternoon we arrived at Shimoni. We settled ourselves into our bandas and made our way to a recommended restaurant in the village, Four Tables Restaurant. As the name suggests it was a small place with only, you guessed it, 4 tables. Adbul, the owner, could not have been nicer and within minutes us 3 starving travellers were filling up on fresh fish, chapati, rice, sukuma wiki, beans. The Shimoni leg of our trip revolved, for the most part, around food I must admit. Or seafood and fish to be precise.
Our first view of the Ocean

On Easter Sunday we got up and booked ourselves at the last minute on a boat trip to the Kisite Mpunguti National Marine Park and Wasini Island. The Marine Park itself is famous for its fish and turtles (though I did not spot any of these). We went for a bit of a snorkel along a sandpit in the middle of the marine park. Not being the strongest swimmer I stayed pretty close to the beach at all times but even amongst the coral at the beach there were hundreds of different fish of all colours and sizes. It was absolutely beautiful. Snorkelling over, we asked the boat to drop us at Wasini Island where once again our first priority was to sort cheap yummy food. Wasini Island is a tiny island off the coast, measuring about 5km by 1km with a population of about 3,000 people. The island has no cars, no piped electricity (some of the residents have generators but these are hugely expensive to run) and little running water. Despite, or perhaps more accurately because of this, the island is relatively unspoiled. It is quiet, relaxed and friendly.

Smiling boat passengers

Rival boat

First glimpse of the marine park

Having arrived too late for lounging on the beach (the tide was in) we instead took our books to the coral garden for a sit and a read while waiting for our lift back to the mainland in the evening. The coral garden is this vast area in the middle of the island which looks either prehistoric, or post-apocalyptic. The huge lumps of coral jut out from the ground like rock trees, dotted among mangrove trees. Our guide (a young lad from the island who agreed to show us around) informed us that by 4pm the coral garden would be flooded as the time came in. We nodded politely but none of us believed him. However, he was right. At about 3.30pm the water began to pour in and by 4pm the coral garden, and even some parts of the boardwalk were submerged under water.

Sunday evening once again revolved around food. On Saturday we had ordered lobster and kalamari from Abdul and on Sunday evening he served us up our feast complete with the nicest passionfruit juice that I have ever tasted.

Lobster, kalamari and rabbit fish

Cameron, loving his dinner

Laura similarly loving her dinner

Monday morning we woke at 5am to begin the long journey back to Nairobi. Disco was still being a little temperamental so we had to stop a few times to let her cool down but we made it back to Nairobi by 6pm that evening.

Special thanks to Laura and Cameron and of course Disco for a great trip.

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