"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", quoth Pliny the Elder. There is some debate about what he really meant, but most likely he meant trouble. In this sense has the phrase been used most often since but I hope to reverse the trend and on these pages bring you the exciting, novel and curious out of Africa.

And wherever I am I hope to remain,
Ex Africa Semper Yours,

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Malindi - Commedia degli Errori

This time my intuition deceived me. I saw a sign for a Lorenzo il Magnifico restaurant and I thought that something which is called that cannot be a bad place. One could say I had a good feeling about it. Unfortunately, it was misguided and I will very quickly have to develop this one skill which I do not posses and that is ability to resist the pressure of the situation and not get bullied into spending more money than I actually have.

In other words, Lorenzo turned out to be really rather magnifico but I could not see that on arrival as I somehow managed to get to the kitchen door first. It all looked closed so I asked if I can get something to eat, meaning if the restaurant is open. I’ve walked a kilometre from the main road to get here so I though I might just as well try rather than go back. But the staff, rightly unable to comprehend that someone could be so daft not to see an off-limits luxury resort restaurant when one sees one, treated me as a lost lamb of a mzungu who is desperate for her dinner. So after consulting the manager they ushered me in, apologising that the dinner is not earlier than in an hour but I could spend the time boozing in the bar and pondering what I want to eat. So here I am pondering if I really want a dish of pasta that could buy me three nights of accommodation or a trip to Nairobi.

It’s really not bad at all when one puts it into European terms but I am trying to do the budget thing here and I’ve been especially good today. Bloody hell, I walked with the whole gear in a dirt road to Gede Ruins for 2km only to deprive this poor motorcycle boy of his 50 Ksh. And then back! I bribed a guard at the Vasco da Gama Pillar to pay a fraction of the overpriced entrance ticket. I fasted on fruit and water (although that’s only because it was too hot too eat). I resisted the temptations of many a tuk-tuk driver when I walked to town and back, although I am glad I did succumb twice as I do really love riding in tuk-tuks. Should all this go to nothing?

But we still have not said anything about the place in which all this drama is taking place. Malindi is a curious place. On the one hand it’s full of resorts and, curiously, Italian expats but on the other it is also very local and unpretentious. LP did not have a campsite listed so I headed to the tourist information, which turned out to be not your usual leaflet filled bureau but a local branch of the ministry of tourism. Difficult to say if I or the receptionist was more surprised to see me there but after some deliberation she penned me for a meeting with the branch director; and I only had to wait five minutes.

That meeting was quintessentially Kenyan. Although I ONLY wanted to ask if there is a camping site nearby, I could not just blurt my question out. There had to be introductions: in Swahili, in English, took some time. Then there was the element of playful authority: he demanded to see my passport to prove I am Polish – for one reason or another he was convinced I am an Israeli servicewoman on leave. Not sure how the thing would have ended if I were part of the Israeli force but luckily my ID released me from further suspicions. Yet, I still did not have the information I needed and it took another ten minutes of conversation. Halfway through it he got up and closed the door behind me which made me feel a tad uneasy. But luckily nothing but, again the typical, offer of exchange of telephone numbers and a drink on the beach followed. I promised to call and grasping my precious piece of paper with the address of the campsite left hastily.

The campsite turned out to be fantastic although very basic. It was spacious, covered in pretty plants and pleasantly shaded by many superb trees. Moreover, it was empty. I pitched my tent (I should really give him a name, any suggestions?), it was just past noon. The air was motionless and hot, I was drenched in sweat, sticky, dusty and dizzy. I was dying for a shower. You cannot begin to comprehend my despair upon learning that there was no water in the whole of Malindi! Damn the corruption in the ministry of water resources management! Luckily Steve, the caretaker of the campsite, offered to procure a bucket with some of that precious liquid for my ablutions. Yet, miracle of miracles, just as I resigned myself to the thought, the water came back. I cannot begin to describe the delight that this shower was! I’ve never felt so blissful.

With renewed strength I hit the town, the lovely Portuguese Church supposedly built by Vasco da Gama and certainly visited by St Francis Xavier and the lonely Pillar erected by the former. Other than that there is not much more to see in town. The beach is quite nice but the water is full of weeds. There are quite a few nice restaurants and a little maze of narrow streets in the old town. So I headed back to the campsite where I promised to meet up with Linda, a girl living in one of the few cottages which are part of the campsite enclosure. She offered to take me to the public beach and watch over my things while I bathed. I offered her my fruit-salad. While we sat and ate she told me about her wish to go to college to study economics, about her parents who now take care of her baby of 3 years, whose father dematerialised as soon as he learnt she was pregnant and who is richer than she is so he can bribe the police when she tries to get him to pay for the baby. This seems to be a rather common plight of women here. The baby girl is called Precious.

And that’s how it all ended…

Oh shame of shames, I succumbed. The first attempt was nearly successful I just said that I won’t eat but, in a conciliatory gesture so counterproductive and typical of the status conscious middle classes, I added casually that I might take dessert. One would think that’s that but the head waiter came after five minutes and in a very concerned manner informed me that there are two very cheap positions on the menu which might interest me. When I lied politely that I am simply not that hungry, he hastened to add that the dinner is not for a while and besides I can eat only a little and take the rest home. He was so insistent, in an avuncular way, that I started suspecting that he might be in trouble for letting me in to this secret garden if I do not take anything. So here we go, I think we can cross assertive out of my attributes. Oh well, I could not face walking back in the total darkness and finding a new place to write and I might even get half a pizza for Linda out of it.

p.s. There was brief glimpse of hope for me when the electricity suddenly went down and all turned pitch black – I seriously considered making a run for it and escaping through the dark kitchens but unfortunately the only source of light around was my computer screen so the chances of having fled undiscovered were as slim as the damned laptop.)

p.p.s. The electricity actually went out 5 times while I was there. I had a very powerful Titanic impression every time the music stopped and the lights went off and then on again once hiding then revealing the splendour around me. When Kenyans talk about unreliable public services I guess that’s what they mean but I have not been surprised if that were not the overloaded fuses – surely they could have done without one or two of those water-feature lasers or palm tree chandeliers.

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