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MOMBASA EXCURSION Featured

There is a rhythm of the name itself. You sense an excitement, a musical quality in the way people talk and move and in the tapping hammers of the Old Town; where craftsmen beat out brass fittings for elaboratory caved chests. The odours of scent, dust, coffee, and camphorwood hang in the air of this torrid and humid island city linked by causeways and bridges to Kenyans east coast. What Winston Churchill in 1908 called “the gate of Africa” has been greatly modernized. He found Mombasa “alluring, even delicious” but the town has always had its sleazy side too.

As in centuries past vessels sails into the Old Harbour from Italia Arabia and the Persian gulf, laden with carpets, silverware, spices and dates. Every April they make the return journey home with cargos of mangrove, timber, ghee, animal skin and ivory. Many traders have stayed behind to give Mombasa a rich and handsome mixture of Arab and Asian peoples.

A huge double Arch made of four sheet-metal tusks span Moi Avenue as welcome gateway to visitors coming into town from Kilindini harbour. This symbol of wealth and waste of Africa was erected in honour of a British Royal visit. Nearby, Uhuru (freedom) Fountain is built in the shape of the African continent.

At the end of Nkrumah road lies Fort Jesus, huge and squat acquiring a venerable dignity from four tumultuous centauries commanding the entry to Mombasa Old port. It was built in 1593 by the Portuguese and fall to the Oman Arabs in 1698.Set on a coral ridge with foundations of solid coral rocks it proved impregnable to conventional assault-invaders had to resort to guile and Bribery to take it .Today’s ground plan remains largely unchanged from that designed by Italian architect Giovanni Battista Cairato for the first Portuguese captain of Mombasa. You can still walk around the barracks, chapel, water cistern and well, guardrooms, residence for priests and governor and a store room for gun powder.

During the Arab conquest the powder magazine was the scene of one of historical recurring acts of mad Heroism a Portuguese officer told the Arabs the storeroom held the Garrison’s gold treasure, led Arab soldiers to collect it and blew them and him to smithereens. The cannon in the courtyard date from the 18th ad 19th centauries.

A Portuguese sailor of the 17th centauries has left some amusing graffiti scribbled on one of the barrack room’s walls. His heart with an arrow tells an immoral tale of maritime love. Nowadays the Fort houses a good museum with display of objects tracing the coast long and colourful history including a collection of Chinese, Persian, and Portuguese ceramics.

Behind on the Treasury square is the government game departments ivory room exhibiting rhinoceros horns, hippos teeth, and other animals tropical confisticated from poachers or taken from dead animals on the reserve. The room is open to visitors.

Old Town just north of Fort Jesus is the most fascinating part of Mombasa but its better to visit with an official guide as mugging is not uncommon in this part of the world. The winding streets are lined with old Arab houses, shutters closed to the noise and heat .Some have handsome iron balconies and doors finally carved in the Arab styles with the best of their dwindling number to be found on Samburu and Ndikun roads. Craftsmen in brass and wood can be seen out work near mandhly mosque, the city oldest, built n 1570. Silk, spice and perfume merchants offer their wares from makeshifts stalls along with some shadier hustlers of gold, ivory and carved horn.

At the waterfront of the Old Port, a dozen or so dhows preserve the memory of the graceful wind driven craft that once plied in their hundreds between Mombasa and the Gulf.

The Jain temple on Salim road is a modern construction in traditional style, with an exuberant white exterior .Nearby is the Indian Bazaar a whole treasure-house of silks, carvings, silver, and camphorwood chests. Biashara Street is the place for printed cottons, baskets and ornaments, In addition to magic charms and medicinal plants with mysterious powers. Akamba wood-carvers are located beyond Makupa crossways in airy workshop beneath thatched roofs.    

Haller Wildlife Park (Lafarge Ecosystems) is a former disused quarry that has been reborn as a small private game sanctuary. A major initiative has been made to "green" the quarry and these efforts have literally blossomed into an area of lush beauty.  

The onetime quarry is now a thriving game sanctuary, fully stocked with game including Giraffe, Eland, Hippo, Oryx and more. 

In December 2004, Kenya’s heavy monsoon rains caused minor flooding in the Sabaki River just North of Malindi on the Kenya coast. The rising waters influenced the habitat of a family of hippos living near the river mouth, and the massive mammals were washed out to sea. The adult animals all managed to swim back to their home territory, but a small calf- less than a year old- was left behind in the open ocean.

Local fisherman and tourists saw the 600 pound/ 270 kilo male calf wallowing helplessly offshore for several days, and became concerned for his life. He was eventually rescued by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, who wrapped him in a fishing net and put him in a truck to be taken to Haller Wildlife Park just outside Mombasa.

The hippo, who was soon christened Owen (after one of his rescuers) was let loose in an enclosure with two giant tortoises and some bushbucks. In a remarkable turn of events, he was later adopted by Mzee, one of the giant tortoises.

At first the giant tortoise, who at 120 years of age has the well deserved name of Mzee (old man), hissed aggressively at the frightened hippo, but within a few days the tortoise was eating and sleeping with the hippo and acting like the calf's mother, even though Mzee is a male tortoise. Owen, meanwhile, treated the old tortoise like a parent, licking his face and following him everywhere.

This odd couple can be visited at Haller Park, as their remarkable relationship continues. There are many walking trails, making this a pleasant place to spend a morning or afternoon away from the beaches.


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