Tuesday, December 6, 2011


As I enter Nirvana Backpackers after my day in the town of Nyali Beach, I see Jane (the lovely lady who checked me in) sitting on a couch with two others. I’m introduced to Lesley, the owner, and Kai, a fellow guest.

I’m tired from the lengthy and lumpy walk home in the dark, and from a generally long and delightful day. I’m looking forward to retreating my plush quarters with private ensuite and free wireless.

But Lesley has other ideas. She invites me to a beach party. I imagine a bunch of people sitting around a campfire, and I’m a tad reticent due to fatigue, but this is yet another one of those “on the road you should always say yes when people you trust invite you somewhere” moments.

After all, what are the odds that I will ever have an opportunity to go to a beach party in Mombasa ever again? Carpe diem or in this case carpe night (pardon my latin). Eff the fatigue, lets do this thing.

So I find myself joining Lesley and Kai , and Lesley’s father heading to what I’ve defined in my BC boy lexicon as a “beach party”. I’m thinking beer coolers and Kumbaya  around a campfire or the Kenyan equivalent thereof. Golly, they might even have marshmellows!

Instead we pull up to a massive nightclub located on the beach. We pay a cover, and as we enter I notice a sign that says “Ladies In Miniskirts And Bikini’s Enter Free!”. Once inside, I immediately notice a plethora of women who have taken advantage of this generous offer.

I’m a little slow getting to the table, given that I am dragging my jaw on the ground, but once seated my knees feel less weak. To the others at the table it is another night out, but I kind of feel like I’m at some Kenyan version of The Playboy Mansion.

We drink a few beers (btw, in East Africa all local beer is sold in 500ml bottles) and we have some shots. I chat affably with Lesley’s father, a fine soul and a compelling gentleman.

More shots arrive and I glance at Lesley. She is a charming young lady,an Alpha female, and right now she has her foot fully on the gas. I down another tequila, gaze out at the pulsing crowd, the ocean only feet away, and very beautiful and scantily clad women everywhere.

I briefly consider the cost of being buried in this paradise, but Lesley has other ideas.  She is bored. She invites me to another bar, cautioning that it is a little “different”. I briefly have this feeling that I may be in a Stanley Kubrick film as Lesley’s father mutters in my ear “hang on to your hat”.

I begin to wonder if maybe I’m in over my head, that perhaps I’m going to find myself in some untoward  situation. Then I look at Lesley and realize that she is a trustworthy guide who is giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It is yet another moment to say “yes”.

I am not entirely thrilled to be departing the Mombasa version of The Playboy Mansion, but the road ahead intrigues. We pile back in the SUV and head inland.

As we arrive at our new locale, I begin to feel the cumulative effect of imbibing. More beer, more shots. I gaze at the dance floor, and again, I am stunned speechless by all the beautiful women that surround me.

An utterly beautiful friend of Lesley joins us and she reminds me of Halle Berry. I can barely speak to her, and I stutter out some lame blather as I grin foolishly, and it is not due to the alcohol.

And let me be very clear,just because I’m looking at the menu does not mean that I am ordering dinner, but make no mistake I am garnering a level of attention that I would never get in Toronto. Which is why I live in Toronto. It keeps me grounded to the point where I am not susceptible to the the delusion that beautiful twenty year old girls find me hot.

As any traveler to Africa knows, prostitution abounds and the most likely target for business is a single male travelling alone. And being in these situations is not why I travel, though I see other men in my midst who are willing to indulge.

It may also surprise you to know that in this part of Africa that a significant portion of the sex tourists are female, to a point that they could be a majority.

Personally, I choose not to engage, but my reasons have a lot more to do with security than morality. I could be arrested, I could be robbed, or  in a worst case scenario, I might be caught with a girl who is underage by three days which could possibly lead to me being labelled a “Canadian Pedophile Sex Tourist” in the pages of The Toronto Sun.

And on a deeper level, I do believe that if you are going to have sex with someone that it is best that you know them, trust them, and care about them. (cue theme song from The Waltons) Honestly, for the most part, I don’t judge others who may have a different sensibility. As long as it is between two consenting adults, it is not my place to judge others,.

Let me be very clear, I am not a sex tourist and I do not frequent strip joints in Toronto, and as far as getting laid my home record is as bad as my road record. If my sex life was a baseball team I would have lost my managerial post long ago.

In Africa, what we in the West consider “prostitution” plays out on a more diverse and nuanced platform., a platform defined by poverty. I know that because I am white and from The West that I could walk into any store in a Western style mall, seek out the most beautiful young lady, ask her out to dinner in my charming, and inimitable, and somewhat suspect style ,and I would have a 50% chance that some goddess would say yes to an aging middle aged and middle class specimen such as myself.

And that is a sadly true statement, though I have (almost) never exercised that option. Lets face it being hit on by beautiful young women is not something that I experience every (or any) day in Toronto, but it is no different  than some rich a-hole who hangs around as a regular in a strip bar in Toronto, all the while deluding himself that the dancers actually care about him more than they care about any other customer.

The reality is that you are just a customer, and whether you are in a strip bar in Toronto or a legitimate venue in Mombasa the dynamic is the same. The ladies pretend that they like you because they want something, the only difference is that in Canada the price is posted on a menu and paid up front.

In my experience in Africa there is no menu, only the expectation of a tip at the end. Either way, I’m not buying, but I am most definitely looking at the menu.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nairobi to Nirvana

Up until now, every hostel and hotel I've ever stayed in that provides a free breakfast has a cutoff time, and if you snooze, you lose.

Fatigued from my bus trip from Nairobi, I did not rise until noon , and was not expecting breakfast. Heck, I didn't eve know that breakfast was included. Nevertheless, at the break of lunchtime, I found myself tucking into some scrambled eggs (Mombasa style), fresh fruit, and some very delicious coffee.

It would be the first of many indicators that I had chosen well, and that the Nirvana Backpackers Hostel in Nyali Beach was a different sort of place.

Satiated, I move in to my room with free wireless and private bath. At $38 cdn, this place is a real bargain in a fashionable suburb.

After cleaning up, I head out towards the town of Nyali Beach, a lovely place that is oddly reminiscent of the burb I grew up in, though the ethnicity is unfamiliar.

The town of Nyali Beach is really lovely.  I find myself at a local pub watching an EPL game. I get peckish and order some food at a nearby joint packed with locals. The waiter  brings some ceremony prior to my order. Handsoap, a pitcher and a bucket are presented, an unexpected Kenyan tradition.

I soap, wash, and rinse. The ritual is repeated after the meal.

I'm on the equator, my belly is full, it is getting dark. A wiser traveler than myself would grab a cab, but I am one of those men who refuses to ask for directions.

I walked in here, I'm walking out.

Given that a $3 tuk tuk ride would have provided the same service, I am still puzzled by my own obstinance. Nonetheless, I walked in the dark (no streetlights, and uneven surfaces) back from whence I came, the return trip taking at least twice as long as the original.

My jagged walk eventually finds me back at Nirvana Backpackers. I walk in tired and ready to sleep.

Unfortunately, Lesley, the owner has other ideas. She invites me to join her at a beach party. Fortunately, her ideas are way better than mine.

I may be exhausted, but it is time to say "yes to evereything".

As it turns out, I am on the cusp of a very memorable evening that I shall not soon forget.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A New Dawn

The bus from Nairobi to Mombasa rolls on into the endless night. The sky above is filthy with stars, and I become increasingly relaxed as Nairobi grows ever distant in the rear view mirror.

I arrive in Mombasa on the cusp of dawn. I disembark to find myself on a street somewhere in the ever increasing light. I light a cigarette and breathe in my surroundings. Happily, the vibe in Mombasa is much different than Nairobi. People say "hello" and "welcome". As they pass I feel a weight slowly rise from my shoulders.

At last, I am in the Africa that  I came to see. I finish my smoke and hop in a tuk-tuk, making my way to Nyali Beach and my ultimate destination, Nirvana Backpackers Hostel.

Unfortunately, I am dreadfully early. After overpaying my driver the man at the gate lets me in. The guard proceeds to wake up the manager, a lovely young lady by the name of Jane.

My room is occupied, but I am graciously offered a bed in the hostel area, which I readily accept.

As I drift off to sleep a smile comes across my face, buoyed by the overwhelming feeling that the road before me is finally unfolding as it should.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zipping Up, Zipping Out

Two caveats of African travel are that one should avoid dangerous areas and that the risks of night travel raise the the odds of perishing exponentially. In Tanzania, travelling by bus at night is forbidden by law.

And so it was that I found myself in a post dusk Nairobi taxi hurtling towards the heart of a place that the Lonely Planet refers to as "the most dangerous city in Africa" (no small feat on a continent that contains Joburg, Lagos and Mogadishu) so that I could catch the red eye to Mombasa.

Even my cab driver mutters the words "very dangerous" as he drops me off at my rendevous point. I put on my best tough guy mask and saunter in to the bus station.

The street outside is a whirling dervish of nefarious activity. Unfortunately, I left the hostel very early due to the reputation of Nairobi traffic, and much to my chagrin,  I find myself in this perilous cauldron with a lot of time to kill, or vice-versa as the case may be.

I hang in the doorway, smoking and striking a menacing pose as if I'm doing a photo shoot for the cover of some CD that will never be released. Yeah, I'm bad, I'm nationwide.

As I'm patting my badass self on the  back, I look down at my shirt and notice BBQ stains from my hastily consumed dinner. I consider the fact that in all the movies I have ever seen, the toughguy has never once worn a BBQ sauce stained shirt.

An instant later, I notice a young guy glancing over at me. I sneer back. He looks down at his crotch and mimes doing up his zipper. I glance down at my own crotch and meekly do up my fly as I hear in my minds ear the thud of my tough guy mask shattering on the muddy  sidewalk.

I switch to my sad sackmask in the hope that the predators around me will take pity and understand that I am clearly out of my depth.

As the bus pulls out into the tattered Nairobi night it dawns on me that this town is no place for a weenie such as myself. As we rumble towards Mombasa, I quietly hope that my next destination will have a kinder face, because if it doesen't, I may have a heart attack before this is over.

Damnit, I knew I should've purchased travel insurance.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Where Is The Love?

Surely the person who coined the term "Mean Streets" must have lived in downtown Nairobi at some point.

Though I cannot say that I experienced anything specifically untoward, the vibe in the downtown area is such that I'm fairly certain that I could have been knifed in the back and relegated to a garbage pile to die a lingering death and not one passerby would stop, lest they suffer the same fate.

The unease that permeates the core is palpable. There are plenty of white people living in Nairobi, but I did not see one of them as I nervously scurried about, and I got the distinct impression that the people I did see would much rather be somewhere else.

Certainly I've been intimidated many times throughout my travels, but that was due to a lack of familiarity as much as anything else.

One of the reasons I like to travel  is to prove to myself and others that fear of the wider world is mostly irrational.

However, Nairobi is a place where one should carry a healthy sense of fear, and if you're in downtown "Nairobbery" and you're not at least a little bit frightened then there is something deeply wrong with you.

Either that or you're Spiderman.

And if you wonder why there are no pictures with this post it is because I decided that I wanted to keep my camera with me for the rest of the journey.


Friday, September 23, 2011

My Boring Stories.....

In the waning hours of slinging pints,  a few people asked me what is new. Usually, I would say not much, but given the impending reality that I am flying to Nairobi, Kenya on Monday it is hard to reply "same old, same old".

Honestly, I love to travel, but I hate douchebags who think that there is some hierarchy to travel. One night in a local bar some dork said that I was not a "real traveler" compared to him. Personally, I didn't know that there was an awards banquet for Traveler Of The Year. Nor was I aware, that a journey to Place A was more valid than a journey to Place B.

I just love travel.  I love reading  and hearing about travel, and I don't care if it is a trip to visit your family in Saskatchewan or an impromptu trip to Paris or New York or London.

Please regale me with the stories that you think are boring.

Mostly I like experiencing travel.

Prepare to be regaled by my own boring stories.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What If?

I often find it difficult to reconcile the things I do with who I am, my travels being a prime example. Increasingly I come to the conclusion that I get a voyeuristic thrill by scaring the hell out of myself. I'm not some base jumper, I'm not Survivor Man, and I don't even like carrying large trays of drinks.

I would describe my general philosophy as a sort of incremental pragmatism, and dare I say it, slightly conservative. I tend to consider things very carefully before making a move, but for some reason travel has become a yang to this dominant ying.

I know someone who is currently learning how to parachute, something I would never do. Another friend bought a top of the line Harley, never having driven a motorcycle before. Even the sales staff at Harley Davidson were incredulous as he lurched his way out of the dealership. As for me, I travel, but the need is the same.

It is the basic human desire to feel alive, to get that rush of adrenalin while challenging ourselves to have new experiences, to escape for a time the routine and mundane that comprise a significant and necessary chunk of our lives.
Make no mistake, you need not spend huge amounts of money to shake off  the horse latitudes of tedium.

The solution is simply to go do something that you've never done before, and accept the reality that no matter how small  or large you may perceive your world to be, your experiences are dwarfed by the possibilities that remain.

As I write this, I am deeply stressed about my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, my mind at times racing about all the things that could go wrong. What if? What if? What if?

But then another question creeps in.

What if I don't?

Living with fear is one thing, dying with regret is quite another.