I was in Mombasa to pick up a car shipped aboard Jolly Cristallo, an Italian vessel with over 50,000 gross tonnage. For reasons I didn’t bother to ask, Jolly Cristallo spent more time on the high seas than expected, arriving two days behind schedule. Shipping companies tend to find good excuses every time a delay is experienced. They are quick to mention bad weather conditions or congestion at the port directing the blame to someone else.
Jolly Cristallo’s two extra days on her way to Mombasa port meant two waiting days for me. While waiting for Jolly Cristallo’s arrival and completion of clearing procedures, I looked for adventure along the Kenyan coastline.
I had been to Mombasa many times before but I had never visited other areas outside the city. During my previous visits, I used to stay at Traveller’s Beach Hotel and hang out at Sheba Lounge every night. This time though, I chose to do something different.
I decided to visit a place I had never been to. For starters, I ditched my beloved Sheba Lounge. Nightlife drains my energy and limits my daytime activities. Yes, I opted to sleep at night and make the most out of the two days Jolly Christallo made me spend in Mombasa. It was about time I start using the room I pay to sleep in. How on earth would I pay to sleep in a hotel and spend a whole night partying at Sheba lounge?
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready to embark on a new expedition. It took me some time to settle for what to do. I entertained several ideas before making the decision I will never regret. I rented a motorcycle and rode 120 kilometers to Malindi Bay at the mouth of Galana River.
The farthest I had ever gone north of Mombasa was Vipingo Ridge where I spent a memorable Easter weekend in 2012. Vipingo Ridge is arguably Kenya’s most distinguished coastal retreat village. The property encompasses a state-of-the art golf course, mini lakes, woodland areas, tennis courts, posh villas and swimming pools.
Beyond the Vipingo Ridge junction, I was riding the rented sporty Kawasaki in a completely new territory. No GPS, no map, no problem. All I had to do is keep riding north until I reach Malindi. The Mombasa-Malindi highway spans a hundred plus kilometers via Kilifi and Watamu. On my way to Malindi, the view of the ocean kept popping up every now and then. On the other side of the road, I saw big sisal plantations and scattered communities.
Travelling in a vehicle is like watching a movie but riding a motorcycle feels like staring in it. It was a sunny day. The temperature was high but cool breeze from the ocean was soothing. I was equipped with appropriate riding gear cruising like Giacomo Agostini in the Moto Grand Prix.
Malindi is a small town. I rode up and down the streets trying to observe as much as I could. I had lunch at a small restaurant serving mainly Swahili food on Jamhuri street. Swahili culture and Muslim values were evident everywhere. Neighbourhoods are shabby and apparent signs of poverty can easily be noticed.
Malindi folks do things at their own pace. They don’t seem to be in a hurry. They are laid back and relaxed.
There is another side of Malindi which tells a completely different story. At a glance, the coastline reflects a luxurious and glamorous life. White sandy beaches, gentle ocean waves and tropical coconut trees gave me a fairy tale description of this resort town.
There are lavish apartments next to the beach, most of which are owned by Italian immigrants. Most hotels belong to the Italians as well. In 2014, The Africa Report published an article depicting Malindi as "Little Italy in Africa." For a long time, Italians in search of the African sun have been travelling to Malindi, setting up businesses and building hotels. The Billionaire Resort, a 6 million dollars investment is owned by a flamboyant Italian tycoon, Flavio Briatore and the facility has hosted famous Italians including former Prime Minister and proprietor of AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi.
There is a strong Italian imprint in Malindi. From the bodaboda taxi operators and curio sellers to bank tellers, property agents and hotel employees, everyone speaks Italian. I was informed that lawyers draft contracts in Swahili, English and Italian.
Malindi has had foreign influence for a long time. Since Vasco da Gama dropped anchor at the port in 1498 and erected a pillar to commemorate his arrival, this Kenyan coastal town has been under the grip of one foreign community after another. The Portuguese were followed by Arabs and Britons before Italians arrived.
I was tempted to visit Vasco da Gama’s monument and other historical sites but I ended up spending two hours in the ocean. I paid for one-hour jet skiing experience and I was allowed to use the floating motorbike for an extra bonus hour. That gave me enough time to patrol the entire coastal strip of Malindi.
A view of the town from the ocean is comparable to Acapulco Bay or Miami but depressing poverty is hidden by the glittering beach properties. There is a poverty-stricken neighbourhood behind every lavish hotel. I wish I had more time to explore more of Malindi but I had to ride the motorcycle back to Mombasa and return it to the Mtwapa-based owner before sunset.