Gems of Mombasa Old Town

Inspiral Africa Blog_Antique shop

By Tim Rendell

Such a shame that one of the oldest settlements in East Africa, the original Mombasa port has been neglected over the past twenty years by a majority of tour operators in favour of Lamu or Stone Town in Zanzibar. Nowadays they drop off tourists at Fort Jesus for a lightning tour and then depart which is a pity because it may be more run down than its more popular rivals but is still an architectural and historical gem of a place to visit.

That is why I went down there a couple of weeks ago to get familiar with the old streets again and find some accommodation in which travellers could spend the night and really get to experience this old culture first hand. I had already looked online but found nothing and after a couple of hours wandering around and still not finding a single hotel or hostel, was ready to give up. This made me sad because I had already met some really interesting and hospitable people like Hassan Ali the seventy six year old accountant whose great grandfather came over from India over a hundred years ago and who had built the building in which Hassan now lived and also had an office in. Or Fauzy Soud, the dealer in antique and Swahili furniture, whose shop is in a square opposite the fishing port where brokers are still buying freshly caught fish from local fishermen.

Sometimes the person or thing that saves the day can come in the most interesting way and that was definitely the case this time round. I was walking down Ndia Kuu Road to Fort Jesus and about to flag down a tuk tuk to take me to a hotel somewhere else in Mombasa when I spotted a Swahili lady standing in the entrance to an antique shop. Curious to see if a woman might be running this kind of shop which would be quite a rarity in this community, I approached her and finding out that she actually did, decided to go in and take a look around. Sameiyya is an eloquent and intelligent lady and in addition to selling some beautiful antique pieces, is a wealth of information. Once I had explained my dilemma to her she said that actually she knew a guy who rents out his sea front “penthouse” to travellers. She then tried to phone him and when she could not reach she took the bull by the horns and escorted me to his home.

So that is how she saved the day and introduced me to Mohammed Ali who can accommodate up to four people in his roof top flat and will even cook you a traditional Swahili meal!



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