We left Mombasa
on an October day, driving north in the afternoon sun up Kenya's coastal road
to Malindi; the four of us and the African driver were in the buglike Fiat,
with the tackle, the big rods, tied to the carryall on the roof.
To the right,
between the hills, there were glimpses of the Indian Ocean spreading empty and
green to the horizon; beyond that were the Seychelles and the western coast of
India. On the left, wide fields of sisal plant grew in even rows.
The Africans on
the roadside stood in the dust and stared after us, only their heads turning,
the women beaded and proudly naked from the waist up. They balanced baskets on
closely shaven heads. The men, walking always ahead of their women, carried
nothing. They wore half-sarongs, kikois, wound about their hips, and their
shoulders and bicepses were powerful, starkly veined and satin-black.
We were driving
to Malindi for the big-game fishing sweepstakes on the weekend of Uganda's
independence, which was a holiday even in Kenya. That it was not the season did
not matter, as there were reports that the big fish, the black marlin, striped
marlin and sailfish had been seen finning off the coast, having moved nearer
shore from the Aden Current that, normally, would not swing in until late
November. It held firmly there, from 10 to 20 miles offshore, up to June, and
then it undulated out, far out, once more.
Now the Fiat was
not climbing anymore but coasting and sluing through the dust, down the hills
to the tidal river at Kilifi and the ferry, a wooden barge that takes one car
at a time, pulled by means of man-hauled chains.
As the small car
was loaded the barge surged, then swung out and into the current, guided by
chains stretched over the water. As we crossed, the pilot sang a wavering,
high-pitched cadence to his crew, two rows of Africans who hauled on the chains
and answered with a loud chant of their own. It was dark when the barge nosed
into the gravel and sand of the opposite bank and the car bumped and thumped
down the loose ramp onto the road.
Malindi, passing first the dirt road that leads off toward the sea and the
ruins of Gedi—those wonderfully constructed but age-crumpled stone buildings
built centuries before by the Arabs who had settled there and then left,
seemingly for no reason at all. The buildings stand muted in the bush as if
listening to the sea behind them.
The streets of
Malindi are narrow Arab streets, lined by the perennial tea stalls and dukas,
the small general stores that one sees in East Africa and India. Each stall is
its own little world, lit by lanterns, spheres of light in the darkness. There
are a few radios that pick up the twanging of Asian and Arabic music from the
big station at Mombasa, 65 miles down the coast.
One must pass
through these streets by the quay and continue out along the beach road to
reach the four hotels that face the sea. The hotels are almost equidistant from
one another; Lawford's with its Malindi Fishing Club is nearest the quay, then
the Blue Marlin and, farther, the Sinbad and, finally, the fourth, the Eden
Roc, a discouragingly Miami-sounding name.
We turned off the
road and into the circular drive that leads, eventually, to the Sinbad, which
is not a single structure but rather a low group of buildings constructed in
Arabic style with pink battlements and small minarets, the rooms opening onto
the sea and equipped with great, slowly revolving fans in high tropical
ceilings. We registered and then went into the bar, taking the rods and gear