Travel Guides and trips for Mombasa County

About Mombasa

There is high security at Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway station (Kenya). It starts with the (very inconvenient) stop before the bridge above the station. Julia persuades the police to let our tuk tuk full of baggage drive across the bridge and down the ramp, but not all train passengers are as fortunate. Many have to walk.In a temporary-looking structure in front of the station, we dutifully place our bags in front of the sniffer dogs. I know I'm going to be asked to delete the photo, but I still risk taking one!Next our bags are scanned and our bodies frisked. We go through this process a second time as we enter the main building. Julia is quizzed about her penknife and a glass bottle. At the entry to the main building are two security information boards but, by the time you've reached the SGR station, it's too late to act on much of the information displayed. (An advisory email or SMS would be useful).We eye up the futuristic-looking glass elevator."Are you first-class people?" Asks the security operative. "Yes! Of course we are." (It's a shame we only have second-class tickets though!) The elevator goes to the first class VIP waiting area only, on the floor above ours. We take the escalator, giggling.Security is tight. Staff don't like us taking photos and I am told off, more than once!In the ticketing area, a large board shows the availability of trains for the coming eight days. It appears that first-class tickets are sold out quickly: all first-class tickets have been sold out for three days, and very nearly sold out for another three days. Afternoon trains are the most popular."Please go to the counter for real-time updates" says the sign but why not use the public address system to make life easier? It doesn't make sense to ask several hundred people to queue at the counter for updates.There are several toilets in the building, although not enough. Our floor has a disabled toilet, and three other stalls. We find them to be clean. Ladies, there is even toilet paper!I am gobsmacked that there is nowhere to buy anything to eat or drink at Mombasa SGR station, not even water. Neither do we see any drinking water fountain. What happens if you are taken ill? It would take you between 15 and 30 minutes to exit the station, walk up the long ramp, cross the bridge, buy water, come back the same way - and then pass back through three lots of security. If you're ill, disabled or with children, you're going to struggle. Plan ahead.The station has hundreds of seats, but more are needed. Why isn't there any Wi-Fi? (There's none on the train either). You can't smoke in the station.There is a prerecorded announcement to advise when it is time to board the train. The lady has a Chinese accent. We leave exactly on time: 3.15 in the afternoon. Three Chinese managers stand on the platform to watch the train pull away from the platform.What's it like on the SGR train?The train feels fresh and cool as we enter. It's very clean. First impressions are good.There is a small table between each set of seats. I feel like we're travelling in a caravan.Curtains allow you to block out the afternoon sun. Next to the window seat is a small hook for a coat or handbag.Although we have three seats - 98, 99 and 100 - only two of the seats are next to each other. The seat numbering system is confusing.A man and a woman push a small snacks trolley down the aisle. I fancy something to eat. Tea is 100 Kenya shillings, Tusker Lager is 250 'bob' (Kenyan shillings) and a beef or chicken sandwich is 350. Sandwiches are fresh and tasty (although I'm not a big fan of sweet white bread).For the first hour of our journey, the train is quiet. After a while everyone starts chatting. That's the upside of there being no WiFi.To kill time, Julia and I tuck into some baobab fruit. Our tongues turn bright red with the food colouring. The baobab fruits looks as inviting as a fresh raspberry but are moss-covered stones that require several minutes hard sucking to release the sweetness.Ten minutes after Voi station, Dianah calls out "Charlotte, you have missed elephants!" I'm sitting on the wrong side of the train to watch Tsavo's wildlife. Our seats look onto the 'transport corridor' - the old railway line and the road, and that's fine for now: I'm focused on comparing road and rail (the elephants can wait!)There are regular messages to throw litter in the bin. The toilets are clean throughout the journey. Three quarters of an hour before Nairobi, a member of staff picks up the remaining rubbish. They even mop the floor!We arrive at Nairobi SGR station five hours later, at exactly the time expected.Nairobi SGR station is a state-of-the-art piece of infrastructure. It's easy to navigate and well lit. We cross over the railway line to take the 50 bob shuttle train to Nairobi's original railway station. SGR staff tell us it will take 20 minutes. It takes us 50 minutes. From the station, we take an Uber. It's been a long day for us: we left Watamu in a tuk tuk at 7.30 am. Next we boarded a matatu from Malindi to Mombasa before taking another tuk tuk from the centre of Mombasa to the SGR station.

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