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A few weeks before I returned home to Tennessee from my study abroad trip to Arusha, Tanzania, a program-mate Arielle and I took a four-day trip to Mombasa, Kenya. It was our vacation from our vacation.

In a move completely unlike me, I didn’t do any planning. A few grad students in our program had gone to Mombasa months before so I got the names of two hostels and one restaurant and wrote them on a white, square napkin. I wrote the phone numbers of the hostels on the bottom. We bought our bus tickets and left.

Arielle and I rode the 8-hour bus from Arusha to Mombasa, and after getting off the bus we immediately bought our return tickets home for a few days later. We then took a taxi to our first hostel in Mombasa. We hated it. Its exterior was gorgeous but it had a very strange vibe and the lack of air conditioning made the night unbearable. Arielle got a stomach bug from dinner and spent the majority of the night in the dirty water-filled bathroom. It was completely miserable.

The next morning we woke up determined to have a good day. We made our way to a shopping plaza and had a huge American-style breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and fruit. I hadn’t had food like that in months; it tasted like heaven. After breakfast we headed to the Nyali Beach District where we snuck onto the grounds of a gorgeous hotel. We sunbathed and swam in their pools all morning — there was even a swim-up bar in one of the pools. We felt like honeymooners.

After lunch at the hotel we took a bus to Haller Park, a gorgeous nature park right on the coast. At times it felt like we had the place to ourselves, and animals were wandering around without enclosures. We hand-fed monkeys and giraffes, watched the crocodile and hippo feedings, and held leopard-print tortoises and millipedes (well, I did – Arielle wasn’t into touching). I highly recommend Haller Park to anyone visiting this area of Kenya. Only $10 and definitely worth the time and money!

That night, in a wild and dangerous story Arielle and I will never share, we made it to Stilts Backpackers, the most wonderful hostel in which I’ve ever stayed. Each room is an individual treehouse right in the jungle. I had grown used to seeing monkeys so it didn’t surprise me to see them the next morning, but it was a shock to open my eyes in the morning and see two monkey eyes staring back at me. Before Arielle woke up I journaled on the porch, and as I journaled the monkeys crowded around me, watching me and, I soon learned, plotting ways to steal my things and cause general mayhem. The list of items stolen by the monkeys is long, but my favorite story involves one monkey who really wanted my pack of Skittles. As I ate I placed them on the table for him to take, but he wanted the full bag, which he quickly snatched from the table 6 inches in front of me. He watched me as he ate each individual candy, throwing the bag and licking his fingers after he was done. When we came back at the end of the day they had unzipped my backpack, eaten my bag of Pringles, closed them back up, and defecated in the middle of my bag. I wouldn’t have known but for the smell.

Our last full day was spent lounging on Diani Beach at Forty Thieves Bar & Restaurant across the street from the treehouses. We sipped apple martinis and watched the camels walk past on the beach. The water was clear and warm and there were wooden benches with rope and pillows strewn across the beach. We took two and napped all day, pausing only to eat and take quick dips in the water. It was one of the most relaxing days I’ve ever had.

Despite the food poisoning, the harrowing night-time adventure of which we do not speak, and our bus breaking down on the way back to Arusha, Kenya is, in my mind, one of the most perfect trips I’ve taken. We managed to find our way around a new city in a new country with only my napkin and broken Swahili (I still have that napkin). There are so many human interactions during those four days, meeting people on ferries and on buses and in hostels and on the beach, that still make me laugh or make my heart swell. Even when we became extremely lost late at night with no idea where to go or what to do, people wanted to help us. People wanted us to find our way. Do you hear the metaphor? The people of Kenya taught it to me.