Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kenya travel: Coping with Mombasa's "Beach Boys"

North of Mombasa, Kenya, is a long stretch of sandy beaches bordered by hotels and restaurants. The warm water and relaxed atmosphere attract visitors from around the world.

If you go, though, be prepared for the "Beach Boys."

The minute you set foot on Bamburi Beach, you will be surrounded by young men trying to sell you snorkeling trips, jet-ski rentals, guide services, wooden trinkets, jewelry. They are called the Beach Boys, and they are very, very, very persistent.

They will follow you down the beach, even if you've told them "No"  multiple times. I practically had to shout "No!" at one of them to get him to leave us alone. We saw people sprint from their hotel grounds into the ocean and later back again just to avoid the Beach Boys.

Each hotel has its own pack of Beach Boys who loiter on the sand waiting for people with money. We were at Kenya Bay Beach Hotel (see my review) which wasn't very crowded during our July visit. Normally I'd like that, but in this case it meant that there weren't many other potential customers for the sellers to badger.
Bamburi Beach, by the Kenya Bay Beach Hotel

When I asked one of the young men why they didn't go down the beach  to where there were more people, he said, "If we go down there, it would be a problem." Clearly, they have designated territories.

It's incredible to me that the hotels along Bamburi Beach haven't done something to restrain these persistent sellers. Sure, the beach should be open to everyone, but that doesn't mean it should be open to every sales pitch. The Beach Boys are hardly a secret
they're described in guidebooks and online forums so no doubt some travelers take their money elsewhere.

When we first arrived, we found one of the Beach Boys to be so annoyingly persistent that I deliberately avoided him when setting up a snorkeling boat trip for our family. I went down the beach and made a deal with another young man name Mali, who picked us up the next morning in his boat and took us to the offshore reef.

The Beach Boys in front of our hotel noticed. When we returned from our snorkeling trip, we were surrounded by several of them who "accused" us of booking our outing through the hotel. This wasn't true, of course, but it didn't matter to these men, who acted as if we were obligated to give them all our business.

When I tried to hurry my wife away from this group, one of them accused me of not liking them because of "our color," pointing to his black arms to emphasize the point. This was the only time during our two weeks in Kenya that I heard any racial reference. I somehow resisted the urge to tell him that it was not his color that bothered me but his nonstop talking. Instead, I just said I was eager to go to lunch.

Another problem created by the Beach Boys is that is made it hard to tell when a Kenyan genuinely wanted to talk. We found the vast majority of Kenyans friendly, and many were happy to talk about our visit or their lives. Indeed, some of the Beach Boys seemed perfectly happy to talk rather than sell. We definitely wanted to learn about Kenyans and their lives, so we were always hopeful that a conversation could be, well, just a conversation.
But in many cases, the talk was only a precursor to get you to buy something.

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1 comment:

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