Never trust a tour guide?

by Alan Skelt

This story is part of our 'Funniest hotel experiences' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition. Photo by Matt and Kim Rudge.

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The entrance to the hotel in Mombasa always had a group of 'official guides' waving their letters of authority and offering to take you on a tour of the town.

On day 3, we decided to take up the offer. On the walk into town we encountered a withered and toothless old fisherman, a friend of our guide. He was carrying a brace of fish, and offered to take us to his home. This was the size of my garage, and housed both parents and children.

He showed us the 'real silver bracelets' he had personally imported from Madagascar, and introduced us to his wife who made raffia baskets to sell. We had to buy one, of course.

Then he introduced us to his children, and the eldest daughter, who was about 9 years old. She asked for some English stamps, and I promised to get her some as I had left my wallet in the hotel, and always carry a few first and second class stamps.

The fisherman then asked if we could buy him some sardines for bait. Being very suspicious, we hedged, but eventually agreed to go with him. He took us to what looked like a souk, narrow alleys and crowded shops. We went to one house passing paraffin cookers boiling beans in a narrow corridor to a room containing only a freezer and a bed. The head of the household said he slept here as it was the coolest place in the house.

We were still feeling very insecure. The freezer was opened - the sardines looked very big to me, and we were asked how many we wanted. The fisherman chose five; we were then asked to pay what seemed like an extortionate amount, but worked out to be only a couple of pounds sterling. We eagerly paid up so that we could get out of there.

The rest of the guide tour passed without undue incident, other than being asked by a group of very large men if we wanted to change some money at very good rates. Before we could get into any discussion, a police car arrived and our group melted away into the shadows, so we escaped. On arrival back at our hotel, I asked the guide to wait whilst I got the stamps for the fisherman's daughter. I gave him a book of 6 second class and a book of 6 first class to pass on to her, which he promised to do.

At breakfast the next morning, we sat with a couple of English ladies on holiday together. During the conversation they mentioned that they had been out for an early morning walk, and managed to get a bargain as well. One of the guides outside the hotel had sold them some English stamps at a very good price!

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