On Friday night, as part of a fundraising dinner for our youth group’s mission trip, Shona and I won the “Most Interesting Honeymoon” award. “Interesting” is quite the euphemism; “worst” would be more fitting. Because there can’t be many honeymoons as disastrous as ours was. But having given everybody a bit of a laugh, I thought, it’s time to share this fiasco with the world and hopefully put a few smiles on some faces. Settle down, this may take a while.
The year is 1991, and my first mistake was to book a trip to Kenya. That was a mistake for a few reasons. First of all, Shona was finishing up her junior doctor year during which she had been working 80-90 hours a week for a full year. Probably not the best lead-in to a 5000 mile trip to Mombassa. She subsequently made me rip up photos I took of her in the plane because she looked like she was terminally ill.
Second, while I’d travelled abroad many times, though never to Africa, Shona had never been outside Scotland. Yes, that’s right, I thought it would be a good idea to take my bride 5000 miles away from home when she’d never left her homeland before.
By this time you’re asking, “Why Kenya?” Good question. No good answer, apart from that I had a friend who had worked there for many years in the financial sector and he’d always been telling me what a great place it would be for our honeymoon. So Kenya it was. Brochure pictures looked amazing (no Internet then) and we also booked a three-day Safari for the second week.
A Mercedes On A Raft
After a 15-hour, three-flight trip, we eventually landed in the coastal resort of Mombassa in the middle of the night. The travel rep hustled us into a Mercedes taxi and off we went into the darkness. At one point we were on a massive raft built out of wood and barrels crossing a fast-flowing river. There were hundreds of people crammed on it with us and they were all very interested in the contents of the Mercedes. Eventually I got Shona to duck down and I covered her with a jacket as I smiled meekly at hundreds of very jealous-looking faces pressed up against our windows. Anxiety levels were beginning to climb.
Anyway, we eventually got to the beachside hotel, although “compound” might be a better description. It was surrounded by 10-12 ft fences with two layers of gate security manned by multiple men with scary looking guns. There were innumerable people around the entrance trying to get our money off us – either by begging or by selling. Shona back on the floor. Anxiety now moderate to high.
The hotel was really nice and the room was fantastic, but every time we looked out of the window, there were patrolling guards walking nearby, armed to the teeth again. Any attempt to get on to the beach was just about impossible because as soon as our feet left the compound and touched golden sand, hordes of beggars and sellers assaulted us (literally). Anxiety still climbing.
Five Star Torture Chamber
The room that looked so nice during the day then became a torture chamber as the live music nearby kept us awake until midnight and then the lawnmower awoke us up every morning before 6 am. After a couple of days we were pretty close to the edge of insanity. This wan’t helped when sitting in the hotel lobby one night we saw on TV news that a schoolgirls’ hostel 50 miles or so away had been attacked by a bunch of men with indescribable consequences. Anxiety in the red zone.
Then the hallucinations started. Yes, we were on anti-malarial drugs which began to loosen our grip on reality. We were both dreaming the most disturbing dreams, but I topped it off by waking Shona up one night screaming that someone had their hands around my neck. I was fully awake but in a life-or-death wrestling match with an unseen assailant. Shona was beginning to question who she’d just committed the rest of her life to.
Then the runs to the bathroom started. By this time we were both so paranoid and so sick that we didn’t want to be in the bathroom with the door closed. So there we are, two newly-weds, taking it in turns to run to the toilet with the other standing guard at the open bathroom door. Yes, if your marriage can survive that, it can survive anything.
Superman To The Rescue
We made one last try to salvage the vacation by getting our act together and deciding that we should learn how to scuba dive. I mean, why not? So we book a course in the hotel pool that would eventually lead to a reef expedition. The first lesson involved putting on all the tanks, mask, weight-belt, etc., and swimming to the deep end and back. I managed OK, then it was Shona’s turn.
When she reached the deep end, she panicked and pulled off her oxygen mask. However, the weight belt prevented her from getting to the surface. Then she really panicked. I saw her flailing underwater and shouted to the instructors who were smoking and drinking poolside, but they were totally disinterested and waved me away. At this point Superman Murray springs into action, running the length of the pool, before jumping in, grabbing Shona by the hair, and pulling a bedraggled gurgling wife to the side. Still nil movement from the instructors.
The last thing we tried was windsurfing (you can’t fault us for trying can you?) but we were both so weak by that point that we couldn’t turn the sails and we both started heading out towards Australia. We figured it better to drop the sails and try to swim back with the boards, expending our last reserves of mental and physical energy.
We went to eat that night but couldn’t even look at the food. Only eight more days of torture to go!
I looked at Shona, “Do you want to go home?” She burst into tears of relief. She’d been thinking that for days already. We phoned the travel company who said there was no way of getting home without paying thousands of dollars. But then they suggested that they send a doctor round to see if we could get home on the travel insurance. I hoped so, but felt hopeless.
The doctor arrived about an hour later, took one look at us, filled out two forms, gave us a few pills, asked for $50 and left. “That’ll get you home,” he said. We looked at the little slips of paper expecting to see something like “Insane” but the only word we could make out in the scrawl was “hyper-anxiety.” At that point, I couldn’t have cared if he had diagnosed me with multiple-personality disorder. I just wanted home and now we had our way out.
But not so fast. When we faxed the travel company, they said the only flight was leaving in a couple of hours and we were at least an hour away from the airport in good traffic. But, of course, it was the rush hour. Anyway, we threw our cases together, managed to get a taxi, told the driver we needed to be at the airport in an hour or so, and off we sped. At various points we got totally stuck in traffic; so he jumped the median a number of times, driving against the flow of cars and trucks, before jumping back over again. We were sure he was on our side.
Until, driving through a dark village, he took a sudden turn to the left, down behind some buildings, into what looked like an ancient, and empty, industrial estate. He skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car, and ran away into the night.
The End Is Nigh
We looked at each other. Our faces said the same thing. “It’s over.” Seven days of marriage and it’s all over. We’re about to get robbed, murdered, and our remains deposited in the jungle. We awaited our doom with amazing calm. We’d probably used up all our anxiety chemicals by that point and resigned ourselves to meeting in heaven again.
When, suddenly, out of the dark, our driver came running back to the car, pulling up his zipper! “Sorry, had to go,” he explained. We put off heaven for the moment and resigned ourselves to what remained of our nightmare.
We got to the airport with just 15 minutes before the flight took off. We sprinted into the terminal with our cases, skipped the angry line, and asked for our tickets. Surprise, surprise, no tickets. Phoned travel company who assured us the tickets were there. By that time the airline agents were totally ignoring the crazy European couple.
A Kenyan Angel
At that point, a Kenyan man in shirt and tie (who I think may have been an angel) came up to us and asked if he could help. We briefly explained and he assured us he’d get us on the plane. He grabbed one of our cases, said “Follow me” and started sprinting. He ran us straight through security then passport control without stopping or showing any documents. No one said anything or shot anything. Eventually we were stopped at the last security point where a mean looking guard demanded my wallet. He looked inside and saw all my Kenyan currency. He looked at me and I nodded vigorously. He took it all and handed me back my empty wallet.
On we ran. On to the tarmac and up to the waiting plane. The man who was helping us us told us to leave our cases at the foot of the steps and get on the plane. I thought, “We’ll never see these cases again,” but by that point I was past caring. We saw an open aircraft door, bounded up the steps, and entered to have the door closed immediately behind us.
“Eh, we don’t have any.”
“No, sir, you cannot get on a plane without tickets.”
I babbled incoherently about what had happened over the last few hours, by which time the plane was taxiing. Thankfully it was 1991 not post 9/11, or else I might be in Guantanamo to this day; she eventually laughed and waved us away to find seats at the back of the plane.
We were at peace. We prayed and prayed and prayed, thanking God for deliverance, not knowing that one further obstacle remained.
One Last Obstacle
When we got to Nairobi, the British Airways desk for the London flight asked for our tickets. We explained how we had travelled from Mombassa without tickets. She was highly skeptical, saying “No one could get on that plane without a ticket.” I was going to tell her about the besuited angel, but instead persuaded her to phone the travel company who authorized the Kenya-London tickets again, and within an hour we were on the way to London.
Shona then remembered the pills that the Kenyan doctor had given to us. We weren’t entirely sure what they were but we remembered him saying something about “helping you to sleep.” So we popped a couple and the next thing I remember was waking up nine hours later over London, looking down at Big Ben and the River Thames. Never has a Scotsman been so glad to see England.
We phoned Shona’s parents who lived in the furthest away point of a distant Scottish island, and they persuaded us to spend the rest of our honeymoon with them. That’s right, I honeymooned for a week at my in-laws. Anyway, I figured things could only get better, and they did; much better. One thing’s for sure though, unlike most couples, our marriage has been far better than our honeymoon.
PS. Before the Kenyan Tourist Board sues me, I have heard of many people who enjoyed the best vacations ever in Kenya.