Although most of southern and western Kenya is pretty heavily touristed, the 700m stretch of road in Kenya from Moyale at the border with Ethiopia in the north to Nairobi in the south runs along an expanse of barren plains and dusty nothingness. The broken dirt roads in that region provided some of the toughest and most unforgettable rides I’ve had to date. Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen!
From Moyale to Marsabit – 8 hours
Due to some lame promise made by one driver as detailed here, as it always happened, I had to ride on top of a cattle lorry from Moyale to Marsabit, at the bloody price of a bus ticket. It was not the first time for me to ride on top of a bus or truck, but it was the first time that I was sitting only on metal bars on the roof of the lorry, with legs dangling in midair above the cows inside the lorry. At first I could occupy one metal frame on the roof a bit over half a meter wide, with my ass sitting on one edge and my hands holding on to the two bars on the side, and there was still ample space near the front where I could rest my feet. Then more people and luggage came to join us, and when the lorry was ready to leave, there was a metal tank, two sacks of potatoes, and a few bags in the space where I was originally resting my feet, piled up to the height of my neck, and one extra man sharing the already cramped space within the same metal frame which I was sitting on. This is topped up with the two feet of another person sitting behind me resting on the metal bar next to my ass.
When the lorry was stable, I could still use the word “seat”, albeit not such a comfortable one, to describe my space on top of that lorry. At first, one woman suggested that I could tie some ropes across the metal frame to create some sitting surface between the metal bars, but seeing everyone else sitting without the ropes, the silly arrogance inside made me blurt out the words ‘no, I am fine’ to her kind suggestion. I immediately regretted making that decision 5 minutes later by the time we took off.
Only after the lorry started moving did I discover that it was nearly impossible to balance my ass properly on that metal frame, with the lorry bumping up and down along a broken dirt road at high speed. I had to put most of my weight on my hands grabbing tight onto the sidebars full-time, and my toes resting on that tiny bit of space remaining in the front beneath all the luggage. Occasionally I could hear the cows moaning below me and whenever the lorry halted to a stop, the cows would tumble over one another. The wind was so strong I couldn’t open my eyes and the air so dusty I had to keep my mouth shut. Under such circumstances, I was surprised I could still manage to fall asleep for 15 minutes – perhaps I was really tired. At some point, we passed a few Chinese road workers and I shouted a big Nihao to greet them.
This went on from 10am to 5pm till we finally arrived in Marsabit. My dusty face had acquired the same tan as the local Kenyans after that ride, there were a few bruises on the side of my ass, and I probably couldn’t open my palms flat for the next couple of days.
From Marsabit to Nairobi – 17 hours
After the experience on top of that lorry, and the great length of road lying ahead, I was determined to take a bus for the remainder of that trip to Nairobi. We bought tickets on the day before, with a promise from the ticket guy that there would be seats reserved for us. But when the bus arrived from Moyale the next day, he told us that the bus was full and told us to wait while he would do something about it.
But over the next 5 minutes or so, with the bus was about to leave any minute, he was still casually chatting with his friends. Seeing his lame attitude I started to get impatient, “Hey dude, can you get inside that bus and do something about our seats? What are you doing here?” He replied, “Yes yes, just wait here,” but then he kept on with the chatting. I started to get mad, “Can you do something right now? This is the only bus leaving today and we have to get on this bus now!” “Just wait here, ok? Or I can give you back the money for the ticket!” still the same old chatting afterwards.
The fire in us grew and there were more angry exchanges between the ticket guy and us while everyone stood and watch, till finally we decided to scramble into the bus forcefully with all our bags and grabbed any empty seat that we saw, regardless whether we had our seats assigned or not. Someone got on the bus to claim our seats but we were unwilling to leave till the ticket guy could arrange something for us. The atmosphere became a bit tense and everyone on the bus got into rounds of discussion, but we remained in the seats we found, unwilling to move an inch. This finally forced the ticket guy to get on the bus to check the tickets of all the passengers, and finally some empty seats were found, which were apparently occupied by hop-in passengers without a proper ticket.
In Africa, in the face of these nasty situations, you either have to be extremely nice or extremely bad-ass in order to get your ways around, there is no middle-ground.
Although we were on a bus for this leg of the trip, we were still driving on the same old dusty broken road. The seat was relatively more comfortable than the metal bars on top of that lorry, but its back was beating on my back consistently and all the organs inside my body were being shaken to the core. Whenever I tried to talk, my voice was also shaking like an opera singer. The tyres of the bus were twice punctured and each time, it took 3 to 4 men over an hour to fix the problem. They had no spare tyre so instead of simply replacing the flat tyre, they had to fix the tyre on the spot, in the middle of nowhere and at 3 in the morning.
To facilitate the delay, we were stopped at one police checkpoint for more than 2 hours. For some suspected corrupt reason, the passports of some Ethiopians on the bus were confiscated by the police at a previous checkpoint and the bus was forced to leave with a bunch of Ethiopians with no passports on board. At the next checkpoint, the police, seeing that those Ethiopians had no passports, brought all those Ethiopians to the police station. The rest of us could just sit and wait till the matter was cleared. The case was still a mystery to me – I asked everyone sitting around me but no one was able to give me a satisfactory explanation to the reason behind what was going on at that time.