Experiencing the grueling and oddly satisfying road trip from Mombasa to Kampala by road.
By Rahim Kara
I’m nervous, and excited, it’s going to be a long journey.
I am about to begin my journey in Mombasa, the port and second largest city of Kenya. It’s 9PM and i’ve just arrived at the bus station at Mwembe Tayari, the air is thick and humid as the short rains have just started to settle in. Even short walks from the office to the bus, a matter of 15 meters means that i’m going to start sweating. I begin thinking, what happens if there’s no air conditioning on the bus or the windows don’t open up? I take a deep breath and try to relax. No point in speculating.
The distance between Kampala and Mombasa is a whopping 1,145 Kilometers. That may not seem like much to some people, especially considering those who have access to good infrastructure and clear roads and can drive up to speeds of 120 – 160 Kilometers per hour without restriction. But we’re not talking about such a scenario. We’re talking about actually roughing it. My journey is by bus, a mode of local transportation that has a speed limit of 80Kph and aside from that, we’re contending with everyone on a single carriageway for 1,145 kilometers on a road that isn’t smooth all the way.
To really understand it, try imagining sitting in a kayak and waiting for the wind to push you from one end to another in a 25 meter long swimming pool.
It’s ten PM. We’re off.
Our driver has the most peculiar taste in music. He looks like a Swahili man ( The Swahili people are the original inhabitants of Mombasa [ as far as I know ] and still reside there ). Which confuses me considering his choice in music is East Asian Indian, a blend of music my ears are finely tuned to. I listen intently as his choice in music is quite certainly a collection of old tunes which seem to have been inclined to the artist called Mukesh. He begins singing along. The fascination of his melodious incantations is quite illuminating and obvious to anyone who can see me, I smile and even laugh joyously as he does so.
Since i’m sitting close to the driver, figured it’d make the long trek more bearable by engaging him in conversation. He is pleasant, tells me he’s been driving for over 20 years, Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, in fact, almost all the way to Rwanda. He recalls when the roads were nothing but murram between Mombasa and Nairobi, ” the journey once took me 18 hours ” he said. He narrated how it was raining and the “road”, which he insisted I should take lightly, was like driving through a river of mud. It was so bad that the busses had to stop for up to 5 hours just to wait out the rain and hope that the mud solidified enough for them to move again.
He was a very animated character, getting loud whenever he was excited. I’m glad I got to converse with him.
The drive drones on and we make a pit stop at Mtito Andei after 4 and a half hours. This is the mid way point between Mombasa and Nairobi. After a fifteen minute pit stop, the drive continues.
It’s now close to 3AM, I slowly start droning off in to a deep sleep.
I woke up to a motionless bus. We had arrived in Nairobi, this was the first leg of the journey that I had gotten so used to, travelling up and down to and from Nairobi. I stretched as much as my legspace and headroom allowed and then feeling silly, I realised I could stand up since we’re stationary. Unbuckling my seatbelt, I began standing up and greeted the driver and conductor as we waited for people to get on to the bus and start on to the second part of our journey.
It never ceases to amaze me how people in Nairobi are always up so early. It’s six forty five and the roads are already clogging up with both foot traffic and automobiles. Constant honking, yelling and movement. A form of organized chaos that simply astonishes me to date.
We’re going to be on the road for the next 6 hours with no stops. It’s going to be a long drive so we better be ready for the drive. An explanation from the conductor to me. I’m almost giddy though, there’s a sense of adventure and excitement I have that’s difficult to keep down.