The vehicle is moving at a snail pace, what ordinarily would take a maximum of 12 hours took us in excess of 18 hours to reach Nairobi. Leaving Kampala shortly after 6am, we only reached Nairobi after midnight. For me, the snail pace is no cause for any worries since I had taken a week off the bustles of Kampala and was in no hurry, but for most of my travel crew (who were going to attend a conference in Dar es Salaam), it’s a nagging journey full of grumblings. The more they grumble, the more adventurous the journey gets for me.
So we say goodbye to Nairobi the next day at dawn and headed for Namanga border post. The complaints and grumblings from my travel crew dramatically reduced as the vehicle took considerably less time to cover the Nairobi-Namanga stretch. We make it to the border post shortly before midday and we are welcomed by myriads of native Masai women selling all sorts of crafts; their resilience and baiting tricks to make sure you buy is always a marvel. They particularly bait and lure you with a free bracelet or wrist band but if you do not buy, you must return their bait! I am instinctively fond of the Masai and their Karamajong cousins, posing with them for pictures and sharing light moments is always a rewarding moment for me. My love for them is clearly pronounced in my love for their Shukas, which are undoubtedly some of my favorite African fabrics.
We spend about two hours at Namanga, emigration clearing, buying craft from the Masai women and enjoying breathtaking views of Mt. Longido that franks the border post from a distance, before we start the journey again, now on the Tanzanian side. My grumbling crew is determined to sleep in Dar es Salaam and everyone is giving orders to the driver to aim at that. We have two rather unprofessional drivers who keep on alternating intermittently. One of them talks uncontrollably with full of annoying humor and by this time he has already earned his new name ‘Kele-kele’. So Kele-kele is now the one behind the steering wheel and he is reasonably faster than his colleague – a laid back, quiet and rather slow character – attributes everyone found very annoying. Soon it’s dark and there are harsh restrictions for driving at night in Tanzania but Kele-kele presses on anyway. Sometime around 9pm, we are stopped by traffic patrol and Kele-kele is discovered to be driving under the influence of ‘weed’, some of the ‘weed’ is confiscated as exhibit. We spend about an hour of negotiating and pleading with the Tanzanian authorities, but meanwhile, my grumbling crew is cursing and spitting fire. For me, it’s a rare experience, though I am also stressed but I know that I will emerge with unfair advantage. Kele-kele is cleared after paying some ‘kitu kidogo’ and we set off again, and his ‘slow colleague’ takes over albeit for a short distance before the man himself Kele-kele takes over again. Meanwhile, my angry crew breaks the silence and they ask Kele-kele why he was using drugs while driving in a foreign country, he replies sarcastically that they were just “obuti obusongola” (like those roots they chew to increase manhood power). Every one burst into laughter and he would earn his second trip name ‘Buti” but ‘Kele-kele’ had already taken precedence.
So now Kele-kele is back on the wheel and the vehicle is literally flying. It’s coming to midnight and everyone is asleep, Kele-kele is aiming at Dar. He had previously assured everyone that he knew the routes properly but everyone would keep a watchful eye to be sure we are in the right direction. But now, they are all asleep, I am awake but it’s after midnight on a dark night on an upcountry highway with no street lights. Kele-kele continues driving like a mad man but meanwhile people begin waking up one by one. We begin seeing palm trees and their numbers and other coastal features keep increasing, we begin seeing sign posts of Tanga and people begin getting suspicious. Before we know it, Tanga Cement factory illuminates from a distance and we were indeed in Tanga. At this point Kele-kele is convinced that we are only a few kilometers to Dar as he is passionately asking people ‘munasulawa?’ Trying to know where they had booked accommodation so he can plan his city routes in advance. Stopping in the next small trading center at the insistence of my travel crew (now at least rational for the first time) because there were two antagonistic routes, we ask the Boda-Boda man which route would lead us to Dar and in a stressful tone he shouts, pointing to the direction where we are coming from, “moja kwa moja…moja kwa moja… moja kwa moja”. It’s coming to 3am and we were lost!
For close to 100km, we had missed the turn to Dar after Korogwe at Segere and continued in an antagonistic direction. If we hadn’t met the two confusing routes in Tanga that forced us to ask, we would find ourselves in Mombasa. At this moment, you can imagine how my row by column ever grumbling crew looked like. There was a deep grave silence in the vehicle but as if it was going to explode. I was simply exploring Tanga! At this point, Kele-kele has lost all the drive and energy, so he retreats to the conductor’s seat and his colleague takes over. The vehicle itself is limping, the breaks are in a worse shape again after several previous repairs and replacements, the drivers are tired, and in the middle of nowhere surrounded by bushes and forests, the driver stops, as if he was just going to check the breaks, but he surrenders and declares that we would sleep there, a place that would turn out to be Muheza.
Moving out of the vehicle, we find a small fuel station and that gives us some sense of safety. We also discover some dilapidated accommodation that was unbearable so people keep in their seats. Soon, swarms of mosquitoes would invade the vehicle and they worked on the occupants full mode that some opted to move out and sleep on the tarmac. Tired physically and bursting emotionally, my travel crew was at their worst mood swing. It was total adventure for me! And dawn would soon be received with hope and anticipation. The drivers soon begun working on the vehicle, the efforts were however futile until they got an expert mechanic who solved the break problem once and for all. At around 9am, we were back on the road but had to first cover the remaining 90km to the Segere turn which we missed. We would drive without further troubles and reached Dar in the early evening.
The beautiful sandy beaches at Kunduchi, the gorgeous and elegant palm trees that dotted ubiquitously, and my city adventure would neutralize the slightest of anxiety I had acquired on the journey, majorly from some of the impatient and grumbling members of the crew. I must however, acknowledge that some members (many of them btw) were very patient, kind and very good by all measure!
Coming back after several days, we would stumble on several challenges, I had to bring the army to squeeze the Somali crooks at Namanga boarder who had stolen money from my travel partner (JojoTheTraveler), an operation that I executed with great courage knowing that it was the last pennies left for fuel. And then Kele-kele and colleague decided to drive non-stop without stopping in Nairobi that saw some members jump off at 2am, and of course we would get lost between Kericho and Kisumu after dawn at the hands of Kele-kele and company as people retreated into an early morning slumber after nearly 24 hours on the road. But above all this hustle, my travel partner and I emerged with an unfair advantage.