The trip had a lot of new transportation experiences for all of us, and almost every one has a story, so in this post I’ll relate just one of those: our trip between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Counting up the number of different ways we travelled on our trip, I came up with:
- Planes: 30
- Trains: 20
- Boats: 15
- Busses: 3
- Cars, Tuktuks, Autorickshaws etc: many!
Our girls had their first subway ride in Rio. I rode on a motorcycle for the first time in Aleppey. None of us had ever been on a tuktuk or an overnight train.
All good memories! But on to Mombasa:
We had booked tickets in advance for the train overnight from Nairobi to Mombasa before our trip started. The first part of the journey was just getting from Imara Daima, close to the airport, to Nairobi Railway Station – a 9 km trip that could easily take 2 hours because we were driving in rush hour. After an uneventful, though slow, trip with our favorite driver in Nairobi, George (who is awesome) we arrived. George and others warned us to be very careful in the station as people may try to steal our luggage. So we were advised to keep an eye on things, stay in the 1st class waiting area, and be careful who we talked to!
We paid a porter to bring our stuff inside (a good idea with any railway station, at least in Kenya or India – though those in South Africa I’d avoid) and enjoyed some snacks and drinks (Tusker lager – Kenya’s finest!) while waiting for our 7pm train. We were approached by a military officer – in combat uniform and carrying an assault rifle – who again kindly warned us to be careful and stay in the first class area.
The First Hurdle
About 10 minutes before 7, a station employee informed us all that the train would not be running! A cargo train had derailed on the track and so they’d cancelled the train. We could either come back in 2 days for the next train, or arrange alternate transportation.
We tried to get bus tickets that night – but they were already sold out. So a call to George, and a 2 hour wait in Nairobi Railway station while he fought traffic to come back and we were on our way back to our AirBnB. But, we did stop on the way to get bus tickets for the following morning. Modern Coast, direct from Nairobi to Mombasa – 10 hours on a bus, not ideal but at least we’d get there less than 1 day late.
Plan B: The Bus
Bright and early the next morning, we went to the bus station with all our luggage. Things ran almost on time, the only problem was that the bus was not air conditioned – and while Nairobi has a reasonably temperate climate, Mombasa definitely does not!
The Mombasa Road (the only real highway between Nairobi and Mombasa) is 2 lanes – though in Kenya, that usually means you can squeeze in at least one more – especially with all those slow trucks (and busses) clogging things up. Lane splitting, unlike in most places, isn’t limited to smaller vehicles however, and our bus driver got impatient and decided to drive along the left shoulder off the road. Unfortunately the shoulder was soft mud. Also unfortunately our driver didn’t know how to drive in soft mud so we got stuck.
Waiting and waiting
Again our driver couldn’t drive in mud, so we weren’t going to get unstuck without help. Now, the amount of traffic on the Mombasa Road meant that Modern Coast couldn’t get help out to us quickly (even if they had wanted to try – which, apparently, they didn’t!) The good news is that Kenyans are happy to try to help other vehicles stuck – at least busses. So a series of trucks stopped, and the bus crew and helpful drivers tried to tow us out with a chain.
One of the first attempts resulted in part of the front bumper being torn off – to the chagrin of a British engineer who was also a fellow passenger and had tried to explain what a tow point is.
Later attempts – including at least one military truck – did nothing much except to cause even more traffic disruptions. At one point the drivers were about to come to blows over it.
Mombasa at Last
It took over five hours for a towing attempt to finally succeed. By this point it was the middle of the night, and we were still 2 hours from Mombasa. Thankfully we reached the city without further incident – well, except for an angry taxi driver who the British engineer had helpfully called for us while we were stuck, and hadn’t called off. So the first person we met in Mombasa wasn’t very happy to see us!
In the end the taxi driver got us to a nice hotel, we had a good night’s sleep and a wonderful buffet breakfast and got to Galu beach (2 hours from Mombasa) the next morning. And learned a couple of things:
- don’t take busses in Kenya
- if you do, don’t use Modern Coast
- also maybe don’t take the Nairobi Mombasa train, though we tried again on the way back – and were a bit more successful, but not much. But that’s another post