Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pleasures and Perils: The Roads of East Africa

(Nanyuki with Mt. Kenya in the background)

Nanyuki is the largest town near Daraja. It is about 25 km (a half hour driving) away and is the destination anytime I want to use the internet or buy anything (except a coke or a beer). Most days someone from the Daraja staff is driving into town and I can catch a ride, this is ideal. Otherwise If I want to get to Nanyuki I have four options: I can hire a boda boda which is a small motorbike for 400 kenya shillings (the exchange rate is about 75 ksh to $1, so the ride is about $5), I can hire a taxi for 800 ksh. I can take a Matatu which is essentially a van that travels back and forth between different locations and picks up many passengers on the way. The most exciting thing about matatus is that they are usually adorned with artwork and a hip name spray painted on the side. Sometimes there will just be a picture of a random celebrity from the states or Europe. My favorite so far was the Lil’ Bow Wow matatu. A matatu trip from Nanyuki to Daraja would cost about 150 ksh but would take probably at least an hour, and the wait itself could be another two hours. Plus if it gets full you might end up with someone sitting on your lap. Its a fun cheap way to make friends.

The road itself has both its charms and its perils. The charms include zebra, camels, baboons, and beautiful countryside. The biggest peril would be the road itself, half of which is partially paved, with gigantic potholes, a quarter of which is dirt and another quarter of which is dirt and covered with boulders because they have apparently been planning on paving it for the last THREE years and they don’t want people driving on it until its done. This forces the drivers onto the shoulder of the road, or sends them zig zagging between boulders, neither of which would be described as “safe”.

In theory people in Kenya drive on the left side of the road. In practice they drive on the left side, the right side, in the middle and on both shoulders. The road is covered with people walking and riding their bikes to town with huge bundles of sticks, the aforementioned animals huge sand trucks, military trucks and sometimes bandits.

(When charm becomes peril: A herd of Zebra crossing the road)

There is a sharp turn on the mostly straight road to Daraja and along the side of the road are boulders. I am told that late at night Bandits put the boulders in the middle of the road and wait for cars to come so they can rob them. The bandits arm themselves with machetes, clubs, spears, and sometimes guns. The road here is littered with shattered glass which leads me to believe that there is more to these stories than just talk. Taxi Drivers often refuse to drive you back at a certain point at night and sometimes they bring armed friends in the trunk as “bodyguards”.


  1. Sasa mzungu! Intriguing, isn't it? Ah, all of the secrets Kenya not so subtly reveals to you in time. And as I read them, they don't even shock me anymore, it just seems normal. A very real reminder of how raw life is in East Africa. I'm trying to think where my head was a month and a half into it. How are you personally? A thousand thoughts a second? ...let it infiltrate you guys, really. Safari njema.

  2. Hi Jen. Im glad you are reading! I am loving it here. Everything is so different but maybe the important things are more evident. I dont know, but its been a great experience so far.