The Road to Lamu
The road to Lamu is not paved and barely a road–more like a dirt tract. The Tawakul bus to Lamu was jam packed and upon boarding, I wondered what was with the empty, plastic Coke cartons blocking the aisles. I assumed that they might be offering us some cold drinks en route, but as soon as the bus engine revved up, three local women promptly took their bus seat on the cartons along with their suckling babies.
It promised to be quite a trip! We had lucked out in one way because the Tawakul bus was spanking new—something of an anomaly in East Africa these days.
Nevertheless, it soon became quite a raucous affair with babies hollering, tooting buses, non-stop Swahili chatter with others on their phones, Gracie yelling at her workers all this accompanied by a background disco sound of Swahili music. The tunes were appreciated just the same.
Mind you, the pervading rolling beat was the thump thump of the corduroy road underneath—that had a steady beat to—much like the bouncing around of our arses over the rear axle.
If you were faint-hearted or suffer car sickness—this is definitely a ride to avoid. Myself, I almost felt like vomiting a few times.
I believe the road was better two years ago.
The company’s logo is something like “We fly while others run”.
Well to be honest, this is, without a doubt, was the bumpiest flight I have been on, and on that matter, the meal service would have been cut as soon as we left downtown Malindi.
Nevertheless, this rollicking ride continued and no animals were hurt during this trip. The bumps we hit jettisoned my arse off the seat a number of times.
Whenever we stopped to let passengers off, the bus was suddenly surrounded by hawkers selling hard boiled eggs with pili pili, endless bags of roasted nuts or cashews, trinkets, plastic bowls of shrimp—maybe fresh water ones, bags of apples, fresh ripe mango, unripe green mangoes sliced with pili pili, corn cobs that had been roasted on hibachis, along with huge mounds of fresh pineapples lumped haphazardly with sliced ones too.
The verdant landscape drifted by like an endless diorama of typical African village life: women in kikois carrying huge faggots of found branches, or water jugs, lugging plastic buckets of potatoes or washing while men sat around talking on dodgy wooden benches.
The majority of villages and huts on the coast are airy mud and wattle, maybe they use cow dung as an insulator.
One thing that struck me odd was a shop out in the middle of a cleared area that stood on its own. Unusual in that it was Savika’s Paint Shop. Odd in that I had not seen one painted house since leaving the metropolis of Malindi. I wondered who the customers were, but I guess the shop being locked and no crowd of people lining up to buy acrylic paint anytime soon should have been an indicator.
Something else that caught my eye is that I am always amazed at how people get off in the middle of nowhere to go to a house somewhere in the bundu.
Apparently, the locals, mostly of the Boran tribe, know the bus schedule and there was usually a small crowd waiting for loved ones to disembark and then they would all go traipsing off into the bush.
According to my wife, there is an area along this route around Witu or Kipini that is out of bounds, meaning no mobile coverage, and this is, quite often, where Al Shebab have usually struck in the past, but as I was later told, Shebab always announce ahead of time when they will attack. Maybe this is a counter ploy, so that Kenyan troops will be on the ready in one area and let down their defences in another—but that is purely speculation on my part.
In the past, we were obliged to disembark to check in with the Kenyan Army and present our documents for inspection. However, on this day, we were spared the disembarking of the bus at one of the Kenyan Army/Police outposts along the way, and I did not see the army convoy this time either.
One of Tawakul’s bus conductors just yelled “Mzungu” and grabbed my Canadian passport. I was thinking, on second thought, that this might be the last time I see it and didn’t bother informing him that the passport is not mine but the property of the Canadian government.
At any rate, as per the last time, again I was the only mzungu or “whitey” on any of the buses going to Lamu through Al Shebab country on this day, and most likely, probably any northbound bus these days.
This was the most spine-tingling, bone jarring, stomach turning bus ride I have ever been on, but then, I said that the last time I rode this bus two summers ago (silly git).
Furthermore, I was glad I insisted that Gracie not buy those heavy ceramic plates in Malindi for our flat in Lamu because they would surely been smashed to bits by the time they got to our final destination–Mokowe.
Pulling into Mokowe, there was what I took as a jail including sand bags, razor wire fencing around the perimeter. I soon realized it was a Kenyan Army outpost and a lonely one at that. I cannot think of a lonelier place to be and so far away from any immediate backup; although, I did see an army chopper flying by earlier on the trip most likely up to this forward staging base for fighting the Shebab.