My First Road Journey to Kenya

Read about my experience of a memorable road trip from Kampala to Nairobi that lasted 16 hours amidst bumpy rides and facing tough border officials...

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Easy Coach during a stop-over in Jinja

Ever since communication technology opened up the world, I have always dreamt of traveling to places beyond my country’s borders. Television, newspapers, and the internet have always portrayed the outside world with charming nature, amazing people, their cultures, and the beautiful wildlife. I kept praying to God to grant me an opportunity to travel outside abroad, even if it meant to be just for a single day!

It wasn’t so long when I jumped onto the very first opportunity when one of my long-time old classmates, Timo invited me over for a two-week stay in November 2013. I was very excited and knew that this is the chance I have been waiting for a long time. Soon I began the preparations, at times the anxiety of making a 650km road journey from Kampala to Nairobi would make me lose appetite and sleep. It was hard to pay attention in class without imagining how this great journey would be. In fact, I was like someone awaiting a wedding day!

Using the internet, I constantly googled things like “how to prepare for a long road trip”, “what to carry with you on a long journey”, “how does Nairobi look like?”, “what to do while crossing the border”, and many other search queries. I also started practicing some basic Swahili words like “Habari gani” (how are you?), “Mzuri sana” (I’m fine) and a few more. With each passing day, my anxiousness kept increasing and sometimes becoming worried like, ‘what if I get lost?’, how will I explain to the border officials about my destination?’, ‘Will I be allowed to cross the border?’, What if I reach Nairobi and I fail to find my host?’. These questions whose answers I couldn’t find made me even more nervous.

Part of Nairobi downtown
Part of Nairobi downtown

I knew I had less time left so I quickly applied for an express passport which was given to me in five days and then I booked a bus ticket for $25 one way with Easy Coach, one of a dozen bus companies plying this international route every day. Until the travel date, I’d never stop asking myself if I’d really make it back safely.

Then finally the long-awaited day came, my bus was scheduled to depart at exactly 06:00hrs from Kampala for the 16-hour bumpy road trip to Nairobi. I knew I wasn’t always punctual, so I braced myself for the worst in case I failed to keep time. I tried not to sleep that night but then set the clock alarm. Sleep is something hard to control but I later slept for three hours but then woke up at 05:00hrs sharp. I rushed through my bags and within 30 minutes I was already at the bus station.

Throughout the journey, my heart kept heavily pounding to the point of jumping out of my chest. I sat next to a window to enjoy some magnificent views of the countryside as went along. After we crossed river Nile, the bus stopped for other passengers to hop on board. I kept munching on the food stuff and drinks I had packed for my journey well knowing that it would be a tiresome one.

The weather was absolutely fantastic throughout that morning and I couldn’t stop staring at the endless plains through which we passed. From Kampala to the border point at Busia, it took us four good hours but once we arrived there, my heartbeat became rapid! I had never crossed the border before and I was quite anxious about how my first experience would be. I had heard before that those border officials at Busia are very rude, so I braced myself for any challenge.

At the border, it was a sea of humanity as large crowds of passengers were visibly eager to be cleared with their goods to continue their way into Kenya. Given that there are many bus companies operating this route, the number of travelers was very high and it took me around one and a half hours to make it to the immigration counter. Once there, my heart skipped a bit and I started sweating profusely. Would I be allowed to cross?

It seems like the tough-looking border official saw how scared I appeared in front of him, so he signaled for a security personnel to come and pick me for some interrogation. It was tense, I kept calm and followed him into his office. It was as if I expected this scenario to happen and I became sure of my imminent arrest though I had committed no crime and neither did I have any criminal record.

After a 30-minute interrogation and verification of my documents, the officer found no doubts with my intentions of visiting Kenya. He said it could have been that the immigration official assumed that I am running away, but since I presented a valid student ID, this convinced them of my imminent return.

After he found me upright, he asked for a bribe of $10 which I was reluctant to offer since I had less money on me but it was almost 13:00hrs and the bus which had already crossed into Kenya could be readying to move again. Fearing to be left behind, I quickly handed over the money to the officer and he gave me back my passport. The officers on the Kenyan side were not inquisitive of my motive to travel to their country, they swiftly stamped into my passport!

Quickly, I converted my Ugandan money into the Kenyan currency, then bought a Safaricom sim card and rushed out while praying to find my bus otherwise, I was doomed! Being my first time across the border into where Swahili is the main dialect, I found a hard time tracing the Easy Coach bus station in the Kenyan Busia. This wasn’t until a boda-boda rider dropped the bombshell – that particular bus had sped off less than a minute ago. Without a second thought, I implored him to ride as fast as he could to catch the bus. He complied and within a couple of minutes, we reached it at some speed humps.

This was a massive relief and thank goodness, this ordeal was over. Soon I concentrated on marvelous Kenyan natural beauty. I also kept calling my host as I updated him about the journey so far. After two hours and a half, we were in Kisumu which is the main town in western Kenya. It’s such a mega city with buzzing human activity. We were allowed to have a twenty-minutes break before we could resume our journey. At around 14:00hrs, we left Kisumu for Nairobi and I couldn’t stop staring at the impressive tea plantations in Kericho county, the forests, and the rivers which I looked at in awe! I had hoped that by 20:00hrs we’d be in Nairobi but mid-way things turned for the worse!

Part of the Great Rift Valley along the Nakuru - Nairobi highway
Part of the Great Rift Valley along the Nakuru – Nairobi highway

Five hours into the journey, we encountered a long queue of stationary vehicles and ahead of them there was a road accident caused by the slippery road after a heavy downpour. It wasn’t until two hours later that we resumed the journey. I started worrying that we might reach late than I actually expected. This, I said without knowing that we’d encounter another road carnage at dark!

Soon after we left Nakuru which is also another big town 160kms before Nairobi, we found ourselves stuck on this busy highway for a tremendous five hours in a long queue of vehicles brought to a standstill by a nasty accident. The accident involved a Ugandan school bus transporting back students from a tour in Mombasa and it had collided with a goods truck and there were injuries. The accident spot was in the middle of a national park and it was already dark. This was a tough time as drivers frantically tried to manoeuvre their vehicles through roadside trenches that were full of mud after the evening’s downpour. During this period, my phone went off due to the depleted battery.

I panicked b’se communication with my host was cut off and after passionate prayers, the vehicles soon started moving and after two hours, we were in Nairobi city! By then, it was almost 01:00hrs and most of the city was quiet and empty. My host had tried reaching me via phone calls that couldn’t go through. I was excited when I found him eagerly waiting for me! It had been a horrible but yet an amazing journey which gave me great experiences.

I later explored Nairobi city for two full weeks before I returned to Uganda. My return journey was as smooth as the word itself and it was even faster – 13hrs compared to the 20hrs of my first journey. I will never forget this memorable trip and this is why I feel so happy sharing how I still feel about it. It opened up my integration process whereby am now residing in this wonderful country, Kenya!

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