On returning to Nairobi from our trip to the coast there’s been a bit of time to reflect on our twenty hours driving that we’d done in that week (Nairobi/Funzi – Funzi/Watamu – Watamu/Nairobi. It inspired me to add a few extra East Africa Driving Tips to my previous post:
1. If a vehicle is heading straight toward you at over 100 kilometres per hour on the wrong side of the road whilst attempting a kamikaze overtaking manoeuvre, don’t be surprised if they frantically flash their lights at poor unsuspecting ‘you’ for being in their way. You may be left wondering who should really be angrily flashing who, as you are forced to swerve off the road.
2 Watch out (especially when being terrifyingly driven off the road) for sharp ‘drop offs’ on the edge of the tarmac. The verge can be several feet below the tarmac surface. Often steering off the highway onto the dirt verge is impossible as you would almost certainly roll your car when trying to negotiate the precipice down at speed. Apparently new roads are now taking into account the need for ‘shoulders’:
Sunday Standard (9/10/07) Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Roads and Public Works, Richard Abura said that some of the old parts of the Nairobi/Mombasa road were constructed in the 1960s: ‘We are making our roads wider now with a width of at least seven to eight metres.’
3 Don’t misestimate your journey time and wind up driving in the dark, it could lead to divorce. Potholes, carts, pedestrians, donkeys and cyclists are impossible to see (no bikes seem to have lights). In one place we found rocks had been inexplicably laid across the width of the road (luckily there was no oncoming traffic so we were able to go round, fearing a highjack trap). Earlier on we’d seen piles of contractor’s stones and sand piled on the highway waiting to be used for road repairs, but they were completely un-signposted and totally invisible at night – probably a nasty accident waiting to happen.
4 Roll up windows when passing large speeding buses, you may get hit by a ‘flying toilet’ or thin plastic bag filled with excrement. Passengers on long journeys have no ‘in car’ loos like the smart English ones but instead stop off occasionally at service stations. In fact loo stops are a bit of an issue on all long car journeys. I’d always recommend stopping on the verge and wearing closed shoes to avoid splashes, this option is without doubt preferable to public facilities found at petrol stations or cafés. Our kids are only given boring water to drink, no favourite juices allowed.
A friend of mine gave a lift to a friend’s nanny on a nine hour drive to Nairobi. Whilst his kids stayed quiet as mice, good as gold, the nanny repeatedly kept asking to stop for a wee. As the driver struggled up escarpments and battled past container lorries on the long journey home he was not amused to have to stop for the nanny’s calls of nature and then be forced to watch the same lorries pass him again as was helplessly stopped on the side of the road. After frequent pulling over, the final straw came when he was forced to stop just outside the city limits at a busy ‘weigh bridge’ full of bustling freight lorries practically within sight of home. No one could understand what the reason for all the wee stops were, until half a dozen empty water bottles were found in her seat at the eventual journey’s end.
This friend also mentioned a story he’d heard from a member of staff at a tourist lodge in the Masai Mara. One of the lodge vehicles had taken a crowd of tourists out on a game drive during the world famous migration season in the park. The car had pulled up overlooking the Mara river bank and the Masai guide predicted that the waiting herd of hundreds if not thousands of wildebeest were about to cross the water. Tension mounted as predatory crocodiles circled in the river and wildebeest tentatively risked their lives to take a drink then hurriedly retreated as a croc snapped from beneath the brown water. It was exciting edge of your seat stuff, until the atmosphere was broken by a lady in the back who said she needed a wee. ‘Can you hang on?’ the guide asked, ‘the wildebeest crossing should be in the next few minutes.’ Another tourist suggested; ‘Why not jump out and go behind a bush quickly?’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m not the kind of girl that squats behind bushes’. After a harrumph she hung on and ten minutes passed. The animals were twitching and everyone held their breath in anticipation of the crossing, until the silence was suddenly broken by the girl in the back violently shaking the seat in front of her shouting: ‘I have to go back to the lodge right now, I need to pee!!’ Reluctantly the vehicle turned around to make the lengthy journey back to the lodge. At dinner time the tourist learned that they missed one of the largest and most spectacular migration crossings of the season, by minutes.
Whilst I sympathise with the lady in question, as no one likes crouching behind thorn bushes for a call of nature (and I’m particularly painfully modest about it), perhaps she should have swallowed her pride on this occasion. I expect the disappointed and resentful stares of her fellow passengers might have been punishment enough.
Oh, I also have a ‘worst wildlife moments’ one to add to my list too, though this one is not that bad:
On returning to Nairobi from a week’s holiday, I was bemused to find the kitchen tap spluttering and seemed somehow blocked. Seconds later I discovered that when the water appeared, so did a colony of large black ants which were flying out of the faucet along with wiggling white larvae. It took quite a lot of running of the tap to get rid of them all because they kept spattering out and I was wondering whether they had nested in the tap itself or worse, in the roof tank. It was enough to quite put me off the prospect of having a much needed shower.