Monday, 9 April 2018

Kenya - Day 8 Driving back to Nakuru and the fun on the roads.

So today was our goodbye to the Karibuni, Kitale, and Mama for a few months although I am the only one of our group coming out in July to build the classrooms and see these places again. It was another emotive day where the norm of the last week is now over and we are now returning to normal. Normal is now different. Seeing the things I have seen and the conversations I have had with people make me realize that there is a better normal than the status quo and that there are so many people in the world doing things for others no matter the “sacrifice” to what is perceived as normal.

So starting our journey home what better time to talk about our interesting car journeys over the last week. We had arranged to hire a car for our trip from a person in Nairobi. Not the usual car hire firms in airports but from a local, that hires his car out to make some money. So we hired a car big enough to carry the 5 of us and our luggage from Nairobi to Kitale. What we got was a 7 seater Toyota Noah. This had had some modifications to it that include a manual immobilizer that is hidden. We later discovered that most vehicles had some sort of special immobilizer to prevent vehicles being stolen. The other thing I noticed about all vehicles and especially cars is that every part is stamped with the vehicle registration so that even the individual panels cannot be stolen.

When we collected the car the owner said that there may be the odd light appear on the dashboard and we were to ignore it. Also, there was a noise on the back wheel where the 4 wheel drive had been disengaged. This seemed like a serious modification and together with the immobilizer seemed like a recipe for disaster. The noise we subsequently discovered is a shock absorber that has completely gone on the back wheel!

The roads in Kenya have been dramatically improved since I last came and our first car seemed perfect for the drive on the roads especially around Nairobi. The problem with that is that once you get off the main road the roads are muddy tracks that have potholes and rocks sticking out all over the place and changing between roads at junctions is not that simple. Most roads have gulleys down the sides to carry the rainwater away and in most places you have to negotiate these in order to turn off the main road.

As I mentioned before most towns are built around the main road that runs through it but the side roads have no tarmac at all so a low riding 7 seater car isn’t ideal on most of these roads. The other truly magnificent things about Kenyan roads are the speed bumps that are randomly placed on the roads. Some of them are at entrances to towns to make traffic slow down, but this doesn’t stop cars, vans buses and motorbikes overtaking on them. Some of these bumps are official bumps and some are just mounds of mud that have been built upon the roads to reduce the speed of cars. Our biggest problem with these is the low clearance of our car. The ones on the main roads aren’t too bad but there is no consistency on the dirt roads as to their height and so we have ground the car on many bumps over the past week, occasionally losing the spare wheel that is mounted to the underside of the car.

Whilst we were in Kitale we also borrowed Mama’s car. This was far better equipped for the terrain and had a much better clearance. The problem with her car was that she had taken it for a service and since then the engine just kept cutting out. So you can imagine the interesting issues visiting rural schools on mud roads that have the bumps all over the place in a car that keeps cutting out. We then borrowed another car from Mama’s brother-in-law. This was again well suited to the terrain, also had a strange immobilizer that required you to double flash the lights before you could start the engine. This little car was much better but had no power at all so trying to overtake on roads was also a challenge.

Our drive up to Kitale also had the added extra of a blow out just outside Kitale. The tyre was completely shredded and we had the fun of changing the wheel at the side so of the main road with the car half on tarmac and half on a mud road. The next day the car had also developed a puncture on another wheel so we had to go into town and find 2 tyres. Well as it turned out the alloy wheel rims were cracked in multiple places and had been welded back together so there wasn’t really any chance of repairing these so 2 complete wheels and steel rims we bought and the car was fine.

Transport in Kenya fits into either truck, buses, minibusses, private cars and then the millions of motorbikes. All of these travel down these 2 lane roads for hundreds of kilometers overtaking wherever they can. The motorbikes have to be the most amusing of these. We have seen these carry anything from a 3 seater settee. 5 people, stacks of crates carrying food, metal sheeting, mattresses pretty much anything that people need delivering or carrying they will pretty much take them.

Our drive back to Nakuru was less eventful and just a nice drive. The only interesting part was slowly running out of petrol and not passing one for over 100km!

Nakuru is a large city in Kenya built next to Lake Nakuru. It has a national park where we go for Safari and our Hotel “The Merica” is a lovely western hotel with swimming pool, bars and a health suite where massages, haircuts, and a gym are available to residents. The cost of a full massage is less than half what you would pay in the UK so is a nice treat to relax after a week of bouncing around the mud roads. This is a nice end to our week this week and also a nice break for the students in the Summer where we break up our return journey and go on a Safari. The Merica Hotel itself is clean and has ensuite rooms and some of the rooms have a lovely view of Lake Nakuru.

Outside the hotel is a little market where the sellers try and sell their wears that include all of the usual wooden carvings, soapstone figures and all sorts of other “Authentic” souvenirs. The bartering that goes on becomes a game between what they think they will make and what we are happy to pay. It simply comes down to what are we happy to pay and not give them anymore.

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