Trials and tribulations of bus rides and borders

My bus ride to Kenya was an adventure and then some. I arrived ½ an hour early at the station, which is a concrete room filled with rows and rows of bus seats, a small desk (whose purpose or the role of the woman who sat behind it I never discerned), and a clear glass cabinet manned by a woman selling cookies, chips, candy and air time. I sat down at first to read my book but the blaring tv sitcom not in English and the knowledge that I was going to be on the bus for 3 hours made me stand which I think drives East Africans nuts. They really prefer if you sit down to wait.  I headed to the washroom before getting on the bus and remembered about public washrooms – ceramic lines latrines, no toilet paper, water to wash with but no soap. I had started my dose of a different kind of reality. Luckily in my bag of field supplies I had packed tp and hand sanitizer so I was all set.

Before boarding the bus I had to unlock my suitcase so a man could stuff a large electronic wand inside it in various spots that beeped non-stop and then I was told I could zip it up again. Then I was told to get on the bus. Getting on I was hit by a wave of heat. Hmmm. Guess the a/c isn’t on yet I thought. Wrong. There was no A/C. It was an older bus.

And there I sat. Everyone tells me Easycoach runs on time and really sticks to its schedule.

The Easycoach schedule (more of a guidline really than a strict protocol to follow)

The Easycoach schedule (more of a guidline really than a strict protocol to follow)

HAH. We left more than 30 minutes late and then proceeded to sit in Kampala traffic until eventually we escaped the worst of the traffic and were on our way. We passed so many bad accidents of trucks rolled over in ditches, into a river, smashed into each other, blocking lanes, construction delays that that the trip that was supposed to take 3 hours took us nearly 5 hours to reach the Kenya border. We tailgated this guy for about an hour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAuntil we finally passed him so we could tailgate this guy. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And hot. Oh I don’t understand how one person’s internal thermostat can be so different from everyone else’s on the bus. Granted the weather switched from screaming hot sun and dusty and exhaust to rain and exhaust but regardless the bus was sealed up tight for the most part. So I sat and gently glowed the entire time. Occasionally someone would crack a window and my heart would leap for joy (or was it just the fresh supply of oxygen kick-starting my heart) but even when we stopped on the side of the road and I would think “Ah now there will be some respite while we wait for people to get on” no no no the bus was sealed up tight so that no one would be touched by that pesky oxygenated cool air. Granted I can somewhat follow their line of thinking because when the windows were open at the start of the trip I could feel my lungs clogging and my chest tightening from the dust and fumes. But isn’t that better than feeling so hot and you think you’ll melt in the seat?

I couldn’t drink any water since the trip is 3 hours (reputedly)  and they don’t stop and there is no bathroom Oh if you are really desperate it is somewhat acceptable to plead with the driver to stop and let you pee behind a bush but I really didn’t want to have to do that. So I sat and glowed and let myself dehydrate to the perfect level for long distance road travel. I did a good job of it because I managed to last from 1:45 at the EasyCoach station in Kampala all the way to after supper and having made the bed in my house at Sarah and Silas’ around 10:30 pm. Not healthy my friends and yet it can be done. Just a sec I need to go fill my water bottle because I think I’m still recovering from the drought. I usually consume close to 5 liters of water per day so those 500mL I made last from Kampala to Sarah’s house was way under my usual quota.

When we got to the border a mere 2.5 hours later than I had been told we would, it was dark. Now I ‘m not a fearful traveller I wouldn’t say but even I have my reservations at times and walking over a dirt road border crossing that I know full well is going to be packed with transport trucks, mainly fuel trucks, and people who cross freely back and forth all day long and people just waiting for people crossing over who look a little uncertain.

We were all made to get off the bus and for some reason it was a mad scramble of everyone grabbing their purse or knapsack and pushing their way off the bus. I was afraid everyone else would take 17 seconds to get approved to cross into Kenya while I had to go and get a visa so I stood up and pushed a bit and got off the bus fairly early on which is funny because I was sitting in my favourite seat B1 that is closest to the door. I was at least the 10th person off by the time I decided to use my elbows and join th line.

Leaving the bus and heading into the darkness I followed the crowd to fill out and hand in the Uganda departure form. Easy. I’ve left Uganda so many times this year I can fill that form out in my sleep. I was fingerprinted and passport stamped and except for one woman who tried to bud in front of me in line (unsuccessfully I might add) it was uneventful.  Leaving that office and heading into the darkness money changers gently asked me if I needed Kenyan shillings and when I said I didn’t they then kindly directed me toward the Kenyan border. You would think it would be obvious where Uganda ended and Kenya began but in all seriousness it was not. I had no idea if I was supposed to walk across or get on the bus or what. So off I went into the darkness, gripping my purse tightly and shoving my passport deep inside it and zipping it up.  I live in terror of losing my passport because it is the only way I can get home!

As I approached the border a voice from the darkness kindly hollered (no really that is possible) “mzungu Kenya customs is over there on there on the right”. So off I went to get my visa (which somehow was given to me despite not having filled out a visa application form and I was allowed to stay for 3 months when I only needed 3 days) and for yet another $50 into the Kenyan coffers I was given a visa.

Heading back out the way I came a number of people gently directed me the other way down a hall way that dumped me out in the dark about 10 feet away from where I had entered customs. Completely disoriented and feeling blind again after being in the bright office I eventually spotted the bus and headed back to it. I actually think I walked back into Uganda unknowingly and the men hanging around the bus asked “mzungu have you been cleared by customs”. “Yes” I told them. They directed me back the way I had come through the darkess to go past the second gate and wait there and your bus will come. Really? I thought. Can’t I just grab my suitcase and walk over there and find my ride and away I go? It seems not.

And so I waited and waited and waited. It took an hour for the bus to come across into the Kenyan side while my suitcase sat in no man’s land and my ride sat at the Easycoach office 1 km away. Sigh. I headed into Tesia, a grocery store, and bought 10 liters of water, a kg of sugar, a bag of tea and some gum. I had been accosted during my travels in the darkness by a friendly sounding man who wanted to direct me down a narrow alley of transport trucks to where he said I could have  a short call (a pee). I took one step after him and alarm bells went off in my mind so I said “no I’m okay actually. I don’t need a short call”.

Well that man was determined I would give him some shillings so he could buy supper and he followed me everywhere I went. When he finally gave up when I started to get a bit testy with him the street boys moved in. I was getting tired folks and was dehydrated and feeling a bit grubby after the 5 hour glow-fest, and I was hungry having enjoyed my green apple and mixed nuts (just when you think cashews and macadamia nuts can’t get any better someone had the brilliant idea of covering them in honey and sugar and packing them in small snack size bags) and double Snickers bar somewhere back on the road 2 hours earlier. It started off with one small boy asking me for money for food and by the time the bus came across the border there must have been 8 of them. Varying degrees of laughing, joking, begging, me watching my purse and knapsack and bag of Tesia supplies I entertained them with my knowledge of Kiswahili, Kijaluhya and Kijaluo (local languages) and we talked about President Obama (of course), Stephen Harper, Osama bin Laden, soccer teams (or Canada’s lack of one anyway) and why I wouldn’t or couldn’t give them any money “because once I start I can never finish”. I would have rather stood quietly and invisibly by the side of the road but that is just not possible with this white skin of mine that glows like a beacon in the night. My fellow bus passengers were watching though and when we finally moved toward the bus one woman warned me to watch my bag “because these boys are not good” she said. And some of the other passengers chatted with me for a little while as we were all in the same boat. At least my journey had ended but many of them had about 500km left to go to get to Nairobi which in Kenyan terms is 10-12 hours of driving time plus bathroom and food stops.

Eventually I arrived at the Easycoach office and got off the bus to find Augustine and one of the Children of Bukati sponsored students who is now in University waiting for me. After lots of hugs and hand shaking and smiles we were off. Our drive to Sarah’s house was uneventful if flooded muddy roads, a very fogged up windshield, a car that kept stalling, and headlights that were misaligned so every time a car approached we had to slow from the dangerous 40km per hour down to a much safer 10 km per hour. It started to pour in the last 10 minutes or so adding to the slick roads and foggy windshield but we made it. And oh that entire 10.5 hour journey was 100% worth it when Sarah gave me a hug and another hug and yet another and held my around the waist this strong wonderful tiny beloved Kenyan woman saying “oh but I’ve missed you”. Augustine and the student left right way to get home and I ate a quick supper of potatoes, rice, and lentils. Heading down to the house where I’ll be sleeping for the next three nights under massive golf umbrellas carrying bedding suitcases 10L of water and my knapsack I’m sure we were quite the crew. But Sarah and Silas got me set up, I had my long-awaited pee and slept like a baby until 5 am when the roosters started up. I managed to fall back to sleep until 7:30 am when I got up and started the day. To be continued….

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2 Responses to Trials and tribulations of bus rides and borders

  1. Jack Carter says:

    Wow Nat. That was quite the journey. You do have some interesting experiences.
    Love you
    Dad