Friday, January 26, 2007

The Nairobi-Nakuru Spinal Cord Injury

This is what makes the 8-hour bus ride from my site to Nairobi not merely miserable, but seething, writhing, tortuous pain: The hours-long stretches of chewed up "road" where there's really nothing to do but ponder the hard questions about the human condition, mainly, why is the only thoroughfare between Nairobi and Western Kenya such a shameless mess?

Kenyan passengers next to me are always apologizing to me for their roads, as if I'll return to the West and reassure everyone that ordinary Kenyans don't approve. Actually there's another road connecting Nairobi to the western parts of the country, through Narok, and it's arguably even worse than this one. Worse than Nairobi-Nakuru, which I'm churning along right now, a road audacious in its assumption that it in any way resembles a singular noun, what with being 5 bazillion distinct chunks of eroded asphalt pockmarked as if someone drove by 50 years ago and fired an automatic weapon at it, starting at the Ugandan border and not letting go of the trigger until Mombasa. Except for the smooth stretches right before and after some large cities like Nairobi and Eldoret, where the gunmen were distracted by thoughts of stopping for cold beer and beautiful ladies of easy virtue.

Some stretches make no pretenses about trying to fit the "road" definition. Between Nakuru and Naivasha there's not a pebble of tarmac to be found, just a white ribbon of dust, which becomes the land of 1,000 matatu-swallowing lakes during rainy season, lined with sighing acacis trees resigned to being ghostly, dust-covered white from trucks rumbling by.

The trip is 8 hours of vibrating, neck-snapping monotony, because for 2 to 3 hour stretches it's too bumpy to read, too bumpy to sleep (from a chiropractor's perspective), and too noisy, due to bumpiness, to listen to music unless you care to drown out the deafening explosions of bus hitting pothole after pothole with deafening strains of Radiohead. I kid you not, at one point I thought someone had fired a gun from the back row, while at the same time someone else had whacked me on the head with a book.

It's also too bumpy to drink water, which is always a problem because of my unfortunate bladder-bus schedule relationship. The only rest stop is in Nakuru, which isn't for 3 or 4 hours from any point of departure, and even though I've perfected the art of emptying my bladder right before I board the bus, postponing taking my daily anti-malarial meds (makes me pee), and not drinking anything before Nakuru, inevitably, one bumpy hour into the trip, the jolting road conditions have drained everything into my apparently very small bladder, and it becomes a dilemma between enduring several more hours of turgid discomfort or announcing to the whole amused bus in Swahili that I need to go for a short call in that stand of whitethorn bushes and blackjack.

Anyway, because of this, I'm usually parched (albeit empty-bladdered) by the time we descend from Nakuru into the semi-arid Rift Valley floor towards Nairobi. But by this time the road has become a post-earthquake zone again, so I can only stare longingly at my light blue bottle of cool, clean water while I roast inside a bus whose windows have been snapped tight to keep out the clouds, thick as morning fog over San Francisco Bay, being kicked up by the other 40 vehicles bobbling over each pothole like they're cruising along the ridge of a dragon's spine, while the equatorial sun beats down on the lovely savannah landscape of zebras and baboons indifferent to my suffering. One baboon holds a discarded blue water bottle in his hand. In my self-pity I assume he drank the water himself.


Blogger Patrick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

You forgot to mention my personal favorite feature of the Kenyan highway system which is the sight of guard rails that have been completely smashed every 100 feet or so where a car went through. Its very reassuring. -P

5:20 AM  
Blogger peter said...

What do you mean there's no inch of tarmac between naivasha and nakuru! 8 hour journey from nakuru to nairobi?! This is totally untrue about the Kenyan nairobi-nakuru highway. The only thing i can agree with you is the road was in a bad state, there is no need to exaggerate! It's onl 2 and a half hours to travel on the road. Get your facts right!

6:14 AM  
Blogger Justina said...

@ Peter - Please turn on your eye for detail and re-read the first sentence of the post. My 8-hour bus ride was from "my site to Nairobi" -- Kapsabet to Nairobi, easily 8 hours and often 9+. The post never quotes timing for Nakuru to Nairobi. Also, you are disturbingly defensive about the sad state of Kenyan roads. Do you work for the Kenyan Ministry of Roads? Or travel in an NGO-sponsored SUV that provides a relatively luxurious, shock-absorbed and sheltered-from-the-real-world road experience that would trick you into thinking my post is an exaggeration? How unfortunate.

7:34 AM  

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