Dear Travel Diary: Matatu Experience, The Coastal Way

So about that story I promised you about Kilifi matatus, here it is. We had travelled to Kilifi very smoothly, arrived safely and spent a good two days emjoying the coastal weather and culture. I was already speaking in that swahili twang you hear our coastal brothers have. Heck, even my skin tone was getting fairer. I was really becoming a coasterian, maybe I would have added a ‘Mwadime’ or ‘Omari’ to my name just to fit the part. However, we had to leave and get back to the 100 degrees celcius Nairobi heat(cues in Daddy Owen’s Mbona ft Denno). We all thought we were in agreement to leave that morning, we were wrong. Our Nissan Serena wasn’t done enjoying the Kilifi weather, it couldn’t start. After allowing mechanics to check on it without bearing any fruits, we decided to take a bus back. We were due to leave that morning but it was now midday and had to get seats in a bus for an overnight trip. It was not an easy job. First all the buses departing from Kilifi and Malindi were full. We thought of flying back but our budget could not allow for such an impromptu expense of that magnitude. So we ended up calling the Tahmeed bus’ Mombasa offices and booking to depart from there. That meant we had to take a matatu from Kilifi to Mombasa.

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Kilifi

The matatu itself was like any normal you know, a 14-seater caravan. So we get to the bus-station and there is no single matatu. We ask around and are told not to worry, they are on the way. As you may know by now, the common means of transport in Kilifi is by motorcycles and tuktuks, so we weren’t surprised. A few minutes later, 3 of them arrive at the same time. The conductors jump off and come to where we were standing. All my life I have grown to know these guys to be very rough, sometimes going as far as making your bag the ‘rope’ in a tug-of-war pulling contest. The three, however, did not do that. Of course they wanted passengers in their matatus, but they did it without pulling and pushing around. “Mombasa ama Mtwapa?” one of them asked. When they noticed we were not as interested(One way to get Kenyan touts off your back), they let us be. We spot the newest and hopped in. We were six, so we pretty got the matatu almost full. A young lady came along and was boarding when the driver, without noticing her, stepped on the gas pedal just a little bit. It did not go down well with her, not that it would with anyone anyway. After a few words to the driver(PS: Do not make a coastal girl angry), she decided she wasn’t boarding after all. The driver did apologize 100 times but she wasn’t buying it. She walked towards another empty matatu and boarded. In Nairobi, and everywhere else I have been privileged to use a matatu, you are made to wait till the matatu is full before you depart. That memo didn’t get to matatu personnel in Kilifi, or they had just decided to ignore it on this day. With six on board, we were off!

That drive has to be the most interesting matatu drive I have ever had. The driver was so chatty, starting one story after another all the way. And narrating it in that Swahili twang made it even more interesting. All this while we are still six passengers in the vehicle. We stop at several town centres but no one seemed to be traveling. Then we get to this particular town centre and there are several guys standing at the bus stop. Two board and as we are about to leave, this lady shouts from across the road,”Dereva, acha pupa!” She wants to board. So we wait for her to cross the road. 30 seconds later she’s still on the other side of the road. Not that it was a busy highway, she just wasn’t in a hurry. “Sasa wangoja lile gari lipite pia? Loolo!” the driver said to her. Still she didn’t cross. The driver wasn’t taking it anymore,”Sasa kama kuvuka barabara mchongoma, kupanda gari je? Omari twenzetu jamani.” And he drove off. It was funny as hell! As soon as we were back on the road, he was back to his stories. These were being narrated to Omari(the conductor), but even the guy in the backseat could hear every word. When he started talking about a certain event that happened in Mombasa, the other two passengers who boarded join in. You would be mistaken to think this was a family traveling together. They talked as if they knew each other(maybe they did). I simply enjoyed what I was hearing.
We got to Mtwapa after several stops to drop and pick passengers, then everyone alighted. Even Omari did alight. “Kesho saa kumi na mbili?” the driver asked him. “Mapema sana, saa moja hivi nitakuwa pale,” Omari answered. “Haiya basi,” the driver agreed as we left for Mombasa citycentre. 7AM!!! Were they serious? Would they even get anyone going to work then? Nairobi people work too much.

Bored from keeping quiet and commenting loudly to himself about the traffic we were experiencing into Mombasa, he turned to me and asked,”Mwasafiri bara?” After gathering that we were traveling and our bus was to leave that evening, he offered to drop us at the Tahmeed bus’ booking office. How kind? If that was a Nairobi driver…

We arrived just in time to grab a meal, confirm our tickets and board the bus. We had a wonderful journey back, the working (most don’t or are slow) WiFi and sockets making it even more enjoyable. However, not even this could rival that drive from Kilifi to Mombasa. I have never enjoyed a matatu the way I did that time. Awesome experience!

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