Getting to Juba by bus
On my way to Juba, I was sending text messages to my family in Nairobi, and I have used them to make this tale full of twists and turns to the faraway land…
When you’re coming to Juba make sure you’ve booked your bus ticket well in advance! In my last-minute Kenyan mind I was sure I could even have booked the bus ticket on the very morning I planned to travel. If I had done that I would have had a rude shock. I would have found the bus completely booked! This time I made sure I had booked ‘early’ (one day before) and found only four seats vacant…at the back! So I booked seat J4: second last from the back, a window seat. I’d get a first-hand view of the surrounding terrain on the road to the unknown land.
10:03 am “…I’m reading the paper now..so I can have something to dream about!”
I was told the journey would be extraordinarily long..have you ever traveled for 2 days straight? And I’m not talking of a journey by air where you’re counting the hours in the airport also. The bus journey counts for almost 2 days seated! I’ve never done that before, so for me this will be a real adventure! I had planned in advance what I was going to do the whole way; my number one hobby – apart from traveling – SLEEP! Last night I starved myself of sleep watching a movie called ‘Case 39’ and also watched ‘The Last Airbender’ (overrated movie by the way) so that I would be so tired and sleepy that I would just black out in the bus.
10:11 am “… just left the parking in (Nairobi)”
Well, my sleepy plan did not work out too well: I kept waking up! Good thing I was awake, because the view of the Kenyan highlands is breathtaking, especially as we looked down across the Rift Valley and its beautiful expanse. I’ve seen it many times before but truly, every time I see it is a new experience, on my way to a different destination, so every time it has a renewed beauty. Absolutely captivating!
1:18 pm “We made a stop at Nakuru at 1pm. It has taken us a whole 3 hours to get here! Someone is taking sacks to Juba to sell. Many were brought in at Nakuru..off for nap number two!”
Another reason why I’m finding it hard to sleep is because this driver stops every so often! Ok, he is supposed to stop, so it’s a good thing so that we can get out and stretch our legs. Of course the stopover is good for my ‘footsies’ but it’s definitely good for my sleep! Just the thought of being seated for more than 24 hours cautioned me to make sure I get out at every stop to exercise my legs and make sure there’s circulation in them so that I don’t get off the bus in Juba with dead legs, starved of all nutrition.
3:26 pm Kericho is literally full of tea! See, I mostly travel by night to Kisumu so I don’t think I remember seeing Kericho..maybe last when the same uncle I’m going to visit (in Juba) worked here, which was really long ago! I think I’ve paid almost all my sleep debt…”
Kericho is going green! Well, it’s been green for long, ever since the first tea bush was planted. Talk about our future ‘green city’. And it’s tea on both sides of the road.
4:43 pm “Kisumu town: hot! Moving across the Rift Valley from Kericho the temperature was slowly rising, then had to remove my jacket..now I wish I could remove my shirt! Hehe!”
It gets really confusing as you travel across Kenya. If you’ve watched ‘Karate Kid’…(Hey! Don’t hate on the type of movies I watch! I watched it and enjoyed, because I can say I’ve been to almost all the places in the movie!) So as I was saying, if you’ve watched Karate Kid, there’s the part where Jackie Chan tells Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s kid) to take his “jacket off!” He takes his jacket off. Then he’s told, “Jacket on!” He puts it on. “Jacket off!” Takes it off. “Jacket off!” “Jacket on!” It’s on and off over and over again! For me the bus ride was similar. Nairobi in the morning – Jacket on. The sun comes out – Jacket off. We get to the Limuru Highlands – Jacket on. Down into the Rift Valley – Jacket off. The winds blow in the Rift Valley – Jacket on. We reach Kisumu – you’re getting the hang of it..fill in the blanks! J Because it’s hot – cold – hot – cold all through! Beautiful weather!
5:05 pm “Today morning I was at my bedside, now in the evening I’m at the Lakeside! Literally, standing at the lake with the boats and all: I could really use a swim right now!”
You can’t say you’ve been to Kisumu if you have not been to the shores of Lake Victoria and touched the hyacinth-overgrowing waters or eaten the lakeside fish. The mjuaji (know-it-all) in me decided to leave the rest of the passengers of the Kampala Coach at the restaurant where the bus had parked for the Kisumu stopover so I could at least go to the lakeside; how else could I say I passed through Kisumu?! I asked the driver how long we would be at this stop and he told me it would be at least 20 minutes. So I was set! Walked down to the lake and took about 5 minutes to get there. I had to let people at home know I was at the lake! So I called a friend of mine and said proudly “I am now at the lakeside!” Looking at my watch, time was already up and I was to start making my way to the bus. I was still on the phone call. Walking along the road and looking down talking about the coming journey then when I looked up I saw the bus I was in driving off! It was not at the place I had left it parked, and now it was at a bend, going slowly as it was turning the corner! I started to run! “Sorry, I’ve got to go!” I cut the call and now I was running toward the bus, waving frantically so the driver could see I was running to catch that bus! When I got to the bus, I realized it had stopped at the bend because they were waiting for me. “Oh, you wanted to stay in Kisumu?” the other bus officials said sarcastically. I looked for the driver I had spoken to earlier: “But he told me you’d be here for 20 minutes! And I have been out for only 17 minutes!” He didn’t speak. One of the other ones said, “Oh really, 20 minutes? If you’d have come after 20 minutes you’d have seen dust!” Really, I’d have seen the dust of the speeding bus driving away.
5:18 pm “..imagine I almost missed the bus! I went to the lakeside cause the driver told me we were to leave in 20 minutes… I was back in 17 and I saw the bus had already left the place it had been parked… thank God it was driving in my direction!”
The language they’re speaking tells it all! A whole delegation of Kenyans from Central Province on the way to Juba looking for jobs. I learnt later that they are going to join a construction project. The Chinese are doing a lot of construction in Juba, and as I hear, the preferred KYMs (kanda ya mooko’s are unskilled farm hands) and even welders and other skilled laborers happen to be Kenyan most of the time.
6:24 pm “The sunset is beautiful”
I’ve been here before; done this. Welcome to Uganda where we pay 200 shillings to use the loo!
7:46 pm “…I think (smses) are 5 (shillings) now…”
On the Kampala Coach ticket it is written that they provide water and a meal. My sister Melissa pointed out the fact that when she came to Uganda some time back the bus service didn’t serve them any food; I realized why not. It’s because the food is served for people who are going past Kampala. Rice and beef stew for passengers (like myself) going up north from Kampala.
29 October, 2010
Nightmare of all nightmares! Already, the thought of being on the road for 31 hours was intimidating; woke up to a beautiful sunrise but a serious scare in front of us. There was a pile-up of traffic on the road and people started to get off the bus to see what the problem was. I followed them, leaving the girl who was sitting next to me in the bus. It’s her first time traveling on her own so any ‘extra’ adventure like getting off the bus in the middle of nowhere with the possibility of being left by the bus she would rather pass. So she preferred to stay in the bus and hear our stories of what was going on.
7:33 am “If wishes were horses, the trailers and lorries stuck in the mud would evaporate and we could continue the journey! About 50 trailers, buses etc in between Atiak and Pabo (between Kampala and the border).”
I slept. I woke up. I read a few pages of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Petals of Blood”, then slept some more. Then I watched as two Hummers flanking a Landcruiser, all belonging to the 'SPLA' Southern Sudan Army, joined in on the action of the day. Seeing the way was blocked, armed SPLA officers in combat attire down to the boots spilled out of the Hummers and were barking orders at the drivers at the drivers who were blocking their deep green mean machines. After the spectacle, the only option left to them was to bypass all the trucks in the pile-up by driving on the shoulder oft eh road at an angle of almost 90 degrees! When one of the wheels of the Hummer tipped up I was convinced it was going to topple over. “Hii ni kama Hummer ya Livondo! Sio kama ya Agwambo!” someone behind me joked. “Itaweza!” And indeed it did. It rather effortlessly caught grip of the ground and seemingly glided past our wondering eyes.
Now past the bad stretch, and it started to rain! I’m told there are people who stayed there for 3 days straight.. all hail our expert Kampala coach driver!
It was dark. The bus had stopped. I was asleep. When I opened my eyes the girl seated next to me was telling me goodbye, and it seemed as if everyone was packing their things and getting off the bus. “Where are we?” I asked. “Tumefika Juba!” We have reached Juba. At last. I called Dad and Mum to let them know I had reached safely. I replied to Uncle TG’s sms that asked if I was awake. “Yes.” “Ok. Are there boda boda bikes yet?” “Yes”. Juba Town behind Equity Bank. Tell them I will pay 5 pounds.” And then I had my first Juba bodaboda ride. You can’t have been to Juba and not been on a boda-boda! In fact, the real Juba experience involves many scars from boda-boda accidents. Uncle’s are fresh from last week, the Kikuyu guy called Maasai showed me his, the lady at the Kikuyu bar-cum-forex-bureau showed me her scars, and the Eritrian lady at the Juba Grand Hotel also had her experience before and shivered when she saw Uncle’s wounds. Thank God I haven’t got mine yet, and I don’t hope to get any of the true marks of Juba!
31 October 31, 2010
According to Uncle, we’ve seen the whole of Juba in one day! From the “CBD” where Uncle stays, there are only 3 routes you could be going along. There’s the matatus that go to Konyokonyo market, a Gikomba wannabe. There are those that go to Customs, the main bus terminal for coming in and out of Juba either using the Malakia route or the Wizara route. Wizara is a road flanked by Government Ministries and departments. We went along the 3 routes. Hadn’t we seen it all?
I have had the privilege of touring Juba with Uncle, because he practically knows all the places and there is always a story behind everything. First thing you notice is that all the drivers are Sudanese and almost all the touts are Eritrean. Apparently there’s a law that was passed, committing all jobs to the Sudanese people to make sure there are opportunities for the locals. The next thing you notice is that Kenyans and Ugandans have their hand in almost every business. The Arabs are mostly the wholesalers. The whole of the water-transport is run by Eritreans. Can you guess who does the honey-sucker (septic tank drainage) business?
In Juba you can’t afford to calculate how much you’re spending in Kenya shillings. You’ll go crazy and won’t spend a cent. Where the only water you can drink is bottled water which costs 1 SDG (Kshs 30), a simple breakfast of tea and toast at the ‘Sisters’ Cafeterria costs more that 10 SDG (Kshs 300)’ lunch for both Uncle and myself cost around 20 SDG (Kshs 600). What a life! The only thing that is priced similar to Kenya is the beer, at 4 SDG (Kshs 120) And there’s variety; Kenyans brought Tusker and Pilsner, Ugandans brought Bell Lager and South African Breweries brought White Bull; and those are just a few; The bars in Juba are well stocked, that’s for sure!
If you claim to have a car in Juba and it’s not a SUV then you’re not really driving. The standard car is a four-wheel drive. Mostly, of course, they are vehicles belonging to the hundreds of NGOs based around here. The rest have GOSS number-plates, vehicles owned by the Government of Southern Sudan, the most promising employer in Juba, especially with the Referendum coming in January.
To be continued…