July 2nd: Matatu Road Trip

August 19, 2009

While we were in Kenya we got to quite a bit of traveling around the country.  For our ride to RVA we caught a ride with friends that were going our way.  For shorter inter-city distances when we had our luggage with us we hired a taxi. We didn’t have our own car, or even a rented one, so we relied mostly on public transportation because it was cheaper than taking taxis.  Most of those trips were in matatus.

Matatus are small buses with three or four rows of small seats in them.  Kenyans regularly crowd in together to travel from place to place for a few shillings.  They’re easy to catch, and they go just about everywhere.  With a two man team, one person focuses on the driving and the other works as a conductor, collecting money and leaning out the open door calling out the destinations to recruit passengers.

It was upon leaving RVA we took our first matatu. We were headed to the city of Nakuru to see some wild animals at Nakuru Lake National Park.  One of the nice things about the matatu stand in Kijabe is that there was a stand selling freshly roasted corn right next to it, so we bought a few ears to eat along the way for lunch.

Nathan holding fresh roasted corn in front of our matatu

Nathan is holding fresh roasted corn in front of our matatu.

Here’s a picture of us loading our luggage into the matatu that would take us from RVA to Nakuru.  Between the five of us, we also had to buy two seats for our luggage.  Most of the Kenyans aboard didn’t have bags; they were going to work or on errands.

Loading luggage

Loading luggage

To give you an image of how”roomy” the matatus are inside, here’s a shot I took from the very back row of seats.  Nathan and Ginny are in the middle row, and Stephen is all the way to the front with the luggage and sharing a seat with the conductor who takes money and tells the driver where we want to go.

Inside the matatu.  This is the only one we took with a TV screen in it.

Inside the matatu. This is the only one we took with a TV screen in it.

In all we took three multi-hour trips in matatus, a couple inside Nairobi, and lots of short trips around Mombasa.  It was a pretty good way to travel, to get to see the countryside go by, and to meet people.  It was pretty crowded, especially, in the ones inside the cities, but we didn’t have any trouble with pickpockets.  I wished several times, though, that I’d had a bag like Mary Poppins’ that would hold our stuff but not take up much space.  It was good to have the things we brought, but it was not as cool to have to find a way to stuff it into the matatus or pay extra for the seats.

The most difficult thing about traveling by matatu was finding one that was going where we wanted to go with enough space for all five of us and would take us there for a reasonable price.  Here’s the matatu stand in the town of Kabernet.

Matatu stand in Kabernet

Matatu stand in Kabernet

You can see that there’s not exactly a ticket window you can walk up to and buy your ticket at.  The good part of having a larger group was that the matatus leave when they’re full, and we did a good job of filling the matatu half of the way up.  They do have three or four place names painted on the sides to give you an idea of their routes, which helped us find the right one.  Ginny did a good job of knowing where we needed to go, so we never got into a matatu that was going where we didn’t want to be.

It’s true; traveling around Kenya is not only beautiful, it’s exciting too!

Wild zebras were grazing on the side of the road to Nakuru.

Wild zebras were grazing on the side of the road to Nakuru.

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