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On The Road From Watamu to Nairobi; Most of It Spent Stuck Just Outside of Mombasa

After a few days of fun in the sun, we started our long journey back to Nairobi. Between Watamu and Mombasa in Kilifi is the regional office for Plan International, the NGO that Nduku works for. At first Nduku just wanted a photo, one of those “I was there” moments, from the street, but it’s a bit off the road so I hopped out the car to get closer.

And closer. And closer. And how often are we going to be here? So I just rolled up on the building.






Nice view

I walked around to the front gate, startling the guard as a foreigner armed with a camera came stumbling out the bush, sweating profusely, looking confused and speaking a version of English that doesn’t make as much sense when spoken with our ‘murican accent.

He said the office was closed and everyone went home for the holidays. Nduku, probably wondering what was taking me so long when I disappeared into the bush, came down the dirt road, and fortunately, there was someone doing some last minute work for her to talk to about their company.



Moments later, after getting back on the road, we stopped by to say hi to one of Nduku’s cousins. Kanini was at work, but took a moment to chat and meet Najwa.


Nduku and her cousin Kanini

The road from Watamu to Mombasa is a narrow road. It cuts through many small villages and a huge sistal plantation.



The primary mode of transportation was obviously the motorbike. And they were everywhere. At first I was thinking they were the boda bodas you find in the city, but everyone had a motorbike.

Riding on the back of a motorcycle

And there were a couple of checkpoints to get through on the way. North of where we were was experiencing some violence. Whether al-Shabaab or tribal violence, the government was intent in making sure it doesn’t migrate south to Mombasa and where the majority of the tourists are, with their tourist currency.


I find it funny when I see a place with an American name in a foreign country, especially when it’s not obvious why it has the American name.


California Club


One of many mosques in the area


Who needs U-Haul when you have friends and a big two-wheeled whatever it’s called?

Now, there’s no way I’ll be able to find the right words, the right amount of words or the right tone to describe what the traffic is like from Mombasa heading back to Nairobi. There’s this stretch of road that puts L.A., Atlanta and DC traffic to shame. Anyone who feels traffic is bad in their neck of the woods need to try driving through Mariakani.

Maybe it was only because it was the holidays and the lorries [for my American friends, lorries are trucks] had to be out of the ports because someone in the government said something about get the hell out the ports. Nduku can explain it better; I’m still scarred from sitting in that traffic.

Maybe it was the roads that looked and felt like they were mortared, IEDed and jackhammered to death. Maybe it was the matatu drivers who thought the two-lane road was really a six-lane highway, bobbing and weaving between everyone.

Whatever the case, we sat hours in standstill traffic, hours for what should’ve taken half an hour to cross. Nduku’s dad, though, wasn’t one for sitting still. So, he joined the others driving in the dirt on the side of the road. Their “highways” don’t have curbs. You just pass the vehicle in front of you by riding in the dirt. Seriously, it’s a two-lane road, but we were five or six cars wide.

At one point, as a huge lorry was trying to pass in the nonexistent third land outside the nonexistent second lane we were in next to the actually tarmacked [that’s paved for my American friends] road with another huge lorry in the way, we got the sideview mirror clipped.


And to think, Najwa kept wanting to stick her head out the window, which no one would find strange because kids ride wherever and however they want. Car seats? Optional. Seat belts? Optional. Kids sitting between driver and steering wheel? Optional. I’m glad her head is still connected to her body.


A hotel for those who want the truly local vibe.


Deer? Try elephants, zebras and giraffes.

You know, Nduku keeps asking when am I going to write about the traffic. There’s no way I could do it any justice. I’ve rode down I-75 in Atlanta during rush hour, not moving though the highway is a mile wide. I get that, though.

This level of traffic though is maddening. Truly maddening. It’s not just the sitting still, but the absolute chaos around you:

  • as matatus pass you on all sides though it’s only a two-lane road
  • if there’s no oncoming traffic, the collective groupthink kicks in and instantaneously the road turns into a two-lane one-way road completely packed until a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction and the dozens of vehicles all merge simultaneously back into the original single lane and, man, I just can’t explain it.
  • when you’re in a village, or town, or just near a collection of shacks, the amount of people who spontaneously appear inside your window, waving fresh fruit, nuts, roasted maize and all kinds of stuff they’re selling; and you can’t roll up the windows because, though it’s a million degrees, Nduku’s dad doesn’t use air conditioning [no one in Kenya uses air conditioning!] and the car isn’t going to be moving for who knows how long…
  • again, no air conditioning!
  • the speed bumps that come out of nowhere int he middle of the “highway” that makes free flowing traffic impossible, if it was free-flowing to begin with.

But I knew what to expect. I went through it last time I visited. I was just being hopeful that maybe the roads would have been widened, the potholes would be filled and the matatu drivers would drive a little more civilized.

Next time, though, we’re going to fly to the coast.

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