24 June 2010

Travel Thursday: Kenya {City Transportation}

Happy Thursday! Today I thought I'd write about transportation in Kenya, because I found it one of the more interesting things about Nairobi. All of the photos in this post are taken from a moving vehicle between Karen (the suburb where we stayed) and Nairobi.

Transportation is very affordable: from about 20 to 50 Kenyan Shillings (around 30 to 75 cents). Also, there aren't really markers for the stops; you just have to know where they are.

There are two main ways of transportation in the city in Kenya: buses and mutatus. Buses run quite a few routes throughout Nairobi and its suburbs. The routes are set by numbers, which are usually signaled by a number on a laminated piece of colored paper posted in the window or held by the tout. But sometimes you can't find the route number, and it's always better to double-check that they'll be stopping at your stop. There are generally two people working on the bus: the driver and the tout. The tout is the one who comes around to your seat and takes your money, gives you a ticket, and then takes your ticket when you leave. The only photos I really took are from the bus, because they're a lot bigger, so I had some personal space and felt more comfortable.

The other, much more interesting, way of getting around is by taking mutatus. Mutatus are basically small vans that are run in a similar way to buses: by a driver and tout. They're smaller, so they fit fewer passengers. The tout hangs out of the window and/or runs alongside it near each stop to try to get people into their mutatu. To this same end, many mutatus are highly decorated and often even themed. The outside will be painted different colors, possibly with some designs. Music is played really loud inside the car a lot of the time. (Recently a law was passed requiring mutatus to keep they're music down. But some of them just play the music really loud anyway and either turn it down when they see a police car or bribe the police.) Sometimes there are even fluorescent lights under or inside the car, or even flatscreen TVs! Some, especially within the city limits, have themes. Music themes are common. We rode in one with a Bob Marley theme. It was yellow with red and green detailing and lots of Bob Marley painting, and the music played inside was, of course, reggae. You have to tap your tout's shoulder when your stop (or wherever you want to get off, if it's not officially the stop) is coming up.

Mutatus are known for being crazy on the road. They are willing to do anything to get where they want to go as quickly as possible, since more times on the route means more money. The drivers will speed and drive on the other side of the road or on the shoulder if possible. And they honk their horns when traffic slows down.

Actually, the can be sketch in a few ways. Sometimes they just pull over and tell you to get out and that they're not continuing the rest of the way. It's not too big of a deal, except if it's at night because Nairobi is very unsafe at night (and, being at the equator, night comes early). Also, a lot of people get robbed in mutatus (and buses). They will get quite close to you and open a newspaper over your lap or something and then take your wallet or whatever. It's very common, so you have to be extremely careful. Pocket pickers are very smooth, and it's said they could steal your socks without taking your shoes off. And you can't really even say something because often there are a few of them on the mutatu/bus in a group, and if you say something they might hurt you.

(Oh, and sometimes - unrelated to transportation - pocket pickers crowd around a person, pick them up, slip their shoes off and take them, and then leave. They will even sell a pair of shoes by asking the buyer to pick a pair of shoes that someone is wearing, and then they'll go take the shoes off the person wearing them!)

One of Nairobi University's campuses, just outside the city.

I loved taking the public transport in Nairobi. It was exciting and interesting! But (aside from the pocket pickers and dangerous driving) it did have its downsides. You can't really take any bags, unless they're quite small, because it would be too hard to maneuver and you're more likely to get robbed. Also, it was a bit tiring.


1 comment:

  1. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.


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