Swahili Coast #1
The Al Shabaab Highway
After a mammoth train journey from Nairobi to Mombasa, 19 hours for the 530km, arriving 9 hours late, I rested and mooched around Old Town Mombasa before heading up the coast.
But the road north is dangerous. Below is a press release from 2014 about the road to Lamu, which was exactly where I was headed.
'The government has imposed a night travel ban on all vehicles plying the Garsen-Lamu route amidst heightened security operations in Lamu County.
Speaking during a press briefing in his office at the Uhuru na Kazi building, Coast Regional Coordinator Samuel Kilele cautioned all Public Service Vehicles (PSV) operators, motorists and private vehicle owners against plying the highway from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am until further notice.
The ban comes after yet another attack on a bus along the Lamu-Witu road on Friday night which left seven people, among them four police officers dead.
The Tahmeed bus was attacked near Witu in Lamu County.
Following the Friday attack, the Al-Shabaab terror group which is based in neighboring Somalia claimed responsibility'
And the situation in February 2016 is no better. In fact it's gotten worse since the Kenyan military had a bit of an altercation across the border in Somalia and the terrorists have been attacking the bus convoys which are escorted by the military and a whole lot more.
At this point I will mention that I've been in 3 military convoys, all of which have been in Africa.
So I headed north on the morning bus. At the point where the Lamu road turns off the main highway, everyone was off the bus for passport checks and then 10 minutes later the procedure was repeated but this time we had to get our bags checked as well.
As a westerner I was questioned on my motives for coming up here. I'd already been stopped in Mombasa by the police, who thought I was here to fight terrorists and this time the same boring questions and had to empty all my stuff out of my bags. But wasn't searched. It was a relief to be off the bus for a bit. Temperatures were pushing 35 out in the midday sun.
We needed to ride in convoy.
The army pick ups went ahead (in fact they went so far ahead we lost sight of them, nothing like a fore-warning that the buses were coming and that they come thru at the same time every day) and the buses, 5 in all, followed. The bus driver floored it. The road turned to piste. And still we hammered along, bouncing all over the shop. Dust filled the bus, couldn't see more than 20 meters ahead, just as well the road was straight.
May be an hour like this, then another road block, more waiting, re grouping, another check. Then the road was so bad we could not go fast. We had to crawl along. Choking dust, 35 degrees, bus ride from hell almost but loving it just the same. Just another day at the office. And you know what, when the time comes to leave Lamu, I have to do it all again.