Departure Voi, 1:45pm.
Dry spell is real my friends, and I experienced it this year when I stayed a whole three months without taking a trip to anywhere. But finally the day that the Lord made came and I set a date with Dreamline securing a seat on the 10am bus from Mombasa hoping to ride the Zhongtong as I have never sampled it, also the Cummings Higer. As usual I get the phone number of the crew to communicate with them so that I could leave the house when they are at Maungu to avoid waiting for too long. It was my good friend Hakim ‘Tobaa!’ who was in charge of KCG 444L the most beautiful Yutong bus _ I had really wanted a Zhongtong but no worries. I called him and we had chat over phone and I told him I would be boarding at Voi so he should call when they get to Maungu, he told me they were still at Mariakani. I have some lunch and I double check my items to make sure everything is in check and that there is nothing forgotten, but what does it matter anyway? Since it’s usually when you are arriving at your destination that you remember you forgot your toothbrush and then it becomes a sticky situation if you know ‘warraimin’.
The bus gracefully makes its way towards the stage, driver hooting to get my attention and I move to the road and wave them down, the bus stops and Hakim steps out, we exchange greetings and I hand over my bag which he takes to the boot. I get into the bus saying hi to the driver, it’s none other than Amos (he says he is the youngest driver at Dreamline express). I take my seat on VIP 4 and Hakim gets in and we start catching up for a while before he heads off to sleep at the back. No buses ahead of us today so Trucks and more trucks, wait! Is that a KCK 777W I saw? I am not sure, it was packed in between other trucks, Elly Obuong had expected me to snap a photo of it but it was impossible. Amos’ timing is very good, he knows his machine well, but he is always ready to brake behind a truck despite having long queue of vehicles coming up. He doesn’t force a pass and no ‘kata funua’ or tailgating trucks at spitting distance neither does he step out on the shoulder, good for passengers who feel as if the bus is overturning and panic but not good for visibility. But when it’s time to go, Cummins does pull well.
We check into Mtito at 3:12pm and I head off to snap a few photos of a Mash bus parked across at Shell. Then back to our bus to take more photos but my phone is getting old and it cannot take 5 photos in succession so it hangs. A call from Hakim, he invites me to the high table and tells me to order what I want. My face lightens up but too bad I can’t eat anything more since I had a heavy meal for lunch before leaving home so I just order a soda to go. When the food is served, I thank God that I had not accepted the offer, chakula kimeletwa na gutray gumejazwa pilau bana, hata kama mimi ni foodie, I jass kent. But these guys can eat, I peek under the table to confirm they are not dropping any food and they do all that in just 15 min and we are ready to go. While at the high table, I ask Amos if the Yutong gearbox is similar to the Zhongtong one and whether there are any differences between the two. He tells me the Zhongtong is lighter, but not in a good way, it is too jumpy and the body is less insulated, he also says the Yutong takes hills better and is less noisy inside, which is true compared to the locally fabricated buses. Hakim adds that when inside a Zhongtong and its raining heavily, the sound of the falling raindrops is loud he likened it to ‘mabati’ and he goes on to tell me that his first time to experience the bus, he was at the yard and it started raining and he thought there was hail coming down. Just when they are about to clear their plates, the 10 am Zhongtong (Mr Blue?) from Nairobi checks in and I excuse myself to go and take some photos of it, doing a Frankaissery challenge while at it.
While leaving Mtito there is a passenger missing, everyone is convinced it is a lady who is at the hotel counter, so everyone is watching her waiting for her to come to the bus as it has already been reversed. Shock on us! She is walking towards the tables with a tray of food in hand. “Alikua wapi muda wote huu?” Amos blurts out, “tunamuacha huyu!” and he starts moving towards the road. Hakim is looking confused now telling Amos to wait, so he can go and hurry her up. Luckily it was a false alarm, the missing passenger is across the road watching the bus and he runs across towards the bus when he saw it moving and jumps in, phew! The Mtito office clerk confirms the number again and we are off.
We approach the famous mlima Kiu heading to Salama town, there is an isuzu frr bus ahead of us and I decide to use it as a benchmark for the hill climbing performance of the Yutong. 300 horses don’t disappoint, they pull well and although there is a drop in speed and a gear, we pass the struggling FRR and two tankers with ease. There is a 3340 tipper in front of us now that we can’t pass as it is overtaking too, we slow a bit and into fourth gear now (you should see the position of the gear lever at this point) the tipper pulls well and the gap between us is widening. Especially after we are slowed down by yet another overtaking truck then it’s time to pick up speed, it picks easily and gets away from us. We catch up and as we are waiting for it to go back to the climbing lane to let us pass, there is hooting from a small car on my side, it’s a Toyota Wish overtaking on the climbing lane, following it is KCA 300R Spanish coach and it passes fast, whoa! Driver Amos turns to me, “Umeona nguvu ya Scania?” I smile and nod. With two other cars tailgating it and the climbing lane is ending fast, Spanish manages to squeeze in front of the tipper and the tailgaters are left out with nowhere to go, brakes! Smoking tires and they stop on the shoulder, we leave them behind to sort themselves out. Now we are back to speed and I am hoping we will catch up with Spanish, but we still have another steep climb after Salama. I watch Spanish taking the corner after Salama town and it gets away. After the hilly sections we have caught up with Spanish at the bumps and roadblock of Malili. Ligii sasa and it’s raining heavily, no worries, the wipers are good and in sync and I can even see clearly through the passenger side windscreen and the wiper speed is adjustable too, oh! I cannot hear raindrops spatter or anything plus with the A/C I cannot smell the sweet smell of soil mixing with water that comes when it rains so it is difficult to know that it’s raining unless you look outside. The Spanish bus driver is really doing his kata funuas, one tailgater suddenly finds himself alone on the wrong side face to face with a Shreeji truck, a near miss. Amos takes it slow but with good timing which makes sure we are not losing sight of Spanish which is just a few trucks ahead of us and each time he comes out to overtake, we are out too until we are stuck behind a queue of trucks and the Scania gets away.
As we approach Machakos Junction roadblock, it is getting dark and the rain subsides. The stretch between Machakos Junction and Athi River can be hectic, too many vehicles packed close on a two way road. This is where overtakes need flooring literally (that is what I do) because the chances are so few and tight or else you just follow the queue and relax. Amos takes every good chance and we make our way through in reasonable time. Guess what! Spanish is right in front of us as we get to Athi River, I thought he may have made it to Mlolongo by now but no, our pace was good. The City is now near and some passengers need to be dropped off, so Spanish starts off at the beginning of the dual carriageway and we pass, then before Mlolongo we drop off a passenger and they pass, and the game continues until we are at Bunyala roundabout with Spanish in front of us, I take a photo of it and its beautiful.
At Khoja stuck in traffic, an unknown person is talking to Amos, he leans out the window and I hear him say, “Kila? tuko nae hapa.” He opens the door, shadow passing the headlights and my twin brother Wallace aka Halfman anatokea, jamaa anapitia blindspot ya gari haonekani hadi mlango ufunguliwe ndio unamuona. I move to create room for him on the bonnet of the bus where I was seated and we start catching up as we move slowly towards the office where my Journey ends at 8:20pm. I am informed the bus is being handed over to driver Lucas to leave for Mombasa at 10pm gari halizimwi. I do another Frankaissery challenge on Nelliuz’s bus parked leaving for Mtwapa at 9:15pm and we meet up with a member Johnson Waweru hanging for a while until Nelliuz leaves and the Yutong is parked before we part ways.
Entertainment 9/10: Nice mix of music from bongo to hip hop at moderate volume.
Comfort 9/10: The Yutong seats are a bit stiff although the suspension absorbs bumps well and the bus doesn’t creak or leak. Effective A/C and no annoying blowing sound from the vents. The bus is actually very quiet inside, you can barely hear cars hooting. The engine sound well muted with a slight whistle of the turbo.
Speed 10/10: The bus is team 80, which I don’t like but that’s what is considered ‘safe’ so we don’t end up wiping ourselves out. We arrived in good time.
Safety: The bus has 3point retractable seatbelts, CCTV cameras, roof exit emergency hatches, and the windows are also emergency exits with instructions to hit the corner of the top pane glass to break it in case of an emergency.
An overview of the bus:
The Chinese Yutong body is well built and has really held up despite our bad road from Mtito all the way to Nairobi and being in operation for a while now. Taru Taru Taruu. Everything on the bus is still working, the pneumatic door, the charging system, the 3 point locking seatbelts, the A/C, the fridge, the screens and I especially like the curtain holders, they look neat.
Departure Voi, 1:45pm.