Route: Nairobi – Mombasa
Departure Time: 13h03
Vessel Type: Scania F310HB 6X2, Banbros built
Vessel Tags: KBR 394B, “DREAM TYME”
Tragedy knocks on the door of Karakoram, and necessitates his travel at short notice to the coast. Driving myself there is temporarily out of the question for reasons that don’t really matter to anyone.
Team affiliation necessitates contacting my people at Dreamline, the DreamTeam, requesting a seat. Well, when they say every cloud has a silver lining, they really mean it.
An exchange between Delvan and I very quickly culminates in a VIP 1 reservation at no cost. Anybody who has watched 2 Fast 2 Furious remembers the opening scene in the film where Paul Walker’s R34 Skyline dominates the competition and Walker shares his pecuniary victory with Ludacris, the race organizer. Ludacris proceeds to address the crowd holding his stack and says:
“You see this? This is called mutual respect”
Well, seniors. You see the picture of my bus ticket? THAT too, is called Mutual Respect. Viva Dreamline.
Travel day comes, and I present myself at the scene of engagement. A bit of nostalgia here and there; the last time I used a Dreamline bus was KBP 655E. Since then I have used long distance public transport exactly twice. I may be growing old.
Veecam Hotel proves to be the butt of online jokes from some of my fellow MBB seniors (nawaona) when I share my location on social media; but it is also where KBR 394B is parked with the engine off. My own heyday working at a bus company was different: we’d keep the F94 engines running to maintain oil pressure in the turbos which would allow us to start spooling up and boosting immediately we left the terminal. To be honest, we also kept the engines running so we could watch the TVs inside after the buses had completed their daily runs, but I’m sticking with my first story, haha! This, however, is not a Series 4 – this is a Series 5 engine. There are differences; technical differences surrounding return valves and turbo cooling that I discussed elsewhere, not here.
My ticket is due for collection from Bruce. He looks exactly like he does in the pictures (weird because I on the other hand do not look like my photos) and he is also very quiet. Everything runs smoothly right up to the moment I embark, and that is when my professional side takes over. I start noticing things.
I remember the KBNs and KBPs which I used several times back then as having plenty of headroom, but the Boeing-shaped KBR seems to have even more of it. It is surprisingly light and airy inside despite the liberal use of wraps on the outside. The seating looks fine to me, though the difference between VIP and normal seating is not immediately clear, except maybe for the positioning. But there are those who swear by it, and I had just got one as well, so maybe there is something to it after all. There are sockets, thoughtfully placed at a convenient distance ahead of the seats to prevent unwarranted intimacy between seatmates when charging their electronics (the next door rivals could learn a thing or two here), or maybe ironing their clothes (hizi socket zinaeza support kettle? I may decide to brew some tea one day…) I see a WiFi router somewhere above the driver’s seat. Then I see the gear lever.
I’m not going to sugar coat anything – I never do. The bus is starting to show its age. The gear knob is gone and has since been substituted with a lump of cloth and cellotape. The upholstery is peeling off and curling at edges. The panel gaps are horrendous, especially at the driver’s door. The left wiper decided at one point during the trip that it had reached its destination and tried to get off the bus. Local fabs, tafazali, tuliwakosea wapi? Is there no pride in your work?
Credit where it’s due, though; if there is one thing Dreamline understands, it is how to keep a bus looking good. The exterior belies the vehicle’s earthly timeline, and I vastly prefer the slim MarcoPolo-esquetrapezoidal headlamps on 394B compared to the blobs that we first saw on KBT 660/670G and are available on 393B as well. The tapering roofline still looks as artsy as ever, a more curvy rendition of the British Plaxton Elite style of coachwork. Time to leave.
The bus is fired up, idles for about five minutes and away we go
Not so fast. The bane of Nairobi’s existence is its darker side. We have three Mombasa-bound buses (besides us, there was a Modern Coast Express bus, KCE 044L which will star later on and a yellow Coast Bus KBU 949S) leaving at the same time; and what happens? One of these numerous sacco matatus decides to deplane its occupants right in our path. So we wait, And wait. Hooting is not helping, that H200 is not in a hurry to move. We keep waiting. Eventually it moves, and the Modern Coast bus makes a right and disappears, the Coast Bus in hot pursuit. What about us? ANOTHER goddamn matatu blocks us, AGAIN vomiting its passengers on the road. Lord give us patience. It is another 10 minutes before we are able to make the right turn as well. The other two buses are nowhere to be seen.
Smooth progress… a good drive… The engine sounds like it has an exhaust leak somewhere (high mileage vehicle, don’t forget), but the turbo comes in nice and whiny in fourth gear about halfway across the green band and pulls with a convincing surge. Ahh, what is lie without boost? As we approach Tee Jay’s hideout at Sema Plaza, we try hooting but there is no one to be seen (tell us where you were, hehe), so clearly there are no Mombasa Rd passengers, and so we keep going, nice and easy, up to Machakos junction, our first stop. There are passengers to board.
One discussion I had here was whether or not the Scania F310 6×2 has controllable air suspension at the back. I confirmed it firsthand that it does (thanks for that clarification, Pecks). As we were preparing to leave, there was a hiss and a puff and the back of the bus went up about five inches. Niiice!!! Join the A109 traffic and continue to lose altitude towards the coastline until Konza where lo and behold, what do I see? A white Gemilang. KCE 044L. And three vehicles ahead, I see an unmistakably dark-yellow bus that was undoubtedly KBU 949S. Interesting… Was I about to witness the makings of an 80km/h rat race?
Sadly, no. The Gemilang moved first, switching to the right and taking several vehicles in one hit (pun not intended), including the Coast Bus. We made our move as well but oncoming traffic put us right behind the Coast Bus. Teren! The right lane cleared momentarily and the Coast Bus made its move, skipping a truck and swinging back left, leaving us trapped behind the truck. By then the Gemilang had passed two more vehicles and was steadily gapping us with a clear road ahead of him. We were stuck behind the truck for a while, with overtaking opportunities presenting themselves at inappropriate locations (blind corners), but kudos and much applause to our driver for not falling into the temptation of overtaking dangerously just to keep up with his fellow F310 helmsmen. However, this meant that the Coast Bus had manoeuvred its way to the front of the queue and it woo was enjoying the convenience of an open road ahead. By the time we made our pass, the yellow dot was disappearing over the distant horizon. It was the last we saw of it until Mtito Andei. The Gemilang was long gone.
Did I say our driver was a gentleman? He became a bit too much of a gentleman, especially after we passed the still-fresh accident scene where Buscar suffered an unimaginable tragedy. We maintained a speed oscillating between 55 and 65 depending on traffic conditions. I already knew I was going to reach Mombasa at night, so I wasn’t in any particular rush. The other passengers were easy as well, chatting, napping, just chilling… a very relaxed drive. You’d think it was a Sunday afternoon.
Until all hell broke loose. One passenger was a mother travelling with her child and she made the grave mistake of forgetting her stash of Pampers in the bigger piece of luggage that was stowed away on the far recesses of the rearmost boot. The early signs that something was amiss started as a distant whiff of what smelled like a particularly malodorous fart. I wanted to dismiss the crew who were lurking around the engine area to tell them to please ruin the environment at the back of the bus and not interrupt my breathing comfort here in the VIP section. Thank God I held back because they too started sniffing the air like wolves on the spoor of a deer and frowning.
“What the hell is that?”
The driver too had noticed that the air in the bus was approaching sewer quality.
“Sorry guys, really sorry. Oh, I’m so sorry, my son has made a stool and I totally forgot to unpack his Pampers from the big bag so I can’t change him”.
We all turned around to see a visibly flustered woman making her way to the front of the bus, looking apologetic. The stench that accompanied her by this point was so thick you could almost see it as a brown mist hanging in the air.
“Where is the bag?”
“It’s in the boot, back left. Driver please, I’m so sorry; can you please pull over I get it?”
The speed with which that bus was parked at the side of the road would have made Ken Block proud. Apart from the slight discomfort (all windows were summarily opened), everyone was easy and we all told the lady to take her time changing her little one, we understand the ways of the world. Really, if all bus passengers were as understanding as the lot I travelled with, there would never be any complaints in this group.
Away we went to eventually drive into Mtito at 45km/h (driving like a Christian, our driver). As we approached the Dreamline stopover, we were overtaken by… yes, you got it right, the yellow KBU 949S, powering its way out of Mtito towards Mombasa. Hot on its heels was KBS 155D (someone guess the make and company); from where it came, I have no idea. Oh well. Arrivederci mes amis, I will see y’all by the seaside.
Commercial break, during which the errant left wiper (local fabs!) was put back in position as the bus got a facial using Dasani (matatu kids, learn something. This is how you wash a bus in style, with pH-neutral mineral water, not strongly acidic soda! Plebs!) and we were off again, this time with a new driver.
The difference was immediately noticeable. Our new captain still maintained Scania’s much-vaunted green-band driving technique but he was more aggressive with it. As darkness fell, we started stringing together lines of trucks with an expertise that made me smile. Now we were cooking!
He made short work of the Mtito – Voi stretch, pausing briefly at Voi, before assaulting the potholes again with all three axles; hunting down the sea salt with a single-mindedness I only see in Subaru drivers. This man meant business.
Taru. Why oh why? The grandmother of all truck messes on the grandfather of all untarmacked roads combined to frustrate the hell out of our otherwise inspiring progress. Crap! The heat. The dust. The darkness. The blinding light. And the goddamn highway buses: they’d all overtake together and come right into our path, forcing us to stop. The first one would squeeze in between us and the truck they were overtaking, only for us to see another. And another. And another. Eight bloody buses all trying to squeeze in a space that was barely sufficient for the first bus alone. Arrrghhh!! Sometimes these traffic jams, just like the accidents, are your entire fault. Ni nini bana?
Anyway, anyhow. Taru was passed, we caught up with KBA 139N (guess make and company) which then proceeded to gap us every time we hit the 80km/h speed limiter. However, you do not battle a Scania and expect to win, at one point it will all come together nicely for the Scania: the engine will be on full boost, there will be an uphill slope and the errant offender will be in the wrong gear at the wrong speed and the Scania will sail past you like you can’t believe and all we will say is “Sayonara, bitch, heshimu wazee”
We got to Mombasa some minutes to midnight. I check my Facebook and see Jervis’ comment:
“Gemilang iliwawacha wapi?”
Surprise, surprise; two minutes after we arrive, guess who comes rushing into town like the hare that fell asleep and got passed by the tortoise? KBU 949S. We overtook him somewhere in the Mariakani traffic jam kama amezubaa and he paid the price.
Trip: 9.3/10 (I thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it again, minute by minute, mile by mile)
Vessel: 6/10 (the bus is old, tukubali ukweli)
Entertainment: 5/10 (I don’t really care about such things but ni radio pekee ndio iko)
Timekeeping: 9.6/10 (the bus was ready to leave by exactly 1 p,m and left at 1.03 p.m. Stopovers were neither a waste of time nor were we rushed)
Driving skills: Driver 1 – 74%, Driver 2: 95% (si uwongo, the kind of skill this guy has nimeona Eldoret Express peke yake. Marks awarded for consistency, calculation when overtaking, courtesy to others, use of instruments, smoothness of technique in acceleration, braking and gear shifts and also driving posture. How a driver sits behind the wheel matters as well)
Watch out for Phase II, to learn what happened on the return leg