The prison breakaway


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Africa » Kenya » Central Province
October 15th 2011
Published: October 15th 2011
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For the story of the breakaway, how we were able to get photos of children in cells and how we become part of a gang, it is towards the end of the blog.

It was like a fresh air to come back to the civilization from the Masai village. You know, small things are building up your comfortable daily life. A simple thing like a mirror – to see yourself in the mirror it wasn’t the best view we have seen but to understand what we have been through. The reflection in the shop mirror showed absolute swollen lips (or sun burnt) of Chris and Diana still was picking up the small branches from the long hair. Actually we didn’t feel really comfortable to walk dirty (without a shower or some personal care under one week’s period) in Narok but happy to know that nobody knows us there (hopefully). But unfortunately some people did need to stand out us in the matatu and we don’t want to know what they did think! Actually, some friends did offer a ride to Naivasha and they were quite surprised that we look or smell much better than they did imagine (or it was a white lie).

This time we were heading to Nyahururu, Central Highlands and we needed to change the matatu. According “Lonely Planet”, the trip between these two towns would take 1,5 hours and we would make easily before the sunset. We are trying to avoid the darkness in Kenya since the safely pretty much goes out the window. We found a matatu at 4.30 pm which was going in our direction. The road was in a bad condition but the landscape was absolute amazing. You don’t really mind to sit and admire this wonderful scenario until the matatu did stop and everyone was running away to other one. We didn’t understand what happens but the driver informed us in English that the matatu is broken. Well, this is ok… but when we did walk to other matatu we did understand why everyone were panicking and running. The matatu was already over-crowded and you have to struggle for a better seat (if one exists). Of course we got the worse seats ever… in the back seat where were two others (there are three seats normally) already sitting and we should fit in with our backpacks.

We were sitting between two Kenyans like sardines in the jar and no fresh air at all because in front of us people were sitting on each other (dabble -deck). We did count that in the matatu fits 14 passengers normally but in this matatu was 23 passengers plus all kind of baggage. Maybe it isn’t so strange that the matatu is going in 20-30 km/h for the hill since Nyahururu is Kenya’s highest (2360m) major town, and it doesn’t surprise us that the matatu broke up for the second time and we needed to change again… but the situation looked same or maybe a slide better. We don’t know how (maybe that they did see our worried eyes) but we got the best front seats this time… and we didn’t care that we need to keep the backpacks on the knees all the way since there aren’t the people parts of the body.

Unfortunately we didn’t feel safe there since we couldn’t get rid of a drunk (or high on the drugs) guy. He wanted have 50 shillings from a “mzungu” because they are rich according him. We have never met such aggressive and demanding person in Kenya yet. The sun was already down and the darkness was darker in the middle of nowhere. Actually, we were quite scared of him because you never know what he’ll do next. We were really surprised that the people in the matatu didn’t cared at all and laughed as well… than you can understand they view of the tourists. Finally and luckily everything went all right but our conclusion is: “The Kenyans at night are more dangerous than the wildlife in the Kenyan’s Savanna”. The matatu didn’t break for the third time but we were scared that it would do it again. On the road many drunk men were passing the villages. We didn’t understand if it is a Sunday habit or it is really a problem in Central Highlands. When we entered the town (8pm by the way but we shouldn’t complain since the bus ride did cost 3,5 dollars) an attractive atmosphere leaps out in this small place. It was such a nice surprise and relief for us but the bus stations aren’t the best place to get off for a “mzungu” in the day light or darkness. We were so tired and annoyed that people did see that they shouldn’t offer a taxi or a ride on the bike, or something else.

Nyahururu has something special and own charms. Here you’ll find friendly people, less hassling, much cleaner than somewhere else and relaxing town in Central Highlands. Kenyan’s will come forwards to you and will say: “Jambo, karibu to Nyahururu” (Hi, welcome to Nyahururu) and your first though will be: “What he wants to sell or offer now!”, but actually these people are just friendly and don’t try to sell something. We did have a nice chat with few people and we didn’t know that it is possible to have a chat with Kenyan without to make a business for them. We found many small and cozy restaurants, cafes and shops. Our favorite lunch place in this town (if not in Kenyan) will remain “Jimrock” which tiny but clean, friendly service and cool atmosphere. They have wonderful chicken or beef stew for a great price as well (1,5 dollars/portion).

This area is really famous for Thomsson’s Falls fed by the Ewaso Narok River and it is worth to offer an excellent day trekking through this amazing nature. According “Lonely Planet” set back in an evergreen river valley studded with sharp rocks and screaming baboons, the white cataracts of Thomson’s Falls plummet over 72 meters and are the undeniable main attraction in the area. We can just agree with LP because it is quite touristic highlight and the tourists are streaming from the safari cars all the time. The scenery is just amazing and have own beauty as well. The trekking is quite short but isn’t really simple since it is a little steep and wet on some of the stones, and you’ll get wet as well so watch out the camera. Of course to walk down is much easier than to walk up but there are many nice places to take a break, drink water and just enjoy the forest sounds (birds, baboons, water).

We have realized that Kenyan isn’t explored of backpackers yet and it is rarely you’ll see a backpacker on the road. But the expensive tour companies are passing the roads intensively. Of course it becomes a little more complicated for us because we are easier to reach for the locals and we are getting more hassle than the company travelers.

It was a great surprise to see the road between Nyahururu and Nyeri because it was perfect and we did arrived some minutes earlier as well. There were a lot police controls which make sure that the matatu down have over-crowded passenger number and seat belts in the front. Well it was in the time to get some laws and rules in this country but seems that it is just in some areas of the country. However, the trip between these two towns was absolute amazing and the landscape once again fascinating. This road is going between two well-known in Kenya mountains, Mt Kenya (the second highest mountain in Africa, 5199m) and Ol-Doinya Lesatima (4001m). But in Nyeri isn’t going a big deal at all. It is over populated Central Highland’s town and the life is boiling. On every corner the Kenyans are selling maize, bananas, tomatoes, arrowroot, coffee and macadamia nuts. Many tour companies are coming to visit Aberdare national park and this it. Well, this is a town that you want to escape and be in the peace for a while afterwards because you’re getting overdose of hassling people here.

The jail breakaway (literally)

Getting up early to make sure we arrive in Eldoret nice and early, we head to the matatus station. We are greeted by a frenzy of drivers whom were all hoping to persuade us to go in their matatu and we were soon deep into negoation. The previous day we visited the vans to get an idea for how much it should cost for our trip and we found out 700 shillings to be the norm. One guy started with saying 900 shilling but we noticed that he wrote 700 shillings on our ticket (multi tasking is difficult for these guys). We told him we will pay what he wrote on his ticket and his mistake was soon all over his face.

So into the matatu with one other passenger we needed to wait until all the seats (14 seats total) were sold before we went on our way. Thirty minutes, then one hour and when two hours tick over our driver hops in saying ‘let’s go’ with urgency. This driver seemed to be a serious guy and we did have a good view of him since we were also in the front seat, his face was a nonstop-look of something between really angry and concentrating really hard.

As soon as we left the safety of the city (where speed limits are more controlled) we were both holding onto our seats for dear life. This guy had the van absolutely flying along the road and if anything slightly went wrong it would have been history for everyone. The speedometer did stop at 80 km/h but the speed just increased constantly (maybe it is good that we didn’t see the true speed but we could guess 140-150 km/h). The small mountain highway isn’t safe on that speed limit either. In our thoughts we were praying to get out of this matatu alive and safe. We knew from our previous trip that there were two police check points to the next town and we were praying that he would be pulled over for inspection.

We had a big sigh of relief when we come to the first police stop and we were waved to pull over, then what was better was the police officer when looking through his papers asked him fully park. The police woman disappeared behind our van with the papers and our driver quickly jumped out and followed along trying to plead his case.

What ever happened behind the van seemed to work in favor of the driver as we were soon back hitting 140-150 in an 80 speed limit with another 14 passengers packed in. We asked him three times if he could slow down but the only reply we got was that he was in a hurry to Nairobi and smiled. We pleaded with him that there are others passengers in the van and hope to make it alive to our respective destinations.

The last hope for us was the second check point just before the next town we arrive to (it is 2 hours drive between Nyeri and Nyahururu but we made it under 1 hour). In all honestly, we have never been so glad that the police pull over the matatu and then officer notice us and start to fire up a conversation. After five minutes talking to us about where we are from, where we have been etc he asks for the driver’s license and disappears. Within seconds the matatus sliding door opens and another officer jumps in, AK47 in arms pointing at our driver saying ‘drive to the police station’ (and he did drive 50-60 km/h to the police station).

We were in shock to see this but upon arrival to the station we are soon told what is going on. The drive has a warrant out for his arrest for several crimes he has committed including severe violence (would not tell the exact), reckless driving causing harm and previously not showing up to a court hearing.

So here we were, not having a clue what to do and waiting to find out how we are supposed to be getting to our final destination. An officer then approaches us and asks us to come inside and starts chatting to us and soon he was showing us around the police station, letting us go into dark cells, seeing the prisoners sprawled over the stone floors which included children.

After some time we were (and the other passengers) become inpatient since we were told it would take ten minutes and two hours had passed. Since the driver had everyone’s money we asked if we could get our share to continue to make our way. We were then told that he is in court and will be back soon. With hearing this one of the passengers went looking for him and quickly came back saying he is know where to be found.

Now this is quite possibly the most funny thing to happen – What the police said they done was tell him to go to court BUT they sent him to go by himself (well they did arrest the matatu but not the driver, lol). A guy who has previously been convicted for not shown up to court who also had several thousand shilling of the passenger’s money in his pocket!! We thought this was totally hilarious but the other passengers found this quite upsetting and become very angry themselves. We later found out that they believe the driver was shot dead after the not appearing to court for the second time (and his other convictions).

The other passengers, including us, soon formed a sort of gang (well we joined in for the ride and as we needed to get to Eldoret anyway) and were determined to get the money back. Now this was a long process and we all jumped together into another matatu that lead to the company’s headquarters. This drive for us seemed to be the most comfortable we have had in Kenya, we were part of a group who were on a mission and we knew that each of them would look after us with extreme care. We never felt so comfortable and safe to sit between strangers in Kenya because everyone was after the same thing – to get new tickets without to pay again… and nobody would like to rip of us. Well at the headquarters a lot happened but in the end each passenger received money for the entire trip and able to continue on our way. A final note from one of the more talkative passengers was ‘well my friends, it was a hell of a fight but we got there’.

These kinds of things are happening daily in Kenya and you never know with who you’re sitting in the matatu. Well we have learnt that the front seats in matatu have lead to an extreme experience and we’ll try to avoid these places to the next time… to avoid criminal people – it is a harder mission! We’re happy that we’re still alive… and karma exists.



Additional photos below
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15th October 2011

A public transport journey to remember...
...but for all of the the wrong reasons! Glad that you survived this experience with only a few shaken nerves, it could have been far worse.
15th October 2011
Children in prison

WINDOW TO A LOST SOUL
About as separated from freedom as you can get...only connection a small window looking out...you caught that moment...exemplary
16th October 2011
Children in prison

stranded in nyahururu
Good evening chris and diana, im glad to hear that after my intervention, you got to Eldoret safely. Being a gorvenment servant, i had to do everything within my reach to ensure that you got to your destination not only safely but also without paying an extra cent. I hope you will not forget me soon, especially after travelling with you in the very horrible journey from Nyeri to Nakuru. I miss your adoring hug diana, i hope i wil see once more. thanks

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