The Bus to Kenya

[ 3 ] January 29, 2012 |

A longwinded bus ride tale…

How do you get from Kamonkoli, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya?

Option 1- fly from Entebbe to Nairobi-  Boring.

Option 2- Take a bus!

Before we left Kampala we went to the local bus station, looked at the various bus companies around and booked an “Akamba” bus ticket. At first we booked it between Kampala and Nairobi, then we changed it to a different day and upgraded to the “royal” bus, then we changed it again to leave from Jinja (half way back from Kamonkoli). This isn’t a fancy bus booking system. It was a hand written bus ticket, scratched out and rewritten all three times on the same scrap of paper. There was some sort of hand written logbook they kept on their end as well.  The final change was made totally last minute with Pat ripping around town early in the morning on a boda boda to get it done before we headed out of town to Kamonkoli. We thought we were super smart and we reserved the front row seats A1 and A2. This upgraded “royal” level bus ticket cost us a whopping $24. Note at this point- you always get what you pay for!

After our time in Kamonkoli we had a 2-day gap before our overland trip departed from Nairobi- perfect! Plenty of time to squeeze a 12 hour bus trip in, stock up on camping necessities and have time to see a bit of Nairobi. We accomplished one of those.

When the mission team headed back to the Entebbe airport in Uganda, they graciously dropped us off at a very humble bus station in Jinja. (I must say their faces seemed a bit concerned as they drove away.) Our bus was supposed to arrive at 4:00 PM to pick us up and carry on to Kenya. It was scheduled to be an overnight bus that would arrive around 4:00 AM. We were the only people waiting at the station for this bus so without anyone else to confer with about the timing- we just continued to wait and hope for the best.  5:00, 6:00, 7:00…

While all this waiting was going on I really needed to use the bathroom. The bus station didn’t have any bathrooms at all, but there was a “pay for use” long drop on the corner of the road. Unfortunately, we had intentionally spent every last Ugandan shilling we had since we thought we were leaving immediately and wouldn’t need them. It was only a few cents- but the attendant wouldn’t budge. I smiled, danced around, begged and pleaded even but nope! No pay- no pee. We opened our luggage and searched for any last coins we may have dropped in the bottom- no go. Another hour later I offered the lady US dollars and Euros- worth 10 times what she was asking- she refused those also!  Anyway- I survived but learned a valuable lesson- keep bathroom money just incase. (I hadn’t yet been overlanding, so I didn’t realize the normalcy of just peeing on the side of the road. If I’d only known.)

Four hours later, after the sun set around 8:00 PM, the bus finally rolled up. We ran outside and the operator jumped off opened the diesel covered extra fuel storage compartment (the luggage storage was full) and tossed our bags in. We hopped on and sure enough- A1 and A2 were waiting for us.

on the bus

The bus was the size of a typical coach bus with two seats on each side of one aisle. It was ok- but had seen better days, in 1980 maybe? What we didn’t know about our carefully selected front row royal seats was that they came with subfloor heating.  The engine compartment was right below our feet and the metal cover that was suppose to cover it wasn’t quite large enough- so we got to enjoy the steam and smoke puffing in our faces the whole way to Kenya.

We were grateful the bus showed up at all and were feeling pretty confident about our transportation decision at this point. Early into the trip we struck up a conversation with a few people sitting behind us. They were traveling with a group of young adults from all over Uganda that were on their way to an international Red Cross youth convention in Kenya.  Winnie and Jeremiah took us under their wing the following 26 hours doing a bit of translating and protecting.

Winny, Alison, Jeramiah, Pat

When we finally approached the Kenyan border the bus decided to run out of gas just shy of the immigration offices- so while the driver figured that out, he suggested we all just go ahead and walk across the border to speed things along. This was around 1:00 AM.  Passports in hand and leaving our packs on the bus, we got off and walked across the border and into Kenya with our new friend Winnie. After stamping out of Uganda we proceeded to walk across the bridge lined with semi trucks crossing to Kenya- our two white faces shining in the night caused a scene for the truck drivers. They one after the other systematically released their air brakes on us as we walked by, leaving a nice puff of smoke in our faces.  So, covered in soot and filth- we arrived in Kenya.


Visas purchased and passports stamped we eventually found our bus- and loaded back up as the last ones on board. (Ugandans don’t have to purchase a visa to visit Kenya.) Thinking the excitement was over I quickly fell asleep.

Around 3:00 AM I woke up- my feet were dangling in the engine. The metal cover had been removed and men were shining flashlights below. The bus was pulled over on the side of the road in a rural section of western Kenya. Apparently the clutch had gone bad. About an hour later a mechanic showed up and climbed under my feet into the engine. He confirmed it- the bad news, the clutch was done and we weren’t going anywhere. The good news – a rescue bus could come pick us up in only 8 hours!  This didn’t even faze the Ugandans.

broken down on the side of the road all night long

waiting on a rescue

Winnie and Alison

The majority of the people on the bus unloaded and walked to who knows where. Pat and I sat and slept until morning. My ankles swelled to cantaloupe size. We only woke up startled 50 times or so as other semi trucks and buses flew by at a speed and proximity that caused our bus to shake violently. Around 11:00 AM the other bus finally showed up! We grabbed our bags and threw them on the new bus- jumped in seats A1 and A2 and headed off. Rested and now daylight we were glad we got to see some of the drive through Kenya. That night around 5 PM we finally arrived in downtown Nairobi.

baboon crossing

We hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and were starving- so after checking in to our meeting point for the morning departure overlanding, we headed to the famous Carnivore restaurant for a giant meal of unlimited game meats.

medium rare

Carnivore- Nairobi, Kenya

So, option 1 or 2 next time- 2 in a heartbeat (but we’d take the “Kampala Coach” they flew by us all night!)

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Category: Africa (Sub-Saharan), Alison's Blog, Blog, Destinations, Kenya, Uganda

Comments (3)

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  1. Loved ready your story. Life is indeed an adventure. Keep on loving every minute of it!

  2. Russ Porter says:

    Hey Pat, Looks like there is a lot to see in Africa. Is Alison collecting recipes for a world wide cookbook? I bet you’ll have some interesting stories to tell about things that our local Kroger doesn’t carry! lol

  3. Derek says:

    i loved ur story.when r u in uganda again

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