The 300km journey from Mombasa to Lamu can easily pass as one of the toughest expeditions south of the Sahara.
For many travellers, long journeys tend to be boring and must be accompanied by either reading, browsing through your mobile phones, taking beautiful photos of features along the way, or even sleeping.
The Nation has learnt that it’s extremely hard to find your sleep pattern or browse through your phone while travelling the Mombasa-Lamu route. But there are also scary moments and life-changing encounters as one man found out years ago.
“A bus we were travelling in stopped at Gamba, the first checkpoint. Here, police inspected the vehicle, passengers and their luggage. But things did not go well for one of the passengers,” says Salim Abdalla, a frequent traveller.
“It was an old man who unfortunately fell asleep during the journey and was left in the bus while all the other passengers had alighted for security checks,” he adds.
He was allegedly tortured and forced to run around like a mad man on a muddy road after being interrogated for almost half an hour. His only crime was failing to alight with the rest at the checkpoint.
In another incident, an official of Tawakal Bus Company recalls how they were almost shot by security forces when they stopped in the middle of nowhere to relieve themselves.
“We received a call that one of our buses had a technical hitch and could delay our passengers at Gamba. Once the police escort leaves the checkpoint before your arrival, you will have to spend the night there,” he says.
The mechanical hitch forced them to send a team from Mombasa to rescue the passengers.
“Despite our efforts, we were late and were forced to spend the night. As we looked for the nearest town centre, one of my colleagues was pressed and wanted to relieve himself. So we had to stop somewhere for him to pee,” says the official.
But as the man alighted to answer his call of nature, they were shocked to see two land cruisers speeding towards their direction. There was panic as it was not easy to tell whether they were police or militants.
“We could not move and within a blink of an eye, we were surrounded by police officers pointing guns at us. They were shouting and asking questions, suspecting that we could be militants,” he says.
Luckily, one of the officers identified them and calmed his colleagues, saying: “Waache hawa nawajua, gari yao iliharibika (I know them, their bus had a mechanical problem at the checkpoint).”
Taking of pictures during the journey is strictly prohibited. Apparently, sometimes passengers are accompanied by security officials who pose as travellers and only react when there is danger.
“If you are seen taking any pictures, you are treated as an enemy. It’s not easy to use your cell phone in front of authorities. You just admire the beauty of the landscape,” says another traveller, Fahim Suad.
“It’s also very important to always have your identification documents with you. Failure to do this means you will not pass any security checkpoint and may have to return to Lamu or Mombasa, depending on where you are headed. If you are travelling with a child, carry the birth certificate.”
The restrictions have reduced the number of travellers plying the route as a majority prefer using private vehicles or shuttles, which are faster.
The shuttles don’t have to be escorted by police when they get to Gamba. Some travellers also now prefer going to Lamu by air.