Want to do some cross country safari, Kenya style? In lieu of a bus, what about the matatu option?
Depending on who tells you, the kiswahili word matatu means either 'taxi' or 'to squeeze' . Both definitely apply to the popular mode of transport in Kenya: The Matatu.
This picture certainly represents my lasting image of the matatu. A man (called a 'tout') fingering a wad of notes as he hangs precariously out the rear door of a battered old van, that is already chock full of customers.
Why is he doing this? He is trying to entice more people to get in!
Matatus screech around the city and the rougher parts of town quite recklessly, competing with each other for speed and for business.
They toot blaring musical horns ( now this link will not work. but when it doesn't go up to the Address bar, left click on the link so that the link is now highlighted. Then right click your mouse, and press copy. Next go up to File. Left click it and select Open. Right click the mouse to be able to press Paste and paste the link into the blank space. Once the link is pasted, press OK and voila you can hear the horn of our childhood!)
OK, back to safari! A trip on a matatu can appear festive and quaint, with livestock attached, but they are frequently dangerous.
I only remember going on a couple of matatu rides myself. We caught one with our parents in Mombasa as teenagers. It wasn't our first transport choice. If memory serves me, we were simply desperate to get from a crocodile farm to our holiday house. ( is that right Mom and Dad?)
To hail a matatu, hold out your hand with your palm placed down, or wait at the assigned pick up points. Each matatu has a driver and a 'tout' (the guy who drums up the matatu's business). With competition stiff, several 'touts" may squabble over you, or even forcibly chuck your luggage on top of their vehicle. When in a matatu you are never really sure of the time you will arrive at your destination, because the matatu can drive around for hours trying to fill up. You are crammed in like a quality brand of tinned sardines, sometimes more than double the van's legal capacity.
Just recently, matatus are starting to be quite harshly regulated because of the many lives that have been lost in matatu crashes, and because its industry is corrupt and spiralling out of control.
Look, ummmm..... I've been thinking. I wouldn't dream of robbing you of the matatu experience, but I may just catch the train and meet you there, if it's all the same. See ya! =)