Friday, March 13, 2009

Race up the Dual Carriage Way

I only have about 40 kilometers to my destination up the dual carriage way (divided highway with two lanes in each direction) but it can prove to be a white knuckled trip. It’s mid afternoon and the African sun has been doing its job. If I don’t get going soon I will have it in my eyes! I creep through town in slow traffic to get to Waiyaki Way. Once there, the challenge of being fully aware of all your surroundings is upon me.

I make a left turn into the near lane. Being a colony of England, Kenyans drive on the left. I ease around the matatus that have half pulled over to the side to fill their vehicles for the race. It’s already a slight incline and I notice the Pajero whizzing by me on the right. He would have taken the left lane had I swung wide. At least I hope he would have. I push from second gear into third, assessing the lorry in the lane in front of me, he’s probably going about 30 miles per hour; I check my mirrors and glance over my right shoulder. If I shift to fourth I should be able to make it around him before someone comes zooming up behind me.

The vehicles that share the dual carriage way range in speeds from 20 kilometers per hour to 120 kilometers per hour. Additionally there are bikers along the sides and pedestrians looking for a chance to dart across. From time to time there is a donkey cart, it’s square flat bed about the width of a small car, usually two wheel and some kind of load; hay or furniture. Since the shoulder isn’t very wide and sometimes it’s not paved, the cart is usually either partially or fully in the outside lane. The hardest parts to drive are a couple of the steepest inclines where the tarmac is more the texture of hardened lava that cooled as it was poured, with ripples and deep ruts.

It seems that everyone is racing to get to their destination. But most of the distance is uphill, climbing to the ridge of the Great Rift Valley. “Important” people in Mercedes or SUVs whizz by with their professional drivers handling the dodge and weave obstacle course. Average cars can keep a good pace of 80 or 100 kilometers an hour if they’ve been well maintained. There are also ancient Land Rovers or old lorries that might have a bit more challenge with their diesel engines. They huff along, making better headway when the climb isn’t so steep.

Folks know where the police checks usually are and the slow down for them. I avoid eye contact behind my dark glasses so I won’t get pulled over. I’m not doing anything wrong, like talking on the phone or driving without a seat belt, but I will get asked for a bride anyway. I edge the car through the spiked barriers barely far enough apart to get through.

If I stay in the slow lane I will come up behind the crawling trucks. But if I stay on the inside I may become the obstruction that is not fast enough to get out of the way for those finishing first. Besides, I am running this race too. I may not win, but I want to finish. So I do my share of metering out how quickly I can get around the slow lorry or if I shift right down to second in order to keep from plowing into someone or being plowed into.

I’m relieved to get off the highway, but I still have some distance to go. The country road I take from there has no paved shoulders and only one lane in each direction. It has much less of all kinds of traffic and obstacles but there are unmarked speed bumps thrown in here and there. But at least I can see farther since its more flat or even downhill and there is much less traffic. Once I turn into my lane I have only 3 kilometers to go, but the road is so bumpy that I barely get into third gear.

Fifty minutes later, I arrive at my destination. Please, a glass of water and a chair for just 5 minutes while I thank God for another trip without accident or breakdown.

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