I got a random plan to visit Mombasa. I also wanted to experience the SGR before the fuss dies down. The plan was to travel the next morning and to stay for 1 night in Mombasa. I took it up without hesitation. I travel to discover and to learn. This time round, it's about the SGR. My ticket was booked by Rita (CEO, Skylax Safaris) who went all the way to Syokimau to do it. For the sake of convenience, I hope they will open a ticketing office in the CBD. I was pleased to learn that by July, 2017 they will have established an online ticketing platform. This will come in handy to save people from the Mombasa Road traffic jam.
My plan was to wake up early and leave Thika Road at 6.00am; take a Mlolongo Matatu from Railways Bus Station that will leave me along the highway at syokimau. From here, I would figure out how to get to the terminus, probably by boda boda (a motorcycle). I had estimated that I would be there by 8.00am and have ample time to take pictures before the train departs at 9.00am. Well, shock on me!
Ngoma ti kahii (The devil is not a small boy)! My alarm did not go off. It clearly did not realize how much SGR cost the taxpayers. I opened my eyes and was greeted light! Confused whether I was dreaming or not, I looked at the watch and it was 7.00am. I had not packed since I had figured I would have ample time to do it in the morning. I did everything so fast Flash Gordon had nothing on me. In half an hour, I was ready! I set off at 7:35am.
Thika road is usually a mess in the morning on weekdays, what to do? In 1 hour and 20 minutes I was supposed to be in Syokimau boarding the 327 billion Shilling SGR. I decided to check the fare estimate on Uber; Kshs. 1350 from Thika Road to the terminus. Well, I didn’t have much of a choice, did I? I hailed it and in order to get there faster, we decided to use the by-pass via Ruai and Utawala. The road was clear at this hour and this gave me hope. When we got to the AP Training College, traffic started and we came to a complete stop. I had always heard that people got left by a plane and I wondered how, I think I was getting happens crash course. We continued on at snail speed. My Uber driver understood that time was not on my side and he would overlap every chance he got. At 8.20am we were on Airport North Road. The headache was trying to get to Mombasa Road. Traffic jam was a disaster here. It took us another 20 minutes to join Mombasa Road.
A short distance from JKIA, a small accident occurred when the car in front did an emergency stop. The vehicles collided and the owners decided to involve a cop. If the devil was a small boy, he would have given up by now. What do I do now? It was 12 minutes to boarding time. I paid the cab guy and started walking back looking for a boda boda. For a few minutes, I couldn't find any. I started wishing I had the power to stop time. Finally, by a stroke of luck, one happened to drop a passenger right where I was standing. I told the guy that we had 5 minutes to get to the terminus. Assuringly, he said “tutafika usipanick (we will get there on time, don't panic)”
I kid you not, these guys are Godsent. He used a strange dusty path and in 4 minutes we were at the terminus.
From this point, I channeled my inner Usain Bolt. I got to the entrance and showed my ticket, went through strict security checks and I was directed to where my coach was.
Almost everyone was seated inside except a few of us running around the last minute like typical Africans. I made it in the nick of time, boarding the train at 8.58am, and at exactly 9.00am, we departed.
Each ticket has your allocated seat number, so this makes it easy. Everyone in the train looked excited. I could bet that it was their first ride on the SGR. I was in the first class coach no. 2 and therefore at the tail.
My seatmate and I exchanged banter just to kill time and what came out strongly is the need for the SGR management to set some priorities for first class clients. 3,000 shillings is a big bump from 700 bob for the economy class. First class clients should have a separate check in, separate lounge, separate exit, complimentary snacks and some drinks to justify the price disparity. One should pay more for comfort and premium service. As it stands, the only difference between a first class coach and an economy coach is space or leg room if you will. A first class coach has a capacity of 72 passengers while an economy accommodates 118 passengers. The seats are super comfortable with a metal plate on the back of the front seat that serves as a small table.
I asked one of the attendants why there was no priority for passengers in the first class coach and he said that it was work in progress.
This means that after some time, things will change. He also explained that in July, there will be more trains operating the Mombasa-Nairobi route. The inter-county train that stops on every station will start operations in July. This means that in two months time, there will be another train in addition to the 9 o’clock one. Well, I guess they had to start from somewhere, right? They serve tea/coffee/chocolate and snacks at a fee.
I was amazed that the train was full to capacity. Some people had tried to book a ticket that morning but couldn't secure one. Everyone is running to ride on the SGR.
The train is very comfortable and the ride very smooth. It is exactly like a plane only that it doesn't fly. There is no noise from outside and one can't even tell the speed it's going at without reading the updates. The windows are completely sealed just like a plane’s. It is therefore difficult to get clear outside shots. The speed ranged between 113km/hr and 120km/hr.
When you ride on SGR, you get to appreciate the Kenyan landscape and vegetation. The beauty of our country is something to brag about.
The train crew kept updating us on where we were and which stations we were approaching. They explained about the landscape and told us more about the areas we were in, such as Tsavo East and West. This is amazing especially for non-residents or people who are not well travelled. The rail has amazing bridges that allow for free movement of animals. It’s almost a free game drive. Elephants are at close range. However, with the high speed one can only catch a glimpse and taking a picture is close to impossible. At exactly 1.30pm, we were at the Mombasa terminus. We established that the average time it takes to get there is 4.5 hours. Not bad. I now believe those entrepreneurs selling beach plots in Syokimau.
The exit is the same for both first class and economy class. The ticket has a bar code that is used to open an automated exit, so, do not lose your ticket.
Mombasa terminus is a sight to behold. It is beautiful all around.
There are matatus on standby waiting to ferry passengers to Mombasa town at Kshs. 100 only.
A taxi will cost Ksh. 2000 per car and uber is around 1500 bob to Bamburi. I however noticed that there is no restaurant or snack shop at the terminus.
The road from the terminus towards the highway is still under construction. You can see the edge of the ocean from here. This will make you understand the value of SGR as far as time is concerned.
It was only 2.00pm and I was already in Mombasa. Before now, this would have only been only possible if I had taken a flight or boarded a night bus. I couldn't wait to hit the beach.
The transfer guy was waiting and in 1 hour’s time, I was at Neptune Beach Resort.
I checked in and got assisted by a welcoming receptionist.
I was then shown to my room. My room was a standard category and amazingly, it was good enough.
I freshened up and rushed to the bar. Here, I ordered some snacks which are part of the all Inclusive meal plan because lunch had already passed.
Neptune Beach Resort has 3 floors. At the ground floor, there is a reception, a lounge and a shop. The restaurant is on the first floor overlooking the ocean. Passing through the lounge on the outside towards the beach is a swimming pool. Next to it is a bar and a mini forest of palm trees whose shade comes in handy for the sun beds. At the end is a wall that keeps you away from the activities of the beach, and a small exit.
The beach at Neptune Beach Resort is clean with no corals. You’re bound to get several invites from beach boys for boat rides.
As some guests played volleyball, I decided to relax and enjoy the evening breeze.
The staff members are welcoming, attentive and helpful. Meals are served on a buffet setting with many varieties. The resort has a lift to the rooms in case one does not want to use the staircase.
The next morning, I was up at 6.00am and already at the beach waiting for the sun to grace the ocean with its golden rays. This is always my favorite moment of the day. Glad to say it did not disappoint.
It is difficult to go back to Nairobi via SGR especially when you are doing a one night stay. To be at Miritini before 9.00am will require you to wake up at 5.30am, have breakfast and check out at 7.00am. Am not sure how the traffic in Mombasa is like. Who is waking up that early, especially when on holiday? When they incorporate a 1.00pm departure train, this will be very possible. For this reason, I had a flight booked to leave for Nairobi at 1.10pm.
I spent the morning hours walking at the beach and enjoying the manicured garden at the hotel.
I requested an Uber to the airport and I was there on time.
At 2.00pm, I was already in Nairobi, at JKIA.
SGR has made it possible to access the Kenyan coast cost effectively. Due to the few hours of travel, it is very possible to do an overnight trip to Mombasa. Once they introduce other train timings, 1400 bob will be enough for a return ticket. Their online ticketing platform is also coming soon and this will ease the hustle of driving all the way to Syokimau or Miritini to book a ticket. There are business opportunities at the terminus, e.g. setting up a restaurant, snack shop, curios, taxi and other edible goods.
Mombasa has moved closer. This is more motivation to #TembeaKenya
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