Hints and Tips

Travel Hints and Tips for Kenya

Travel Hints and Tips for Kenya

Health Regulations

Kenya is as healthy as anywhere else in the world, perhaps more so, provided a few elementary precautions such as mentioned herein are appositely observed.

First Aid for Motorists

Delivery of effective first aid is essential for motorists and is a consequential determinant of the severity of injury, and assistance in time received may drastically improve the chances of survival.

Motoring Hints for Kenya

Driving is perhaps the most wonderful way of getting around in Kenya, and the best way to discover the scenery and varied landscapes; where one minute you are in the twenty-first century on smooth tarmac and the next you are in the bush. Still and all, very few countries in Africa could rival the ecological gamut of Kenya. One thing that Kenyans can agree on, is that while the momentous improvement in road condition has really enhanced the experience, the conduct of drivers does not seem to have conformed to these conditions. Along the new strips of blacktop criss-crossing the country, intended to make the object of travelling across the counties easier and more attractive, you will see familiar road signs and road markings, some in the right place, some in the wrong place, some being obeyed and most being flagrantly disregarded. It is little wonder, then, that Kenya’s roads are agreeably dangerous. “The best advise I ever heard given to a motorist in Kenya on how to cope with the roads and the traffic was: “Expect anything. Depend on nothing” – Gavin Bennett. So the best advise you could get as a driver in Kenya is to always drive defensively! Never assume that the other driver is always going to drive carefully. And considering today’s cars easily musk the sensation of speed and that many of our cars are so comfortable to travel in, making it often difficult for drivers to judge how fast they are going, best have some degree of alertness and patience to avoid a nervous breakdown.

One key to surviving and motoring happily through the roads, as Gavin Bennett outlines, is simply patience: patience with the driver who stops in the middle of the road to talk to a friend or take passengers; patience with the character who appears on the wrong side of the highway on a bend; patience with the queue jumper whose car is covered with battle scars; patience with the policeman who stops you on the only road for 100 miles around and asks you where you are going; patience with the donkey and cart that slow you to a crawling pace up a long hill; patience with the driver who indicated right…and turns left. The fast growing economy in Kenya has brought with it very slow moving cars. In such a situation where traffic jams in most major towns in Kenya now make molasses look runny, where fast and modern cars are increasing in the tens of thousands each year, the congestion come with annoyances, but it is a symptom of a boom. Car sales in Kenya are on the rise. It then is an extremely rewarding experience for many car owners to get an opportunity to enjoy a drive out of town, to the rural countryside. The newcomer driver would be sensible to prepare himself equally well for these different driving conditions, and be especially gentle with the accelerator pedal until one has learnt to recognize and handle the various precarious driving styles…and so on.  The city roadways make for good practice.

Guide to the Perfect Driving Position

Keep Calm and Alert

Having considered the general outlook of motoring in Kenya, let’s consider next how to keep calm and alert in dealing with the unexpected and with the police. Just about anything can come out of nowhere along the roads in Kenya.  The regular driver in Kenya is now familiar with the foolhardiness character of the boda-bodas, appearing on the wrong-side of the road; which are the trending addition to what was an otherwise robust line up of menaces on the highway. One key to surviving is to give yourself a reasonable safety margin in front and behind your car. You need to be able to think ahead and respond in the right way. Afford yourself a 2 sec margin (30 metres) which should give you enough time to react to the mistakes of other. Develop a habit of continually checking your mirrors to see what is going on around you.  It may take sometime to get accustomed to the idea of scanning the road ahead and continually checking your mirrors, but once you master these skills you will be in a comparatively stronger position to react to unexpected actions of other drivers and road users.

“The police usually exercise the greatest good sense in their interpretation of the law, but sometimes enforce the letter of the law with no consideration for extenuating circumstances. Motorists must develop their own sense of touch and judgement in their dealing with the police, and would be well advised to use courtesy and good humour as their general pitch. It is not exaggeration to say that if you make a policeman angry he will throw the book at you on a minor technicality, while if you make him laugh he may wave you happily on. The policing of Kenya’s traffic is basically limited to foot patrols in urban centres, and road blocks that consist of a sign in the middle of the road and two batons of spikes staggered across the lanes. To the visitor these might appear confusing and alarming, but in practice they are merely routine, concentrating mainly on commercial vehicles and illegal movement of goods. Motorists should stop and enquire what they are required to do unless clearly instructed otherwise. As a general rule, speed limit in towns are 50 kph normally and there is a 100 kph blanket limit on open roads more as a general rule than a rigidly enforced limit. There are radar speed traps in operation on the major highways in Kenya, but the usual motorist in unlikely to encounter more than one is a month’s driving”.

Motoring Trend Alerts

The first and last part of your journey are usually the most dangerous stages of a journey. During this time, most drivers are either excited about the new found freedom of driving outside the city, or this is the time when drivers feel the need to test the limits of their cars and driving skills. Don’t ride the wave, keep a cool head, watch your speed. Thankfully, the climate is warm throughout the year in Kenya.  However, it can be hard to see the road ahead when you are driving into bright sunlight at sunrise or sunset.  Slow down and be aware of the traffic and possible hazards around you. Visors and sunglasses are helpful when driving in bright sunlight. Doing the right thing on the road can save you upto 25% of fuel use. The way you drive speaks a lot about your attitude and thinking.  Showing consideration for other road users dramatically increases the safety of all users.  It can also save 25% of fuel use, while encouraging other drivers to drive meetly.

Travel Quotes - "Among all the machines, motorcar is my favourite machine" - Amit Kalantri - Motoring Hints for Kenya

Fuel Saving Tips

It always comes sooner, and drags out longer, but never averted: the price of fuel, much like the learning curve, seems to assume the same familiar upward trajectory.  The weeks following any major announcement in the industry are always unsettling, sometimes fever peak, as motorists await the prognosis of new fuel prices – from negotiations they are not party to. The announcements come and go, good or adverse. If an increase happens, we sometimes deliberate whether to radically reduce our mileage or adjust our travel plans. The flow of global fuel prices is anyone guess; but if fate and fortune look on with favour, Kenyans might enjoy cheaper and stable fuel prices with the exploration of oil by Tullow in Turkana. Until such a juncture however, we could all benefit from some savings in fuel costs.  Doing the right thing on the roadside dramatically improves the safety of all road users, and speaks alot about your attitude and thinking; and rather more importantly, doing the right thing on the road could save you a ‘shilling or two’, and get you to your destination greener and happier.

1. The average engine requires only 30 seconds of idling to circulate oil.  While it is tradition to idle the engine for a while before you commence your journey, it may not be really beneficial to do so. Driving is the best way to warm your car.

2.Avoid idling your vehicle. Turn off your engine when you’re stopped for more than 60 seconds, except when in traffic. The average vehicle with a three-litre engine wastes 300 millilitres (almost 1 cup) of fuel for every 10 minutes it idles.

3. Adopting a smooth driving style – accelerating and braking gradually – can save you upto 10% of fuel used.  Harsh accelerating and braking tends increases consumption, which can be up to 30% more fuel and it expedites tear and wear.

4. Adopt a smooth braking style.  Braking simply stops a momentum the car has used up fuel to build.  It may not be prudent to avoid braking all together, but one way to do it better is to be attentive on the road, which will assist you see what is going on around you, to get your foot off the gas and start braking early.

5. The times of changing gears could not end sooner for many people.  Manual transmissions are slowly becoming a thing of the past despite the fact that they are generally more fuel efficient.  If you still take pride in driving your stick shift you can save on some gas by changing your gears at a lower rev to a higher gear. The higher the engine revs the more the fuel consumption. An engine speed of below 3000 rpm saves fuel. Maintaining around 2000 rpm is optimal and best.

6. Keep your speed down. Vehicle emission is lowest at speeds of 80-100 kph.  It can cost upto 25% more in fuel to drive at more than 100 kph compared to driving at 80-100 kph. Where traffic patterns permit, allow your speed to drop when you travel uphill, then regain your car’s momentum as you roll downhill.

7. Take the time of day into consideration to avoid sitting in stop and go traffic which is the biggest waste of fuel there is.  Plan ahead, and get travel info on the best times for routes. Look ahead while you’re driving to see what is coming up. And keep a comfortable distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. By looking closely at what pedestrians and other cars are doing, and by imagining what they’ll do next, you can keep your speed as steady as possible and use less fuel. It’s also safer to drive this way, and easy to maintain a rhythm.

8. Maintain the right tyre pressure. Low trye pressure will make the tyres drag and use more fuel, much like dragging a bean bag up the hill. Check your car manual to see the optimal tire pressure for your car, or alternatively, check on inside of the drivers (near the latch) for a sticker that specifies the correct and ideal pressure. Bad roads, high altitude and high temperature also put a greater strain on tyres. Increasing tyre pressure slightly above manufacturers indicated level ameliorates all these problems. A recommended increase of 0.5 psi per 1,000 feet above sea level. The higher pressure helps dissipate heat, makes the tyre more resistant to punctures and protects the tyre structure and wheel rims against the thumps these will inevitably receive from potholes and corrugation. 

9. The typical tyre has a life of around 45,000 kms, but this can vary depending on the type of tyre (and compound), individual driving styles, local climate and the type of vehicle the tyre is fitted to.  At 120 km/h, your tyres will wear out twice as fast as when you drive at 70 km/h. If your tyres are under-inflated by 20% tyre life can be reduced by 30%. Do not inflate your tyres above 40 psi or 280 kPa. When tyres get hot from driving, the pressure will increase even more.

10. Use air conditioning sparingly. Air conditioning can increase a vehicle’s fuel consumption by as much as 20%. Open the windows when you’re driving in the city, and use the flow-through ventilation system with the windows up on the highway. If you do use air-con, use the re-circulate option to reduce the impact.

Overlanding in Kenya.  Image Courtesy of Land Rover Kenya
Overlanding in Kenya. Image Courtesy of Land Rover Kenya

Overlanding in Kenya

“The intrepid seasoned Kenya driver can get a saloon car through conditions that make the visitor blanch. But no matter how skilled they are, or how much damage one is prepared to inflict on the car, vast areas of Kenya will be simply out of reach – unless one has a fully-fledged four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle”. No real off-roader can manage without one, and once the 4WD capability is there, whole new vistas of a wild and wonderful country are opened up. But beware. A 4WD car is not a magic carpet. It is an uncomfortable, expensive, fuel-guzzling beast that is slow and subject to the same forces of gravity as any other vehicle. It has limits. Indeed it is fair to say that apart from its versatility – its ability to climb steeper slopes, ford deeper rivers, hurdle larger rocks and plough through thicker mud – the 4WD vehicle is worse off than the 2WD in virtually every respect. So unless you are really willing to use its capability, save your money (and your posterior) and stick to a robust 2WD car for most safaris. For every bit you gain in versatility you lose a bit somewhere else – lower speed, higher fuel consumption, greater discomfort and higher buying price. The most important point to remember for newbies to 4WD is to realize that 4WDs are specialized vehicles. They are hard, tough, ponderous creatures and need to be treated accordingly. Their gearboxes are not designed for quick sporty changes. Their wheels and suspension are like those of a truck, and not designed for high speed cornering. It is also important to note that just as a 4WD will get you out of a lot trouble. An ordinary car will get hopelessly stuck before you get too deep to walk out, or too far away from help. By contrast, the 4WD car will keep going until you are in so deep that you cannot walk out. It will lure you a long way off the beaten track, a long way from help. The dividing line between adventure and disaster gets very narrow indeed. You can broaden this again with sensible preparations, precautions, a responsible attitude, and leaving margins for error.

Driving a 4WD vehicle to its full capabilities is no less an art than driving a race car. It’s different from ordinary motoring, and requires practice and experience. A couple of points will set the newcomer off to a good start. The 4WD vehicle is basically a truck. Drive it with the same deliberation. Most 4WDs have their handbrake attacked to the propshaft, not to the wheels. It is essential that the vehicle be brought to a complete halt before the handbrake is applied. When driving over very rough ground, the steering might jerk suddenly, and if you have wrapped your thumbs around the steering wheel rim you could break them. Grip the steering firmly with your fingers, with your thumbs pressed against the face of the wheel. Many people seem to consider it a failure if they engage four-wheel-drive before it is absolutely necessary to avoid getting stuck. This is nonsense. 4WD should be engaged as soon as it will benefit the vehicle’s handling or performance, and, of course, disengaged as soon as that benefit ceases to operate. For example, on a slippery mud patch where there is danger of getting physically stuck, 4WD will reduce the chances of skidding and make the vehicle easier to control. Over very rocky ground which the vehicle will cross with jolts and bangs at speed, low ratio gives the driver the control and power to progress gently sparing the suspension and the engine from unnecessary strain.

I-Venture Club – 4×4 Tip: How to tackle muddy tracks in your 4WD

A Few Hints

Keep the vehicle in good condition, service frequently, check and double check key points. Concentrate on essentials before you indulge in the luxury of frills: a basically sound engine and suspension; a well maintained cooling system; and first class heavy duty tyres with at least two spare tyres and/or the equipment to repair punctures yourself. You must also have a comprehensive toolkit (box), a selection of spare parts and a mechanical manual on the vehicle if you can get one, whether you are a competent mechanic or not. Always have a margin for error or emergency. Take atleast one-and-a-half times as much as you think you will buy, by way of water, petrol and food. Those are three essentials that will keep you alive and get you home. Always let people know that you are heading off into the wild blue yonder. Tell them what route you plan to take and when you plan to get back. Then if you get into trouble on the way, there will atleast be somebody with adequate information to act swiftly in arranging your rescue.