So it finally got here, my Toyota Kluger! After 3 months of patience, I am now cruising the roads of Nairobi in my new beast, straight from Japan!
I started looking for a car as soon as I got to Nairobi. The challenge in Nairobi is to find something reliable, as stories about people getting conned when buying cars in Nairobi are numerous.
Due to the state of the roads in Kenya (improving, but still with a long way to go), and the propensity of Kenyans towards reckless and/or drunk driving, people here are generally skeptical about buying cars that have been used in their own country. Car dealers that import used cars from abroad, use the words “never driven locally” as a stamp of quality at every occasion possible, and any car salesperson will make sure to emphasize those words thoroughly when presenting a vehicle to a potential buyer.
After having been presented a significant number of cars, and after hearing the words “never driven locally” a couple of times each time, I decided that Kluger was the car for me. Remaining was the question of reliability.
It was therefore a relief to discover that an old friend and former flatmate of mine had entered the car import business. At least that meant that someone I can trust, could get me the never-driven-locally car I wanted, and get it through the kafkaesque bureaucracy at the Mombasa port.
Toyota Kluger is also known as Toyota Highlander – a sleek and elegant mid-size SUV – just the kind of car you want to drive in Kenya. Although improving, large parts of the road network is still in disrepair, so to get anywhere off the main roads in Nairobi and between the major cities, a 4WD is still advisable. When it comes to the choice of manufacturer, every other car on the roads in Kenya is a Toyota, so spare parts are easily available, at a reasonable price.
While waiting for the Kluger to arrive, I bargained a really good deal for hiring a Toyota Fielder (of course, as Kenyans are crazy about their Toyotas!). Driving that one around was a constant reminder of why a 4WD is a necessity!
Although the road quality in Nairobi has improved beyond recognition since my first arrival in 2002, huge and numerous potholes are still a frequent feature on many non-key roads. As maddening traffic jams are an integral part of the Nairobi way of life, small dirt roads, and “missing links” (barely drivable, untarmacked road reserves, once intended as major highways) become a necessary evil in the lives of many motorists facing the unbearable rush hours. Although you may get through many of those roads in a small car too, the ride is infinitely more comfortable in an SUV.
Aggressive driving is required to get anywhere in Nairobi. Try and be polite and considerate, and you’ll simply find yourself stuck, as the roads are ruled by the law of the jungle. The bigger the car, the less bullyish you need to be, though. People tend to back off for the big beasts, so size does indeed matter in Nairobi!
Fuel consumption may be slightly higher than on the Fielder I was first driving, and for an environmentalist like me, that is indeed a dillema. Nairobi is not Europe, though, and comfort matters. So does the ability to get around, not to mention on some of the smaller roads outside Nairobi – roads that the travel-savvy will inevitably encounter.
Until further notice, it is therefore my clear opinion that a Toyota Kluger is one of the most awesome vehicles a person can drive in Nairobi! So far, I’m enjoying it massively, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon! 🙂