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Untold stories of boat transport across the River Tana in Tharaka

Untold stories of boat transport across the River Tana in Tharaka
May 10, 2021 Eastern Newspaper
Residents of Tharaka preparing to cross the Tana river to Kitui county using boats

By Denis Mutua,

Connecting between Marimanti ward in Tharaka Nithi County and Tharaka ward in Kitui County about 300 meters from Kibuka grand falls is the Mpondoni channel of river Tana which the only means across is by use of homemade boats.

The Eastern Newspaper made a spot check at the busy channel and interacted with some boat operators at Mpondoni station and had an exclusive chat on the general operations of the daily activities of transport at the point.

According to Joram Mugambi popularly known as Mbuuru, boat operations at the channel are controlled by one family which has been operating here since time immemorial.

He says he has been ferrying people at the point for over 20 years now after taking over from his father who also used to ferry people at the same channel having learned the skills from their great grandparents.

The channel has four boats of about 6 people capacity and luggage which operates here on daily basis to cater for the need of people who gets into Kitui or Tharaka Nithi County through Mpondoni point.

Although Mbuuru has operated the boat business for a long, he revealed that it is not profitable at all and at times they do it as a way of helping locals and visitors who opt to use the route to avoid incurring costs for instance taking the Ishiara route which is a bit long and expensive.

An individual using a boat is charged an amount between Sh 50 and Sh 100 depending on your relationship or your agreement with the operator steering the vessel you board.

The ferrying of motorbikes is slightly higher with the owner paying an average of Sh 150 to have their mortar bikes cross the respective side.

“Considering the charges we impose on our customers here, one cannot really term the business as profitable since by the close of the day’s business, after sharing the earning with all members one may realize they have earned a mere Ksh 300 which is very little as per the economy,’’ he explained.

Another operator here popularly known as Kaka told The Eastern Newspaper that working on waters full time affects their health due to the cold environment they endure especially in the morning hours and at night.

However, according to Kaka the biggest threat in the whole operation is water-bound animals and reptiles like Hippos, crocodiles, and snakes which poses danger to both operators and clients.

Kaka said that Hippos may at times especially during the night attempt to bite or hit the front of the vessel while sailing on the waters which risk overturning putting their lives and those of clients at stake.

“I one day risked drowning with my two passengers aboard after the steering wood bar I was using was broken by a huge hippo that had followed us in deep waters of the river in the hours of the night. I was forced to find an alternative to get on the shores of the channel safely without the bar,’’ Kaka narrated.

He explained that they use unfixed seat bars in the boat as alternatives to steering wood bars in case of such dangers but revealed they do not inform the passengers when danger arises to avoid panicking which may further worsen the situation but instead remain silent as they fight on.

“In case of a mishap while on waters, it may be very risky to alert the passengers aboard the vessel as they may end up panicking which may result in others jumping off the boat further making the situation worse. Instead, we prefer to silently find a way out of the trouble without the knowledge of anyone else,’’ Kaka revealed.

Another threat faced by the operators is surging of the waters in the river at times which makes it hard to control the vessels across the rivers and thus puts the boats at risk of capsizing.

Also apart from using the channel for transport, the place is a worth visit from its scenic outlook like the near Kibuka falls, boat ride in the waters and also fascinating stories about the place in the community like the legendary Kibuka who is said to be living in the waters there with his family.

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