The track from Ras Kamboni to Bur Gabo is rough and the soil a shiny white where it runs close to the beach, or a muddy brown where it goes through the forests of short and hardy thorn trees.
If the three-and-a-half-hour journey was to be undertaken in an open-roof station wagon of the sort preferred by tourists, the sight of the wide, white beaches and the huge rocks in the blue water would have them gasping in wonderment.
But we are in a war, although the military prefers to call it ‘an operation’. There could be snipers in the thorn trees or mines on the road so we travel in Armoured Personnel Carriers.
That is why, every time we travel, a soldier’s helmeted head pokes out of the APC as two gunners keep watch at the gun turrets on the Humvees at the front and back of the convoy, just in case the snipers strike.
As the convoy arrives at Bur Gabo, a scenic trading centre by a fiord that forms a deep harbour, a soldier emerges and flags the convoy down.
The APC door opens, a soldier with a rough face appears and the men in civilian clothes are asked to identify themselves and hand over their documents.
« Welcome to Somalia, » he says casually after perusing through the documents proffered, and then everybody alights.
That’s when one notices that virtually behind every bush in the vicinity lurks a soldier. Before Operation Linda Nchi, Kenyans knew their army as a peacetime organisation with a huge budget; a force that spent a lot of its time training or polishing boots in barracks.
That is why the men and women who colour Uhuru Park during celebrations have of late been in the line of fire by the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee of Parliament.
In the wake of Operation Linda Nchi, there has been anxiety that there is little action in Somalia; that the army has witnessed nothing like the shooting and shelling seen on news clips from Mogadishu over the past 20 years. If you are excited by war, the one in Somalia has been « disappointing ».
Operation Linda Nchi is three-pronged targeting Kismayu; the north of that country through El Wak, central through Liboi and the south through Hulugho and Ishakani.
While progress through Ishakani has been good, and the troops easily made it all the way to Bur Gabo, movement through the Hulugho prong has been hampered by rains and the attendant mud.
Kenyan troops captured Kolbio, a town just inside the border from Hulugho, last week and have thus cut off one of the major transport corridors for Al-Shaabab.
In the Southern Sector, Al-Shaabab is believed to have fled towards Baddada, south west of Bur Gabo, and Quday, 10 kilometres away from Bur Gabo towards Kismayu.
In the days the crew from the Nation Media Group has been with the Kenya Defence Forces in the Southern Sector, we have yet to hear a shot fired or seen the wounded at war.
Instead there has been the daily phenomenon of soldiers walking around in full combat gear kitted with new M4 rifles, others bearing heavy G3 rifles and even more others manning the machine-guns mounted on the APCs and Humvees.
We have also seen their compatriots in the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia sporting seemingly new AK47s and ill-fitting uniforms. The mean-looking ones, for some unexplained reason, are always the ones manning the anti-aircraft guns.
How come, then, that there are no reports of troop movements, fierce fire fights, towns shelled out or artillery booming as it delivers hell to the Al Shaabab positions kilometres away?
Why is the progress towards Kismayu so slow that it sounds like a tired refrain to a song we have heard too often?
Ordinary soldiers would prefer faster action, culminating in the eventual capture of Kismayu, which would supposedly end Operation Linda Nchi.
Captain Abdikadir Ahmed, a soldier with TFG, was so enthusiastic about it last week that he said he was prepared to head to Kismayu in the course of the week.
Similarly, if it were up to Lance Corporal Samuel Njeru of the 40 Rangers Strike Force, the march to Kismayu would have taken less than the month the forces have been in Somalia.
For now, Lance Corporal Njeru and fellow soldiers are encamped at Bur Gabo, and it is said that Al-Shaabab are across the creek, less than two kilometres away.
The troops at Bur Gabo are constantly on the lookout, says Private Michael Njoroge, because although they are yet to see the enemy, they have been told he is dangerous.
« Taking Kismayu will be our greatest victory, » says Private Njoroge, a married father of two who acknowledges the soldiers’ families are worried because of the obvious dangers they face.
Corporal Njeru, Private Njoroge and Private Boniface Mugambi are however quick to point out that there is nowhere else they would rather be, and that they do not mind setting their personal affairs aside.
The troops in Somalia keep in touch with their families via Hormuud Telecom, the local mobile telephony provider, but certainly wish the war was over faster. But it will definitely take longer than they wish.
Major Seif S Rashid, the second in charge in the Southern Sector, says the fighting has to be preceded by lots of planning and the gathering of intelligence.
That’s why he spends a lot of time on the phone, constantly meets officers and listens to what the intelligence men have to say at the end of every day.
That’s also why the intelligence gatherers spend a lot of time on their laptops, sending reports to their seniors.
Part of the effort also involves taking aerial photographs of Al-Shaabab positions so that air strikes can be accurate and civilian casualties avoided.
Operation Linda Nchi has also been complicated by the nature of Al-Shaabab, the rag tag militia with links to Al-Qaeda and the pirates who have been operating off the coast of lawless Somalia.
As an enemy, Al-Shaabab is not a regular, trained and conventional army, but a rag tag outfit of mostly young men.
Their tactics are mostly in the hit-and-run way of doing things, even deploying one man with grenades and little regard for his life.
But it is clear that Al-Shaabab is likely to employ guerilla tactics as is evident from their retreat from strongholds such as Ras Kamboni in the Southern Sector, which they gave up without a fight.
This is a classic guerrilla war tactic where you withdraw in the face of a stronger enemy with a view to attacking when he is least prepared for you.
It is also a military strategy designed to prolong a war, hopefully to wear out the enemy when he is deep inside your territory and therefore more vulnerable.
In the end, the Kenyan troops figure the mother of all battles will be in Kismayu, where soldiers trained in urban warfare will put their skills to use.
These are probably the Special Forces toughies who spend the days listening to music on the solar-powered Panasonic Toughbook at the hill overlooking Ras Kamboni.
Indications are that the battle for Kismayu could mark the highlight of this war, and the soldiers certainly relish this opportunity to put their skills to the test.
« The worst day on the battleground is better than the best day in the office, » says Private Boniface Mugambi, referring to an inscription usually on the back of the T-shirts worn by the army.
That day is drawing nearer.
By John Ngirachu