A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about transportation

A few hours in the lap of luxury

I'm not sure exactly how it happened. Indeed, I am still in shock and confusion at the whole situation. What I do know is that one minute we were sitting by the side of the road in Maxixe and the next we rolling North through the Mozambiquian countryside on a purple beast which is arguably the swankiest bus I have been on since Korea in 2005, and would be a luxury bus even in Europe. Even if not – it was, after all, the same basic design as buses I had used in Namibia and South Africa – it was certainly the nicest I have used in 'real' Africa: double deck, stewardess service, plenty of leg room, reclining seats, and real working air conditioning were all real 'wow' factors for such buses which are invariably lots of people (and chickens) squeezed tightly into narrow rows of seats, and broken windows the only chance of air con.

Having already been on a chappa (local minibus with the inevitable bits falling off) and a knackered old boat (a ferry of sorts) both crammed with people that morning, such service was, to say the least, unexpected.

But what was really amazing was the fact that there was no livestock at all on the bus, and most surrealy of all was that the bus was ¾ empty. I have never – never – been on a bus anywhere in Africa, North of the Sahara included, which has ever been so empty. Heck, I once even broke into a bus in a depot as i needed somewhere to sleep the night, and even that had more people on it! It is rare that I have even been on a bus which has 'only' been 'full' with the manufacturers specified maximum passengers on it: most buses have been significantly fuller. And to travel almost 4hours on such a bus in such spacious luxury with only a single passenger joining, is an event which even now is almost beyond my comprehension.

In truth, i have started to become a bit jaded with African travel and part of me is starting to desire to be back in Europe where transport (even British Rail) is generally reasonably punctual, efficient and comfortable. But one small incident in Mozambique has proven that African travel still has the occasional capacity to surprise me. Perhaps I won't leave just yet.

Posted by Gelli 13:22 Archived in Mozambique Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Wasting a week

Kenya is a strange place sometimes. Before i left for a couple of weeks, virtually every matatu had a video screen showing music videos to the 12passengers in the back. As previously mentioned these were often at high volume and even higher bass. Since I have been away, Nairobi city council came down with some legislation, ordering their removal. Astonishingly, this legislation has been adhered to, and the TV screens, source of much amusement and irritation, have all been removed. It is amazing how quick this has happened, and how thoroughly it has been done. But here is thing. The legislation was brought into effect with the aim of cutting down on noise – and noise pollution. Which of course has not happened in the slightest: matatu's now have no video entertainment but have cranked up the radio's/bass/sound systems to volumes even louder than ever. good thinking, Nairobi city council.

Today's news snippet – there hasn't been one for a bit, so it had to be about time - is a little corker. Allover East Africa, but especially Kenya, at any kind of government or official office, are signs proudly proclaiming 'This is a corruption free zone'. So far so good. The problems seems to be that certain offices have started complaining that they haven't been able to obtain these signs without having to pay certain people a little extra. Yup, you need corruption to get a no corruption sign.

As you might have guessed, I don't really have anything relevant - or even irrelevant - to say at the moment, and am just filling time between hospital appointments. And on that note, i'm off for some not-fun stuff.

Posted by Gelli 02:18 Archived in Kenya Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Timewarp transport

I felt like I was back in, well, lets just call it somewhere from a previous life and move on. Some travel experiences you love, others you are happy or content with, still others you just accept. Beyond that, there are certain experiences which are vaguely unpleasant, but you put down as a factor of travel and live with it (or, occasionally, pay obscene sums of money to avoid). Sometimes you can even find excitement in them when they are infrequent or new occurrences.

But certain experiences you just dislike: sometimes irrationally, sometimes not. In said previous life i had spent several periods in countries where shared taxis (knackered saloon cars, normally) are a fact of life and frequently overloaded. For reasons that are vaguely irrational, I have never been desperately bothered by minibuses or trucks which are crammed beyond belief, but have intensely disliked shared sardine taxis.

It was in just such a situation that i now found myself again, bringing back those memories - including the memory of how much I disliked them - and (despite being the youngest person in the car) instantly thought 'i'm just too old for this sh1t now'. And so there we were, in an ancient Toyota Corolla, which no longer starts without being pushed, has no suspension to speak of and with bits falling off &/or scraping along the road, barreling along at typically obscene Ugandan speeds on a bouncy road with plenty of obstacles – potholes, cyclists, pedestrians, chickens; that sort of thing – and several sheer drops just to add to the likelihood of death.

I later discovered there were 6 large men on the back seat, plus 3 children and some bags, but at the time i had no way of finding out. It was impossible to turn my head far enough sideways to look. I was sharing the passenger seat with a fellow idiot (a middle aged gent), 3 children and a goat, whilst there was yet another passenger squeezed between me and the driver on the drivers seat, making gear changes memorably jerky due to the number of extra knees and legs in the way.

In my younger days, such journeys were an exciting novelty until that novelty value rapidly ran out. Now they are the sort of thing I dread and will happily pay extra to avoid if i know about it in advance: call me old fashioned, but i've long believed that the driver should have a seat to himself. Especially when he is driving.

Posted by Gelli 06:22 Archived in Uganda Tagged transportation Comments (0)

A Boda-Boda Bouncy-Bounce


AS I bounced off the tarmac for the second time, everything suddenly went into slow motion.

Almost Hollywood style, in a way, and I became suddenly, unusually and acutely aware of my situation and I seemed to have hours or even days in which to ponder the future. Not that there was much to ponder: I was bouncing across a road, no longer on the boda-boda motorcycle taxi that I had been on less than a second earlier, and could see a metal pole rapidly approaching from one direction (absolutely typical – I somehow seem to be on a collision course with the only directional road sign in the whole of Uganda!) and a matatu bearing down on me from a different direction. And, of course, the tarmac also approaching me yet again. Pretty much all i had to ponder is what I would hit first (or, rather, second, as hitting the tarmac again first seemed a no-brainer). Oddly enough, the overriding thought I remember going through my head was “I don't care what he says, but i'm not f****** paying him after this!”

I'm not entirely sure what happened after that. The next thing I remember is being half wrapped round a pole trying to work out where I was, why I was there and what on earth had happened to my shoulder which was somewhat more painful than i remembered it being in the recent past and i'm sure hasn't always been at that angle. I then vaguely remembered having been on a boda-boda and almost in abstract wondered what had happened to it and the driver: Looking across the road I was suddenly aware of a crumpled lump of metal wrapped against a tree on fire. Hmmmm. This was probably not a good sign, and I concluded by thinking that i really DEFINITELY was not paying him now. Oddly, of the driver, there was no sign at all.

I was in Kampala, and for no specific reason except that after moaning about having to stay in Nairobi, I had managed to arrange with my Nairobi doctor to see one of his colleagues in Uganda as a once off, which gave me an entire 2weeks away from Nairobi. I had left pretty much as soon as possible on the first departure to anywhere I hadn't already been. Still lying on the floor in pain and a pool of blood - still wet, but both amazingly and scarily, it seemed not to be mine - I wryly remembered that I was due in the hospital tomorrow anyway, so I didn't have to make an extra trip to get my new injuries looked at. And just before it happened, i had been sent this great little cartoon about how my parents seem to think of me. It was almost perfect timing.

I stood up slowly – or tried to – whilst attempting to work out/remember what had happened. And promptly collapsed right into the metal sign post, and onto my newly bad shoulder, whereupon I got a millisecond of the most intense pain, heard a crunch sound and then all of a sudden had much less pain. Apparently I had popped my shoulder back in without even realising that it had dislocated. I tried to stand up again, successfully, and took stock: there were a few curious bystanders or cars watching, but in general very little attention was being paid to me or the now seriously burning tree, whilst the driver was still nowhere to be seen. I looked in the wreckage, the ditch and the tree, and definitely no driver. I still have no idea (or recollection) as to why we crashed. Realising there was not much else that i could do, I half shrugged, dusted myself off and gingerly limped down the road for a couple of hundred metres until i came across the next boda-boda, whereupon I negotiated a smaller fee with its driver, and continued on my way.

Posted by Gelli 06:04 Archived in Uganda Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Matatu's rule OK. Or something like that

Life in Nairobi just goes on and on, with predictable monotony. Transport in much of the world, especially the developing world, is always, erm, fun? Not necessarily for the first timer and novice traveler, but you adapt to the local styles and customs pretty rapidly. Nairobi is no different.

Traffic in Nairobi is the stuff of legend. Basically, if you don't want to get stuck in traffic jams, you must travel between about 3:13 and 4:07am on the last Monday of every month or move somewhere more remote. Like Western Australia. Attempting to move at any other time is laughable, and even thinking about possibly considering travel between about 06:30 – 10:00 or 16:30 and 20:00 means you are pretty much doomed. It's quicker to crawl. And probably safer. Experience has taught me to plan ahead so that if i have an appointment, at, say Thursday at 9am, I know that I need to be in a taxi by roughly Tuesday, to ensure that I stand a fighting chance of making it on time.

Traffic lights are ignore so routinely that they are basically used solely as for urban decoration, yet traffic police are always out in force, especially directing traffic at traffic lights and roundabouts: the two places where they shouldn't have to.

Taxis are everywhere, but like in Zambia seem to charge extortionate fares compared to the average local wages. Even though I know how much i should be paying (the local fare), and refuse to pay extra, I am still paying quite allot and it rapidly adds up. Taxi drivers also seem to possess no memory: On one occasion, I went to ask a driver how much to home from the hospital and he said 900. That would be a daft enough price in itself (400 is my normal fee, or 500 if it is at rush hour), but it was even more ludicrous because the same driver had taken me home for 400 for the previous 2days, and still thought he could bullsh1t his way to more than doubling the fare. The number of justifications for silly fares I have heard are beyond counting. And this is by no means uncommon.

But it is Matatu's - basically Nissan minibuses with people hanging out of the open door shouting – which are the bedrock of the local transport system and are amongst the most colourful and decorated that I have come across anywhere in the world: personalised, I suppose, is the nice way of describing them. And they are basically death traps: In the last week have been in 3matatu crashes (and 2 taxi crashes) – none desperately serious once the shouting, fighting, knife waving and recriminations had passed – and seen several more. Personally, as that averages out at about once a week in Kenya, I figure i'm actually ahead of the game right now.

Matatus are driven in a style more associated with blind people in dodgems, and at speeds ranging between 'holy-shit that is rapid' and 'Warp 7', with absolutely no regard for anything even vaguely resembling traffic rules and rules of the road. Anything goes – including driving the wrong way up one way streets and at full pelt along footpaths – and by law, it seems, every Matatu has to have at least 15dents, a door/boot which doesn't shut, and a few bits which are broken: lights, brakes, steering. That sort of thing.

But this is actually fairly standard across much of Africa and elsewhere. In fact, Nairobi's matatu's are positively luxurious compared to many others: they stop collecting passengers when the seats are full, don't have extra fold down seats (though admittedly there are normally 2 or 3 guys who stand hanging out of the open doorway) and even have TV screens. I have certain routines worked out and certain small rules that I follow when traveling, and the very fact that the TV screens are actually almost universally in decent condition – and work, showing music videos at high volume – remains both a marvel to me and has led to one of my patented rules of travel (insert drum roll here):

Never board a matatu that you can hear (or feel, for those who's sub-woofers have yet to explode) before you can see it.

Sounds simple, eh?

And to be fair it, is both simple and effective. It is possibly a fairly sensible sounding rule at the best of times, and I know of many people who can't stand such matatus simply because they are just so damned loud. But personally, it is a rule which i stumbled on with alarming rapidity after an incident in the early and sicker days of my Nairobi Hospital saga when I made the intriguing – if not altogether welcome – discovery that at certain levels, the pitch/tone of the bass and total noise projected could cause me fairly instant discomfort and require very rapid unplanned, erm, comfort breaks...

Or, to put it another way, in my sicker moments matatus with bass at the right resonate frequency caused me to sh1t myself.

Posted by Gelli 03:07 Archived in Kenya Tagged transportation Comments (1)

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