Death is coming for us all. This song and dance we call life is fleeting, and the curtain could close on any of us at any time.
This is the thought train that leaves my mental station whenever I find myself seated between four or more wheels here in Africa.
Africa is what my Nana might’ve called fuller figured, and what I’d call fucking massive. The fact that I want to see a lot of it necessitates a lot of transportation, and this transportation is what my Nana might’ve called interesting, and what I’d call fucking horrifying.
Australia is a place of law and order in which road rules are religiously obeyed. Africa is not. Speed limits are generally rounded up to the nearest 100, you drive on whichever side of the road tickles your fancy, and the only form of active policing is when Roxanne is played through the shitty bus sound system. Musically Africa has forgone the future and voted to remain in the 80s.
Don’t know which soon-to-be-hearse to choose? Let this handy-dandy guide assist you.
Ah, the motorcar. The automobile. The horseless carriage. Cars have made it to Africa, you’ll be happy to know, although they’re not the cheapest thing around. But the cost of convenience may be one that you’re willing to pay. Just know that I hate you with every fibre of my budget backpacking heart.
POP QUIZ: You’re behind the wheel in Africa and are looking to overtake some idiot who’s only doing 148kph in a 100 zone. In the distance you see a truck coming towards you pulling a sizeable load of C4 explosive. What do you do?
If you answered ‘wait until the truck passes before overtaking’ please light a small fire, throw in your licence, mix the cinders with concrete and toss it into a well. In Africa you need to go for the overtake while simultaneously beeping your horn and flashing your lights, so that the truck knows to go off-road in order to avoid you.
Death Rating: 3/10 – You’re doubtless a gigantic law-abiding tool and there’s no way to change that.
By Minibus Taxi
When Toyota designed the Hiace minivan they intended it to compete with the likes of Ferrari and Maclaren for the Formula One title. This is the mindset of the standard minibus taxi driver in South Africa and I’ll be buggered if you can change it.
Minibus Taxis are white vans which forever seem to be making some form of heist-related getaway. Generally packed with 10-15 willing idiots they are one of the cheapest forms of transport, and for good reason. The one trip that we were forced to take in a minibus ended with our van just avoiding an accident that wrote off 2 vehicles and sent a family of 5 to hospital.
Lovers of adrenaline may see a minibus taxi ride as a calculated risk, but I’d suggest a safer natural high might be obtained by waving your dick at ISIS or punching a shark.
Death Rating: 9/10 – Get your affairs in order and advise your next of kin.
Sick of playing Tetris in dead-boring 2D, chapa drivers have turned the timeless arcade classic into live-action fun for the whole family. While chapas are the same size as minibus taxis, they manage to fit around double the precious human life. You’ll usually be sharing your quarters, as well as body parts and bodily functions, with 25-30 others.
Inevitably you’ll be handed an animal or a kid to pop on your knee. And just when you don’t think that anyone else can squeeze in, a schoolkid snakes his or her way over your shoulder and lies on the laps of the passengers in the back.
Being that Tetris piece that’s just 4 squares in a straight line, I’m a fairly handy dude to have in a chapa. Rows were completed.
Death Rating: 7/10 – Bereft of crumple zones, a seat in the back of the chapa will at least offer you a couple of tonnes of human flesh cushion in the event of a crash.
By Big Bus
I use the word ‘big’ advisedly here. The locals refer to these doyens of the road as big buses. And sure, compared to chapas they’re big, but they’re not too big. You don’t want something so hideously oversized as a Greyhound, what with the legroom and ability to recline. Nor do you want a toilet, or a centre aisle that you can actually walk down.
While affording you room to scratch your face and even high 5, your big bus in Africa will be no less rammed than your other overland transport. This overcrowding is of a more insidious nature though.
No big bus driver worth their salt will allow you to put your luggage in the luggage hold when you’ve got perfectly good personal space to use, so you inevitably find yourself drooping like an egg yolk over your backpack. Other passengers use the bus to move tyres, birdhouses and outdoor furniture, and place these items in a pile at the start of the aisle so as to make it easy to alight at the end of their journey. The rest of the bus need simply hire a Sherpa and some basic mountaineering equipment in order to scale the pile and get to their seat. Their seat may also be in the aisle, as fold-down chairs ensure that every single square foot in the bus’s insides will have a human heartbeat in it.
Death Rating: 4/10 – The main risk of death is from the avian flu exuding from the chickens in the aisle.
By Tray of Truck
The wind will be in your hair if you go for our next option. How romantic. But your hair will also be adorned with elbows, a goat, and breastmilk spilling from a feeding baby. Are you the sort of cool cat who enjoys feeling in their legs? Well you can hike on, sister; this ride’s for cool dudes who are ALL FOR temporary nerve damage.
The standard tray on offer has enough room to seat 10 adults semi-comfortably, or 35 adults not at all comfortably. Thankfully the weight of 35 humans limits the speed of the light commercial truck to 35kph, so your most likely death will be one of boredom.
Death Rating: 5/10 – Without feeling in your extremities any accident will only hurt half as much.
Want to feel like an African princess? For the right price (exorbitant), you can get your very own chauffer! Your Rolls Royce will just be missing air conditioning, two wheels, and a Rolls Royce badge. You’ll be throwing the leg over a motocross bike.
Remember that time you accidentally watched 5 seconds of MotoGP when you were flicking through the channels late at night? Well imagine that, but without tarmac, protection or medical crews on standby. Thankfully you’ll be too busy making sure your luggage stays on the bike to care that you’re only ever a driver’s sneeze away from a hideous and entirely avoidable death.
Death Rating: 8/10 – Use one hand to hug your driver and the other to fiddle with your rosary beads.
So sure, death is coming for us all. It might just come a little quicker if you choose to spend your time on the roads of Africa. So just travel by plane and forget I said anything.