A Few Things to Keep in Mind As You Plan Your Next African Bus Ride

  1. Its not about the destination, its the journey. And the journey will always take longer than expected. Lonely Planet says 8 hrs, the bus guy says 10, you’d better plan on at least 12 hrs.
  2. Uniforms are something of a rarity – the guy with his shirt un-buttoned to show of his navel and those track pants may just be your bus driver/ticket sales man. There is no way to tell until he actually starts driving the bus.  Even more confusing it that the bus driver may switch part way through the trip as one gets off somewhere, and a new person takes over.
  3. If a fight breaks out between rival bus companies on who gets the passengers, just enjoy it. This may be the one time people fight over you. Just stand back, there may be some elbowing and shoving.
  4. There will be somewhere between 2 and 10 people “helping” with the bus ride. They say it takes a village to raise a child, this may also apply to taking a long haul bus. Some of these people may be employees of the bus company and some might just be helpful citizens you pick up along the way (again, no way of knowing). The advantage to being a helper is that you get a seat near the door – easier to get on and off for food.
  5. “Luxury Bus Service” varies across the board. It may refer to complimentary beverage services en-route and comfy seats, or it may be the name of your not-so-luxury bus.
  6. If it sounds like the basket in the aislehas a chicken in it, it probably does. If the basket containing the chicken starts to make a break for the door while its owner is away, someone should pick it up and hide it under a seat.
  7. Be prepared for random stops. If all the passengers disembark and wander off at what doesn’t appear to be a stop (not a border crossing, bus terminal or rest area), but leave their luggage behind while the bus starts driving away, chances are good they are coming back. We recommend staying with your bags and the bus and it will work its self out.
  8. If your bus cargo seems to be mostly balls of twine, be prepared for a large delay at any border crossings as customs officials try and figure out why all the twine needs to be imported. The presence of the live chicken or any fruit will not matter.
  9. When the guide book says “paved road all the way”, what they forgot to add was “to the border of the country this book is about, we just assumed after that point”. Remember this with respect to #1.
  10. If bus rides were all easy, you’d have nothing to talk about afterwards. Its all part of the experience, which you can only fully appreciate once you’re off the bus and safely tucked away. Just keep calm, and remember that you’ll probably get there at some point, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

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