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Fatty - Wildebeest Camp, Nairobi
OCTOBER 10, 2007

Donna's Guide to Driving in Africa

Please note the following is recommended as a guide only - all prospective African drivers should undergo an intensive formal driver education training program in their home countries (we recommend going to the local country show and spending an afternoon in either the go-carts or dodgem cars). In addition it would be highly beneficial to learn some basic relaxation techniques coupled with a thorough education in first aid. A bush mechanics course is advisable although assistance can normally be found easily enough in even the remotest of places.

The invention of the combustion engine was a leap for mankind - however to save petrol it's advisable to turn the engine off and coast on anything resembling a downward stretch.

A car's horn should be used at any and every opportunity.

Use of a seatbelt is optional - in fact most manufacturers may choose not to fit the seatbelt in order to save costs. On motor bikes, helmets are highly recommended - although the variety and quality of those available leaves a lot to be desired.

The legal number of passengers in a car should be taken as a guide only, it is quite practical to fit five fully grown adult males in the back seat, as well as three in the front seat.

Windscreens are made of glass for a reason - it breaks easily. Just because you have a spectacular crack running the whole way across the screen does not mean it needs replacing. If your screen is not cracked it is possible to purchase a sticker of a crack to assist in impairing your vision and providing you with plenty of 'cool' status.

The hand brake is an extremely useful device for stopping the car on hills - even better is to place a rock behind the wheels.

Not all roads in Africa have the benefit of clearly marked lanes - or the width to justify them. Therefore common sense dictates that: the biggest vehicle wins.

Africa is a stunning continent with scenery and wildlife on most major roads worth looking at. Instead of staying nice and low in the safety of a vehicle - try riding on the top of a truck - it may not have the advantage of seatbelts or an enclosed cabin - but it provides an amazing view.

The sign may say "Bridge Un-passable: Road Closed" - this is in fact only the opinion of the local police, local villagers on the other hand should be more than willing to push you through the river for a small fee.

A finely polished exterior is all good and well in western countries - however in Africa you want to discourage theft - therefore dints and scratches are a feature, not a flaw. What's more, do your neighbour a favour and open your car door into his...

The minivan is found throughout Africa and is the vehicle of choice for the masses, the legal limit of 14 passengers is observed in one of all African nations. The other countries are a little more practical utilising whatever space is available - it is not uncommon to attempt to fit 20-25 people in a van with luggage on top.

For safety's sake, please carry your babies on your lap - this way in the event of an accident they will be free to fly through the air to safety.

Rubber - we all know that tread is only used on family cars. Any vehicle wanting superior traction needs to be running on slicks.

Public transport is for everyone - animals are no exception.

You spend a large portion of your time in your car/minivan, therefore you want it to be clean, any rubbish you have is much better littering the side of the road where it is someone else's mess.

If you are going to turn a corner, please respect other drivers and provide plenty of warning - an arm out the window is a universal means of doing so.

A man with a bicycle is indeed a rich man - not only does he have a means of getting from A to Z, but he can pack that bike with everything he wants to take on that journey - be it 400kg's of bananas or a bundle of sticks. The standard bike stand will be insufficient for such a task however (western manufacturing - huh), a stone may work for a car but a bike requires something bigger - we recommend a sturdy stick.

The car battery is useful for powering that souped up radio and sound system you spent all your hard earned money on. Do not waste it on starting the car, just roll start.

And while your saving the battery, forgot those costly headlights - a humble torch out the window should suffice. Hell, it is africa, what is the worst you could hit - an elephant.

Schedules are really just a guide for mazungus/faranjis, in Africa things happen at their own pace and on their own time. It is pointless trying to change the way things are done

How long, not long
How Far, not far
How much, not much

A departure time of 6am really just means that you need to be there by 6am, in reality your actual departure will be many hours after this deadline.

Patience is a bonus, flexibility a must.

Police are but poor civil servants - they too need to earn a living. Therefore, without the means to actually chase you down, they have widely implemented the humble road block - get used to it, these not only allow them to hassle you for being white - but provide them with the means to extract bribes without having to actually move.

If you fail your driving test, save your pocket money as you can usually buy one......

In Africa, anything is possible. "Can I get a bus to X" or "is there a bus tomorrow", the reply will always be "it is possible".

The above are just a few guidelines we have established over the last eight months - at the end of the day in Africa there are no rules. Just remember when crossing from Uganda into Rwanda, or Kenya into Ethiopia, those crazy coots across the border drive on the other side of the road...



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tee hee - i can just see you driving on the roads here at night with a torch!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SB - 28 November, 2007


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