Although there are plenty of travelers who blur the line between appropriate risk and absolute insanity, my line between adventure and suicide is actually pretty distinct. So when a friend suggested that we explore the pockmarked roads of Mbale, Uganda on the back of a rickety motorbike, I made a mental note to have him checked out for any other signs of insanity. Then, because I agreed to hop onto said motorbike, I made a note to have myself checked out as well.
Over the next two weeks, when we weren’t crammed into the back of a matatu with a minimum of twenty-five other people and at least half a dozen angry chickens, we explored Uganda on the back of a boda boda, the local term for the rickety old motorbikes that cart all manner of humanity and its animal counterparts up and down the deeply rutted roads of this stunningly beautiful country.
While a comfortable ride on a plush, air-conditioned bus or train is clearly the most attractive option, it’s not always an available option. On the flip side I think we can all agree that traveling is about stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you’re looking to expedite that process, I recommend exploring a country on the back of a motorbike. Here are a few tips to ensure you survive this jaunt outside of the comfort zone.
Avoid Rush Hour
I’ve done a lot of stupid things while traveling. I think we all have. Riding through Kampala on the back of a motorbike during rush hour at night with a suitcase on my back probably ranks as one of the stupider of my traveling exploits. While I’m sure we could argue about this, one thing is for sure…it was 100% absolutely not comfortable. I have never been so relieved to arrive at a hostel in my life.
Avoid Traveling at Night
Aside from the fact that the boda bodas don’t always have functioning head lights, (Not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s better not knowing just how close you are to death), zigzagging perilously close to enormous trucks on a one lane road is an activity best relegated to daylight hours.
While I was certain that I was going to meet my death by smashing sidelong into a truck or flipping over the handlebars while screeching to a sudden halt, the real danger was in the fact that I was so terrified, I kept forgetting to breathe. Deep breath, close your eyes, and let go. This is the ultimate exercise in trust. Laughing maniacally helps too.
Try Not to Scream
Apparently the drivers find it distracting.
This is really more for the ladies, but I found that wearing a skirt was not particularly conducive to motorbike travel. Most of the ladies I saw wearing skirts were sitting sidesaddle on the bike. I’m still trying to figure out how they stay on. I think they’re might be glue or duct tape involved. I don’t see how it’s possible otherwise. At any rate, if you think getting on the back of a motorbike while wearing a skirt is a lesson in flexibility, you should try getting off a motorbike while wearing a skirt. You’ll have a crowd. I promise.
If you have more than just a small bag, take a taxi. Please. Just take a taxi. As someone who rode on the back of a motorbike with two suitcases (one strapped to my back and the other balanced on the handlebars), I am imploring you to get that look out of your eye and just pay the extra cash for a taxi. Incidentally the best bag for this kind of travel is the Venturesafe Cross Body Bag. Works like a dream.
Wear a Helmet
This isn’t always an option unless you bring one from home. Believe me, I am seriously considering stuffing one in my suitcase for my next trip to Uganda. However, if there is a helmet within easy reach, I’d recommend strapping that thing onto your head and hanging on for dear life.