“Zipping though the streets of Kampala, holding on for dear life as the Boda Boda I had taken sped me to my destination. I quickly released why this exhilarating form of public transport would never take off in my home country of Canada.” This is an excerpt from one of our writers first experience with the ubiquitous Boda Boda found in Uganda and Congo. It speaks to a common experience for traveler’s brave enough to try them.
What is a Boda Boba?
Also know as a Piki Piki, or Moto, the Boda Boda are public transportation made elegantly simple. In its most simple form, a Boda Boda is a motorcycle fitted with a longer seat. This enable one or more people to hop on the back behind the driver. It’s inexpensive, fast, and the perfect way to get around crowded busy streets.
The Boda Boda is an experience you are unlikely to find an analog for in North America or Europe. The adventure of the experiences lies adrenaline inducing nature of the drive. In cities like Kampala in fact you often pass within inches of other cars, bodas, trucks, cows, etc. In Congo, it’s the huge potholes and ruts that threaten to shake passengers off. Where ever your first Boda experience may be, it will get your heart racing.
Are Boda Boda Safe?
Full disclosure, Boda Boda are not the safest method of transport. Accidents are common. Scrapes, bruises, and burns caused by any number of things such as unfortunate bumps on the road are common. Records in Uganda indicate that there are thousands of recorded accidents each year.
Road infrastructure leads to some accidents, and deficient regulation in jurisdictions leads to other. Further safety concerns stem from the number of unregistered Bodas. For example, in Kampala alone, there are an estimated 300,000 Boda Bodas. Of which only half are registered. This is changing however with authorities opening some training centres, and pushing for better regulation, better roads, and better registration. Plus, with ride share companies like Uber now supporting them, the future of the Boda is looking safer and brighter.
As slow travelers, part of the joy in a new place is the immersion in local culture and methods. As such, the danger of slight maiming is outweighed in our eyes by the unique experience of racing through the lively streets Kinshasa. Another plus is the price. Most rides are around a dollar or less in Congo; a couple of dollars is common in Uganda.
How to Hire a Boda Boda
Hailing a Boda Boda is about as simple as walking along the street. If you are an obvious foreigner like we sometime tend to be, drivers will often almost approach you and ask if you need a ride. As there are no taxi meters, the driver will quote a price. That price will almost always be higher than the fare offered to a local. Fortunately, in this part of the world, arguing over price is as much a part of the transaction as actually paying. We recommend breaking out your hopefully well-earned haggling skills and go back and forth a bit before settling on a fair price. This exchange has often elicited laughter from the driver and any other drivers nearby. In fact, we are convinced that good-natured teasing was the third key to a successful transaction, along with arguing and paying.
Once a price is settled on, hop on the back and hold on tight as the driver darts out in traffic. It is considered bad manners to hold on to the driver, and little bars at the back of the seat provided a good hand hold for the more sudden turns and rutted roads. As most of the motorcycles are too loud to hold a conversation, enjoy the scenery passing and the wind in your hair.
When Wearing Skirts
If you are wearing a skirt a Boda Boda ride can be a major challenge at first. Most of the time, you would straddle the seat of the motorcycle like the driver. However, many women in Congo and Uganda, especially if they are wearing the tighter skirt style, sit with both feet on one side of the motorcycle. Drivers may warn against this, but if your clothes don’t permit straddling the seat you may have no other choice. It may be tough at first to learn how to balance but being able to hop off at the end of the ride and go on your way quickly is a real plus.
More than a People Carrier
Some day perhaps someone will publish a book just of photos of Bodas and their cargo. In the mornings, its not uncommon to see four or five children in matching blue and white school uniforms piled in front of and behind the taxi driver on their way to school. They would cling to each other and the driver as he wove around other drivers, holes, and stones. In Uganda, our writers have seen several Bodas carrying caskets. They have seen taxis carrying other motorcycles strapped to the back. Bodas carrying computers, shelves, desks, even a full-size sofa. Even Bodas carrying goats. Eventually you will start to wonder d if there was anything that can’t be tied to a motorcycle and transported across town on the back of a motorcycle.