09/23/2013 03:37 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2013

The Ups and Downs of African Bus Journeys

One of the best, and worst things about journeying in Africa -- or any less-developed part of the world -- is traveling on local buses.

Ask any hardened traveller about local transport and most will enthusiastically launch into their favorite horror stories, like soldiers describing how they got their most impressive war wounds.

In my travels I've had my fair share of interesting bus journeys. Break-downs, crashes, being threatened by the police, waking up to a stranger playing with your feet - the usual fun and games.

I've also heard some amazing stories from people I've met along the way, so I've decided to share a few of my particular favorites. I'd love to hear any others you may have, so please send in comments or email me on

The Fish
One female friend of mine recently took an 18-hour cross-country journey in Africa on a local bus. As usual it was dirty, smelly and cramped -- most buses here carry roughly 50 percent more than the recommended number of people, along with most of their possessions, several boxes of live chicks and a few mournful goats. This journey was no different, and my friend found herself pushed up against the window by the mass of humanity. A few hours into the journey the bus hit a particularly huge bump that managed to dislodge everyone's luggage from overhead. Amid the cascade of bags and boxes a huge dried fish that had been strapped against the ceiling fell on top of my friend, bashing her in the head and spearing her through the hand with its razor-sharp fin. To add insult to injury, she spent the next hour being berated by her neighbor for destroying his fish.

The Lamb
One of my good friends took an epic bus journey across South America a few years ago. After many long hours bumping along, accompanied by the protesting squawks of several chickens on their way to market, the bus pulled over for a quick break in a lay-by. On jumped a pair of local Bolivians carrying a huge roasted lamb, which they sliced and diced for the hungry passengers. My friend, always rather fussy about his meat, declined. Two hours and many miles down the road he found out how lucky he was that he had, when the rest of the bus took a sudden turn for the worse and started vomiting everywhere. Unlucky for him, this wasn't enough for the bus driver to stop, so my friend was forced to spend the next eight hours with his knees pulled up to his chin, avoiding the sea of spew churning on the floor below him.

Just hold it
One of the things that particularly amazes me about Africans is that they never seem to need the toilet. They could have drunk eight beers and a pint of water and still they don't ever seem to need to go. I learnt that particular truth the hard way myself when I took a 22-hour local bus journey -- without a single toilet break.

Don't look now
One of the more scary stories I've been told is also from South America. A friend of mine was on an overnight bus journey from Brazil to Agentina a while back. Around the time when everyone was getting sleepy the driver's buddy came round offering everyone a free shot of some local booze. My friend took one sniff and decided against the drink -- it smelt like petrol -- and handed it to her grateful neighbor. An hour later as the bus approached the border it pulled in for an unscheduled stop next to a stretch of thick forest. My friend was about to ask what was going on, when suddenly she realized that everyone else on the bus was fast asleep, so piped down and quickly feigned the same. Outside the window, she could hear muffled sounds so she took a chance and half opened one eye just in time to see several men running out of the trees towards the bus. In a trice, they had removed several of the side panels and started pulling off huge bags of white powder, which they swiftly carried off into the trees. The whole thing took less than a minute. My friend didn't breathe until they were safely across the border.

Monkeying around
One of my least-dignified bus journeys was in India. We stopped for a toilet break in the middle of nowhere, so I scampered off to find a tree to hide behind. Mid-squat, I found myself faced with a rather large, and angry monkey, who didn't seem particularly pleased I had decided to hide behind his tree and decided to show that by running at me, howling. The rest of the bus did seem quite pleased, however, when I tried to run away screaming and ended up falling over in front of them with my trousers round my ankles.