Riding a boda boda (motorbike) is all part of the Ugandan experience, but play it safe and minimise the risks.
Early morning boda boda ride from Upper Konge in Kampala. In Uganda, you are never far from the village… although I lived just a few kilometres from the city centre (and even closer to Lake Victoria) you would hardly think so. The bumpy early morning ride down a steep marram dirt road is a great way to wake up – and a lovely way to see Kampala, the city of Seven Hills.
There’s nothing more exciting than having the wind blow through your hair on a beautiful sunny day – but you wouldn’t take the risks of riding on the back of a stranger’s motorbike without wearing a helmet back home would you? Ask yourself: would you do this if your mum knew about it?
Here’s the Muzungu’s advice on how to ride a boda boda in Uganda:
- You might be on a budget, but your safety is worth more than saving a few thousand shillings. Try and get a licensed ‘special hire taxi ‘home, sharing with friends if possible.
- Don’t ever just flag down a passing boda driver at night – they could be anyone.
- Wear a crash helmet, ideally your own. If the boda boda driver has one, the chances are it will not fit, there will be no chin strap, it may have been dropped many times (and thus rendered almost useless) and, besides, you don’t know who else has had it on their head!
- Use a boda recommended by a friend. Store his / their numbers on your phone. (It doesn’t mean you have to date them ladies, although they may try it on!)
- Use a boda from a recognised boda ‘stage’ (like a bus stop). These guys are licensed, whereas the majority of bodas on the streets are not. If you have an accident, the boda is likely to disappear before you scrape yourself off the tarmac. If you take a boda from a stage, you can at least report the driver to the stage chairman or the police.
- If your friend goes home on a boda at night, store the number plate of the bike on your phone. Let the boda driver see that you’re doing this. Tell your friend to SMS or beep or ‘flash’ you when s/he gets home safely.
- This advice is for men and women, Ugandans, expats, tourists, volunteers – everyone.
- There are some unscrupulous guys out there who are just criminals on motorbikes. Don’t be a victim.
- When you’re riding a boda, keep your personal items close to your body. Hide jewellery. Take it off until you arrive at your destination.
- Wedge your bag between you and the boda driver. Someone tried to pull my friend off a bike when she had her bag loose over her shoulder. He only wanted the bag but he nearly pulled them off the bike and into the road.
Have fun, but be safe.
Remember Uganda is a developing country with limited facilities.
If you have an accident on a boda boda (the statistics are TERRIBLE), the medical services may take a long time to get to you in an emergency. Can you risk your dream holiday or your new life to be flown home in an emergency?