Matolas, matattus, dala-dalas or a myriad of other names depending on what country you wash up in, are probably the most common form of transport in rural Africa and certainly the most ahh.. authentic. Essentially vans fitted out with a dozen or so tiny seats in the back, these local minibuses fly down the dusty African roads with alarming speed and frequency, usually with 20 or more people, chickens and suspicious looking sacks either inside the bus or – just as often – hanging precariously out of its doors and windows. Travelling this way is invariably an adventure; while on minibuses in Africa I was stabbed with a blade, got spewed on by children on several occasions, started the most unusual and inebriated rendition of American Pie I’ve ever heard and was sold to a drunken Malawian by the girl I was travelling with for 4 cows and a dozen goats.
Aside from this obvious appeal, I recommend minibus travel for the following reasons:
- It’s dirt cheap (They will, of course, try to rip you off, but the best way to do it is to say you’ll pay when you get there, and watch how much the Africans around you pay for similar distances)
- You get a chance to hone your wicked tetris skillz en route as you sandwich yourself between an overweight African man and his goat
- The enlightening and oft-underappreciated experience of examining your left elbow and right knee at close quarters for several hours
- They’re way less likely to break down than the bigger buses, and – unlike them – carry spare tires
- Every time you stop in a town people will offer a range of delicacies – from bananas, to samosas to tiny deep-fried mice – up to the windows for you to buy. It’s like room service, with complementary salmonella. Mmm.
- When you’re at such close proximity to other people, you can’t help but get a little familiar. Meet the people, make some friends. You might be surprised.
Though these joys can be an acquired taste, it’s something that’s gotta be tried at least once if you’re ever on the continent.
*disclaimer: While there are many reasons minibus travel is wicked much of the time (see above), it’s not a fantastic option for the hungover hobo. Though I like to think I have a reasonably tried and tested gag reflex, the combination of the African heat, rationed oxygen and the sweet scents of your fellow passengers/the alcohol in your hair can has proven too much for the best of us.