When travelling, one of the most tiring things is getting from point A to point B. Would it be on wheels, on the water or in the air, transportation can be a serious hassle, especially in countries that don’t have the infrastructure of, say, Western Europe.
Here are my favourite, oddest, most amusing modes of transportation.
I had the opportunity to ride in a taxi-brousse in the bush of Madagascar. Every single time, it’s the same: the rickety 30-year-old van clunks and clacks at every corner; foreigners have to pay up to 10 times more than locals; there’s way more people that get in the van that seats allow; there’s always at least one seat in the van that dangerously moves back and forth every time the driver takes a curve or brakes; the amount of things that can be put on the rooftop rack is seemingly infinite; and the average speed is something like 25 km/h since the driver stops every 500 meters to pick up or drop off someone.
After a few long and painful rides, I’d resorted to buying two seats for myself. That way, even if the ride took forever, I’d have a little more comfort.
Jeepneys are old reconditioned jeeps left by the American Army after World War 2. Resourceful entrepreneurs keep them working, using all the possible tricks. Some have wooden front doors, most don’t have a backdoor at all, and they all have their personalized, quirky, super colourful paintings. The thick black clouds of burnt oil that the exhaust emits inevitably each time they take off is one of the most common sights in the Philippines.
3. Chicken buses
Oddly similar to jeepneys, chicken buses are old school buses from Canada or the USA that have been painted in bright colors. They’re called this way because locals sometimes carry chickens or other livestock on them.
The drivers are notoriously dangerous, overtaking in blind curves and going on the wrong side of the road near curves.
I remember being part of an accident in the province of Oaxaca. Our driver tried to overtake a pickup that was going faster than us! At high speed and taking a curve in the mountains, the two vehicles touched. In a blink of an eye, the much more powerful pickup braked, swerved around our bus, overtook us from the left, and stopped, forcing our driver to stop too. A large family jumped out of the pickup. The father was yelling; the mother was crying; the babies were amused; the uncle was aggressive, and our driver was screaming that it wasn’t his fault!
4. Tuktuks and autorickshaws
There’s something quite romantic about tuktuks and autorickshaws. Whenever I travel to Southeast Asia or South Asia, I long for my first tuktuk ride. Remember to always negotiate the price of the ride before hopping on!
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, you can’t miss the motorcycle-pulled tuktuks, since drivers scream on top of their lungs to foreigners across streets and corners to ask if they want a ride, day and night. There’s a reason why these t-shirts exist…
In Chennai, India, autorickshaw drivers will wave with their arms, do smooching sounds, yell and scream, gather around you, grab your arm and pull you towards their ride while screaming “auto? taxi? auto?” even if you clearly don’t want one.
In Bangkok, Thailand, tuktuk rides cost much, much more than comfortable regulated air-con taxis; they’re basically a scam. Bangkok drivers sometimes own brand new tuktuks and drivers will even do wheelies!
In Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka, a good trick is to decide ahead of time on a price per kilometre you’re willing to pay, then use your GPS and calculate the distance that separate you and your destination. Ask the driver how much he’d charge you to get you there, and then suggest a price lower than your predetermined price; then when the driver asks for much more, give him your predetermined price and stick to it.
5. Maglev high-speed train
The only high-speed maglev train currently in operation takes passengers from the Shanghai airport (Pudong) to the metro system of the megalopolis. 115 daily trips reach a speed of 431 km/h each and every time. When going from point A to point B, maglev trains don’t touch the ground. Instead, they levitate using electromagnets. Crazy? Bizarre? Unusual? Sure.
But taking the maglev is, for engineer fans and geeks around the world, fascinating.
When I hopped on the luxurious high-speed train in Shanghai, I was impressed by the fact that it’s absolutely seamless. It’s smooth!
6. Cycle rickshaws, pulled rickshaws and other pousse-pousse
Autorickshaws use an engine to go from point A to point B, and cycle rickshaws and pulled rickshaws use cycle and foot to move.
This means that in Myanmar, someone, using a 3-place bike, will cycle you and 2 of your friends to your destination. And if you happen to be, just like I was, in Yangon, sitting on a cycle rickshaw with two big Bengali men, the three of us totalling at least 230 kilos, with a small Burmese man trying to gather a bit of speed, you’ll probably feel ill at ease.
This is also true when, in rural Madagascar, you’ll get offered to hop on a man-pulled pousse-pousse to go as far as the next town!
Yet hopping on the vehicles shouldn’t feel too bad. After all, the drivers have financial independence, and there’s nothing wrong in using their services.
Is riding on camelback in Egypt or Morocco a tourist trap? I certainly thought so when I travelled to Morocco, many years ago, and I haven’t changed my mind since. If it’s a mode of transportation that’s not used by the locals, then it means that it’s only for tourists… Do you agree?