Tro-tros are privately run minibuses. They are crowded, uncomfortable and they break-down frequently. They are also incredibly cheap. Within a city, fares are a matter of cents.
Every tro-tro has three components: a barely functioning vehicle, a driver, and a mate. The mate’s job is to fill the tro-tro with passengers, collect money, and notify the driver of when to make a stop. Each tro-tro has a set route. Passengers can get out wherever they want by saying “Mate, bus stop.” If a passenger gets out, the mate will try to fill the empty seat by calling out the destination to people on the roadside.
Female mate!! First time seeing this – mates are almost always men. This is also the first time the internet connection was fast enough to upload HD video. The tro-tro is emptying out as it gets closer to the end of the route, and you can hear the mate calling out the destination (lapaz) to attract customers.
While some mates and drivers are friends or at least have a working relationship, many do not know each other. Mates will hang out at “stations” (expanses of dirt packed with decrepit vehicles that will supposedly get you somewhere) and proposition drivers, trying to earn a day’s work. There is often a lot of distrust between the driver and the mate as a result – the mate handles the money and drivers are often suspicious of missing funds.
Riding in a tro-tro is kind of like wearing a straight-jacket in a sweat lodge. As a twenty-five year-old, I regularly feel arthritic after a trip in one. Overflowing with perspiring bodies and sometimes animals – both live and dead – tro-tros are also home to otherworldly aromas. You may find that the person to your right is holding a giant bowl of tilapia. On your left, the one-year-old strapped to her mother’s back is giving you a wet-willy. Meanwhile, there is a basket of live chickens at your feet and they are just as uncomfortable as you are.
Here you can see a tro-tro getting filled to capacity.
Despite the discomfort, tro-tro rides are a lot of fun. There is always something to laugh about. Often, it’s the general absurdity of what is going on around you. On longer journeys, you will emerge from the tro-tro with a second family. Food is shared, jokes are told. Tro-tros will also teach you a few lessons about patience and endurance. And short of hitchhiking, it’s the cheapest way to get around.
Some random pics:
Oh hey pupils. This is Akosua. Her “english” name is Sandra.
Diarrhea is under control. Leg is healed.