Fitzmagic Travels

Learning to Drive Stick Shift in Kenya

As an American traveling the world, you get stuck with many of the blasted stereotypes about our country. We’re fat, loud, gun-toting religious zealots who barely travel and are almost willfully ignorant of the rest of the world. Luckily, much of the travel community does not hold this against us.

On the road in Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

On the road in Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

One thing the rest of the world makes fun of Americans for is their inability to drive manual transmission or “stick shift” cars – and their not wrong in doing so.

With the introduction of the first automatic transmission vehicle in 1940 – General Motors’ Hydramatic – the automobile industry in the USA soon followed suit. By 1957 over 80% of American cars came with automatic transmissions. In 2012, manual transmission vehicles only accounted for 4% of the total sales across the United States.

We clearly do not drive stick.

Do you know how to negotiate rates with Boda Boda drivers?

Traffic in Kampala, Uganda – it’s absolute mayhem. I avoided most of the major cities when driving.

I bugged my college roommate Joe for years to teach me on his jalopy – and then his newer hatchback – to no success. So it took me nearly 10 years after learning on automatic cars to find someone to teach me – and I had to go halfway across the world.

I was working on a cattle ranch in rural Kenya when someone finally put me in the driver’s seat and told me to figure it out. Interestingly enough, this also came with learning to drive on the left side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car while driving, and having to shift with my left hand rather than my right. It’s also a sink or swim scenario driving on the roads of East Africa. Poor road quality, language barriers, bad drivers, and that’s not even mentioning how it’s a bit more shocking when a zebra or impala jump out in front of you than a deer. But if you substitute the animals for more vehicles and dumb, aggressive drivers it’s almost like driving in New Jersey.

Zebra in Kenya

The more rural regions of Kenya have many animals running wild – and can dart out in front of you at any point.

And I almost forgot, overtaking is a deadly sport not for the faint of heart.

Moral of the story is it’s beneficial to know how to drive a manual car. You never know when you may need to make a quick getaway or have your livelihood depend on these types of skills. Interestingly enough, I surveyed friends and found that out of the 56 who responded – over half of them can drive manual. I’ve got plenty of people to call for my next bank robbery.

I like to hear from readers.