Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taxi know-how

Public transportation in The Gambia is in a league of its own. It can be quite daunting for the first-time visitor, but if you’re up for a challenge and love a bit of local interaction then it can be a lot of fun.

The yellow taxis are known as 5-5’s because it costs GMD5 (that’s Dalasi, the local currency) for a short-hop journey on either the Bakau to Serrekunda/Westfield Junction road or the Fajara to Senegambia road. Apparently it’s been GMD5 for years and although they tried to increase the prices last year to GMD6 it didn’t work, as it was just too much of a hassle to sort out change for GMD10.

To get a 5-5 you simply wait on the main road and put your hand out. These are shared taxis so if you pick one up at Traffic Light (this is a crossroads where the first traffic light in The Gambia was installed, hence the name), the cabbie will wait till he has three other passengers to fill the car and only then will you trundle off. Picking them up en route can be hit and miss, but in low season at least, there seem to be hundreds of them around.

My first 5-5 journey was with a delightfully rotund couple dressed up in their Gambian finery and a bandana-ed youth dressed in faux-ghetto stylee. It was a squeeze in the back, I think I had one buttock on the seat and the other barely inside the door, but thankfully it was only a 10-minute journey as we were a full vehicle.

The most amusing journey so far was the ride home from a local bar the other night. After 11pm as a toubab it’s often quite hard to find a 5-5 and so you need to negotiate a rate. We got him down to GMD40 (£1), a drop in the ocean for us, a good fare for him. Lamin (which is the local equivalent of Mohammed and always the name given to the firstborn son in the Wolof language) was a huge reggae fan and sang along to the radio at full volume all the way home, even through three police checkpoints.

If that’s too authentically local for you then the green tourist taxis are still ludicrously affordable, and you’ll get one all to yourself, but where’s the fun in that?

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