Getting Around

Monday 23 August 2010

Getting around in Port Gentil is… interesting.  When you have a vehicle, driving isn’t actually too difficult to get used to.  We drive on the same side of the road and many of the traffic rules are the same except you cannot turn right on a red light, passing in town happens all the time and apparently, horns are often used as signal lights.  Dodging the giant potholes and the legion of taxis prove to be the most challenging part.

There are hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of taxis here.  Vehicles are expensive and not easy to find and the heat makes walking long distances less desirable so many locals use taxis.  All of the taxis belong to the same company and are easy to spot as they are all blue and white.

Taxis use their horns very frequently.  They honk at you to get out of the way, they honk to signal, and most often, they honk to let you know they are available and actually, sometimes I think they honk just for the fun of it.  When there is 1 taxi there are 10 and even though one honked and you turned it down, the other 9 will also honk as they pass just in case you change your mind.

Taxis generally have 4 open seats and the taxi is considered available until every square centimeter of space is used up.  They swerve and pick up more people until the car is plum full.  There aren’t really ‘shoulders’ of the road here so they will literally slam on the breaks right on the road to pick someone up.  (This is where you have to diligently watch when you happen to be driving behind a taxi so that you don’t end up rear-ending them.)

Joe and I have attempted to walk around downtown PG several times.  Sidewalks are a luxury and few and far between.  The ‘sidewalks’ that do exist are in rough shape.  Many of them are made from cement blocks laid over top of the gutters in the road the problem being that for some reason, these cement blocks actually fall the 3-4 feet into the garbage filled gutters.  So while walking, one must dodge the giant gaping holes into garbage, the taxis swerving to avoid the potholes on the road, and if you are me, the lizards that scurry when you take a step.  Someday I’m sure one of those damn things will scare me and I’ll jump to the side and end up in 3 feet of sewage.

Joe and I have been car shopping for me.  Selection is limited and what is available is expensive.  Because of the state of the roads, which will drastically worsen when rainy season hits, you must have 4 x 4.  We’ve been looking at small(er) SUVs and hope to purchase one in the next couple of weeks.  (We are still unsure of how to do that in a completely cash based economy as 10 million cfas (about $20 000 US) are a lot of bills to carry around!)  Until then, we rely on our driver, Cardin who assures us we can phone at any time (even 3 am) for a ride.

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