Sunday, 28 June 2009


One of Dar's many quirks is its transportation system. I've already written about the various modes of transport in the city, which include (in decreasing vehicle size): daladalas (shared minibuses), taxis, bajajis, and pikipikis (motorbikes). You can flag down any of them for the right price. But I mostly use taxis.

In North America or Europe, taxis are highly regulated; they have metered prices, cleanliness requirements, medallion fees, etc. This makes them pretty close to commodities. Here, taxis vary on every conceivable dimension: cab quality, driver reliability, location, body odor of driver, fares. Mwenye taxis, as the drivers are called here, have to differentiate themselves somehow. Some guys wait at prime locations, others speak good English, and there's even a woman taxi driver who offers a harassment-free environment to female travelers.

All this variation means that a good cab is tough to come by. I haven't found a perfect cabbie yet, but I have found a few guys who work well for me. I have four main guys that I call: Rafa, Ali, Andrew and Charles. Andrew is just ok, but he's available during afternoon hours when cabs are scarce. Charles is good too, although he lives a bit too far away. Rafa is ultra-reliable and never argues on price, but his car screeches and groans whenever he drives it. The screeching might be a positive, though, because I can always hear him when he's pulling up outside. And Ali is a small bearded guy who works strange hours. He was driving us to a bar the other night and was bragging about how he works "the very most" of the taxi guys. He said he'd been awake for two days straight driving people around to make extra cash! Eyes on the road, buddy...

Ali pops up in strange places. We were looking for a cab after lunch today and I found him sleeping without a shirt in his car next to the restaurant. He didn't mind waking up to take us home, though. One of the advantages of working with the same guys over and over is that they start to rely on your business. In exchange for frequent airport runs and pricier trips off the peninsula, they're willing to do almost any run at a good price, and you can get priority over other customers. Once they know you well, they can also pick you up from home, which is a convenience in a city with no formal address system.

I'm painting quite a rosy picture, though. Overall, the taximen negotiate fiercely, drive like maniacs, often claim to know where something is when they have no clue, and maintain their cars badly. Even Ali's car broke down a couple of the times the other week when he took us downtown to get Indian food. The first time, we managed to roll it into a gas station and revive it. The second time, though, there was no bringing it back. A few of us got out and pushed it to the nearest corner. Here I am (looking back nervously at the oncoming traffic):

We tried to push it what looked like a driveway. After we got it in, I realized that the driveway was actually the parking lot of a graveyard. The automative gods have a sense of humor after all.

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