After arriving from a 9-hour ride on a crammed minivan from the north, we were finally in Libreville. Or, so it seemed. But buses drop you 8km out of the city, so you still have to find transportation to your final destination from there. We had asked the regular price to locals, and stood at the roadside. There were plenty of taxis, and we thought it would be a matter of saying our destination, and we would be off. But no - the system does not follow this logic. Instead, you have to shout your destination, the number of seats you need, and the price, as we gathered from the Africans around us who were off almost at once. We copied their approach, but even then, it did not seem to work. Drivers can have two reactions: either they just drive off, or they give an almost unnoticeable nod, or honk their horn, to let you know your offer is accepted. And they kept on driving off. We did not even know if the price was not OK for them, or if they were heading for a different destination. They never negotiate: it is only when they hit the pedal again that you realize you are left behind. With a white skin, you are left behind very often - most taxi drivers assume that whites just pay more than locals, and prefer to have empty seats in their taxi. I never really got this logic, and several times ended up walking instead (which, at certain hours of the day, turns out to be faster than sitting in a car anyway).
This quickly led us to be almost afraid to catch a taxi, as we could already imagine their rude reaction. However, the good thing was, that the drivers that do take you, turn out to be nice guys. They often turned out to be foreigners themselves: there is a large community of Togolese, Senegalese, Malian, Cameroonian, and other West African nationalities. Fellow passengers often felt for us, and some called the taxi drivers "malade", sick. In one case, when I proposed a price I knew was right, they asked for ten times more. It can make you feel frustrated quickly, especially if you see Africans wait for a short while and board a taxi, while you are left behind. There were cases in which locals would help secure a seat on a taxi on our behalf. But also instances where the driver would demand more money at the end of the ride, because he did not know the destination. The taxi-buses turned out to be a great alternative: fixed routes, filling up quickly, and cheaper as well - perhaps only a little slower.
In one case, I felt downright unsafe: I had arrived at Charbonnages at around 22:30, and was told it would be easy to find transportation from there. There were plenty of taxis, but no one seemed willing to take me. Even empty taxis just left, without ever negotiating, or realizing I was in a precarious situation. It was this careless attitude that irritated me most. I continued wondering about the system - I had the impression that the drivers follow fixed routes, but these are never marked on their car. You just have white taxis with either a red or a purple roof. In one case, I was in an empty car, and the driver stopped many times to hear what people at the roadside were proposing, but he never took anyone. It was interesting to see the process from the other side, and the inefficiency: he had to stop, drive away again, trying to squeeze himself in the traffic on the road. On one drive, the very friendly Chadian driver provoked us by saying the Gabonese taxi drivers were the cheapest on earth - a very lively debate followed. I wisely waited for my turn, as it was very interesting to hear the two Gabonese ladies complain about the cost of taking a taxi, and the driver defending himself by revealing how much he had to pay each year just to have a cab. But I could not resist to say that, after all the travelling I had done, and disregarding the kind exceptions, the majority of the Libreville taxi drivers were among the worst I had ever met.
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