Windhoek - short distance "public" transport
Finding a bus as a form of public transport is as rare as hens' teeth, but every once in a while they do show up. If you don't have time nor are dedicated to find one, your only option is taking a taxi - operated by the same principles as in Gobabis - you pay for your seat, not for the ride.
Let this small episode of ours explain how the system works in Windhoek, or, for that matter, in other cities within their boundaries:
As a short introduction, I have to explain a few generalities.
Local taxies are different from the taxi’s we know from Europe, as these guys don’t really have any taximeters, receipts or any way of indicating that you did pay or traveled with them. In fact, probably the biggest difference between a taxi and any other car you would be driven with is, their constant signaling while passing you by, and a massive number on their back window with a letter in front.
Imagine the picture: You are strolling down the street, enjoying the view of Windhoek, and a car passing by signals. You stop and look at the driver, the driver looks at you as if he would know you and waits for something from you, while you are just standing there confused without knowing what the hell is going on. The driver stops in the middle of the street, and this is where your instincts kick in – fight or flight! Something is going down! You are here only for few hours, and getting ... what? Robbed? Kidnapped? What the heck is going on?? But then something happens.. The driver... well... simply drives off, giving you the stink eye too. Pheew, that was close, probably he decided that you are in too good shape to run after (all this time in the gym finally paid off!).
But a few hundred meters further the same thing happens with another driver! Jeez, you must be really obvious prey out here. Only few more car signals later you understand that it is actually the way taxis are trying to get your attention.
In fact, while walking down the street you will hear almost every second car signaling. In Namibia, taxi competition is so high that in order to get customers they have to signal just to get noticed.
Now let's take a closer look at one of these encounters, when we were trying to reach our accommodation, Cardboard box, from the Grove Mall:
Sweaty big guy mumbles out from his car: 20-20 (440HUF/1,5 EUR each).
We look at each other and come back with our offer: 10-10 (220 HUF/0,75 EUR each) and we can go.
The guy looks at us with the slight sight and mutters: Alright, get in.
We give him a 50 NAD (1100 HUF/3,5 EUR) banknote and we wait for the change. The driver asks how much shall he give back, we politely do the math for him that 50 minus 20 is 30, and wait for the money to appear in our hands. But here things get interesting. The driver tells us that we are very much mistaken, and that we have agreed upon paying 20 NAD each, hence only a 10 NAD change is to be expected. We try to ensure the driver that our memories aren’t that bad, and that both of us remember a different agreement. This does not seem to impress him a lot and he offers a nice and round 10 NAD back. Having no other option, we take the 10 and leave the car sulking and having learned a lesson. Always have the exact amount on you what are supposed to pay.
First thing we do in the accommodation after – split our 100 NAD (2200 HUF/7 EUR) to smaller 10s and 20s. You fool me once, shame on you, you fool me twice... well, you know how that goes.
Actually, on that note, we were not the only ones to pay more than we initially expected. While in the Cardboard box accommodation a pack of Scandinavian girls came in giggling and chatting just to be silenced down by the taxi driver and his estimation on how much their trip shall cost. Price according to girls went quite a bit higher than expected, as they agreed to be driven to accommodation for 10 NAD (a magic number in Windhoek apparently) just to be told at their final destination that its 100 NAD. Quite a big jump if you ask me, but clearly tourist memories work quite different compared to taxi drivers out here.
When we needed a drive to Katutura, asked a friend how much should we expect to pay (you guessed right, it the magic number of 10 NAD) and after stopping the taxi and asking how much it would be, the driver bluntly says – 100 NAD. Thanks, but no thanks! It’s expensive to look like a tourist in Windhoek!
So all in all you should be prepared for these sorts of conversations, and should be prepared to bargain while looking confident - otherwise you will be eaten for breakfast.
The amount of taxis in here is stunning however, we started to count them on the streets, and roughly 50% of all the cars on the streets were taxis (depending where you would walk of course).
The massive letters and numbers on their sides, as we found out later, are to number them. Each letter would go from A to Z, and each number from 001 to 999. We saw cars with letters of the alphabet up to Z, multiplied by 999 = 25974 taxis (roughly) for a ± 326 000 city!!! 10% of the city population is driving a taxi! Must be really profitable business… Or maybe one of the few options they can do here...