I love the old E Class Mercs and they just seem to go on forever, regardless of what may fall off or cease to function along the way. In their distinctive green and yellow livery, these timeless classics make up around sixty percent of the tourist taxi fleet in The Gambia.
Cheap to buy, inexpensive to maintain and rugged, what more could you ask? Particularly when you consider the roads in The Gambia. There are a few tarmac sections, some more reasonable gravelly tracks and a host of rural ‘roads’ which would undoubtedly be considered far too extreme for an Olympic Mogul Skiing course.
The weather doesn’t help, of course, as many of these roads get washed away or heavily rutted each year during the rainy season. However, these old Mercs seem to cope quite well and are generally pretty comfy.
My first journey in one of these local taxis involved all types of terrain. I quickly discovered that there was no point in wondering how fast you were travelling, whether or not the driver was signalling, how much fuel they put in the car, how warm it was or anything else relating to dials or gauges as none of them worked. Even opening a window was a struggle, no handles, but it was comfy. In general, I found that the only thing that consistently worked in any taxi was the radio or cassette player.
Heading down one of the heavily trenched ‘roads’, there was a sudden clatter and we stopped. I looked out of the back window and there, in the middle of the track, was the entire exhaust system. Out we got and for the next twenty minutes or so we sat chatting to some locals outside whose home we had broken down. I assumed that the driver had summoned assistance and that the excursion had reached a premature conclusion.
But no. After twenty minutes, the exhaust had cooled down sufficiently to be thrown into the boot of the vehicle and, having said farewell to the local family, we were off again. Got to hand it to these old Mercs.
We then managed the enormous distance of about twenty metres before there was an enormous jolt as the front wheel plunged into a huge crater and punctured the tyre. Out we got again and rejoined the bemused local family for another, lengthier chat and a drink.
This second stop was much longer but we eventually got back under way and, fortunately, there were no further incidents. Comfy though.