Public transportation in South Africa is wrought with problems: mechanical breakdowns, operator error, and time table inconsistencies abound. I experienced all of these problems on a recent trip to Cape Town and the beach, and that eventful day stands as one of the most memorable I have experienced in South Africa.
The day began with a half hour walk from campus housing in Stellenbosch to the train station. Unbeknownst to us, the train schedule is different on Sundays, so we had to wait for 45 minutes for a train to arrive. However, due to track problems, a bus arrived instead, and it drove us five minutes down the line to the next train stop. There, we sat on the train for 45 minutes before it actually started to move. When it did begin to move, we traveled for an hour in the packed, smelly train cabin, surrounded by beggars and men selling lolly pops and nail clippers and cheetos.
Upon arrival in Cape Town, we still had to figure out how to get to Camps Bay, the beach and our ultimate goal. We ended up finding a local South African we already knew, and he bargained in Afrikaans with a man in his van. We still are not sure if this man actually ran a taxi service, or whether it was just a family van. Needless to say, for 15 South African Rand per person (approximately $1.60), we found a ride to Camps Bay.
The driver’s name was Tino. He hailed from Tanzania and had moved to South Africa because of the better economy. He was a very nice man, and we took his phone number in order to have access to another cheap ride back to the train station in the evening, with someone we knew.
The beach was lovely, although the water was frigid, and the wind blasted sand hard enough to sting.
Once it was time to go, we called Tino and he found us along the crowded beach front road. This time, Tino had is 11 year old daughter (whose name I was never able to pronounce) along for the ride. None of us wanted to ride the train again, so we bargained with Tino and decided on a price of R300 (five bucks each) for the 50 kilometers all the way back to Stellenbosch. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Tino’s van was wreck. A 20 year old Toyota Quantum, it looked and sounded like it had been driven all the way across Africa and back, maybe enduring a few off-road safaris along the way. The clutch was giving out, and it rattled and swerved all across the road at its maximum speed, which was painfully slow.
Furthermore, Tino had never been to Stellenbosch before, so we had to describe to him the way on an iPhone, and he had terrible English. However, with perseverance and Tino’s daughter’s translating skills, we were able to make it onto the main freeway.
Where we promptly ran out of petrol.
Tino ran down the battery for a while trying to restart the van on an empty tank. Then, he got out, and ran to the next exit and into a township to find some gas. We were parked on the shoulder of the highway with cars whizzing past at 100kph, right next to one of the sketchiest looking shanty towns in South Africa. Needless to say, it was a bit unsettling. Thankfully, Tino was a fast runner, and within half an hour we were off down the highway again in a cloud of black smoke.
This experience was very interesting to say the least. All of my companions came from countries (America and Sweden) where things tend to work 99% of the time. This day was our first experience with the infrastructure of a country which is much less reliable.
We were so impressed with Tino and his daughter, and the way they handled each tense situation with a quiet smile and chuckle, that we invited them to dinner on us once we got home. It must have been an incredibly awkward situation for Tino, being the only black man in a café filled with Afrikaaner people who until only recently enacted Apartheid legislation on his people. However, his daughter thoroughly enjoyed it, ordering a massive strawberry milkshake and a salad as big as her head. The milkshake disappeared; the salad went in a takeout box.
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