Taxis and Trains, Trekking Around Cape Town

Betts, my Land Rover, is back in Diep River with her friends after breaking down yet again. I think she’s upset I’m headed back to The States and has decided to act out.

At this point I’ve lost count of the breakdowns … there was the violent shearing off of the drive shaft in Namibia, the alternator and fuel regulator getting replaced when I pulled into Cape Town, the fuel pump weeks later, the gearbox spines were replaced at some point, the entire gearbox was replaced driving down the Garden Route with the family, and a handbrake issue … just to name a few I can remember off hand.

Thursday night I was headed to The City Celebration being put on by Common Ground at the ‘mothership’ Rondebosch venue. I had just picked my friend Simon up and turned onto the N2 when I felt violent feedback from the accelerator. I slowed down expecting a catastrophic breakdown along the highway and imagined the next several hours of my life tied up with getting Betts towed away. Surprisingly as I slowed down, Betts returned to normal. We got to the Rondebosch venue without further incident and parked the Landy just outside. I decided to leave her there for the night and take her Friday to British 4×4 to get checked out.

Being without transport has several implications. Most of those being negative. However, I want to write about a silver lining I’ve discovered as I try to navigate Cape Town without my Rover. That is being forced to take the transport of the masses, the hoi poloi. Public transport in Cape Town can be roughly divided into three categories: trains, taxis, and buses. These means of transport are what the vast majority of Capetonians use every day to commute to work and move about the city.

Friday I caught a taxi to the train station. Let me back up a little … When I say taxi I don’t mean the pay per mile yellow cab I was accustomed to in The States. No by taxi I mean something approaching a 15 passenger van, but one even the most frugal of youth groups would have discarded decades prior. These taxis are reportedly controlled by gangs in the townships. Normally there are 9-10 seats being shared by 15+ each paying a fixed R6 fare for a ride anywhere along the route. These specific routes each have hundreds of taxis completing for fares. Since each of them have a quota of passengers they’re trying to achieve, the competition looks more Hunger Games than Amazing Race. There is something of a banter than transpires between the various taxis normally along the lines of ‘get of of the cab, I’m going to stab you to death’ (my paraphrasing). For me it’s a side of Cape Town that largely goes unseen. Except when diving out of the way of these death traps (both in car and on foot), I largely try to ignore the taxis. Inside the taxis is another world, the driver is dead set on blasting down the road killing as many pedestrians as possible, while the bag man operates the sliding (minivan style) door shouting the end destination to let everybody know his route and collect the fares. The passengers are typically jabbering away in Xosha probably talking about killing the white kid riding along (me).

The taxi ends it’s route at the Cape Town metrorail station where I boarded a train for Rondebosch. The trains are quite the experience. There are always a few hawkers selling everything from cell phone chargers to socks (and yes, people are buying these things – I know right, who’s getting on a train thinking if only somebody would offer me socks today). Additionally, your likly to catch a blind mother/son or mother/daughter combo singing for donations … debatabe whether they’re actually blind or not (swear Cape Town hasn’t made me calloused). Anyway, I quite enjoy the train rides. The tracks go along sections of the city well removed from the highways and main roads I typically take so it’s a chance to explore a little more of Cape Town.

From the Rondebosch train depot, I walked into a convenience store and got directions to the Rondebosch Commons, where Common Ground Rondebosch Venue is located. I walked the 15 minutes to church before cranking up Betts and heading off to British 4×4 in Diep River. When I got to British 4×4, one of the owners took it out on a 10 drive and everything was fine. I began to think I had blown whatever vibrations out of proportion. I was overjoyed when they told me everything was fine and I could head out. I started down the M3 and sure enough Betts properly broke down on the side of the highway. I managed to limp her in with the hazard lights on just before they closed. Currently, Betts is still at British 4×4 so more adventures to come in the world of public transport.

I collected Betts the Thursday after writing this entry. She had her panhard rod replaced at a modest cost and I was back on the roads. That night I headed off for my weekly run on Table Mountain and felt the same vibration that had been reason I had initially taken the car in to get checked out. The vibrations grew worse as I parked and by the time I out out of the rover coolant was pouring out the bonnet. After the run, I opened the coolant reservoir and poured in some water from the water fountain near the cable car station. The next day I headed back to British 4×4 where they rediagnosed the Land Rover. Unfortunately, they now think the dual mass flywheel and oil cooler something or another is broken … meaning I may not get Betts back before heading back Stateside.

So it’s back to the thing more dangerous than childhood obesity, public transport. It’s was an interesting weekend trekking around. I managed to catch a ride with friends for most of the weekend, but on Saturday I found myself back on the train. My church, Common Ground, was doing an ‘act of kindness’ at Beth Urial home for boys. We were painting murals on the exterior walls and touching up the trim paint. Well everybody from small group I had hope was going ended up back out or going late. So I jumped back on a taxi and headed off for the train station. All taxi drivers are prone to taunting and many to physical violence (and even murder for hire – see World Cup murder of Anni Dewani), but this particular driver was in a league of his own. He pulled up next to a man standing next to a taxi and began to shout ‘f*ck you .. out of the way .. f*ck you’. This did not go over well. The man standing next to the taxi, challenged him to a death match on the sidewalk … probably involving a tire iron. At this point my driver continues to shout ‘f*ck you’ at the man and I’m beginning to think there’s a 1 in 10 chance this is where I’m going to die. Finally my driver launches forward and I think the worst is over. Well at the intersection across from the train station, the driver veers across a couple lanes of traffic and stops traffic to once again start a fight with another taxi. This one doesn’t’ last and I lunged out of the taxi at the metrorail. I took the train to Salt River where I was planning on walking several blocks to Beth Urial. Salt River is among the poorer areas of Cape Town outside of the townships. Honestly it was a little uncomfortable walking through the neighborhood, but once again there’s something to be said for experiencing Cape Town off the beaten path.

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