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Train Hopping

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After a long day of racing through Pretoria and Johannesburg, we were all ready to get home. Teams Concrete and Awaken left the Top of Africa observatory deck on the 50th floor of the Carlton Center in the heart of downtown Jo’burg. We needed to get to the train station so we could catch a train back to Pretoria in order to get picked up and taken to Alabanza.

We asked about 6 different coombi drivers if they could take us to the Metro (train) station, we finally found one willing to plunge himself and his vehicle into the heart of rush hour traffic in the largest city in South Africa. Many were reluctant to drive us because the Metro station is the heart of the city with streets pulsing out from it, especially at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening.

The ticket line was long, but it was nothing that we hadn’t conquered before. We secured our third-class tickets for 8 Rand each, which is about US$1.15, and headed down to Platform 11 where our train was scheduled to depart from. We stood next to the train and found out that we were in luck: the train would be leaving at 5:13, only a mere 23 minute wait. At about 5:10, the train doors were still not opened, thus creating a long line outside each car, as everyone was hoping to obtain a seat. It’s a long ride if you are forced to stand the entire time. In a flash of confusion, everyone in line started bailing and racing for the train sitting at Platform 12, about 50 yards from our train. We weren’t sure why everyone was making a mad dash, but we knew we didn’t want to be left behind, so we joined in the stampede. The doors to this train were open, so we all managed to push our way onto the car and somehow we all got seats. We plopped down next to each other and began to chuckle at the situation. We were all so exhausted from running around Pretoria and Jo’burg all day that we were beginning to get slaphappy.

About 3 minutes later, I noticed two men quickly get up out of their seats and run back to the original train at Platform 11. I wanted to make sure I got a seat, so I jumped up and ran after them, as my team followed after me. I managed to be one of the first ones in the train car, so I took up as much room as possible by sprawling out on the seat bench to save seats for the rest of the team. Luckily they were right behind me and quickly slid into place. Once the shock wore off, we began to laugh hysterically at the situation that we had found ourselves in. Not only were we running back and forth between two trains with South Africans during the rush hour commute home, but with each switch we somehow managed to always sit across from a woman who had a necklace made of long blonde hair that radiated out from her neck like the sun. She carried her young child in one arm and a small bag of groceries in the other. After the first train switch, she had discovered that her ice cream had a small hole in the bottom of the container. To rectify the problem, she decided that she would make sure that she, her small child, or whoever happened to be sitting next to her was constantly sucking on the bottom of the ice cream container so that it would not leak in the bag. This remedy even occurred during the mad rush of the train switches; it was quite impressive.

We aren’t sure what triggered the mob of people to run to the other train. We think that there was some sort of announcement made over the PA system that we were unable to understand. Somehow, we were fortunate enough to experience this mad dash another two times, each time between Platforms 11 & 12. With each switch, more and more people were boarding the train, making the search for a seat increasingly more competitive. On the forth stampede, I tried to be smart. I wasn’t the first one out of the train car, but I knew that I could run faster the South Africans who had just gotten off work, and were thus still wearing their dress shoes while I was wearing my tennis shoes. I think I ran faster than I ever had in my life, weaving in and out of masses of people fighting for comfort on their long commute home. I meant business this time.

By the grace of God, I was the very first one on the train, but I knew that the rest of the World Racers were a little bit behind me back in the crowd. I found the longest bench in the train, laid down, stretched one hand out horizontally over my head to save a few more seats, while sticking my other hand up and out the window so my team could identify which train I was in (the white hand was a big enough clue, since we were the only white people on either platform.) All of this was done in a split second, since the mob was quickly entering the train car. Seats began to fill up quickly, but I still didn’t see my team. One man didn’t like the idea of me saving seats, so he promptly grabbed my feet and swung them off the bench so he could have a seat. I argued with him and tried to scoot him with my hips, but he was just as determined as me, if not more so, pushing me back with his hips. The rest of the team arrived and slid into the seats that I had managed to protect from seat-snatchers.

We were rolling with laughter at this point. We couldn’t decide if this mass chaos was a normal occurrence for South Africans trying to get home from their jobs. If it were normal, we felt both sadness that they would have to endure this agony every evening, and jealousy that we didn’t get to experience this adventure more often.

The train finally left by 6:05, only about an hour late from it scheduled departure time. The irony is that we ended up pulling out of the Johannesburg Metro station on the very first train car that we started on. Only in Africa can you get that much entertainment for only $1.15 per person.

Posted by lemorris 22:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged transportation

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