Taken for a ride
Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
160Trip End Oct 25, 2010
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Where I stayed
The Kraal lodge Mpande
The hills, forests and lagoons are too much of an obstacle, as I was to find out for myself later.
So to get from one place to the next you must first make your way back to Mthatha, 70 odd kms of rough road, find a shuttle and trundle all the way back on a parallel road, a bit more to the south.
Fancy visiting the next village? Same procedure.
Costing you more than just time and money, it makes you seriously grumpy.
Mthatha petrol station - no way around, they say.
But I am not going back there. I refuse.
'There's the 4x4 dirt track' someone ventures, 'it crosses between the two roads half way to Mthatha, but you'll have a hard time finding anyone willing to take you. The car takes a real beating.'
Sounds good to me, I reckon I'll take my chances.
I get a lift from the lodge to Port St Johns.
Plenty of taxis going direction Mthatha, I look for a full one as it will leave first, soon as it's packed to the roof. Squashed between a big mama and a nun (she's the first black person to tell me it might not be wise for a white woman to use this kind of transportation,) I try clasping my baggage to make room for some people and cabbages, but no-one seems to mind my stuff.
Expertly I pass on the money handed to me from behind. The first time I kept trying to give it back but they wouldn't take it, shaking their heads, explaining in Xhosa; it was, of course, their fare.
At some point during the ride, it is produced. No system, as far as I can see, each individually choosing when to part with their pennies. Without looking the driver tosses the notes and coins in a plastic lunch box, still he knows exactly who paid what - and don't ask for change, he will see you get it before you leave
There is often a helper, an eager boy, hanging out the riding car, hustling rides, hurrying passengers in and out, protecting the driver, for whom he has great respect.
I am told to get off at a crossing called Nocollege, funny name but quite accurate. Another one of those strange, unexpected places in the middle of the bush. A shop with a canteen and a lot of men loitering about, some women selling fruit, old beaten-up vehicles; it's a shambles.
Again I'm the only white one, the men are rowdy and showing off.
So this is where I start looking for a ride and I better take whatever is on offer for the idea of being stuck here is not very appealing.
A young girl comes up to me, asks if I want a taxi. Yes, yes please.
'Over there' she nods non-smiling. I see a 'bakkie,' an ancient pick-up truck, that would not even be allowed in to a scrapyard at Holland.
She's having me on.
No, she's dead serious and asks for 60 Rand. Hold on, I knew for a fact it was 20 R
She shrugs, it's a long way to the Kraal, take it or leave it.
I can't believe I'm doing this, getting into that wreck, paying way over the odds, but what am I to do?
It get's worse.
'That's your driver over there.' Defiantly she points him out. Fuck, it's the one with one leg.
Stick shift car, that means three pedals and one leg.......
A timid lady with a serious cough, apologetically inches her way next to me in my seat.
And I know this is the moment to do the only sane thing and get out, fast, but the absurdity of it all is giving me a perverse buzz - how often do you get to experience anything like this?
I am not going to miss it - I am ready for the ride.
The bakkie, however, wasn't. It wouldn't start and had to be pushed. Believe it or not, the one-legged drive was the pusher. I know you think that can't be done, how someone has to manage the gas and the gears or whatever, while the other pushes, but that's what happened, maybe he used his crutches, I don't know, but in he hopped and we were on our way
This miracle was repeated several times as he kept stopping whenever he saw a likely passenger on the road.
It's a long, slow and uncomfortable journey.The track barely passable, the area isolated, then to my surprise, we approach a small hospital. But why aren't there decent roads to get you there? Questions, questions.
The coughing lady leaves the car, her germs linger on.
Last passenger, alone with my driver, I decide to get over the rip off and find out his story.
Like the car, how can his boss expect him to drive this accident-waiting-to-happen?
His face lights up with pride. 'Boss? No, no boss, the taxi is mine!'
He must have misread the expression of disbelief on my face, for he repeats, self-importantly tapping himself on the chest: 'Yes mama, I am the proud owner.'
You'll understand I didn't have the heart to ask about the leg after that..........