Archive 2008 - 2019

Semester in Cape Town: Part 9

by Bella Tobin

Cape Town transportation is a mixed bag.

 There are not many big cars here.  For the most part they are all sedans, wagons and bugs, with the occasional jeep or terrain vehicle. There are lots of mopeds and motorcycles, and I have seen three motorcycle crashes. One was pretty bad. We take cabs or taxis when we go someplace far or specific. There are two types of taxis, the ones that are licensed and legit and have meters, and those that are not. When there is a group of us we will call a legitimate taxi, otherwise we will walk to the 7-11(which is not related to the 7-11s in the US) at the top of our street where there is a taxi stand. These are cars with a taxi sign on top, which sometimes falls off. We tell them where we want to go and what we want to pay. If they try to charge more, we walk away and find someone who will accept that price. It’s usually 20-50 rand depending on how far we go, which is about 3-7 dollars. Sometimes the cars are a bit dodgy, but we go in groups and it's okay.



I haven’t taken the train very much, occasionally to the beach. It is cheap, 15 rand($2), and definitely an experience. We buy first class tickets, since it's safer, and we live near the tracks so it is a short walk. The downside to the train is that it is unsafe to take after dark. I don’t know what happens but I know not to take it. One time when we were on our way back from the beach a homeless man (we presumed he was homeless) saw that we were American and put on a show for us. He was wearing short jean shorts,  a tiny t-shirt and a baseball cap that said Jagger on it. He sang, danced and swung from the bars of the train trying to impress us. This lasted for about 20 minutes. It caused quite a scene actually; he liked America and American music as was very apparent.


My favorite type of transportation is the minibus, and they are the main point of this article. As soon as you get to Cape Town you notice it. Everywhere you go on the Main Road you hear men yelling “Wynberg!! Wynberg!!” or “Cape Town! Mowbray! Cape Town!” over and over and over. All day and all night. They are sticking their heads out of the windows of minibuses or they are on the sidewalk trying to recruit riders. It doesn’t matter if you are walking in the opposite direction, they will ask you at least twice if you want to go to Wynberg (or Cape Town), depending on the direction they are driving. Even if you say no, it is likely they will ask again. The buses are slightly larger than minivans, and probably legally sit 11 or 12 passengers. I have been in some that have 20 people and the caller is still yelling to get more. You can tell when it is full as the caller is sitting out of the window. There is usually a driver and a caller who sits in back and opens the door, collects money, and does the yelling.

When you need a minibus they are very convenient and easy to find. You just stand on the side of the road and there will be one within two minutes. You take it in the general direction you want to go, pay the six rand, and tell them when you want to get out. I think it is really interesting. Since there isn’t a subway, this is sort of the legitimate form of public transportation. It is efficient, inexpensive, and gets you where you need to go. It is known for being unsafe at night and I’ve heard  stories of being robbed and held at gunpoint. I will not take it at night.

Once dusk comes, the whole world changes. As my Dad always says, nothing good happens after 2 am. It's not exactly true, but you definitely don’t test it here. There is always an interesting mix of people on the bus and you are practically sitting on top of each other. Sometimes they play inappropriate rap music regardless of the elderly women on the bus. These buses are definitely not legal, and I’m sure many of the drivers aren’t licensed to drive them. But it's cool. This is Africa.