The ride of my life!
One car short of extending a class trip from a journalism reading to a day on the beach has one of my colleagues eager to get us on to a taxi- what she described as, “This will make your day!”
Her eagerness stemmed from her amusement to get ‘the white girl’ on a taxi to introduce her to an entirely different South African culture – a culture we tend to miss completely from the other side of the driver’s wheel.
My concerns stemmed from the fact that taxis are often in poor condition and have a terrible reputation for reckless driving. And much to the dismay of our fellow classmates who thought this was a terrible idea, and tried to convince us that we might end up being robbed, murdered or possibly die in an accident, we dashed across the street to the taxi rank.
I was obviously questioning everything being thrown at me.
Would we be safe waiting for a taxi?
Would be safe in the taxi?
Would we be robbed in the taxi?
Are we going to get to our destination in one piece?
With a great deal of reassurance from the masterminds behind the idea we began looking for a taxi.
Let me begin with a little more about our wonderful taxi services. A South African taxi is a minibus and is often known as a ‘shared’ taxi. So yes, you have to share it with at least ten other people. You can catch one by either waving it down or catching one at the “taxi rank”. , Taxis depart once they are full and only when they’re full, so a departure and arrival schedule is highly unlikely to exist. The area from where we departed had conductors (the taxi driver’s co-pilot) who ran up to us from all directions asking for our destination, making it superbly easy to find an available taxi to get to the beach.
Departures and drop-offs take place whenever, and wherever, a taxi driver feels like stopping. Quite often it’s unannounced and in the middle of a road and sometimes in the middle of a busy intersection – no doubt annoying drivers all around.
The fare is unbelievably cheap, and you are warned in advance to have the exact amount or you won’t get any change. This was possibly the most fascinating part. It was a whole language on its own. Everyone hands their money forward or to the person next them, and expects to be handed cash if you aren’t right at the back. Thankfully, I was sitting right at the back, and my friend handed me the cash and told me to tap the lady in front of me. Once I had her attention I was to tell her how many were being paid for by flashing three fingers, one finger per person. I didn’t even have to say a word. And although we were told to not expect change, we were handed back what was due to us. That was the first myth about taxi rides to be proved incorrect.
The routes can be quite confusing and at times I had to admit it felt like we were going in the complete opposite direction of the beach, but, and probably because of the fact that my friend and I looked like complete newbies, the conductor informed us of our approaching drop off. And here we thought taxis were just hostile mobile vehicles that didn’t care about anyone. That’s another myth down.
On arrival, and dropped off right in front of Ushaka beach, I had to laugh. I was incredibly impressed and definitely a lot more relaxed about boarding a taxi. I’m not sure if I’d brave it on my own, and positive that I’ll still throw horrible words in a rage when competing with taxi drivers on the road, but I had a great deal of fun none-the-less.