Why did we do it? We had little choice. Was there no other option? No, there wasn’t. These are only a few of the questions we found ourselves asking one another as we took our first African “Public Taxi”.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning: LeeAnne and I realized that our passports where slowly filling up. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have enough room for all the immigration stamps we’d get before returning to the states. The solution seemed easy enough – we’d go to the US Consulate in Cape Town and have them add extra pages, it’s a free service and it take 20 minutes.
Now, the issue is the location of the consulate. Despite all the empty office space downtown the US Consulate is located way, way, way out in the suburbs, past the train lines. We’d have to take a train, then a cab to get out there. Okay, no problem – we hop on a train and head out to “Retreat Station”.
Now, downtown there are cabs and buses flying left and right. Not so out in Retreat. Here there are only “Public Taxi’s”. So what is a Public Taxi? Public Taxi’s fill the void between Cabs and Buses, they’re independently operated like cabs, but carry a lot of people like buses. And in many African cities where public transportation is sparse they are the only option.
Here’s how it works: The Taxi’s are really vans converted to carry as many people as possible. Imagine 15 to 18 people in a minivan. They run set routes like buses, so don’t expect to get in, tell them where you want to go and have them drop you off there like a cab. You’ll have to whistle or yelp to get the drivers attention when you see where you want to get off.
From the train station you go to the taxi stand and ask someone which taxi will take you to a certain part of town. From there you load up and wait for the van to fill up, the driver won’t leave until he’s full. When you’re off on the road, keep an eye out for your destination (hard to do when it’s your first time in town), as the driver is not looking out for you.
We made it out to the embassy in something like a timely manner, had our pages added in nothing flat and then had to figure out how to get back into town. We were very open to non Public Taxi options so we consulted the good ladies at the Consulates main gate. “Where’s your car?” was their first question. They then gaped at us in disbelief as we explained we took a public taxi out – it seems there aren’t a lot of white tourists taking Public Taxi’s to the Consulate these days.
After taking a moment to grasp what we said they gave us directions to the nearest public taxi pick-up, told us not to pay more that 4.50 Rand and wished us the best of luck.
Overall, I’m glad we did it. It’s good to see how normal folks get around when you travel, but I’m glad we don’t have to go out to the Consulate again. Thanks Crazy Taxi.