For the past two days I have been working at the Destinations Travel Show in Earl’s Court with a travel agency I used to work for in Namibia. I’ve been spending hours talking to people about Namibia and the sights and how to travel around and I keep remembering a time when my friend, Lucy and I, went to Cape Town for Christmas. By public transport. That was out first mistake.
Before working in Windhoek, I lived in Luderitz for a year. Luderitz is one of those out-of-the-way places at the bottom of the country with few transport links and train tracks which have been swallowed up by the desert and the sand dunes. You pretty much need to have your own car, which we didn’t.
So we relied on the bus service. There was a bus inland from Luderitz to a town on the single main road running down the middle of the country, called Keetmanshoop. Once we were at Keetmanshoop, there were plenty of buses heading down to Cape Town. We had bought our tickets for the whole journey from Luderitz to Cape Town and, mistakenly, thought this guaranteed us against potential mishaps. We had our tickets! And we would succeed in our mission!
The first stretch, from Luderitz to Keetmanshoop was fine. It was five hours of talking to and playing with the other children on the bus, being only children ourselves really. Then everyone got off in Keetmanshoop and dispersed. Our bus to Cape Town was due to pick us up in about seven hours so we knew we were in for a long wait. The bus picked up at a petrol station so there was no official seating area or anything.
We plonked down with our bags which were bigger than us and full of nonsense we didn’t need for a three week holiday in a big city. We waited. 2pm. 3pm. 5pm. 8pm.
And soon the time for the coach to appear was approaching. It did not appear. 9pm came and went. 10pm. There was no-one else about and no bus. We took turns to walk up and down the road and look to see if it could have passed by without us noticing.
Eventually, around 11pm, a double decker bus rolled in and a few people appeared with bags and hurried to the bus. Being the polite Brits that we are, we queued in an orderly fashion as the others pushed in front, holding out their tickets. Eventually, we were the last two to get on, having not pushed in. We held out our tickets and the woman said, “I have one seat left.”
“But there are two of us,” we protested. “And we have tickets. Look. Tickets!”
Seeing we were getting irate, she said there was another bus on the way, we were not to worry. O ok, we thought. They must put two buses on the route because it’s quite busy. Pacified, we sat down on our bags to wait for the second bus and watched the first one drive away.
We waited and waited and waited. Midnight. 1am. 2am. Lucy and I decided to take turns having a nap and keeping an eye out. Lucy went first taking a nap…. And didn’t wake up and I felt mean waking her. So I was in charge of staying awake to watch for the bus. I employed a method of taking walks up and down the road to look for the bus and sitting down to read or write letters. The black star-filled sky started slowly to turn dark blue then lighter and lighter. 4am. 5am. 6am. 7am.
So now we had been sitting on a pavement at a petrol garage for 18 hours and we realised the inevitable truth that there had never been a second bus…
We sat and waited for a new plan to become clear.
It was as we were thinking about what to do that a man approached us and asked what we were doing. We explained that we had been waiting for a bus to Cape Town which had never arrived. He was going to Cape Town, he explained, and did we want a lift?
We jumped at it and, thanking him profusely, made our way to his car with our bags. Now I think about it, he had all the classic signs of being a bit suspect. Pale skin, prematurely receding hairline, slight stoop, randomly approaching two young girls to ask what they are doing. But we were delirious with tiredness and without any better plan up our sleeves.
The drive there was pretty uninteresting apart from the fact that we listened to a Faith Hill album on repeat almost the whole way. And it was a looooong drive. I had opted for the front seat so was obliged to make polite conversation for the entire time, still unable to sleep. Lucy had cleverly chosen the back seat and got to sleep when she wanted.
When we got to Cape Town, he was stopping in to drop off his bags then take us to our hostel. While dropping off his bags, we were invited in to his house and ended up in a slightly bizarre situation making small talk over cups of tea with the parents of a man we didn’t know.
When he dropped us off, we gave him money for petrol, thanked him loads, took his phone number and said it would be great to meet up for a drink (we didn’t). In the Long Street Backpackers, where we were staying, the two other friends we were meeting were having heart attacks as we were a full day late and the bus company couldn’t tell them if we had ever boarded the bus. Of course they couldn’t…..
And in case you’re wondering, apart from the shaky start, we had a great time in Cape Town!