Off the Rails

“Take the train to Simon’s Town”, they said.

“It’ll be fun”, they said.

It was the day after Boxing Day.  My dear friend, Cat, was visiting me from Joburg, and we only had a few days left to explore the fairest Cape together before she was due to fly home.  Upon discovering that she had yet to experience the quaint naval charms of Simon’s Town, I suggested we spend a day there.

Unable to resist a visit to our favourite Bohemian haunt, Kalk Bay, we decided to make a stop there first.  The scenically beautiful drive was further enhanced by the lack of cars on the road – clearly, most people were spending the day eating two-day old turkey and re-wrapping and re-gifting their Christmas presents.  We browsed in the quirky boutiques, lunched beside the ocean and discussed the way forward to Simon’s Town.  Always up for a little adventure, we decided to leave the car where it was and take the train.  Our return tickets were purchased, the sky was clear, the sea was sparkling and our spirits were high.  Our train arrived bang on time and we boarded it in a state of high excitement, giggling like schoolgirls at the sheer novelty of it all.

Cat belongs to the generation who likes to capture every happy moment on film.  If it isn’t instagrammed, facebooked and tagged, it didn’t happen.  Because the train windows were so filthy, she decided to lean out of them in order to take photos of the stunning scenery.  My poor friend’s perfect photo opportunities were interrupted when her head connected with passing branches with a resounding thwack!  Twice.  Fortunately, she managed to cling onto her beloved cellphone both times (I often tease her about it being surgically attached to her body – now I have proof).  We fell about the place laughing as she clutched her poor throbbing head and, always one to look on the bright side of things, said she was just glad her eye hadn’t been taken out.

We arrived in Simon’s Town and took a slow stroll from the train station to the town centre, where we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon ambling around, adding floaty garments to our summer wardrobes, stroking the soft concrete fur of Just Nuisance and absorbing the startling beauty all around us.Cat and I at Simon's Town

In order to make the most of our day out, we had decided to take the very last train home, which was scheduled for 7.11pm. Arriving at the station and noticing that we had ten minutes to spare, we ran down to the beach and took selfies with the ocean behind us and the soft white sand under our toes.

Cat and me at Simon's TownBack at the station, we were interested (and just a little concerned) to see that none of the electronic information boards on the platform were operational. After chatting to our fellow train-goers, we established that we were definitely on the correct platform and waited in anticipation for our train to arrive.  We waited and then we waited some more.  And waited.  But no train came.

Suddenly, we noticed our fellow passengers running along the platform and exiting the train station. Slightly alarmed, we joined in the throng and followed them like sheep, hearing one of the people mention that the train had been cancelled, but not to worry because “they” had organised us a bus instead. We had to rely on verbal messages like these as no announcements from the station master were forthcoming. I think the loudspeaker system, like the information boards, had given up the ghost.

We boarded the bus and were just beginning to enjoy the scenery and the loud music when the bus screeched to a halt and everyone piled off.  It felt like we hadn’t got out of second gear.  We disembarked to find Fish Hoekourselves standing outside Fish Hoek train station. No problem, everyone assured us …. the bus was chucking us off here, but “they” had organised us a train to take us the rest of the way.  But not just any old train, mind you.  An EXPRESS train.

We gathered up our shopping bags, hurried inside the station and onto the platform and waited eagerly for our promised Express train, marvelling at the efficiency of the South African transport system. Every time we saw a train approaching we’d all yell, “YAY!!!!”, clutch our goods and shackles and get ready to board the now-famous “Express” train.

Over the course of the next hour, three trains arrived. Sadly, none of them were for us. We shivered in the freezing cold, got blown about by the ferocious wind, handed sweets out to the dancing children with bells on their ankles, befriended a Canadian man and his teenage son (who drily informed us that he was just LOVIN’ the “Express” train), and steadfastly refused to admit defeat and Taxify (we don’t Uber anymore … but that’s another story for another day). We had bought a return ticket and we would NOT miss our train ride back!

Eventually, we started to suffer from severe sense of humour failure.  We were frozen to the bone, windswept, tired, and our feet were beginning to ache.  Cat decided to take matters into her own hands and went in search of a person in a position of authority.  She managed to unearth a uniformed lady who she found hiding in the “Customer Service” office.  Cat pointed out that there were people on the platform who had been waiting for over two hours to get home, including a very pregnant lady and a nurse who had been on her feet since six o’clock that morning. The lady fixed her with a glassy-eyed stare and listened with resigned disinterest as she waited for Cat to finish her rant, then calmly informed her that she was “only security”.  Muttering under my breath and utterly fed-up, I paced up and down the platform, looking for anyone in an outfit slightly resembling a uniform.  I happened to notice an official-looking man in a black fleece strutting up and down the platform with great importance at regular intervals, making calls to the powers that be on his cellphone and informing them that “the customers were waiting” and to “hamba-lapa the train this side” (or similar).  I strode up to him and demanded an update on the progress of our “Express” train.  He assured me confidently me that “the train – it is coming” and requested that we “just wait”. So we waited.  But still, no train came.

Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. People were running along the platform, pushing past us and exiting the station at high speed. Cat and I grabbed our parcels and assumed the sheep position, following blindly.  We heard someone in the crowd informing us with great glee that “they” had organised another bus for us.  We let out shouts of joy, piled out of the station doors onto the street and looked around with childlike faith for our bus.  We waited.  But no bus came.

Standing forlornly in the dark street, considering our options, the quiet night air was suddenly pierced with the sound of a voice yelling from the doors of the train station.  Could it be …?  Could the voice really be saying … ?  Yes, it was!  The voice was shouting, “TRAAAAAAAAAAIIIIINNNNNN!!!”.  Our merry little group gathered up our belongings once more, turned on our heels and piled into the station again, overcome with relief and laughing and hooting with barely contained hysteria. We dashed onto the platform once again and craned our necks to watch for the lights that would signal the arrival of our “Express” train.  We waited.  But no train came.

Cat and I looked around and noticed that our large group of fellow passengers had thinned out considerably.  We went back to the road to see what had become of them all. Someone informed us that they’d taken a taxi.  Cat wandered off to chat to an old man and, when she returned, asked me whether I fancied a walk to Kalk Bay.  Her new friend had informed her that it was twenty minutes away by foot.  I said that under the circumstances, I’d love that and we gathered up our shopping bags for the final time and set off down the road.

The night sky was beautiful and clear and a gentle breeze wrapped itself around us. Chatting, giggling and singing “she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”, we walked the 2.6 km to Kalk Bay, the stones and pebbles of the many building sites pushing up through our thin-soled flip-flops and digging into our feet. Our soles may have been bruised, but our souls remained intact.

We finally descended the stairs to Cape to Cuba at 9.30pm, which was fitting as by then we felt like we’d travelled from Cape to Cuba and back again. Collapsing in a hot tired mess on the couch, we knocked our glasses (doubles, of course) together and drank to a day spent going off the rails.

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