I'm not much of a driver. I've only ever taken two lessons in my life, after which I kinda just lost interest in the whole licence spiel and went right back to walking everywhere (I was living in Grahamstown, after all). As a result, I still find it fascinating to explore even the most arbitrary and commercial areas of Cape Town with the help of its lovely train system. And with this particular outlook, I hopped on at Mowbray Station yesterday to explore the suburb of Claremont.
Claremont is full of shopping places, eating places and living places. It also has a bunch of flats and office buildings, most of them rubbing shoulders with (or simply sitting on top of) a whole truckload of random commercial establishments. Everything feels quite jam-packed, but I suppose that isn't too bad when you have to reach everything on foot. I ended up finding quite a few interesting locations, and even snapped a pic of this curiously-named hair salon:
Aside from the oodles of random establishments within the area, there's also two major centres: Stadium On Main and Cavendish Square. Since Stadium On Main has a no-cameras policy (what's up with that?) and a pretty crappy Website, I'm simply going to waffle about Cavendish instead. Besides, the latter has freaking touch-screen store directories.
Cavendish is rather big and has pretty much what you'd expect from any major shopping centre: electronics, food, clothing and the occasional esoteric retailer hiding in the corners. What intrigued me was the layout - the mall was literally cut in half by a street market, with permanent stall set up to allow merchants to sell some fleamarket goods. Location-wise, it's actually a brilliant plan that exposes businesses to traffic that may not otherwise stumble by.
I ended up spending the entire afternoon in Claremont, after which I victoriously marched into the local Shoprite, grabbed myself a few groceries and headed back to the train station to get a rush-hour ticket home.
See, until then I'd only ever boarded trains during off-peak times. It's admittedly a bit slow: sometimes it takes ages for a train to arrive, but if you strike it lucky and show up at the right time you'll be able to board almost instantly and enjoy a comfortable trip back.
I'd heard that trains came far more frequently during commuter hours, so I was looking forward to a quick 4:45 ride back to Mowbray and hopefully a nice hot supper within the hour. I was soon confronted with the hideous reality: trains literally full to bursting and seas of tangled bodies quite honestly forbidding further boarders until a handful of passengers decide to spurt out onto the next platform. In this way, the Cape Town train system is kinda like South Africa's version of the Large Hadron Collider: a huge acceleration system on rails with the potential to create superdense singularities from a squished-up mass of passengers.
After seeing one or two of these jam-packed trains pass by, I decided to suck it in and try clamber onto the next one that arrived. Long story short, I got onto a carriage about five minutes later after bribing my way on board with a litre of milk.
Then it turned out that I had to lean outside the train while frantically maintaining a hold on the door frame as though my life depended on it. Dearest reader: I may talk rubbish on this blog from time to time, but I'm being absolutely serious about this one.
Unfortunately, I couldn't whip out my camera to take a picture of this daredevilry. It had something to do with me maintaining a white-knuckled grip on both the train door and my shopping. Needless to say I was quite relieved when I had the opportunity to clamber off a few stations later.