Monday, February 9, 2009

Night Bus Reflections

I don't think I'll ever get used to the idea of curling up on a bus seat for some shuteye, especially if my situation is compounded by noisy announcements, an erratic drip of water from the ceiling (I still can't figure out where that blasted stream came from) and, of course, other passengers.

This is the third time I've been on an overnight bus trip. Until now, I've been rather fortunate in my route selection, but it does mean that my body is woefully underprepared for the night-long onslaught that awaits me.

For those who don't know, sleeping on a bus doesn't actually count as sleeping. Your eyes close, your body goes through the motions and on occasion your mind may even wander into dreamland. Don't be fooled. You're lying to your brain. The morning after is a testimony to this.

This may seem impossible, but here's me looking even worse than usual.

Still, I had a surprisingly interesting trip. The movie selection wasn't absolutely lamentable, the coffee did its job and I just happened to sit down next to one of the most fascinating individuals I've met in quite a while. He was a truck driver from Paarl – a man who sometimes spent 14 hours a day on the road, doing deliveries and travelling around the country behind the wheel of a vehicular behemoth. Similar to a bus driver, I guess, but with less annoying cargo.

The moment he sat down next to me (way back when the bus was still grunting and rattling in the Johannesburg terminal), he shook my hand, said “Hello, my friend!” and plunged into a monologue about what he was doing in Gauteng and why he was catching a bus ride back to the Cape.

His presence and openness struck me for some reason – his words were free of the platitudes and memes that so many fly-by-night strangers have, in the past, offered me in a vain attempt to establish a connection while waiting at a bus stop or shopping till. He wasn't trying to impress me. In fact, at times it was as if he spoke to himself - though he never failed to offer an occasional acknowledging glance in my direction. Me, a complete stranger who he was treating like a close friend!

After recovering from my initial feeling of awkwardness, I engaged the driver in a bit of conversation. It was mostly him who did the talking – I satisfied myself with the occasional navigatory question, but otherwise just sat and listened.

As the driver told me about his life, his experiences and the places he'd been, I thought about my own desire to travel. Thus far, I've admittedly been a bit vague with my ambitions. I've justified my decision to roam for a year with the stalest appeasements imaginable: a desire for adventure, a change of scene, the feeling that it's “the right thing to do”. It's been awkward trying to convince some people that this is how I want to spend my first year out of varsity.

Speaking to the driver made me realise that my decision stemmed from a desire to emulate the people I admired: those who had gone out and experienced the world on a level that brought them out of the stale, 9-to-5, sedentary comfort zone. Those who had stories of exotic lands, people and encounters that shaped them and helped them grow.

Such individuals garnered my respect because for all my diligence and dedication to my machines and my writing (which has served me well, to be fair), I ultimately had a much narrower perspective of the world than they did. I look at these people and I see something better – a level of maturity and "life wisdom" that I doubt I'm ever going to find if I just sit in front of a computer screen.

I think that is why I'm spending this year striking up random conversations with Gauteng cops about guns and crooks, blowing ninety bucks on bed and breakfast with a crew of American volunteer workers and spending an uncomfortable 18 hours curled up on a bus seat next to a rambling 65-year-old truck driver. I've seen time and time again how experience can mature and strengthen an individual, and I want a piece of that pie - no matter how much I may be stumbling in the process.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the gentleman who'd filled such a great part of my trip with interesting conversation, but I must admit that for some reason I was a little afraid to ask for a pose. Maybe I was concerned about spoiling my description of this man with a shaky cellphone photograph, or maybe I was just being a wuss. Either way, this strange and fascinating individual – a man whose name I'd never even had the courtesy to request – got off shortly before I arrived at Cape Town, and it's quite likely that I'll never see him again.

He's given me something to think about, though.

... aaaaaand holy crap, I've just written a serious blog post. Don't worry, dear reader, I'll start talking rubbish again tomorrow. Cape Town awaits.


  1. Man, you make me want to travel the country too. But your writing style glamorizes it (it's really good, y'see) - I would NOT survive an 18 hour bus trip! Especially not with someone telling me their life story. iPod in my ears, DS in my hands, and sleep most of the way (I can sleep in moving vehicles, of any kind).

    Otherwise I just fly.

    You're a brave man, Nandy, a brave man indeed. Godspeed, enjoy the f**s.

  2. Wow. Incredible what kinds of people you meet just by random happenstance, huh? I suppose it does make all the travelling worthwhile.

    As for the sleeping, well... Having undergone three miserable return flights to Europe in my time, I can fully and completely relate with your inability to sleep. A sleep-deprived Gazza is not a happy Gazza. He is a Zombie Gazza. Very much like the Zombie Nandrew in exhibit A.

    I just hope the Capetonians weren't packing shotguns... <_<