Train travel in Johannesburg

Cost of train ticket to travel less than 2kms on fancy, almost-empty airport train – $15.00
Cost of train ticket to travel 10 stations on very crowded suburban Joburg train – 80c
Time it took us to get the 14kms from the airport back to Maboneng – 2+ hours
The experience of being the only 2 white people in a 12 carriage train packed full of people – priceless!

We had to return the rental car yesterday morning. For complicated reasons, we couldn’t just hire one car for the 6 weeks we’re here, so Greg will pick up another car this afternoon, then we’ll head to Capetown tomorrow. The first car got bits of tar on it when we were in Botswana – we drove on a section of roadworks near Francistown and ended up behind a tar truck. Ick! First stop yesterday morning was a car wash we spotted from the freeway on the way to the airport. It took them a while, but they did a fantastic job, got all the tar off and we returned the sparkling clean car to the Avis desk at the airport. Then the fun began.

There is an airport train that goes part of the way into the city, but not where we wanted to go, or it is possible to change to a suburban line and get closer to where we’re staying. The nearest station to Maboneng is Jeppe. The first train trip all went smoothly and lasted about 3 minutes, then we walked around the corner to the Rhodesfield suburban line, past lots of empty bus stops. There was a sign up at the airport warning that there was an ‘illegal strike’ and that buses would not be running. Um, what other kind of strike is there?

So, to the new Rhodesfield Station. 4 people sitting at the security gates to check that everyone had a valid ticket, but no one actually selling tickets at either of the 2 ticket windows, and no automatic ticket machines. 4 platforms, but absolutely no information about which platform our train left from. The woman mopping the steps told us to go to platform 1 and asked us to take the lift so we wouldn’t mess up her clean floor. Fair enough.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The fancy digital signs on each platform stayed blank the whole time we waited, no clue there about where any of the trains were going. When the first train heading in the direction we wanted to go pulled in, we asked a fellow passenger and he told us it wasn’t the one we wanted. It turned out that he was waiting for the same train as we were.
The other stations had sellers offering various items for sale – fruit, lollies, newspapers, but Rhodesfield had nothing interesting, unfortunately. We watched 4¬†workers pick up rubbish off the tracks … well 2 picked up the rubbish along the tracks, 2 walked on the platforms beside them waving white flags. No idea why, it’s not like a train would be able stop because of a couple of people picking up rubbish. Absolutely no rubbish bins anywhere along the platforms, hence the rubbish on the tracks.
We waited over an hour for the train, and so did other people around us. No one got impatient, everyone just waited. Greg went and checked the timetable at the top of the stairs and learnt that there is meant to be a train every 30 minutes. We had probably just missed one when we got there, the next one just never showed up, and the one we finally caught was about 10 minutes late. The best way to make sure you’re on the right train is to match the train number on the timetable with the number on the front of the train’s engine.
It was quite full when we got on, and got much, much fuller as we headed into the city. However there were sellers on the train, battling their way through the crowded carriages, selling ice blocks in plastic bags, newspapers, chocolates, shoe polish, coloured plastic document folders, biscuits. When the train emptied out a bit and we got a seat, we bought a newspaper. It cost 30c.

Only a few blocks from Jeppe Station to the apartment, but all that waiting had made us hungry, so we called in to Soul Souvlaki for lunch. There’s a photo of their ‘shop’, made from parts of a shipping container, in the Soweto post. The souvlaki were delicious.

Later in the afternoon we walked up to the Carlton Centre. 50 storeys high, the tallest building in Africa, and apparently it used to be the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Part of it was formerly a posh hotel, the lower storeys are now a shopping centre with a large supermarket. We got more internet access at Vodacom and food to cook for dinner at the supermarket – chicken breasts and vegetables that I cooked in an oven bag. My first ever attempt at using an oven bag, it was all delicious and I realised that oven bags are perfect for cooking in an oven that you don’t want to dirty … but you all probably knew that anyway. We also bought a 1 liter carton of white wine, for $3. Yep, we’re classy when it comes to our wine choices.

We’ve found out that there is a ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus that goes to the Apartheid Museum, so we’ll have a third try at getting there today.

On the way to carlton centre there are lots of ads for "services". If most people are not on the internet, and you cannot send them spam emails what else can you do?
On the way to carlton centre there are lots of ads for “services”. If most people are not on the internet, and you cannot send them spam emails what else can you do?

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