Can You Tell Me How To Get to Port Elizabeth?

22 09 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 7.17.08

I don’t think it counts as hitch hiking if you pay for the ride. But when you are stuck at a gas station 5 km from Storms River Village and the gas station sells bus tickets to Port Elizabeth, except you have to buy them 24 hours in advance, but they close at 4:00 pm, and you have to pay for a shuttle to get to the gas station anyway, then getting a ride from a truck driver is not such a bad idea.

Even though it’s their job to deal with travelers, the hostel owners in Storms River were less than competent in helping us get bus tickets. As it turned out the gas station attendants saw us sitting with our bags in front of the filling station (I was probably looking lost and confused) and helped us arrange a ride to Port Elizabeth with a trucker passing through.

After an uneventful two hour ride, we started seeing signs for Port Elizabeth. At this point the driver informed us that he wasn’t going into the city, but to the other side of town. He didn’t feel comfortable dropping us off at his destination because we would be in the middle of a township (the ghetto). I figured he’d drop us at another gas station, but we ended up on the side of the interstate near the off ramp to the airport. After walking a half mile towards the airport having no idea where we were, we spotted a radio taxi (the safe kind of taxi), and asked to go to Basecamp Backpackers.

Our hostel owner was giving us a tour of the hostel, which was basically her house where she had converted the large downstairs bedrooms into dorm style lodging. She was babbling away, “You must have found our add in the Coast to Coast Magazine. I advertise a bathtub with a mirror on the ceiling, which is upstairs if you want to use it…” We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was vaguely listening to her until she paused and asked in her shrill voice, “Do you mind staying in a dorm room with coloreds?” Although this word does not have the same derogatory connotations as it does in the US, I still cringe when I hear it. “Of course we don’t mind,” I quickly responded, as I reminded myself that despite her language, she was (unlike other hostel owners) letting black Africans stay at her hostel. She continued, “The other hostel owners have been trying to get me to raise my rates, because I have the lowest rates in town and it makes them look bad, but I tell them it’s my house…”

In the 48 hours we stayed at Basecamp Backpackers, we basically learned the owner’s entire life story. Originally from Ireland, she moved to Port Elizabeth when her daughter married a very wealthy South African. She is constantly busy and her manner has a New Jersey edge to it. After she showed us our dorm room, she had decided she wanted to rearrange the furniture, so within five minutes of our arrival, Chris and I found ourselves moving bunk beds and a futon as she directed us as to where they should go. Although it is impossible not to have a lengthy conversation with her, she is very efficient. After helping us organize a day trip to Addo Elephant Park, she even went to the bus station to pick up our tickets while she was running her countless other errands. Later, we were having problems getting in touch with a hostel in Hogsback (recommended to us by Bob). She personally called them for us. I guess the hostel had more of a party atmosphere than we realized because her first words were, “Good God, man! Turn that music down!”

Our roommates were construction workers from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. While I heard them joking with each other in another language, I didn’t realize that different groups of them spoke different languages (Zulu, Xhosa, and Shona). English was the only language they shared. As we talked to them, they explained that getting work was tougher these days because of the high unemployment rate, not to mention the influx of Zimbabweans coming across the border. Some of them blamed the economy, but a quiet guy in his twenties spoke up to say that he strongly believes that the education system is the problem. Zimbabwe is known to have a good education system which is based on the British system (maybe the only positive remnant of colonialism), while South Africa’s education system is lacking. I listened to them debate (the same issues the candidates are currently debating) until they went to cook their dinner.



One response

23 09 2008

Glad you found the friendly faces in Port Elizabeth. Us PE folk do try to go the extra mile.

And thanks for the music selection from – when I saw the Tom Waits song I had to stop and listen for a while.

Happy traveling.

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