That One Time… I Jumped Off a Moving Train in Africa. South Africa that is.
This blog post is coming to you due to popular demand. And by popular demand I mean the handful of people that have shown some kind of intrigue when they hear I survived jumping off a moving train.
I wish I’d written this all down when it first happened nearly three years ago. But I’ll do my best to tell it to you here and now.
It is (somewhat) a story of survival. Or near-death. Whichever sounds cooler.
All jokes aside, I feel that I really do owe it to Jonathan and Rachel for helping me get through the experience.
Wait, who are Jonathan and Rachel? Well, you’re about to find out…
I met Rachel first. Only a couple days before. We were paired together for an overnight homestay in a township outside of Capetown. Sleeping overnight in a township is enough to blow the minds of many a South African. But that’s really how we met.
We stayed with the Sandlana family — a mom and dad, 8 fully grown daughters and 5 grandchildren, all living together in a 2 bedroom home. That experience alone deserves it’s own blog post. So for now, just know that Rachel and I bonded over being eaten alive by mosquitoes while we laid in our beds that night.
The next day, once we returned to the ship, we quickly raced to “the 5th deck dining room” of the MV Explorer to grab some lunch. There, I met Jonathan. I’d seen him around the ship before but we’d never spoken.
Before I knew it the three of us were on our way to the Capetown train station, bound for Simons Town — a beach community where penguins migrate to escape the chilly cold of Antarctica.
Fast-forward to that evening… we had seen the penguins and were on our way back to the ship.
This is how my memory serves me:
We boarded a train sometime around 7:30 in the evening.
I was wearing a soft, purple Northface zip-up jacket, khaki capris, a white v-neck t-shirt, a thin purple scarf, and champagne colored Havaiana flip-flops with rhinestones in the shape of a heart beside my big toes. I had a black backpack with me. And I was tired. We all were. It was our fourth day in South Africa and every one of us had been sacrificing sleep in order to experience as much as we could.
So, we board the train. Time passes, stop after stop, waiting til we arrive in Capetown. Around 9:00 we make another stop. Rachel thinks we’ve arrived in Capetown, stands up and gets off the train.
This all happens so fast.
The three of us argue for a brief moment. Jonathan and I urge Rachel to get back on. The train jolts forward. Jonathan follows, yelling “We can’t leave her!” as he jumps onto the platform.
I stop, contemplating in lightning speed whether or not I should stay on the train. Weighing my options.
If I stay on the train I know I can figure out how to get back to the ship. But alone, in the dark, in a country I’ve only been in for four days?
I look back at the people in the train car. 20 or so local men. I think I must have made eye contact with one or a few of them. Something told me to jump. I really didn’t want to, because the few seconds it took for me to make up my mind also meant an increase in the train’s speed.
We’re not exactly sure how fast the train was traveling when I finally jumped.
I do know that I went right foot forward, the movement flung me back up, twisting in mid-air, landing hard on my side and preceding to roll probably a dozen times before coming to a stop.
When I opened my eyes I could see Jonathan and Rachel above me. When I tried to stand up I noticed my toe. That’s where the pain first hit me.
I could barely see it, it was so dark. There was an obvious open wound across my big toe and a fair amount of blood. Drops of it hit the pavement. I looked around, no lights as far as the eye could see.
I remember asking Jonathan and Rachel if it were possible to contract HIV from something on the dirty ground. They assured me I was okay, but I could see the worry on Rachel’s face. The open wound on my foot upset me too. I didn’t want the wound to come in contact with anything.
Then I noticed the soreness in my upper arm and hip. A heavy, dull aching.
Quite some time later I became aware that I was bleeding just below my right elbow. The Northface jacket had been ripped open to expose my dirty, bloody mess of an arm.
My head started hurting. I felt pain all over my body. I was more scared than I could handle.
We walked for what felt like… hours. I truly don’t know how long it was.
We didn’t come across any people, any business, nothing. We were in the middle of nowhere. A couple blocks before we finally stumbled across something, I felt like giving up. My body was tired and it hurt to move an inch. I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t give up though. Jonathan and Rachel talked me through it, helping carry much of the weight of my body as well as my spirit.
The business we came across, I want to say it looked something like an internet cafe. The people inside were very confused to see us strolling in — myself, covered in blood and dirt and tears.
I know I sat down on their couch. I know they wouldn’t allow us to call for help. I know a man came forward, Michael. He was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He held my hand and comforted me and called his friend, a taxi driver in Capetown.
Time passed, another hour maybe. The friend arrived. I said goodbye to Michael, who I like to think of as an angel. Or sent by one. I’m not sure what we would have done if he had not helped us.
And as we drove I stared out the window, concentrating on the lights and colors, trying to stay calm and distract myself from the pain and panic. An hour later we arrived at the ship. I burst into tears when I saw it. The relief I felt, seeing the ship floating on the water in the harbor. Knowing there would be nurses and Dr. Bill to fix me up. And eventually, my bed. I was safe. I was going to be okay. I walked up the 5 flights of stairs, supported by Jonathan and Rachel.
Home. I was going to be okay.