Shosholoza: The Train to Joburg

25 July

At 8AM we awoke to the buzzing of my cellphone alarm. I greatly enjoyed naturally waking up the last several days, but today we were on a schedule. The overnight Shosholoza train to Joburg departed at 12:30 PM, but we needed to pack, grocery shop, check out of our room and be at the station an hour before departure.

over the past four days we had taken full advantage of the space in our room by spreading the contents of our backpacks all about. As a result I expected it to take us some time to pack, but it went rather quick and we managed to fit all our souvenirs into our backpacks, except for my kelp art.

Finished with packing we walked around the corner to Woolworth’s Food on Long Street to get snacks and lunch/dinner for our trip because we did not know if there was a dining car on the Shosholoza train. We thought it would be logical for them to have a dining car since it was the sleeper train, but we have learned when traveling in the 3rd world to never fully rely on what we consider logical. With sandwiches, fruit, water and chocolate in hand Alex and I strolled back to our backpackers to check out.

Believing that check out for Cape Town Backpackers was 10AM, we were ready to leave before having breakfast. However, upon further investigation we discovered that check out was an hour later at 11AM, so we were able to eat. Alex was tired of traditional ZA breakfast so he chose to eat a donut on our patio before going upstairs with me to the cafe where I had eggs and toast.

Just before 11 we gathered up all our bags. Alex carried the big blue backpack on his back with the Timbuk2 electronics bag over his shoulder. I carried my daypack on my back, Alex’s daypack on my front, the food bag in one hand and my kelp art in the other. Good thing we were only walking upstairs to checkout and catch a cab because I would not have wanted to walk to the train station like that.

Upon arrival at the train station we observed that the Shosholoza ticket offices were closed and wondered where we needed to go in order to get our car and coup assignment. There were a few people sitting and milling about the waiting area, but no one looked like they worked for the train company. Leaving Alex and our pile of bags I went to investigate the train situation, however upon exiting the station to platform 24 I quickly discovered that the train had yet to arrive at the station. I went back to sit with Alex. About 20 minutes later I notice some of the people around us begin to exit the station towards the platform, so I go to check that the train as really arrived. I make my way down the line of identically purple and green painted cars and come upon one of the train stewardesses. I ask her where I find out which car I am in and she points to a lady a little farther down and says she has the manifest. I approach the lady indicated to me and ask her for the same information. She shuffles through her manifest, even though I pointed out my name at the top of the list on the first page, and finally returns to the beginning. “Car 5, Sleep K”. I thank her and walk back inside the station to collect Alex and our bags.

Alex on Shosholoza

Alex and I were both certain that the Shosholoza train would be a step up from our train in Zimbabwe, but how much of an upgrade was yet to be determined. It took some shoving to get out bags and ourselves through the narrow entry doors of the train, but soon we were standing inside our coupe amazed at what we saw. The seats were clean with no rips, there was carpet on the floor, and most importantly the train had electricity. Do not get me wrong this certainly wasn’t a luxury liner by normal standards, but after our train in Zimbabwe it certainly felt like it to us. After some exploration we came to discover that not only did the train have a dining car, but it was the car right next to ours!
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At around 5:30 the stewardess came around to take our dinner orders; Alex ordered a cheese burger with chips and I ordered mac and cheese with salad. As we waited for our meal Alex took advantage of the end of the day light, capturing the full moon with the mountains.

Full moon in Great Karoo

The food was not terrible, but I’m glad we are not reliant on the dining car.

I am now writing this as the train rocks slowly back and forth; occasionally we hear the clank, clank, clank of the wheels on the tracks, but otherwise it is fairly quiet. The rest of the night we will probably spend reading and playing Harbor Master on the iPad.

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One thought on “Shosholoza: The Train to Joburg

  1. Just doing a wee bit of tag surfing for railfans and the like (but maybe you’re not one I dunno) anyway hello from sunny Scotland!

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