I thought I’d write a quick note on the Shosholoza Meyl train, as when I was looking for information here, there wasn’t much!
I have to be honest, I was dreading the journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town, as we were taking the train, which wold take anywhere between 27 – 35 hours! The thought of being on a train that long was making me nervous, and not something I’d arranged!
As it was, it was brilliant fun, once we figured out which platform, and which queue we should be in! One piece of advice for anyone using the train and travelling in a Sleeper car, as we were – there is a board that tells you which carriage you should be in if you continue walking down the platform, rather than trying to get through the first gate you see, then having no idea! The train cost about R480, which wasn’t really any difference in price to the flight back I got during a flight sale with 1Time, but it was more fun!
We had a small 2 person compartment, which was actually pretty spacious, considering. There is loads of space to store you bags, or anything else you wish to transport, which for one adorable old woman, was 7 huge containers full of curry spices! Luckily for her, a few people stepped in to help her carry these! There is a small sink in the room, which is covered by a lid which doubles as a table. The water is clean and perfectly drinkable. I quickly made friends with the people in the carriage next door, 2 pastors who had been travelling for a few weeks, as well as a few of the women in compartments along the same carriage, and 2 children a few doors up, who were dismayed by my lack of Afrikaans, and my inability to transform a toy car into a robot, despite being shown how numerous times.
After all the warnings I had received about the train, I have to say I was really surprised by how friendly everyone was, from the other passengers, the staff, who did a great job of keeping us comfortable and fed and watered, to the Police that rode the train with us, strolling up and down the aisles. I guess in such a small space, it’s difficult not to get to know people! Even where there was no common language, or accents made things difficult, it was easy to share a joke and laugh with each other. I noticed a lot of laughter throughout my whole trip, which I miss now I am home.
At no point did I feel uncomfortable, nor did we have any problems when leaving the carriage in terms of our property being safe. (Apparently, if you feel the need, the guard can lock your compartment for you on request)
We used the dining car for dinner and breakfast, and the food was amazing. I had a beef curry with a beer, and Malva pudding for dinner. (Malva pudding is AMAZING!! Anyone have the recipe?!) This was really reasonably priced, home cooked food…British Rail could learn a lot. If you don’t want to use the dining car, staff do go along the carriages taking orders, and delivering food and drink to you as well, but I'd recommend using the dining car, if for the view if nothing else.
At night, someone comes along, and asks if you need the beds made up, which they can provide bedding for at a small price, (I can’t remember how much, but it wasn’t much), and when we returned from dinner, (and a few games of cards with the neighbours!), we found ourselves facing bunk beds which were made up beautifully with clean, soft bedding. I sensibly took the bottom bunk, but apparently getting in and out of the top bunk was easy. Some people mentioned the ladder, but we didn’t see one! I had no problems sleeping through the night, the bedding was warm enough, and I awoke to an amazing sunrise. The scenery was fantastic, and definitely one of the highlights of the journey.
The journey was fun, maybe due to the conversations and little friendships you can’t help but make, but I must say the last 2 hours or so dragged a bit. Arrival at Cape Town was on time, and pain free, and we made our way to our guest house, after exchanging details with our new Pastor friends! I’m glad we took a flight back, but I am also glad we took the train to Cape Town.