Friday, July 24, 2015

From Cape Town to Johannesburg (and Pretoria)

We have had many adventures since my last post but no internet with which to report them all. I will attempt to get caught up (with what limited Internet I do have), but I will devote one post to each of the major events of the remainder of our time in South Africa rather than trying to do it all in one fell swoop, so as not to overwhelm you or exhaust myself.

Our first big adventure was an overnight train ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the Shosholoza Meyl train. We said goodbye to our wonderful landlords and beautiful Cape Town before the sun was up on July 15. We loved our time there and had mixed feelings about moving on. We made our way to the airport to return our rental car and then took a cab from the airport to the train station. We had never traveled by train like this before, so it was thrilling in a number of ways. We had two first class sleeper cars (one four berth and one two berth), which certainly weren't fancy and didn't even have their own bathrooms. But there was plenty of room for us all to ride and sleep in comfort, and we had a grand time. The landscape changes pretty dramatically between the two cities, which are on opposite sides of South Africa, and we enjoyed every new site the train windows offered us, until it was too dark to see. We saw mountains, vineyards, plains, lakes, rivers, small towns and larger ones. We even saw some ostriches and impala and gemsbok antelope. We also got to eat in the dining car, which almost made the kids giddy with excitement. 

During the night, while we were all soundly asleep, the locomotive broke down, and when we woke up, we found out we were about four hours behind schedule. A few other delays brought the grand total up to six hours. Unfortunately, our original plan had been to get off the train around 1:00 pm, pick up our rental car, and then drive for about four hours to Nelspruit. When we realized that that plan was shot, and while we were still on the train, we got on the phone to cancel our reservation for the night. Then, another call was placed to Starwood customer service to see if we could use our credit card points to book a hotel room somewhere near Johannesburg. They had a couple of rooms available in Pretoria, which is only about 30 minutes away from the airport where we had to pick up our rental car, so we snatched them up and were never so thankful to be members of that particular rewards program. This was our first night in a regular hotel since we've been traveling, so it kind of felt like a luxury, though we were a little sad to have to divide our group into two rooms for the night. I must say that, even with the delays, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience of traveling by train. It was so comfortable and easy, compared to plane travel. We will definitely look for more opportunities to travel by rail in the future. 

Waiting on our train to arrive

The Shosholoza Train

Ready to ride

Mr. Big up on the top bunk

Mountains and Vineyards

Mountainous Desert

Gemsbok grazing in the plains

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