I detest air travel, that’s no secret. If there’s another means to move from point A to B within a time frame I can permit, I’ll definitely consider it. So when I found out that the train service from Cape Town to Johannesburg wasn’t so bad and was less than half the price of an economy plane ticket, I was more than happy to hop on board.
There are various train services that ply the Cape-Jo’burg route, including a luxury train which I can only hope to experience someday, and the Shosholoza Meyl tourist train. Before I finally decided on taking the train, I went online to read as many reviews as I could about it.
They were mostly positive so that helped me decide. I went online to purchase tickets for the sleeper berths but everything was sold out. The only tickets available was for a time later than when we needed to travel.
We wound up getting tickets for the normal train class. I don’t know how enjoyable riding in the sleeper berths might have been but the sitter was no fun at all! For starters, the ride itself was going to take about 28 hours (PS: it took way longer than that!). Imagine being seated the whole time! Luckily, I had my sister with me and some free seats to allow us stretch out a bit.
We got on the train one hour thirty minutes later than scheduled and began our longest continuous sojourn yet.
A few hours into our trip, we decided to get some food on board. There were vendors walking through the aisles selling sweets and snacks but we opted for food from the restaurant. We got rice, potatoes, beef and vegetables for R40. By the way, I didn’t know rice and potatoes was a thing. Anyway, the food wasn’t bad.
A little past midnight, the train got really interesting and noisy. It started with a drunken man crying for God to forgive him. He was wailing loudly, no one could sleep past that. Eventually people got him to calm down and just as soon as they did, a new group emerged as if on cue.
A bunch of ladies filed in from the carriage behind us singing in unison at the top of their lungs. While I’m up for listening to a South African choir, I really wasn’t keen on hearing one at 1 am when I was finally adjusting to my makeshift bed and trying to get some sleep.
They walked past our carriage to the next and after a while, they returned nosily to theirs.
We were done with the saved man, the choir and a host of drunk passengers, next came Dr. Love and his entourage. I pretended to be asleep for the most part so I was spared at first. The seat in front of me held a married woman (she announced it to us) and a man trying to openly win her affection. It was cringe worthy having to listen to him spew out his lyrics.
Trust me, I tried to block it all out but this man was unashamed to proclaim his undying love to his lady, well, someone else’s lady.
I couldn’t sleep, plus it was almost morning anyway. The moment I showed a sign of being awake, I had someone seated beside me. He reeked of cigarettes and coffee. (a truly horrid combo!). I had my head bent but he was leaning in to talk to me. All I kept thinking was what I had done to be punished so. I won’t even go into details of how that went but I managed to get out of that situation quickly.
About 28 hours, we got off the train and on to a bus to take us to Johannesburg. Our total travel time came up to 33 hours, which might sound crazy when you consider the 1h45 mins it takes to fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
Anyway, it was an interesting experience. Would I take this train again if I get the chance to? Yes and No. Yes, if I’m able to get a sleeper berth. No, otherwise.