The $2,000 Train Ticket

Published 9 years ago
The $2,000  Train Ticket

The warm sun fell on my skin and I woke up. The air was still. Only the sound of The Pride of Africa gliding over the train tracks could be heard. I smiled, stretched and then opened the window. The sun hovered over the hills as its rays gently grazed the vast fields of green. We passed abandoned brick houses on farms, cows grazing the fields and a few windmills which caught the gentle breeze. The scenery was calm. It made me forget the bumpy ride which kept us awake the night before.

The evening got off to a good start. It was our first night of the three day trip from Pretoria to Cape Town on The Pride of Africa, one of several Rovos Rail trains. My colleague, Lerato Seko, and I were among the 63 passengers, from around the world, on board. The train consists of 36 suites, 20 carts, two dinning cars, one lounge and an observation deck which has the best views on board. The suites range between R14,300 ($1,300) and R28,600 ($2,600).

During the day, the dress code was smart-casual; at night it was formal. With the sounds of classical music and laughter in the background, we were served a four-course meal, each paired with finely selected South African wine. The two of us can hardly taste the difference between a cabernet sauvignon and merlot but the wine connoisseur, Adam, made it his personal duty to educate us.

After dinner we became acquainted with some of the other passengers, mostly older couples and two newlyweds on their honeymoon. As South Africans, we became designated tour guides to the international tourists, offering advice on things to do and places to see. A few passengers asked to take pictures with us, perhaps because we were the only travelers of color on board.

That night, as I lay in bed, I looked up at the magnificent night sky and was awestruck by the clarity of all the constellations; I only wished I knew how to identify them. In Johannesburg you can barely see the Southern Cross.

We were sound asleep when we were harshly woken by the jolts of the train traveling at its maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour. We felt every movement, every turn and every stop. This happened every hour or so and we were convinced that we weren’t going to get any sleep on the trip. In the morning we were greeted by warm smiles from guests who seemed to have slept like babies. I thought it was only us who had felt the thumps in the night but I was relieved to hear another lady say she placed a chair in front of her bed to prevent her from falling.

As the day went on, we stopped in Kimberly to see the famous Big Hole. We walked across the bridge, in the scorching heat, to peer into the famous man-made attraction.  In my opinion, they should rename it the Gigantic Hole of Kimberly because it’s 215 meters deep and has a circumference of 1.6 kilometers. We looked down and saw the aqua blue-green water at the base of this massive crater. It’s hard to believe that years ago men from around the world slaved away to dig up rocks, that once cut and polished, would become one of the most valuable diamonds in the world.

We were taken on a tour of the diamond museum where we saw various uncut stones and the Eureka—the first diamond found in South Africa. To my amazement, I learnt that there is no such thing as a black diamond. In fact, black spots found in diamonds decrease their value and are usually cut out.

Our final day began with a five-kilometer walk through open fields to Maaitjiesfontein. After the train dropped us off and steamed away at full speed, I was almost certain we would never see it again. A few kilometers later, and some complaining about our skirts and sandals not being the right attire, we made it. Maaitjiesfontein is a small town situated in the Karoo, Western Cape. The town has 370 residents who are delighted to live in a place where crime is low and everyone knows each other’s name. Some of the main attractions included: a transport museum showcasing vintage trains from 1982, a London double-decker bus which takes people through the town and a coffee house, which when we arrived, seemed like the social place to be. After our visit, we hopped back on the train and began our final leg of the trip.

Two hours before we arrived in Cape Town, a few passengers met in the observation car at the back of the train. As the mountains and vineyards surrounded us on both sides and the tracks disappeared in the distance, we shared one last glass of champagne and toasted to the journey that was.

Upon arrival, I had a conversation with our cab driver who couldn’t understand why we had traveled by train.

“I don’t get it. It takes two hours by plane and 16 hours by bus, so why did you take a train that takes three days?” he said shaking his head.

I smiled, “Don’t worry; it’s not that kind of a train.”