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Cape by Rail on the Shoshaloza-Meyl

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“A Pleasant Experience” yes, would you believe it, this is the actual tag line for the Shoshaloza-Meyl railway service line which operates railway routes to all major towns in South Africa. This is the tag that (supposedly) will abolish any preconception a weary traveller may have when tinkering with the idea of travelling by rail in South Africa. Oddly enough though, they were spot on with that tagline – it is not as dreadful as one would believe. Well at least not for a hefty, meat-n-two-veg, newspaper will suffice when I run out of loo roll, sort of fella. However, the fairer sex, yes the “fairer” sex that find themselves at certain times of the month fond of dark, tall, chiselled and rugged sort of men; and at other times of the month: men with cricket stumps shoved up their asses, forks in their eyes, doused in petrol and set alight – may grumble a bit about the less than luxurious vinyl-clad surroundings one has to endure for 26 hours on such a trip.

Guys should perhaps warn girlfriends, wives or mistresses beforehand of the dusty, multi-coloured vinyl horrors that are to be expected on this trip. My girlfriend (God bless her caring little heart, button nose and rosy cheeks) upon discovering where she would be living for the next 26 hours: threw what I could only describe as a 19 minute-long abuse whaling, “you must be effing kidding me,” hissy-fit of epic proportion. (which was not helped one bit by me singing “shoooooshaloza, shooshaloza …” quietly in the background)

I love trains, everybody should have one. They’re just a fantastic way to get from A-B, all whilst soaking in our country’s magnificent scenery.  There’s nothing quite like, the gentle swaying back and forth, as all your troubles are left behind in the big city whilst you chug-chug your way out into the peaceful countryside.

The Facts (as @ 09/07/2010)

  • Tickets cost R560 pp for a single (i.e. one way)
  • Bookings can be made by phone but must be paid for at the station
  • Sleeper cabins (in the Tourist Class) can sleep 2 or 4 peeps
  • Travel time from Joubert Park station (JNB) to Bellville station (CPT) +- 26 hours (excluding inevitable delays of up to 2 hours)
  • Be at station 1 hour before departure. (which after delays is more like 2 hours before the train will begin to pull out of the station)
  • R80 extra for bedding. (you want the bedding!)
  • Meals, drinks, snacks and other little odds and sods are extra as well – but not overly priced.

The Train

The Shoshaloza-Meyl is a couple of centuries old so the cabins and train may seem a little run down and dated – but I thought this added to the charm of it really. The cabins are quaint and roomy (especially if you’re two people in a 4 sleeper) and feature a bench (which is converted to a bed), another pull-down bed, storage space, a plug point for a shaver, a basin and windows with metal shutters.

We went down in throws of an icy winter, so it got a little chilly on board – but there is a heater in the cabin which although does the trick, smells a bit like the inside of a refuse furnace.

What’s onboard:

  • 2 and 4 sleeper cabins
  • Own dedicated basin with hot/cold taps
  • 220v plug point for shavers (slightly hesitant to try and charge my BlackBerry with this so perhaps look at taking a portable charger or solar charger for your gadgets and phones)
  • Overhead storage, so you’re not tripping over bags.
  • Size: 4 sleeper – 3m (w) x 2.5m (l) x 2.5m (h); 2 sleeper – same but 2m (w)
  • Toilets: 2 sets at either end of your carriage which have a toilet and basin
  • Showers: are available onboard (but I didn’t test these)
  • Dining car with an impressive selection of hot meals, wine & spirits, and a full breakfast.

The Food

The food is surprisingly good and is freshly prepared. Prices range from around R25-R52 and the menu boasts a selection of hot meals such as:  hake and chips, hamburgers, grilled sirloin steak, grilled chicken, beef lasagne, macaroni chees etc. (a word of warning: stay well clear of the Macaroni cheese! The melted cheese, stodge and cholestrol will have a Mardi Gras in your vena cava and a fiesta around your waistline.) Breakfast comprises: 2 eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, jam, tea/coffee and fruit juice all for a whopping R35.

Safety Onboard

This is something one would think a concerning issue- but not at all here. From the moment you step onboard you feel safe and secure, and are greeted by warm smiles, helpful attitudes and a kiss on the lips by the friendly train staff. Only kidding, kisses are on the cheek.

All cabins have a latch and locking mechanism and metal shutters on the windows to help you feel secure. Which you do. The only thing I was a little weary about was when leaving the cabin for meals, but simply take your valuables with you if you’re also as anally retentive as I am about having stuffed nicked while you’re gorging yourself on train steak.

The Experience

UNFORGETTABLE! This was a magical little trip that although takes time, it allows you to really unwind and just forget about the city for while. This was not my first trip on a train, but my 1st on an overnighter here in South Africa – my country that I have lived in for over 28 years would you believe. The beauty of the trip was that I could switch off all bleeping and vibrating annoyances, close the cabin door, get out a book, kick my shoes off, kick back and just sink into a state of complete relaxation and let the stresses of the city wash away.

The scenery is truly magnificent! You will have a hard time keeping your eyes off it: as the rich yellows and browns of the Highveld slowly mingle (before your eyes) into the luscious greens of the Cape’s vineyards.

Tips

  • When phoning in to book your tickets, try request a 4 sleeper cabin if they’re available. (the added space makes a world of difference)
  • Snacks and drinks (including beers) are available on board but it may prove cheaper to take your own.

For: adventurers, romantics, thrill seekers.
Not for:  jetsetters, motion sickness sufferers, anyone in a hurry.

View all the photos of this trip on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=188000&id=584122059&l=4e615f1d67

Visit the Shoshaloza-Meyl website:
http://www.shosholozameyl.co.za/

Central Reservations Number:
086 000 8888

[18/08/2010] As of writing this it looks like the Shoshaloza-Meyl has suspended some of its services temporarily. I sincerely hope this is not any sign of trouble for the railway company as this is one of South Africa’s hidden gems. But if you’re listening Mr Branson, Virgin Rail in South Africa would be a welcomed addition.

By James Mew for Mantality.co.za

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About Author

Lover of gadgets, men's culture, cool stuff, Earl Grey tea and all things manly. An optimist in his prime. When he's not keeping the wheels turning at Mantality HQ you'll find him trawling the web, and visiting trade shows to find the newest and coolest gadgets. During his down time he's usually with his 2 dogs, on the golf course, cycling or basking in the literary company of Oscar Wilde, Bret Easton Ellis or Martin Amis whilst drinking espresso strong enough to strip paint.

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