Looking for a unique way to see South Africa? A recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian certainly whets the most insatiable travel appetite. Starting at Johannesburg and ending at Cape Town, the author of European cultural study and travel guide Blue River, Black Sea, Andrew Eames writes of his experience on the Trans-Karoo train.
Eames introduces his article with an interesting reflection on the national railway operator:
Rarely have I come across a more unassuming railway operator. Its very slogan "Shosholoza Meyl - a pleasant experience", makes it sound about as exciting as a tepid cup of tea. However his awe-struck description of the actual journey is a pleasure to read.
Knowing quite well that there were other options when taking this journey, namely the Blue Train or Rovos Rail,Eames chose to take the more economically priced Trans-Karoo to cover the 1,400km journey at a more reasonable pace, to fully appreciate the marvels of the place in which he found himself on his first visit to South Africa.
By the same token, one doesn't visit hotels in London to get an idea of the wealth of British culture and historical heritage, or Bucharest shopping boutiques to catch a glimpse of post-Iron Curtain life in Eastern Europe, or even San Francisco hotels to understand the makings of the "American Dream", and Eames argues that a train, particularly a slow train, is a good way of taking the pulse of a place. As a first-time visitor to South Africa, I had no real desire to cross one of the world's most ethnically and scenically diverse countries in an air-conditioned tube at 35,000ft, nor behind a steering wheel in a metal cocoon.
The verdict? A thumbs up all round. Eames undertook his journey across the vast, ancient plateau on the so-called "Tourist Class", which is a comfortable mix between the top-ranked Premier Classe and a third-class sitter.