Despite the late night the previous evening, again we found ourselves up at sparrows, and on the minibus to Cape Town Station as, today, we were to experience the Rovos Railway.
The self-proclaimed “Pride of Africa”, Rovos Rail was originally set up in 1989 by Rohan Vos and the train-hotel is still family owned, and runs various different routes between Cape Town and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, including crossing the Zambezi at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and a route to Swakopmund, Namibia.
In 1892, Cecil John Rhodes (a British businessman, mining magnate, and politician – also the Cape Colony Prime Minister from 1890-96) announced his intention to build a railway linking Cape Town to Cairo. Though the dream was never realised, the railroad did make an astonishing amount of headway from the Cape, extending through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and Tanzania. The Rovos Rail exists to allow people to experience that railway.
The interior is beautifully decorated in a style typical of the 1920’s/30’s, and brings to mind journeys and stories like Phinneas Fogg and the like. Despite the age, the carriages are clean and comfortable, and feel very elegant and luxurious.
The bedrooms are also surprisingly spacious, with en suite showers and their own fully opening windows and shutters. The journey rocks and sways more than we may be used to in the UK, but it’s still comfortable and an exquisite experience.
After a tour of the train, we joined the rest of the group for a welcome talk over champagne (at 7:30 in the morning, I add) before boarding the train. The tour had given us the lowdown of the train and as the other passengers boarded and made their way to their suites, we made a beeline straight to the observation car at the end of the train and made camp there.
The waiters furnished us with snacks and kept our drinks (alcoholic, as heavily encouraged by the staff) topped up the entire journey. We passed magnificent scenery as we leisurely made our way out of Cape Town towards the town of Worcester (where we would later disembark). Four “double rum and cokes” later (nowhere outside of Kent seems to know how to make a *Cuban) the bell was rung for dinner and we made our way to the dining car for a five course meal, with a specially chosen matching glass of wine with each course. We ate like kings and finished just in time for our disembarkation at Worcester. There we met Jeff and George and, delightfully tipsy, we slopped into the minibus and unanimously fell asleep for the two hour ride back to Cape Town.
The girls had been desperate to go shopping in Cape Town, and so George and Jeff dropped us off on the edge of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront in the heart of the city. Sprawling shopping malls and a plethora of cafes and restaurants line the Waterfront and the whole area has a very upmarket feel. Pej and I disappeared to explore, with me looking for fluid for my vape, and both of us looking for a good book to read.
At the suggestion of the girl in the bookstore, I picked up the works of Steve Biko and Pej picked up some travel reading. We relaxed on the Waterfront and I tried my new vape fluid, much to my disappointment. I can only describe it as what must be akin to inhaling lemon scented battery acid.
We met up with the group and squeezed into a taxi to our next hotel, the Sun Square on the outskirts of the town. It was a lovely hotel with a real city feel, but ultimately it left no lasting impression on me and so I took the opportunity to get an early night ready for our next, and final, full day in South Africa.
* A shot or double of spiced rum, a shot of lime cordial/juice, filled with coke. I have travelled all across the UK, from Kent to Blackpool, to York, to Bristol, to London – only South East Kent seems to understand a Cuban. Nowhere in Spain or Africa had a clue either…