Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shosholoza Meyl*

Not to be outdone by my "Light Industry of Zambia" tourism, TJ decided we should take his parents actually some place nice and beautiful and warm and fun.  As anyone who has spent time in/around Lusaka will know, there is NOT A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT TO DO and anything fun is either a giant hassle or so expensive that you do it once and never again.  Really.  It's a very family-and-friends oriented lifestyle here if you are not a big drinker (-- even if you are!) There are plenty of excuses for sundowners in Lusaka.  Being barely able to finish a bottle of Mosi Lager myself, I take advantage of any open door I see.  Want to go to the foam matress factory?  Sure!  The football stitching workshop?  The gemstone studio?  Want to come on a photoshoot in the compound? Order furniture from the roadside Kalingalinga carpenters? Why not!  I outdid myself with the tannery tour, sheesh.

TJ decided to add a layer of drama to his fancy-pants tourism itinerary:  Cape Town....BY TRAIN.  And we'll do the trip by the skin our teeth:  starting with barely making the plane to Johanesburg.  There are two morning flights to Johannesburg on South African Airlines and on Zambezi Airlines.  They leave about 20 minutes apart.  Par for the course are unnecessarily long lines, ridiculous charges (our $49 one way tickets ended up about $300 apiece for the roundrip with taxex but not including the departure tax which is an additional $30 a ticket, to be paid in cash at the airport.)  The airport, however seem totally caught off-guard every day by the number of people who show up every day for these daily flights:  They never have enough people working and there is always a pen-shortage and a stamp-pad ink shortage.   This morning's rush was further hampered by missing 'exit' forms required for all international flights.

Now they have some hi-tech iris scanner contraption and finger print scanner, too, which only complicates things and distracts everyone. I'm sure Interpol requires it to keep the airport certified for international flights.  How things are run here in actuality can be summed up by the fact that the last thing you do before you can go to the boarding area (more like a holding cell) is to get your name and boarding pass recorded into a giant ledger by a guy in a metal folding chair siting at a card table at the bottom of sometimes-functioning escalator. And he may need to borrow your pen, by the way.

Usually you just walk out to your plane but on this morning we all crammed into a shuttle bus.  We did a tour of the entire airport and ended up nearly back where we started, but about 20 meters past where we got on the bus.

Once in Jo'burg we learned that the slick new Gauteng trains don't actually go to the train station just yet.  They did a big rush to finish them in time for World Cup but the train only goes to Sandton City -- the posh supermall of Africa.  So, we took a taxi/van to the station instead.  Finn "Safety-First" Jennings cracked our driver up by finding and untangling seatbelts for everyone that clearly have never been used.  (never mind that Finn and I ended up sharing a seatbelt and were literally buried under a mountain of our unsecured luggage.

We expected trouble at the train and found it.  We had incredible difficulty with the booking and had the booking cancelled the week before we left despite paying for two sleeper cars.  So, upon arrival, it was no surprise that while we had the booking we had to pay for the tickets, again.  I was the reluctant train passenger and TJ had something to prove, so we were both on a mission.

I will just say now that the train was AWESOME!  It was cheap, easy (ahem), comfortable and really fun despite the hassle (with which I'm only just getting started!)  I have never ridden a train except for short distance commuter trips in big 1st world cities.  A 24-hour train trip from Jo-berg to Cape Town was never on my list of things to do.  We all would do it again.  (But I'm not doing the 48-72+hour trip to Tanzania.  Ever.)

To make this long story even longer, we must have signed up for the BONUS tour b/c instead of a 24 hour train ride, we actually got a 28 hour train trip, a 7 hour stopever, a mid-journey hiking tour of the actual tracks, and a 5 hour bus ride**.  Also, I got to shower with an ostrich.

Above: Getting off the train 10 hours from Cape Town.  derailment?  power failure?  slow strike? Below, Bev, putting on a brave face and getting mentally ready to the trek to the waiting buses

*Shosholoza Meyl is the name of the train company.  They promise their customers a "Pleasant Experience" from when they book and pay for their tickets to when they disembark at their end destination.....
**Again, Finn "Safety First" Jennings spent much time crawling around under the seats to recover seatbelts.  The South African ladies sitting near us where in hysterics, so he found their seatbelts, too, they were ever so grateful.

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