SHOSHOLOZA – Trans Karoo’s Tortoise train

The train’s late departure from Cape Town already started tallying up with the negative comments on Facebook but I was optimistic that this trans-Karoo journey would be different.

And different is was. The reason for a sluggish start was valid enough, the locomotives were late. Delays may have originated back in Koedoespoort where they are assembled, who am I to question that? Laingsburg’s late stop was a lengthy one, trying to make sense of the voices, whistles and carriage doors banging, I felt assured that essential errands were in progress. Diverting from the frenzy outside, food occupied my thoughts.

My mouth watered at a first dining car experience. A hunger bout erupted in my belly as I fantasized about the hake and chips on the menu. Thandi’s friendly face assured me it was no longer available, so 2nd choice of chicken and chips it was. Arriving promptly, dressed in crisp salad with its chick tenderness and flavour, the meal tried in vain make up for the train’s snail’s pace that was now mimicking an ailing hen’s ‘clukitty cluk’ sound. The dinning car’s ambiance tempted us to prolong dinner by indulging in a cold dessert. The prospect of a chilly night ahead not even contemplated. I believed the best part of the train journey was yet to come, that tranquil motion rocking you to sleep.


But our ‘bed-bubble’ burst, when we were informed of the shortage of bedding. The wearisome wait in Laingsburg had not warded off the bedding crises where extra was suppose to be loaded. We, with our flimsy clothes, were being left out in the cold. Optimistic me, still warm from the afterglow of dinner, prepared for bed, roughing it for one night, how hard can this be? Without a cover except for nightclothes and our thin ‘softshell’ K-Way jackets we relaxed on the pillow-less bottle-green couchettes. Dropping off was easy but 2 hours later the Karoo temperatures snuck in and I found myself fumbling for my jeans and jersey, socks, a hand towel, just anything to get warm! The train appeared to stop ever so often during the night, whistling frequently as it slinked in and out of sidings, most times pausing for no apparent reason, then slithering out undetected, silent as a serpent. All the while I am laying freezing willing the sun to rise.

At sunrise, I wasn’t about to tempt fate and try the shower, instead refreshing in the compartment before a comforting breakfast. Indulgent egg and bacon impair any thoughts of the previous night’s discomfort, leaving me as assured as ever. Eventually we reached the reef, as the engines prodded painfully slowly through Orkney, Klerksdorp and Roodepoort, each stop making our arrival later.

The Park station sign hesitantly welcomed the lethargic locomotives as they jerked to a standstill, 3 hours late. Having a young grandson to collect in Johannesburg left us wondering if we are about to be bamboozled on the return journey too.

Well this time the Shosholoza’s departure is only delayed by 15 minutes. Bedding is provided early. Most of the dinner choices on the way up to Johannesburg are depleted leaving only 3 options, which is enough really. Still, the general moral among the passengers is positive as a burnt orange backdrop frames Table Mountain on our arrival back in the mother city. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

On arrival; do the expressions of relatives and friends welcoming the Shosholoza seem agitated? This time round the train is 4 hours late.