The rhythm of the train is picking up pace and the first rays of the African sun are flickering through chinks in the curtains of this comfortable cabin on the Good Hope Express, the “Shongololo”. Through the window the new day brings a shining panorama of immaculate dark green citrus groves and plantation crops studded with sky blue flowers on the Jacaranda trees. As our train runs down from the highland plateau, the Crocodile River moves along beside us, picking a meandering course through the rich soils of this earthly Eden. Today we have reached the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.
Surely this must be the holiday of a lifetime. Meeting new friends last night over the four course dinner in the soft lighting of the dining car was such a happy start to this “Great Train Journey”. In the bar had been the first encounters with fellow travellers from UK, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Australia and Canada; this morning we will greet each other again as we go to breakfast.
Distracted always by the changing scenes sliding past the windows we relish the thought that it will be fourteen days in this delightful historic train before we reach Cape Town. On the way our own tour vehicles will drive off their flat-bed wagons to take us on safaris, walks and sightseeing adventures every day.
Which excursion shall I choose today? Spoiled for choice over which tour to take we can be forgiven for encountering the sensation of FOMO – (the fear of missing out!). By contrast, when we meet again on the train in the evening, stories of elephants and rhino, of wild flowers on mountain paths, of dazzling sun-birds or exciting townscapes – these things will engender a mood of “Gezellig”….! According to Dutch companions the latter is born out of camaraderie, the fellowship of shared experience: this is the indefinable champagne of being alive to savour good times.
What is Shongololo? It is not for those who seek a 5-star luxury fix: it is for those who still travel with a lust for adventure. It is returning to the same comfy cabin and shower each day as we wind our way across changing landscapes on the way to Cape Town. And the spirit of Shongololo? Is it in the diamond mine at Kimberly, or the waterfalls and Bushman Cave Paintings in the Drakensberg? Perhaps it is the iridescent birds, the lioness with cubs in the Hluhluwe jungle or maybe the Bay of Whales at the Cape Peninsula?
Maybe – but I think it might be in the towering bearded logistics manager Steve, or the other staff on the train – Sihle, Mary, P.J., Tinyiko to name a few.
FOMO? Don’t risk that! – just come if you are amongst those who have only one life! This is the railway journey. It’s not inexpensive, but with flights and everything else included, it’s a tiny fraction of the cost of a day or two on the Orient Express or the Blue Train. Hour for hour this is phenomenal value……… it will extend your life with the elixir of glorious memories.