The Shosholoza Meyl Central Train to Cape Town

Johannesburg Travel Blog

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Day 9 - Train to Cape Town

Yes, we could have taken a flight, faster, etc. etc. etc.  We posed that option to the group and they unanimously decided the train, Shosholoza Meyl Central, would be an adventure, not a job.  Oops, different commercial.  Little did we know what type of adventure it would be?  By the way, we had researching this on  The information provided was invaluable.  This is the mid range of the three levels of service.  The first is seating only, second is sleepers and third is tourist and very nice.

7 AM on the dot and here is the driver.  Van packed, people, everyone (?) in and off we go for Johannesburg's Park Street Station.  TRAFFIC was not the word.  We had plenty of time though as we were scheduled to board at 9:30 for a 10:30 departure.  We had confirmation of the reservations, we had info and we were ready.

We got to the station and emptied the van, hired two porters and off we went to get the tickets.  At the ticket window I gave the lady the paperwork and she looked very perplexed.  Oh oh.  You know when you get that feeling and you're not sure if it is a problem or Montezuma's revenge, or the SA version?  She advised us to go into an office and see them.

Yo, Shinja, Xuchi, Amy and Karrie waited outside with the piles of luggage and Alan and I cheerfully walked in, feeling the same as we would if we were seeing an IRS agent for an audit.  It is 8:20 AM and the four ladies are busy(?) on their computers and we stand there, and stand there.  Finally one of them, Ms. Julia Motaung, looked up and we jumped on the opportunity.

Carefully, I presented the paperwork and my laptop and ask what is going on.  She looks it up on her computer and says we never wired the payment.  Ok, I AGAIN show her confirmation of wire transfer, acceptance of wire transfer and the confirmation from THEM of the reservations.  She again looks it over and again says she doesn't know anything about what I have.  Alan and I while trying to maintain a friendly attitude which, by this time is being stretched, simply ask what does she have concerning this?  After 15 minutes of her researching whatever I ask, no, I demand she call someone or do something USEFUL.  It is now going on 9 AM and she comes up with the idea that she will have someone else call the bank and verify the same information the bank has already verified and is in her hand.  She suggests we go get coffee and we suggest we sit right there until she gets something productive done.

9:20 and she hasn't moved on this.  One lady is reading bible verses, one is reading what looks like an e-book, one we couldn't see and our "customer (lack-of) service" person is nicely chatting and laughing on the phone.  At this point my well known patience has run out.  I, in a slightly louder than loud voice, demand she contact her superior or their superior or however high she has to go to get someone who knows something and will do something.  She responded in a surprised look and tells whoever she had been chatting with she has to go now.  NOW?  She should have gone a while ago.  I don't know how Alan maintained his cool.

She called someone in accounting and they spoke for a few seconds.  I loudly demanded that person in accounting make an appearance.  Now we are at 9:45 AM.  I had reached a point where I was finishing purchasing another 7 tickets and in walks a Mr. Poena Pretorius.  He had a printout showing OUR wire transfer and the whole discrepancy turns out to be that we over paid by R40 and that due to the change in conversion rate.   Lady genius never bothered checking the confirmation number, just the amount.  Print out the tickets please and let us get out of here was all I could say.  Mr. Pretorius reversed the purchase of the 7 tickets and sent us on the way with apologies.

We go downstairs and wait, and wait and wait.  The train is a bit late.  Everyone is waiting on one side of the station and, surprise, the train shows up on the other.  I bet they did that just to keep things interesting.
We get everything loaded into the 2-two person sleepers and the 1-four person and we are off, or should be off.  OK, 30 minutes later we are off.

The train was relatively clean, clean linen, etc.  The dining car was nice, not elaborate, but nice never the less.  Each compartment had 240 volt and a 120 volt outlet which made things very convenient.

We stop as the schedule showed and a lot of stops as the schedule didn't show.  In 8 hours we're already an hour behind.  No information is available from the staff though.  Ultimately in 24 hours we added 2 ½ hours to the trip.  Enough on the negative part.

It was an adventure.  It was warm to hot.  It was still nice, for the most part.  We did get to see a lot of countryside which we would only have seen from 30,000 feet.  The moon was almost full and the views of the Karoo at night were breath taking, almost surreal.  By mid-morning it was getting rather WARM but here we are passing through snow-capped mountains and vineyards.  The first site of Table Mountain made all we had gone through in the past 24 hours go away though. 

Would we do it again?  Yes, probably, but the train absolutely needs to get into the 21st century, or at least the 20th century, and allow booking on line as the staff we me were less than helpful.
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