Travel Journal

Train from PE to Johannesburg

(Tuesday 5 May 2009) by Dopps Family
Train to Jobo (April 29-30)
On Wednesday we traded in our keys and rubber for a trek on the tracks from PE to Johannesburg for a completely different travel experience. Preferring some comfort and space we booked a “sleeper 4” compartment in tourist class (same as first class) and started our expected 21 hour overnight trip through central South Africa. The tracks start out cutting directly through Addo Park and with just a casual glance I spotted zebra, something we never saw our entire day driving inside the park. The rest of the journey we saw South Africa from a different perspective than you do driving on the freeway and national roads. For one you go much slower, sometimes it seemed like you could walk faster especially when approaching populated areas and passing stations. Unlike the Netherlands where the intercity trains scream thru the local stations at 120kph, this train felt like a traditional “stop-train”. At one station where we had stopped there were several young boys behind the bars near the platform who provided entertainment with some dance moves. Carola got the hint and began tossing out small Rand coins which they gathered up in mad dashes. After a bit the other passengers joined in and fished out what coins they probably had as well. By the time the train started back up these boys had succeeded in us emptying every coin we had from our pockets – not bad for a bunch of kids!
Around 10pm that night, after we’d went to bed, the train stopped again somewhere in the mountains. At 10:20 it still hadn’t moved – which I thought was strange since we were stopped for a long time at a station in the middle of nowhere. When I checked my watch again, since we still hadn’t moved, it was 2am. Then shortly after we all heard a crash and then Anisa screaming – she had fallen out of bed – and probably wakened everyone 2 cabins in front and behind us. After finally going back to sleep the train finally started moving again, but shortly after Anisa woke us all back up again after getting motion sickness (somewhat like the lovely drive through the mountains). Poor Anisa, after finally clearing her stomach, bend over heaving into the small sink, she got the dry heaves and started laughing because she thought it was so funny that she was making all these funny sounds and throwing up without anything coming out. Kids find humor in the oddest things. We found out in the morning that our train had engine troubles that night (which doesn’t sound uncommon) and that we’d be 3 hours late into Jobo, so 12:30pm instead of 9:30am. Well, we finally came to a crawling stop at a completely dark Jobo main station around 2:30pm. Surely this wasn’t our stop we were all thinking – we’d been warned about crime in the city and problems at the stations and here we find ourselves in a station with a power outage and no lights on. Using the lights from the train we could see well enough to manage, gathered our bags and found the first taxi that would take us to the airport. Around 4pm we arrived at the airport hungry, tired and ready to pick up our car and move on towards Kruger and as far from Jobo as possible except the car rental agency, Europcar, refused to honor the price on our confirmed reservation with Expedia. Our reservation was for R3,500 but they said it was R5,500 and impossible to rent for less. After checking the internet again inside the airport and some lunch, I went back to show my agreement. When they checked their system again it now came up to R3,500 but before taxes. I continued my persistence that I’d only pay the total of R3,500 so the manager finally gave us a downgraded price for the same car with car seat for R3,400 and we were on our way by 6:30pm. People drive a bit crazy around the city and have no regard for speed limits or how close they get on your bumper but we decided to see how far we could get before scouting out a hotel or B&B. We’d heard that if we made it to Belfast then we could find better accommodations. So after making it to Belfast we checked out a couple places around 9:00pm and settled for the Royal Belfast Hotel for R540 with breakfast. Needless to say, after using brown-stained towels and wiping black dirt from our plates during breakfast, we left this so-called 3-star hotel as soon as possible the next morning to Kruger.


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