Thursday 7 July
The CBD of Jo’burg has been largely deserted by business due to crime and violence in the 1970’s and 80’s, and no doubt anti-apartheid unrest. Business and all the hotel chains are now in the wealthier areas quite a way from the city centre. Apparently the authorities are trying to get business and universities back but at the moment it is almost like a poor suburb. We chose a hotel there as it is close to the train station. The hotel is surrounded by high fences/gates to keep any riffraff out. It was pleasing to see that the hotel staff was nearly all black although all menial work is still done by only black people. And there is a bit of “us and them” from the whites. After breakfast we ventured out to find a supermarket and post office – the hotel receptionist thought it would be safe during the day! Managed both but kept our wits about us. Had a few hours to kill before we caught the train to Cape Town so used the hotel car to take us to Newtown – an old part of Jo’burg not far from the city that has been transformed into a cultural area with the Museum Africa, theatres, trendy cafes, craft shops etc. Visited the museum – interesting display of photos of child labour up to the 80’s/90’s, pretty horrible. Also had a mock up of part of Soweto to show the terrible living conditions in the settlements. Saw similar as we were leaving on the train – unfortunately they still exist, with a lot of the inhabitants being illegal migrants, particularly from Zimbabwe. A large part of the museum covered geology, as gold and diamonds are what South Africa was built on – had terrific examples of hundreds of rocks/gems. Then did the coffee thing at Kaldi’s Ethiopian coffee shop, sitting in the sun watching the locals. A big mug of coffee cost less than $2 – can’t complain about that!
Headed to the station to catch the Shosholoza Meyl Premier Classe train to Cape Town. Areas around the station are no-go areas and could see why – masses of people, obviously poor, going to catch trains or just hanging around looking for a chance. Inside was packed with families with piles of bags, blankets and boxes/bags of bought goods – taking them back to their villages to sell I suppose. The Premier Classe has its’ own lounge so ensconced ourselves there after buying a few things for the trip.
After finding our cabin, it was down to the bar/lounge for complimentary champagne (pretty sweet and horrible) and snacks which included the South African favourite biltong, which is strips of salted and spiced beef. Chatted to a lady from Jo’burg – and finding the accents here really hard to understand! If it’s not the Africaans accent it’s whatever local native language – just have to look at them blankly! There are 73 passengers on the train – all one class with a table assigned in the dining car – a good system!
July 8 Friday
The night was pretty noisy and rough. Got up at around 6.30am to watch the sun rise over the African plains but instead watched the dawn flush over the spoil heaps of mines! Very romantic! Discovered we were 4 hours behind time – apparently there had been power failures during the night and that was why the train kept jerking, as the power cut in and out, great. During breakfast Bernie spotted the first game – a herd of springbok! Small “g” game but game nonetheless! Saw lots more from then on plus 3 pair of ostrich (or emus, as I said when I first saw them!). Stopped at a station and kids approached the train so threw them some lollies but don’t think they were too impressed! Don’t know what else they wanted. Poverty seems to be everywhere in the countryside – derelict-looking houses but lived in (the cold winters must be hard), and the land seems so poor it must be hard to eke out a living. It is basically flat with undulating hills and covered with low bushes, many thorny, and tufts of grass with the earth showing between – a tough existence for the black faced sheep. Nearer to Cape Town the scenery is prettier, with vineyards backed by rugged mountains, some with a tiny amount of snow. In the end we were 3 hours late into Cape Town and will spend 3 days in the area.