One of the primary reasons for choosing South Africa as a destination was because of a long-running love affair with train travel — particularly of the “luxury” kind. In researching a 2010 trip to Eastern Europe, I learned about South Africa’s Blue Train — branded as “a window to the soul of Africa.”
So for six years, I knew that the main event of an eventual trip to South Africa would be a journey on The Blue Train, and thus, the seed of an idea for the trip was planted. As it turns out, this particular Africa trip included two luxury trains –the other being Rovos Rail. Each was spectacular in its own way — but The Blue Train was shorter (one overnight), and it included one off-train activity.
This post won’t be a review of The Blue Train (which is available on TripAdvisor here). Instead, this post is meant to be about the sole off-train excursion on the 27-hour journey from Cape Town to Pretoria.
It was a curious little expedition. On the surface, it seemed to be nothing more than a mundane distraction for tourists passing through. The town is called Matjiesfontein. It lies about a quarter of the way from Cape Town to Pretoria and is set amidst a partial desert in the Karoo region.
From the train station at Matjiesfontein, we disembarked and were led directly to a double-decker bus for a brief tour of the tiny nineteenth-century town, followed by a short walk past the Lord Milner Hotel and a complimentary shot at The Laird’s Arms pub in a shot glass we got to take along as a souvenir.
The tour was led by an unusual character — a round older man with brown skin and a gravely monotone voice who said he was from the town. He spoke in a style mimicking the gusto and bawdiness of a vaudeville performer, yet his odd delivery belied an undercurrent of something mysterious in the otherwise casual history of the town.
I’ve been holding onto a draft of this post without publishing it for about a week now, struggling to find the heart of what it (the town and the post itself) is about. The tour was either underwhelming or else something about the experience was distracting (again, ref. TripAdvisor review), maybe even the tour guide’s delivery — which was clearly meant to add color to his tales — but whatever it was, it just didn’t quite make it for me.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to post this as my nooduitgang here, and get moving on to more inspiring aspects of the trip. Thanks, Fellow Travelers, and stay tuned.