Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (https://www.fodors.com/community/)
-   Africa & the Middle East (https://www.fodors.com/community/africa-and-the-middle-east/)
-   -   All Aboard! Southern Cross Journey on the Shongololo Express. (https://www.fodors.com/community/africa-and-the-middle-east/all-aboard-southern-cross-journey-on-the-shongololo-express-811783/)

Femi Oct 25th, 2009 07:15 PM

All Aboard! Southern Cross Journey on the Shongololo Express.
 
After going on a river cruise in Asia (the Irrawaddy), I enjoyed it so much that I decided to look for more tours that met the requirements of fewer than 100 passengers and involved unpacking only once. Several train journeys were on my list, including those in Africa and across central Asia/Russia. When the US Dollar reached a high against the South African Rand that I had not seen in years, I decided to go with the Shongololo Express train journey.

I sent a couple of emails to Shongololo but received no response. Then I emailed Tanya of Go2Africa, my travel agent from an earlier South African safari. She said that although her company had no relationship with Shongololo, she would look into it, and eventually I was able to complete the booking through her.

There used to be three different train journeys offered by Shongololo, all lasting 16 nights. The Namibian journey was eliminated this year, leaving the ‘Good Hope’ which travels through South Africa, and the ‘Southern Cross’ which travels through six countries in southern Africa; South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Both the Good Hope and Southern Cross use the same train.

I chose the Southern Cross journey that starts in the south (Johannesburg) and travels north, ending in Victoria Falls. My main reason for choosing this direction was to end the trip with the most impressive sights rather than vice-versa, and this worked out quite well.

I booked 2 additional nights in Joburg prior to the start of the trip and one night at the end as well as a pre-trip night on the train. Experience has taught me to leave room for changes/cancellations at both ends of a trip, and I was able to accommodate changes to my schedule with minimal stress.

I booked a roundtrip ticket using miles on Singapore Airlines LAX-SIN-JNB. The refueling stop in Narita took longer than anticipated, and because of this I missed my connection to JNB from Singapore. The Singapore Airlines staff were very efficient, and were waiting for me at the gate. I was told that I had missed the flight and arrangements had been made for me on the next flight, which was not available until the next day. I was given vouchers for The Gallery Hotel, taxi transfers, all meals and a telephone call to anywhere in the world. Considering the circumstances, service could not have been better.

LEANNA Oct 25th, 2009 09:39 PM

Wow...I would say this was terrific of Singapore Airlines!!!

Ok this is great...now at your leisure...just keep typing!! :) I'm anxious to hear all the details I can get!! But it sounds like it was a good trip and worth doing.....but still more details will be nice!

Thank you!!

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 08:19 AM

I should mention that a few of the other passengers first heard about the train journey through an article published in ITN magazine a couple of years ago. Deborah Urquhart of Wild African Travels was mentioned in the article, and these pasengers had booked through her. It seems to me they had a few additional benefits of booking through an agent who is familiar with Shongololo, including upgrades and discounts.

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 08:23 AM

Thanks for the encouragement Leanna!

I got to the hotel in Singapore at about 3 am, and as I wasn’t really able to sleep I decided to book a day tour. From the options available at the front desk, I chose a day tour to Johor Baru, Malaysia. The tour cost $39 (Singapore Dollars), and was really just a way to kill time while waiting for my late night flight to Joburg. The tour a few hours longer than expected because several of the participants had problems during the border crossing and in fact were not allowed to leave Singapore because their documentation was not complete.

The tour of Johur Baru was really a series of shopping stops disguised as a tour. We stopped at a batik print shop, a mosque built in Victorian style architecture and a ‘Spice Garden’ which was the biggest disappointment of all.

Back in Singapore, I could see how I missed my connection to JNB the previous day, because the flight left 30 minutes early! Upon arrival at JNB it was very chaotic. There was a huge crush of people at the meeting area and it was impossible for me to find the person who was to transfer me to my hotel. Turns out it was impossible because he wasn’t there. It took a while for me to come to this conclusion. I then had to figure out (from the lady at the information desk) how to buy a phone card, and also had to ask another helpful airport employee to help me figure out how to use the public phone. Eventually I got in contact with the hotel who informed me the driver was running behind, but would soon be there, and sure enough he showed up about 15 minutes later.

As I was unwilling to stay in the city, my travel agent suggested a stay at Tintswalo at Waterfall hotel and this was a good choice. The staff were very welcoming and I quickly got over my annoyance at the hassle of the airport.

The next morning I was transfered back to the airport, where I had to make another phone call to determine the exact meeting point for my pick up by the Shongololo staff. Thus far I was not very pleased with how the transfers were going. Things were soon sorted, and I was on my way to the Boksburg train station which is about a 20 minute drive from the airport. Unfortunately I arrived too late (1100am) to be able to join the tour I wanted which had left at 0900.

Louise Oct 26th, 2009 11:01 AM

Femi - thank you so much for taking all the time describing your trip. You are posting a great, thorough report - can't wait for what is to come. I remember reading the article in ITN and thinking the trip would be wonderful. I am on pins and needles - are we going to get a good report? My deposit is on hold. Thanks so much again. Louise

atravelynn Oct 26th, 2009 04:06 PM

Very wise to have some extra time up front and it appears to have come in handy. Trains and Africa, a winning combo! Looking forward to the rest.

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 05:01 PM

Louise one of the questions on the Shongololo survey at the end of the journey was would I recommend the trip to others. I'd love to hear your thoughts as a potential customer as I continue this report.

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 05:02 PM

About the train itself; I had read from various sources not to expect luxury, but the condition of the cabin was still a bit of a shock. It was clean, but showed several signs of deterioration like cracked and peeling linoleum in the bathroom, cracks in the shower compartment, and misaligned shower doors that could not be completely shut. I had chosen a commodore level cabin, and in comparison to the other levels, I think it was well worth the cost of the upgrade. Judging from the response of other passengers and one of the guides, my reaction was normal. The guide foretold that we would come to appreciate the cabins, and by the second day, this turned out to be true. Most of us found the cabins to be quite small those first few days, barely able to accommodate one person much less two, but by the end of the trip, we were able to have three people in a cabin with no problem. As a single occupant, I enjoyed having a double bed, rather than two singles. Storage is very limited. I was able to place items under the bed or over the door, but not all cabins had the advantage of this layout. If there had been two of us in the room, it would have been quite challenging, but most people seemed to manage. There is no additional storage area outside of the cabin. Air-conditioning is included in the gold and commodore cabins but not the ivory cabins. Gold and commodore levels have ensuite bathrooms but the ivory level includes shared bathrooms/showers.

I would rate the food to be a notch above the quality of the cabins. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price. Lunch is not included, but were usually buffet style and cost US$ 10-15, not including drinks and the quality ranged from fair to very good. We had some outstanding desserts at a few of the lunch buffets. Drinking water cost extra on the train, ZAR 7 (or about $1) for a small 500ml bottle and ZAR 13 for a liter. The exchange rate currently varies from ZAR 7.2-7.4 per USD.

Passengers were mostly Australian, with next most numerous nationality being German. There were also a few Dutch, American, Canadian and various French speaking nationalities.

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 05:52 PM

For lunch the first day I signed up for a transfer to the local mall (R40). There typically is not much to do around the train stations, so activities on your own are limited. There are clipboards hung in the lounge with upcoming activities, including the cost if applicable. You sign up in advance on the clipboard, and on the morning of the activity, you look on the whiteboard to see which bus/guide you have been assigned. Passengers eventually rotate through all the guides which has the advantage of exposing you to the specialist training of each guide, but the disadvantage is that if you find guides you particularly enjoy, you cannot stick with them. There were about five guides altogether.

Femi Oct 26th, 2009 07:07 PM

Hi lynn! :)

LEANNA Oct 26th, 2009 08:45 PM

Femi, this is truly wonderful and much appreciated by both Louise and I. Thank you so much!!!!

LAleslie Oct 27th, 2009 07:05 PM

Femi,
I was considering the Shongololo on our first trip to Southern Africa and our travel agent warned us away, but mostly because he had very little information and was wary. We ended up paying through the nose for a Blue Train trip. Fun, luxurious, no complaints, but not worth the obscene price.
So I'm anxious to here all the details of your trip. We're also considering the Irrawady trip. Did you do a trip report?

Femi Oct 27th, 2009 08:12 PM

My travel agent had the same response when I told her I wanted to go, LOL. Totally understandable. And this trip was not inexpensive either.

Here's a link to my report on the Irrawaddy cruise:
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...anted-land.cfm

Femi Oct 27th, 2009 08:16 PM

I considered the possibility of making arrangements for a private driver and guide to meet me for a day tour, but this would not have worked because of frequent changes in the train’s schedule. For instance the delivery of a train engine was several hours late in arriving, and so the train staff switched the next day’s touring activity with one scheduled a few days later.

I had thought that sleeping on the train would be a piece of cake, with the rocking motion to lull me to sleep. Wrong. Turns out I found the motion to be frequently jarring and the inconsistency of the movements was difficult to get used to. There were a few stops after which the train would lurch back to life, sending items flying across the table. The first few times released a collective shriek from the passengers. When we finally learned to anticipate the jerking, it stopped. Perhaps because we had switched to a different engine?

Over the weeks I observed new bruises appear everyday on a fair number of passengers, myself included. The corridor along the cabins is very narrow, and it took some time to learn how to walk without being suddenly thrown against the wall by the motion. I resorted to taking a sleeping pill most nights which I found to be very helpful.

LEANNA Oct 28th, 2009 08:46 AM

Sounds like a real adventure!!! One where you have to roll with things as they happen.

I'm at at age where a bit of adventure is fun for me still.....and Africa is Africa and that is part of the charm of what draws us back so many times!

Femi Oct 28th, 2009 07:04 PM

I guess it dosen't count as an adventure if you have everything stay the same as it is at home!

People in the older gold and ivory level cabins had frequent problems with the locking and unlocking cabin doors. More than a few required a special jimmy, wriggle, stroke or wrench to open. One of the passengers told me he had just stepped out of the shower, when all of a sudden his door was forcibly wrenched open and he didn’t know who was more surprised; him at the surprise visitor, or the other guy who found someone standing stark naked in what he had erroneously thought was his cabin! I observed people entering the wrong cabin more than once, so consider yourself warned! A few people also managed to get locked in by accident and had to shout for help. As there were always crew passing through, it wasn’t a problem to find someone to unlock the door, just nerve wracking for the unwitting prisoner.

The water pressure in the cabins was impressive, and hot water appeared almost instantly. There were some complaints of insufficient hot water, but I only experienced this once.

Let me know if you have more questions about the train itself, as I think from here I will describe the day-to-day acivities that were scheduled...

SumitKumar Oct 30th, 2009 04:19 AM

Thanks for your reply

http://xploreronline.com/Projects.aspx?AID=3

Beachnut11 Nov 18th, 2009 09:52 PM

Hi Femi - great write up - would be really interested in your assessment of day-to-day activities offered.

atravelynn Nov 19th, 2009 03:24 PM

New daily bruises on both yourself and your train traveling partners is pretty adventurous!

Femi Nov 19th, 2009 06:59 PM

Hopefully I haven't forgotten too many details...Please ask if there's anything more specific you would like to know.

Preday on board the train - I missed the 0900 departure for the day's tours as I didn't arrive till 1100. Wish I'd known they left that early because it would have been no problem to arrange for an earlier arrival. Went to the mall for lunch via the train’s scheduled shuttle service. There really wasn't any other option near the station. The mall was pretty large and offered several choices of restaurants/cafes/snack bars/pizza parlors/etc. When I got back there were chairs and tables set up on the platform, so we passengers got to know each other, watched new people arrive, and got in the way of the crew who were frantic with last minute preparations.

Day one.
I signed up for the Joburg and Soweto tour (other option was Pretoria and Soweto). We visited Constitution hill and the African museum. I found neither stop to be very interesting, but then I have little interest in visiting museums to begin with. I did enjoy riding around and being able to see the different neighborhoods of Joburg.

A few words about shopping: If you see something you really like get it then. There was a guy selling large bead & wire sculptures near the African museum. The guide thought the prices the artist was asking were a bit steep, but then later admitted to never having seen that type of work anywhere else. Several staff members told us to wait for Vic Falls to do our shopping because of the variety there, but even the hardened/seasoned sales guys at Vic Falls were wowed by the sculpture. The beaded animals that I bought on the first day of the trip are some of my favorite purchases. And by the end of the trip I thought I probably should have paid more for them.

There are handicrafts for sale outside of just about every site we visited on the tour. In some less populated areas the locals know the train schedule, and go out of their way to set up shop accordingly. The guides did ask that we not bargain too hard with the vendors, one reason being that with the AIDS epidemic 1 vendor might be resonsible for several more family members than usual.


Lunch stop was at the Rosebank mall which is in a nice neighborhood and was a good place to stock up (pharmacy, etc) for last minute items before the train left town. We then continued on to Soweto which I found to be surprisingly modern, and entrance to the Hector Pieterson museum was included. We ran into the people who had done the Pretoria tour in the morning, and most reported that they had enjoyed it.

Femi Nov 20th, 2009 03:38 PM

Throughout most of the trip we had fantastic weather; mid 70s with a breeze. I can imagine that a lot of the places we visited could become extremely uncomfortable in either summer or winter.

Day two
We were originally scheduled to visit Swaziland this day, but because the train engine arrived several hours late, we ended up visiting Blyde river canyon via the panorama route which had been scheduled for day 7.

We stopped for tea/coffee at Graskop on the way to the canyon, a small, picturesque town with a few shops lining the sides of the road. The guides told us there would be a silk shop we could visit, and most people (myself included) decided to skip it, bcause really, if you've seen one silk shop, you've seen them all, or so we thought. I decided to wander in afterall while waiting till it was time to reboard the bus. Turns out Africa Silks is a shop that makes fabric from the silk of mopane worms (as well as regular silkworms). It was far more interesting than I had expected, and if I had known more about it, I would have made it my first stop.

I enjoyed our stop at Blydes River Canyon. I suppose it is the South African equivalent of the Grand Canyon, with a course that had been carved out by the Blyde river. We also stopped to see Bourke’s potholes, which I found to be just as impressive. This was one of our fantastic weather days. Because we continued to run behind schedule, my group had to skip the stops at God’s window and Pilgrim’s rest which was a bit disappointing.

LEANNA Nov 20th, 2009 07:11 PM

Thank you for this additional info. I have booked this trip.....so now its REALLY interesting!!! :)

Beachnut11 Nov 22nd, 2009 11:53 AM

Femi -thanks for the additional feedback- hope you can continue to recall of daily itinerary. Agree with you on if you SEE IT - GET IT NOW -- we have learned over the years never to count on finding a particular item again.

We would be interested in purchasing some wine to take on the train - were there wine stores at the mall...Will the guides assist you with this request...

LEANNA -- when are you booked to go...

Femi Nov 22nd, 2009 01:09 PM

How exiting for you Leanna! This trip is definitely one of a kind.

Beachnut I didn't happen to notice if there was any wine for sale at either mall (East Rand and Rosebank), but you should have no trouble finding wine, even if it means taking a taxi, you would have time to do this. The train overnights at Boksburg Station while in Joburg.

Links to East Rand Mall info: http://www.eastrandmall.co.za/
Rosebank Mall: http://www.themallofrosebank.co.za/

Femi Nov 22nd, 2009 01:15 PM

I remember more than I thought I would at this point.

Day three
Maputo. I’ve been waiting for this part of the trip with eager anticipation for almost a year. Mozambique. I love the way it sounds. We are to spend two nights in Maputo’s grand dame of a train station. This is by far the most picturesque station of the entire trip. We are reminded that part of Leo DiCaprio’s movie Blood Diamond was shot on location here. There is a jazz club open in the evenings that looks very interesting but I don’t go in.

Although it is in the heart of the town, the train station is eerily quiet. When it is time to board one of the local trains, there seems to be an invisible barrier that locals will not cross. They wait behind the barrier until their train pulls in, then in an orderly but rapid fashion they surge forward for boarding. I look repeatedly for the reason they do not come closer to our train, but cannot find one. There is no loitering around the station.

Our first day in town is meant to be one of relaxation. I ask why we don’t do the city tour the first day so that we can get our bearings, but apparently this is what works best for the train’s schedule.

We are divided into our sub-groups, and as usual each group spends the time a little differently depending on the guide. Eventually we all end up on Marginal beach. In my van we are given boundaries, i.e. don’t walk past x point as we are driven up and down the coast to get an idea of the layout, and then we are dropped off. There doesn’t seem to be very much to do at all, and at first I am reluctant to get out and so are the others. Then one couple puts on a brave face and are the first ones out and the rest of us follow.

We end up taking a leisurely stroll along the beach and take a few pictures, but there really isn’t much activity. We hear the weather has been bad for fishing, so most of the fisherman have taken the day off. The few we see in the distance are hauling up empty nets. It is overcast, which is a plus for us as there is very little shade on the beach.

We do walk past a few locals, and attempts to communicate don’t get us very far because of the language barrier. Our guide has spent the time cruising up and down the road beside the beach, so when we are ready after a couple of hours all we have to do is flag him down. Our group was one of the lucky ones. One group was left on the beach for the entire day. We drove past them once or twice, but unfortunately our mini van had no room for extras. Had I been on my own, I would not have felt safe walking on the beach. There were too many long stretches where there was no one else around.

We were then driven back to town for lunch, which was at a restaurant called Mundos, home of ‘The Best Pizza You Ever Had’. I had the coconut crumble fish which was just ok. Several members of the group did have pizza, and they raved about it the rest of the trip. Apparently the restaurant lived up to its promise. It was the best pizza they had ever had.

Dinner that evening was one of two that were off the train. We went to a buffet dinner at a restaurant near the water called Sangres. It was very busy, several of the diners were locals. The selection and quality was quite good and included a lot of seafood, and the desserts were wonderful.

The streets were strangely deserted during the drive home, and we passed a few groups of men occasionally. It did not look like a safe place to be wandering around alone.

Beachnut11 Nov 22nd, 2009 04:14 PM

Thanks Femi - did you feel safe when the train was stationary overnight? Since it is a rail yard - does anyone venture out after dinner or do guests just patronize the train bar car and get to know each other?

On days when the train travels during the day - are there onboard lectures? Did you find them informative/helpful.

Finally I have read that some cars are "air conditioned" which may be very advantageous depending on the time of year one travels. Did anyone in your group have an Emerald Room and did they give you and feedback as to whether it was worth the additional $$$.

Femi Nov 22nd, 2009 05:20 PM

I always felt safe on the train. In some places we had armed guards on patrol (can't remember where that was now), and in other places it was regular security guards (with dogs in Joburg). We were warned not to leave windows open because of the risk of theft, not just by people but by baboons as well. The baboons are very savvy, and know exactly what to look for to increase the success of a raid. You only have to watch them for a few minutes to realize how calculating and persistent and strong they are.

As you noticed most of the time, the train was on the move in the evening. Some of the guests wandered around before dinner in some locations, but it seemed to me that the guides did not think it wise, and I would not have felt safe doing so myself. Turns out there wasn't much to see, the guest who did wander around ended up purchasing socks at a shopping center. When the train was stationary the staff would set up tables and chairs outside the main entrance and that's where people hung out. They also spent a lot of time in the lounge areas around the bar.

There was a little anxiety amongst us passengrs about the day on the rails, because we weren't yet used to the cramped quarters but it turned out to be ok. We read and chatted, and rearranged the cabins for the zillionth time. The guides did give a talk on what to expect, but it was very informal, and truthfully it wasn't all that stimulating.

Definitely go with airconditiong, those that didn't were very stoic, but spoke of being uncomfortable about half the time. I only heard of one couple that might have had an emerald suite, but never got to discuss the merits with them. The commodore and gold cabins are also air conditioned.

Beachnut11 Nov 22nd, 2009 07:37 PM

Thanks Fermi - how were the meals handled? On a cruise you have a set time and I assume the dining car can only handle 1/2 of the guests at any given time. Was there any sort of schedule or just luck of the draw?

Guess same question applies to breakfast - you indicatedin one posting you only had to wait once - but I'm assuming that the "early birds" have the most flexibility - but there must be the usual 7:45 rush????

LEANNA Nov 22nd, 2009 08:11 PM

We are booked for next Oct...2010. Deposit has been paid!

Beachnut...you are asking super questions....please just continue...I seem to want to know everything you want to know!! :)

Femi thank you for all of this....and here is a glass of wine...so just keep talking!!!! :)

Beachnut11 Nov 22nd, 2009 10:01 PM

Well Leanna you are ahead of me - we are looking at 2011.

Femi - you indicated this trip was not for "everyone" -- can you cateogize who you feel this trip would be best for???

You can tell from Leanna's reply that we are looking for any "observation" you can share on your trip...the more you share - the more we will ask specific questions. Look forward to more reports on your daily itineraries.

I think the optional activity Balloon ride in in my bucket list -- did you try it?

LEANNA Nov 23rd, 2009 06:54 PM

Along the way somewhere you need to do a balloon ride!

I should think over Africa would be very special indeed. I did mine in Turkey and it was fabulous.....so do add it to your bucketlist and spring for it while you are in Africa.

Our days only grow shorter.....so fill em up!!!!

Femi Nov 23rd, 2009 07:29 PM

The questions make it a lot easier to know what to write about. First of all, how cool that you're booked Leanna! Especially for October because I thought we had fantastic weather, well except for one day, and even that wasn't too bad. You've got a wonderful trip ahead of you, even more so now that you know what to expect!

Space on the balloon ride was very limited, so you would need to sign up as soon as the sheet is posted. Unfortunately it was cancelled this trip, but I can't remember why now. I wasn't one of those who had booked, but you can imagine how disappointed they were. If you haven't been on a balloon ride before, I don't think you can beat Africa for the first time!

Beachnut11 Nov 23rd, 2009 07:32 PM

I have done a balloon ride - but alas it was just in Ottawa - I imagine that a non-urban environment would be much better.
So yes - it is on my list. Crossed off the camel ride at the Pyrmids in Egypt this Fall - one less thing to do!

Leanne - since you have paid your deposit - has the operator provided you with any additional info? Are you boarding in Johannesburg or Victoria Falls? Any reason for the choice you made?

Femi Nov 23rd, 2009 08:14 PM

One of the best things about this trip was that all the visas were purchased as we went along. It was much easier and more cost effective than getting them at home.

Day 4 (Part I)
In comparing notes with other passengers on the previous day, most did not like Maputo at all, mostly because they thought it looked poor and dirty. Before we left the train we had been warned repeatedly to be careful of where we took pictures. Apparently the locals really do not like their pictures being taken because they fear being represented as poor and backward to the rest of the world (probably not too far from the truth).I thought the city looked very promising with lots of new construction and new business visible. There were also housing estates being built along the beach front, and we caught glimpses of what I am sure were multi-million dollar houses and condos along the coast.

So this was the day for our city tour. It started out with a drizzle that occasionally turned into light rain, and it stayed wet for just about the whole day. In looking at other members of the group, I was surprised at how wet they were when the precipitation didn’t seem all that heavy. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, and I looked just as drowned as everyone else if not worse!

Maputo didn’t seem to be that big once we got our bearings. We tried to start the day with a visit to the fort, but apparently the opening times vary frequently and it was still closed. We returned later in the day and it was small but interesting. There were sculptures in the garden, along with beautiful pink frangipani trees. There was a free showing of art and photography (with a more Western theme than African) going on in several areas of the fort, and this made for a very satisfying visit. Outside the fort was a square with several vendors who had their goods laid out unprotected from the rain, but no one seemed worried.

We then stopped by the catholic cathedral where we were able to crash a wedding (very accommodating of them). The kaleidoscope of faces in this group of people was amazing, with every hue and a surprising range of cultures represented. Some were in Western dress, some in African, and this was the first time I’ve seen people who appeared to be of sub-Saharan descent wearing saris! I would have loved to find out more, but once again the language barrier was very difficult to cross.

Femi Nov 23rd, 2009 08:21 PM

Sorry, I missed the question about the meals. I was always up pretty early for breakfast and so had no problems with seating. It was always packed about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave for the day.

Dinner occured over 2 seatings(6:30 and 8:00PM), and it got pretty competetive for the first seating. The guides were not shy about asking you to move out once you got the last forkful in. Definitely no time for lingering.

Yes, Leanna do tell. Who did you book with? Were they at all familiar with the train?

Beachnut11 Nov 24th, 2009 08:27 AM

Femi - in terms of your visas did you purchase them or were they purchased by your tour operator?

Also what are the two or three BEST tips - you could give to someone considering this trip....something to bring; something to do; don't forget this.

Femi Nov 24th, 2009 06:45 PM

The train staff purchased our visas as we went along.

Wow, three BEST tips is hard!

1) Take your ATM card with you and withdraw enough South African Rand if you start the trip in SA. You have the option to pay the final bill on the train in Rand, with a credit card, or in USD. Credit card is the best option, Rand next best. USD would be the last choice because the conversion rate on the train was not very good.

2) On any trip the right attitude goes a long way, don't sweat the small stuff.

3) If there are any toiletries you feel you must have, bring it with you. You only get a small bar of soap on the train.

Hope that helps.

Femi Nov 24th, 2009 06:46 PM

Day 4 (Part II)
It was fascinating to see that wherever we went along the tour, the black guides were able to communicate with the locals with little difficulty. Apparently most black people in South-East Africa are able to communicate in some form of Shona. I loved hearing the locals in Maputo converse in sing-song Portuguese.

The stop at the natural history museum was worthwhile for the stuffed animals on display. The elephants, lions and zebras seemed far larger than anything I’ve seen in real life. Have animals become smaller in the last few generations. The guides swore that there were still animals that size roaming around (elephants in Addo for instance), but I am yet to see anything that even comes close. Also interesting was the display of an elephant embryo through the different phases of pregnancy. The development of the embryo seems to be complete relatively early in the process with an explosive increase in size in the latter months. Across from the museum is the newly remodeled Hotel Cardoso which looks very inviting, and is somewhere I wouldn’t mind staying during a return visit.

I had some fabulous grilled shrimp for lunch at a restaurant called Waterfront. The French fries were also very good. A ½ kilo shrimp platter and a soda cost $20, and I was able to pay with a credit card. Service was fast and efficient, even though the restaurant was quite busy. The manager was Swiss.

Our final stop was at the central market, which I did not find very interesting. The produce was very attractive, but the setting really wasn’t geared toward tourists. The merchants were annoyed that we were in the way and obstructing the flow of traffic around their goods. We had done a couple loops around the city and I could see that we weren’t that far from the train station. So rather than continue to annoy the merchants while waiting for the vans to come and pick us up, a few of us decided to walk back to the train. We had told the guide ahead of time that we were considering this option, and he was ok with it. It took probably 20 minutes to get back to the station, but only because this was our first time (crossing the busy street, looking around, etc), it could easily be done in 10. I tried to buy some yummy looking roasted cashews along the way, but the lady selling them would only accept Metical and I had none.

One couple had started the walk back with us, but then decided to go a different route. When they got back to the train they were unnerved but ok. Apparently they had wandered into the wrong neighborhood (they received strange looks and were uncomfortable) and eventually they were stopped by the police who demanded to see their passports. The couple carried photocopies of their passports with them for this reason, but the police refused to accept this. As the police became more insistent and it looked like things were beginning to escalate, the couple produced their real passports which luckily they had on their persons but had hidden them for fear of theft. The police were satisfied and sent them on their way. This definitely drove home what the guides had been telling us; it was essential to carry our passports on us. More so in some locations than others, but it was just easier to take it all the time. Less chance of forgetting then.

There were police officers on patrol riding with rifles on the back of trucks. They did stop and give a ticket to one of the guides who performed a minor traffic violation. As we departed Maputo on the train I could almost hear the guides let out a collective sigh of relief.

Femi Nov 24th, 2009 07:29 PM

Pictures: http://tinyurl.com/Shongololo

Femi Nov 24th, 2009 07:35 PM

I did a search and found lots more pictures. Wish I'd done this before I left!


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:46 AM.