Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Sunday, October 28, 2018 09:48:47|
Africa SW 2018: 3 Train Cape Town, S Africa to Aus, Namibia
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
The hotel had an excellent spread for breakfast, after which we boarded buses for a tour down the coast and high up on signal hill, which looks down on the City of Cape Town. They was a company there selling tandem para sailing, where a guide would take a passenger under the same sail. The updraft from the ocean provided lift that could keep a para sailor aloft all day, but after a good ride the operator would move out over the sea where there was no updraft and descend to a large grassy area bordering the beach far below.
Something we learned from our guide is that saying the word kafir is prohibited in South Africa. It was the derogatory term used for black people under apartheid, much as nigger was used in the US. When they speak of it they refer to the "K" word.
We had a meeting in the VIP lounge at the train station where champagne was served and we met the owner of Rovo Rail. Surprisingly, he told me it was the same train we had been on years ago from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, but it had been remodeled. A lot of the coaches date from the 1940s and 50s.
We were pleased with our cabin, which has twin beds, two good sized windows, a bathroom with a roomy shower plus lots of cupboard and drawer space. I'm writing this at the table in our cabin as the train heads through the vineyards in the wine area around Paarl. The train has a regulations against using cell phones or laptops outside of personal cabins, something I agree with.
There are two dining cards, two bar cars, an enclosed smoking lounge car, an observation car at the end of the train and a number of accommodation cars. There is also a doctor on board in case of medical problems with any of the 62 passengers and 28 staff. From our cabin it is a long walk aft to the bar or forward to the dining cars – we are in the middle. With the generator car but excluding the engines there are 18 coaches.
I was looking forward to the stop in Matjiesfontein, a small town that has been restored. The Lord Milner Hotel there was a stopping point for Cecil Rhodes, and I'd planned to have a beer where he must have done on his journeys. We were to arrive at 7 PM, but by 10 PM I gave it up and went to bed. At 10:30 PM we pulled in for a one hour stop, but we decided not to go out. They also run the world's shortest hop-on hop-off bus along the two block main street.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
It was an easy start today, breakfast was on until 9:30 AM. We are crossing the very dry Karoo region, where cattle farmers eke a living in the sparse vegetation. There were informative lectures during the day in the bar car, including English ones for the four English speakers. It has actually worked out well as guides Rolf, Gunter and Udo have taken turns with us - they are tri-lingual. It also gave us a chance to know them quite well.
In the afternoon we stopped at the rail junction of De Aar, where we changed for another track heading north west. No tours here, but we wandered around the platform while they changed engines. The altitude here is 4,079 meters (13,380 ft). Later, back on board, there was an Arugula liquor tasting along with samples of dried meat from a number of local game animals They were definitely not stingy with the Arugula!!
Thursday, October 25, 2018
We spent much of the night stopped in the station at Upington, called the gateway to the Kalahari Desert. It was originally a missionary station. This nice town of about 60,000 people is centre of a large wine and vineyard industry, thanks to water from the Oranje River. There is also a long speedway which is an alternate landing site for the space shuttle. After boarding buses for the half hour journey through the wine country we arrived at Augrabies Falls where the Oranje River rushes through a steep sided canyon and over an impressive waterfall. A city tour followed on our way back to the train, where staff were waiting outside with trays of champagne and cold wet towels. The temperature today topped 38C and tomorrow is forecast at 44C.
While sipping our champagne on the platform the customs people arrived and did the physical inspection of everyone to make sure the right person was using the passport. It was then lunch and the train rolled for the Namibian frontier. At lunch we signed on for flights over the sand dunes of the Namib Desert, then up the Skeleton Coast, where there were few survivors of the many shipwrecks.
Namibia was first settled by Bushmen some 25,000 years ago, then the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Germans. After the first world war Britain took over the German possessions in Africa, including Namibia. When Namibia became independent, the British continued to control two ports on the west coast where they had enclaves. South Africa took them over when it became independent, finally giving them to Namibia in 1994. South Africa and Namibia are still very close in trade relations, currency, defenseand so on.
At the Namibia boarder the staff were required to go into the immigration station, but passengers remained on the train. The only inconvenience was that the bar was closed for half an hour.
Friday, October 26, 2018
The train was stopped this morning on a desolate siding with nothing in any directions except scrub brush in dry, sandy soil. The two buses that drove from Cape Town to transport us had gone back last night, so three different buses awaited our departure from the train. Due to the bad roads, buses here use on truck bodies with an air conditioned bus on top. We saw a sign that said, "Bad road ahead. Remove false teeth and hearing aids".
Once loaded, the buses headed for Fish River Canyon, the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon in the USA. En route we had our first wild animal sightings – there was a water hole with small herds of Genstok and Springbok. A surprise to us was a large group of wild Ostrich.
At the canyon we opted for a hike along the rim, which averages 570 meters (1,874 ft) above the river, often a sheer drop straight down. In places the canyon is up to 27 km wide, but where we were it is quite narrow. It is a truly an awe inspiring sight.
Once back on the train it moved us to another location where our same buses were waiting. Apparently they and their drivers will be with us for the rest of the trip. This time we were off to see the Quiver Tree Forest. The tree got its name from the bushmen who would make quivers to hold their arrows.
After a short stretch of rough road we hit pavement for the long drive. The area is still arid, but flat with volcano shaped hills poking up, and table topped mountains in the distance. A couple of roads turned off with signposts for distant towns, all are a long way from each other – the road were straight as far as the eye could see, with a 120 kph speed limit.
The Quiver Tree Forest is an area of huge boulders balanced on top of each other, between which the quiver trees grow. The trunk has very hard bark, harder than any I've seen before, and the branches point upwards with surrealistic "leaves" on them. They are unique and hard to describe.
Saturday, October 27, 2018
We woke up this morning in the town of Aus, where we were picked up by buses to go to the historic port town of Luderitz. On the way we stopped at a watering hole where wild horses who survive on the spars vegetation drink. There are different stories about where they originated, but the most likely one is that they were originally British cavalry horses who ran into the desert when their base was bombed by the Germans. Many died, but others adapted to the terrain.
The second stop was at the diamond mining ghost town of Kolmanskop, where an entire town which had a bowling alley, theatre, ice making plant, electric power plant, horse drawn street cars on rails, hospital, school and so on. The desert has preserved it perfectly, but many buildings have a few feet of desert sand in them. When the location was originally discovered it had alluvial diamonds, which lay on the surface – all that was needed was to pick them up. This was mostly done by people on their hands and knees in the moonlight, as that made them sparkle more. Apparently initially the whole surrounding desert sparkled like a well lit city at night. Entry to this area is still heavily restricted, as the odd diamond is still found on the surface.
We had a good lunch at a beach front hotel in Luderitz when drove to the lighthouse at Diaz Point, passing pink flamingos standing in shallow water along the way. An island a short distance offshore was covered with seals, and there was a shipwreck on the shore. Back in town I skipped a walking tour along the waterfront in favour of riding the bus to the end of the walk. Here I found the yacht club, were I settled in to watch rugby on TV with a gin tonic. All too soon we were called to the buses for the long drive back to the train. Tomorrow we transfer to the Namib Desert Lodge for two nights.