The arrival of Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa in Matjiesfontein is, in the words of one of my colleagues, “spectacularly underwhelming”. I’ve been sitting next to the tracks for the better part of two hours, with the temperature barely reaching 5ºC, determined not to miss its appearance in the glittering golden sunlight; smoke billowing as it thunders through the Karoo veld.
Of course, the engine is diesel-electric, so it arrives with a whisper: so much for the merits of my discomfort.
The passengers arrive a good two hours later – the majority of those aboard disembarked 5km outside of town for a chilly morning constitutional that left most of them gasping for hot coffee when they reached the iconic Lord Milner Hotel.
Then it was back on board for the last stretch of a two-day journey that had started in Pretoria and would end in Cape Town. Most of the people on the train were visitors from abroad.
My colleagues and I were mere day-trippers, so we were gracefully led by one of our “hostesses” to the bar-lounge at the back of the train.
In time-honoured luxury-rail-travel tradition, the train pulled out of the station exactly on time. We had, however, been warned that our arrival in Cape Town might be delayed if Eskom decided to conduct some load shedding along the way.
I couldn’t care less about delays: it’s Sunday and I’ve nothing better to do than sit on the observation platform and deplete the bottomless (and complimentary) stocks of Thelema cabernet sauvignon as the Karoo scrub slides silently past.
There’s a long tunnel and the train descends from the escarpment into the winelands of the Western Cape. One of the hostesses walks the length of the train summoning guests to lunch with an old gong. The tune? Hier kom die Bokke!
Lunch is a liquid, languid, luxurious affair. It’s silver service, crystal and crisp napkins. Thelema’s Riesling accompanies the starter (a mini-bobotie served in individual ramekins), followed by grilled prawns on a skewer together with the Mulderbosch chenin blanc and milk tart paired with Amarula on ice.
Our sommelier, Pascal, is keen and knowledgeable.
Then it’s back to the bar-lounge and the atmosphere becomes distinctly somnolent.
It’s already dark when we pull in to Cape Town – replete in every sense.