At the end of our recent Cape Town-Dar es Salaam Rovos Rail trip, they made us leave the train. We could have cried.
For two weeks, we pampered passengers had become almost infantile in our utter dependence and sloth. Coddled and cuddled, we’d adopted Rovos’ Pride of Africa luxury train as our home away from home.
But Rovos’ version of home is tons better than the stationary variety. Consider the following, all included in the fare: laundry service, hair salon, drinks 24 hours a day (alcoholic and otherwise), ample breakfasts, extraordinary four-course lunches and dinners with great South African wines.
Add to that afternoon tea with delicious sandwiches and cakes, and two lounge cars which don’t close until the last guest drags back to his compartment.
Then add in huge suites with king-size beds, ample storage space, mini-bar stocked with complimentary liquor, beer, wine and whatever else is on board, private shower, toilet and sink, and – best of all – windows that open.
That last point is vital. Photographers have a field day on the Pride of Africa, what with all the windows that fully slide down, plus the gigantic open-air platform at the end of the rear lounge car. Even if you don’t use a camera, the wind-in-the-face connection you get with the African countryside, animals and people is immediate and palpable.
Rovos staff, meanwhile, are charming, hard-working and competent. On our trip, that was true of the laundry ladies, ironing away in a forward utility car. It was true of our two expert wine stewards, Gareth and Michael, as well as the dining car servers and cabin attendants and the engineer.
It was true of Train Manager Daphne Mabala, to whose usual duties were added the tasks of negotiating the tour past a freight derailment, late schedules and, most of all, dealing with an unseasonable freeze which knocked out the water lines on 19 of 21 cars. She also worked with us to make sure anybody who wanted them got rides in the engine’s cab in Zambia and Tanzania – a trip highlight for many members of The Society of International Railway Travelers.
And it was true of Bianca Vos, 27, daughter of founding father Rohan Vos. Ms. Vos spent a sleepless night working with Ms. Mabala on the water problem. She also mingled with guests, helped manage off-train tours and worked one of the two dining cars bussing tables, fetching coffee and serving food. No hothouse flower, Ms. Vos is a credit to her old man.
The 14-day Cape-Dar trip is Rovos Rail’s most ambitious all-rail itinerary, covering a third of the African continent, 3,568 miles on the rails. It may be the most ambitious and most comfortable cross-continent rail trek in the world run by any company.
It is not as long as the Trans-Siberian Express (6,600 miles). But this trip takes in major portions of South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, while touching on parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe. There are major off-train excursions, including a two-night visit to South Africa’s Tau Game Lodge, an overnight stop at Victoria Falls and others. (More about those in a separate post)
But it’s the Pride of Africa itself that passengers write home about. As one of our guests, Mohamed Elguindy of Florida said when we were returning from Tau to the train: “We’re coming home.”
For a photo retrospective of the Society of International Railway Traveler’s July, 2011 Cape Town-Dar es Salaam tour, please click here. If you joined us on this trip, or you’ve been before, what’s your favorite memory?