Jun 30, 2006

RIDING THE RAILS
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa –  Here's my big Out of Africa moment: I hobo aboard Rovos Rail for a few hours.

The "Pride of Africa" is the world's most luxurious train. So I wear my Finsbury Park pashmina and Jackie-O sunglasses – said to mask authorial poverty – while sniffing over the tray of crustless cucumber sandwiches. Naturally, I sip champers, dahling.

Then I ruin the whole colonial act, by hanging off the caboose's viewing platform like a spaniel in a truck bed, jowls aflap.

"Liam," I tell my lil' buddy, "we are the only white people on the rails."

"Huh?"

"At every station, the passengers – the folks waving – are black. They're probably returning to the townships or suburbs after work."

"Who cares?" Liam is, after all, just seven. Ariel the Mermaid is on his mind, not the aftershocks of apartheid: as it should be.

"We care. That's why we're outside. Because we can see behind factory walls and into backyards from here. We can watch normal people commuting. We shout jokes back and forth at stops and learn what they're like – a little bit, at least."

I almost quote Tom Swick's Columbia Journalism Review article: "What can you know – and feel – about a place when you don't meet the people who live in it? We learn through human contact, and the knowledge that we gain is of infinitely greater value than any number of practical tips. Similarly, it is through human contact that we open our hearts. Enlightenment and love – there are no more compelling reasons to travel, or write about it."

Except I realize I'm being that colonial classic – the pompous bore – and pull back from the brink.

6 comments:

  1. I always wanted to ride the Rovos Rail.

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  2. Easy ... if you're willing to pay roughly $42 per hour.

    Rovos booted me and the other freeloaders off pretty quickly. Musn't clutter up the club car with riffraff, you know.

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  3. Chris8:48 AM

    But worth it if you get to flap your jowls in the wind, tongue and tail all a-wag

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  4. Anonymous10:49 AM

    $42/hour?

    As dedicated freelancers, we quite happily live off that for a week!!!

    But I am sure you got an extra 15 seconds for that pahmina!

    From the Cotswolds with Love..
    Sascha

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  5. Well, a two-night Joburg-Cape Town jaunt costs around US$2k, so I extrapolated to $42/hour.

    That generous sum includes meals, booze and quite posh digs, mind you.

    Still, it's a bit rich for my blood – not to mention my five-quid pashmina...

    Ax, jowls rippling like Paris Hilton's perfumed locks

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  6. I'd be more than willing to ride it for free. Heck, I'd even pay $42 for a night on it...

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