Shongololo Express – Africa’s Adventure Train
By Peggy Wright
I had heard about the “Shongololo Express” for years and the image it conjured up was immensely compelling ... “old world” rail travel through Africa ...
a “train safari” using a fleet of on-board expedition vans to explore the African savannah and bush.
On arrival in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, I boarded the train with great excitement and explored my “Commodore” cabin. Although small, it offered up all needed amenities including a double bed, half-sized wardrobe, private bathroom and shower. I unpacked and did not pack up again until 16 days later upon reaching Johannesburg.
The common “meeting place” on board was the lovely wood-embellished bar car. It was here that “Senele” served up cold beers, gin and tonics and good doses of African laughter. Seasoned fellow travelers from Canada, the USA, Holland, South Africa, Hungary, Belgium and Germany shared many tales in the evenings as we sipped drinks while rocking on the rails.
Africa! Long had I dreamed of being in her land. I was not disappointed.
Rhino tracking in the bush took us to within twenty feet of a female rhino and her youngster. Our guide moved us in very close, one at a time, to take our individual photos. My heart pounded and I could feel my “fight or flight” response kicking in as the huge mother beast slowly raised her head and focused in on me. Pulse pounding, I turned my back to her and knelt down for my memory (or perhaps memorial) photo. Never had I imagined I would have this amazing Africa experience!
On another afternoon foray, year-old lion cubs accompanied us on a walk in the “wilds” of a lion preserve, free to roam amongst our small group. Almost the size of a full grown female without the bulk, the duo presence felt rather profound. Under supervision of three trainers, we were able to approach singly and “pet” them. Dense fur felt very exotic in the African savannah surroundings.
Zebra, giraffe, elephant, rhino, hippo, alligator, impala, lion and a myriad of avian life in Kruger National Park gave us an exhilarating “Out of Africa” experience as we encountered them very close up in our safari vehicle.
Sojourns into Swaziland, Botswana and Zambia in our Shongololo expedition vehicles, gave us days choc-a-bloc full of adventure. We returned to our rolling home spent, yet anxious to recount our tales, sharing them with the rest of our travel mates. Many a travel journal came out of a dusty bag with long lists of the daily sightings.
Hearty breakfasts and fine dinners were served as we were immersed in the passing scenery. Beautiful child faces ran the length of the cars, big smiles flashing friendship. A visit to a Zimbabwean school honoured us with a performance of song and dance that left all moved to tears and a school drumming group moved us to dance and celebrate this special journey .
Africa ... Shongololo ... a heart full of memories; a gift from a far away land.
Running three different African routes, the Shongololo Express offers up a unique safari. It surely whet my appetite. I found adventure, comfort and great camaraderie, all within an amazing travel journey on clickety-clack rails.
(Peggy is an adventure travel specialist, working often with Tours of Exploration and has a long list of great journeys she has already undertaken, and a long list of new adventures and journeys yet to be realized.)