Trains are in my blood. My maternal grandfather worked for the South African Railways all his life, and The Toppie started out his career as a steam locomotive stoker. When we were still living in Johannesburg, I caught the train from Park Station to Doornfontein to attend school and back again every day for four years, before we left to come and live at the coast.
When I saw that there was a dinner experience on a steam train at Victoria Falls, I was like, Shut up and take my money! The train only runs twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and booking is essential.
The Bushtracks Express boards at the beautiful Victoria Falls Station, a stone-throw from the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel. It was the first hotel built in the village and is known to the locals as The Grand Old Dame.
While waiting on the platform there was a gentleman playing the saxophone. When he did a Satchmo number, I shed a few tears, because in that moment I thought about The Toppie, and how he and The Bean would have loved to have experienced this.
The train chugged into the station with a familiar toot-toot. While waiting to be checked-in (which was a quick process handled efficiently), passengers enjoyed cocktails on the platform before boarding the luxurious coach for its destination: The Victoria Falls Bridge, where guests could disembark, purchase souvenirs from the vendors, take photos of the sunset, and even get into the drivers’ seat for some photos.
I opted to sit at the rear of the train, on the balcony, hoping for some reprieve from the heat. The train manager, Tulani introduced himself and shared some history about the railway line; Cecil John Rhodes envisioned a railway from Cape Town to Cairo, but unfortunately the line ends in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Prince and Melinda, two local celebrities provided the entertainment, filling the air with both local- and international songs.
The food provided on the excursion is of the finger-variety, beginning with simple snacks like peanuts and dried figs, progressing to canapés of seeded crackers with hummus and guacamole, to goat’s cheese and salmon, to other savoury treats so delicious I gobbled them up before taking a picture (#facepalm) and the perfect dessert to round the evening off. Drinks are included in the fare paid for the trip.
Before the train comes to a stop on The Victoria Falls Bridge, it makes a short stop at the hydro-electric power station, where Tulani shared some interesting information.
The stop on the Victoria Falls Bridge lasted about 45 minutes, which was more than enough time to purchase souvenirs, take photos and drink in the sunset, while listening to thunder in the distance, and seeing the occasional strike of lightning. I was even fortunate enough to sit in the cab, and make the train toot-toot myself (and I made sure I did it good and proper, but the video clip I have is too large to share on my blog).
The ride back to the station was a bit more jovial. (A few drinks will do that to you!) Passengers joined Prince and Melinda in song, and some danced. Tulani even grabbed me for a few twirls, which I found very sweet.
There are many benefits to solo travel, but moments like that are when one misses having someone to share the fun with.
As we slowly re-entered the station to the synonymous na-na-na-na-na-na of Hey Jude there were cheers of “one more song!” which were heard, and we all joined in to pata-pata for one last time.
I left that station with a full tummy, a happy heart and the coolness of the first raindrops on my face.
What a memorable excursion it turned out to be – the first of many during my visit to Victoria Falls, in fact.