Can you believe that in my 25 years of existence I had never been on a train?
Hard to believe, but my travel exploits did not allow me the privilege of using a train as transportation until The Holiday Express train came to Durban.
I will admit I was excited especially after seeing movies with train rides scenes, however the actual ride itself was a let down. On the way to Shongweni Farmer and Craft Market, the destination for the trip, myself and a friend sat in the first cabin with our packed breakfast. The seats were so comfy, you can sink your head into it and fall into deep slumber. But that was never going to happen with the painful creaking sound we heard throughout our journey. I called the sound “mentally draining”. We later realised that sitting in the first cabin was not the best decision. Nevertheless, as someone who had never been on a train before, you kind of hold onto your expectations with a firm grip, hoping for redemption on the way back.
The ride itself, minus the loud noise, was an enjoyable one. The route depicts the authentic Durban with some of its famous townships, such as Chatsworth, taking centre stage. Along the route we saw shacks of all shapes and colours. Some of them had satellite dishes on them. Children playing games with stones filled the dusty streets, so innocent and excited about life's little pleasures. Some of them flashed their big smiles and opened their small hands in waves to greet us in excitement. We waved back, and the beauty of our interactions with locals filled my heart with common purpose.
While most of the streets were filled with beauty, some parts painted a dark image of pollution and poverty. At some train stations, people set up little makeshift homes, made from scraps, as shelter from the rain and wind. The homeless were catching up on sleep, presumably because night was approaching and they needed to get the fire and look for food and wood. At some stations the illegal dumping was a sight for sore eyes as plastics and cans covered the tracks and the platform. It felt good to be reminded that no matter how far Durban has come, there are many issues still needed to be address.
I specifically adored going in and out of dark tunnels, it felt like something straight out of a Harry Potter movie. The hour drive to Shongweni sped fast and the Durban heat embraced the group of two busloads with open arms as we all entered the food and craft market. The market itself is big enough to have everything one needs - from ceramics, furniture, toys, beauty products and food - but small enough for it to be done in a few hours.
I found the six hour wait a bit taxing since there were not many activities available once you are done with your shopping. Still we passed time effortlessly, taking in the scenic views of the waterfall, lush greenery and indulging in some authentic cuisines from different parts of the world. The music festival a few metres away managed not to bore visitors and even made me stomp my feet a few times. When it was time to go back to the Durban Station, we made sure we changed our cabins, opting to enter the business section of the train, equipped with music, leather seating and closer views of the attractions along the route. Children seemed to enjoy themselves and it is a huge plus if parents want downtime with each other.
This weekend the train will operate from Durban Station to Shongweni Farmers Market on Saturday and to Scottburgh on Sunday.