The VIP road to Durban July

As an avid traveller, train travel remains the best and most trusted mode of transport for someone like me. Not to mention the fact that one gets the perfect view of the countryside without the inconvenience of traffic or the fear of head-on collisions. Imagine my joy when I saw the Loliwe train package from TRL travel. Make no mistake, as I was constantly reminded, the name Loliwe is not derived from Zahara’s song.

Due to the services offered on board, such as a bar area, kitchen, chefs, entertainment area and comfortable sleeping compartments, the Loliwe tourism train is best described as a “hotel in motion.” With the more than reasonable package from TRL, I had the pleasure of travelling with close to 40 other Batswana, including 5 journalists. The group boasted of quite a number of interesting characters I might add.

My flight phobia led me to take the option of using a luxury coach called “Flight Connect” instead of Air Botswana to meet the group in Johannesburg. Flight Connect travels from Falcon Crest suites straight to OR Tambo on a daily basis, those who know me know that I’m forever singing their praises. Upon arrival in Johannesburg, we travelled as a group to Park station where we would have our bags boarded on the Premier  train as we were entertained by the likes of Kwa-Zulu Natal ambassadors who happen to be popular celebrities such as comedian David Kau, actress Sophie Ndaba commonly known as Queen, a character she plays in Generations , Winnie Ntshaba (Khetiwe) also from Generations, Leleti Khumalo and Mbongeni  Ngema amongst others .Our Loliwe package was also a way for  KZN  to showcase its region as well as promote its talent. Aboard our luxury train, we were entertained by South African artists and entertainers, the likes of the super talented Vusi Nova, Bongani Fassie and a few DJs. The train had a “club room “which was spacious enough for everyone who wanted to be entertained. The fact that wherever we went we could  order any beverage without having to pay for it made a number of people happy, especially since the introduction of the alcohol levy has led to stiff alcohol prices back home.

Our first stop the next day was at the Ladysmith Municipality where we held a breakfast meeting as well as a guided tour of the town. A lot of people only know the name Ladysmith from the popular group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. As I gazed out and marvelled at the landscape, I could not help but notice a lot of similarities between South Africa and the European countryside, the only difference was Europe is a lot greener. Had I been on a flight, I would have missed this altogether.

Upon arrival in Durban, we checked into a hotel called Three cities, Riverside hotel which provided us with excellent service. For some, myself included the fact that we had plenty of time before the main event meant it was time to see what the nightlife of the city offered. Coming from a country that doesn’t have much of nightlife, Durban is wonderland.

On D-Day, there was a lot of commotion and panic as people rushed to get ready. Known more for its outrageous fashion, glamour, and media blitz than its horse-racing the Durban July set-up did not disappoint. The stands were full to capacity for those who actually went there for horse-racing and the marquees where entertainment was decidedly A-list. Fashion amongst Batswana was also outstanding; we received a couple of mentions from the facilitators of the KZN marquee which is where we were VIP and allowed to mingle with the celebrities. The screens were available for anyone who wanted to view the actual races as anyone was allowed to make a bet. It would be a crime not to mention the frequent displays of Fashion shows by the likes of Thula Sindi as well as up and coming designers from KZN.

All in all, a pleasant well needed break where I was treated like VIP, met great people who are now my friends and experienced life of the other side. I am already saving up for next year’s trip. Train tourism seems like a sure winner for SA tourism, which begs the question, where is our tourist train?