If you’re interested in traveling at a painfully slow pace through barren landscape at great expense, then the Ghan is the train for you. We rode the rails from Alice Springs in the Outback to Adelaide in the south, a trip that would amount to a 2-hour flight but drags out to nearly 24 hours on the tourist passenger train.

I admit I’m being a little harsh to the Ghan, which was named after the Afghan camel drivers who once transported passengers and equipment on the route. I was still coughing up a storm throughout the trip, and we did infact enjoy the journey, which one knowingly undertakes for the experience — not for speed or budgetary constraints. I’m just not sure we would select that particular mode off transportation again. In addition to the cost (passage cost us about $200 each after a YHA discount), as “Red Service” car passengers (the lowest on the train hierarchy), we were confined to two carriages: the one containing our “bed” (an airplane-like chair with surprising recline-ability and legroom) and the Matilda Cafe dining car behind it. Access to the lounge behind that cost $10. The remainder of the train consisted of private carriages, private berths and champagne service.

Our little carriage, however, was not without its charm. At the back, for instance, was a menacing-looking tube with lights and a curved door operating on an airlock. It looked like an elevator a passenger of the Starship Enterprise might ride to the holodeck. In reality, it served as our bathroom for the next 24 hours.

“Make sure to push the lock button after you close the door, otherwise someone else will open the door — and they’ll see you,” said a friendly young stewardess. We laughed.

She was addressing an interesting cast of characters. In addition to Him and my cough drop-wielding, tissue-clutching self, there were 48 others traveling Australia in the carriage — what the Great Southern Rail fleet’s brochure calls the “economical way.” Among them were a young German couple; an elderly Aboriginal woman; two sisters with identical, bouncy brown hair; Giggles, a fruit-chomping Scandinavian girl who laughed at every syllable uttered by her seat mate (the “World’s Funniest Man?”); an older gentleman who repeatedly kicked my chair in what I suspect was contempt for its angle; and a be-speckled, middle-aged urban cowboy who wore star-patterned cloth bags roped to his thighs. (Honestly, we figured this guy was the Australian equivalent of the Unibomber. In addition to hurtling a barrier to board the train well before everyone else, he later disappeared into the off-limits luggage compartment only to emerge wearing a circa-1990s jean jacket, sans sleeves. Two weeks later, we happened to pass him on Bourke Street in Melbourne, and he was still sporting that same jean vest and saddlebags).

The grub on the Ghan was good and quite reasonably priced compared to most of the Australian eateries we had come across. A roast beef wrap packed with crisp vegetables cost $8 and probably ranks as the best sandwich I’ve had in Oz. In fact, I see now that my notes include “great roast beef wrap” and then, two lines below that, “great roast beef sandwich wrap.”

As far as scenery goes, think vast expanses of red, shrubby desert cut by empty river beds.  I had worried a speeding train would not be conducive to spotting the kangaroos said to graze near the tracks, but moving at roughly 40 mph, we probably could have identified the Aussie’s infamous redback spider from 100 feet away.  It’s not that we were in any hurry to get to our destination. I’ve just never been on a slower train or one that stops so frequently between passenger depots. It seemed the train slowed to a stop every hour to let a freight train pass or to “file paperwork” (?!) or to switch crew members. I don’t understand that last one at all. I watched through the window as the train slowed in the middle of uninhabited shrub land to deposit a solitary man (the relieved driver?). Whoever he is, I sure hope he has some water on him.