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A train through Africa part II: things go further awry


There was no electricity in the pub that night as I was peeling the sticker off the bottle of Mosi Lager in Livingstone. We were drinking with a few American and Canadian Peace Corps volunteers, not sure what their year in Africa entails.

The following day, my friend Matthew and I would head to the train station and try and buy a ticket to Lusaka. Seems simple right?

It was scorching hot. Our attempt to buy the tickets unfortunately failed. We were told the train was ‘being serviced this week’.

Another Mosi Lager. Cool down. Devise a new plan. Peace Corps to the rescue.

We were told of a reliable bus service that could get us to Kapiri Mposhi where we could catch the Tazara Rail do Dar Es Salaam, the train journey we were most excited for.

This would mean that our journey would no longer be the train trip we had hoped for, but better than the risk of waiting another week for the train to come back from the workshop.

Smooth sailing to Lusaka, a pit stop for two nights until we caught another bus to Kapiri Mposhi to catch the Tazara rail. We made sure to secure our tickets by visiting what can only be described as a bureaucratic building in central Lusaka.

Things go further awry

There isn’t much in Kapri Mposhi. From memory, all I can remember is a pizza place and a Shoprite. We made our way to the Chinese-built railway station, a big hall with two opposing glass walls making up the front and the back.

Kapiri Mposhi is just north of Lusaka, close to the jutting-out border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the main junction station in Zambia, so essentially the De Aar of Zambia.

From Kapiri Mposhi, the Tazara rail tasks you across the Tanzania border, through Nyerere National Park onward to Dar es Salaam. Travellers’ reports have mentioned wildlife sightings on the two-day train ride and we were looking forward to kicking back as the train took us through an incredible landscape.

We were prepared with cans of baked beans, instant noodles, eggs and Mosi Lager but it wasn’t meant to be.

We must’ve waited there for hours. Eventually, we were told that the train workers are on strike, and were busy negotiating.

Fast forward a few hours later. No deal was struck and we were asked to leave the station. Trying to not be too pissed with the striking workers who were only asking for a better life, we made our way to the side of a national road and stuck our thumbs out along with the other intrepid travellers stranded with us at the station.

No amount of Mosi Lagers could prepare us for what came next.

An opportunistic feller saw us and gave his bus driver friend a call, and said that there was enough space for the seven of us on the bus to the Tanzania border. The bus tickets were, well, reasonable. We boarded and had enough seats for one person. The rest of us stood and lay down in the aisle.

Time was impossible to measure from then on. We arrived at Tanzania’s border, and the sun was already burning hot and bright.

My body was on stand-by mode as we were ushered into a mini-bus and were told it was going to Dar es Salaam, but not when it would arrive. We drove endlessly stuffed into a min-bus; my knees on my chest in a car with non-existent shocks driving potholed roads and highways with speed bumps.

Now and then, an AK47 armed officer would shine a torch in our faces, take our passports and disappear for a while. We drove through the night, and then the day. Two Scandinavian backpackers eventually called it quits and got out to a small town to find a hotel to sleep.

We arrived in Dar es Salaam in the early hours of the morning and checked into the YWCA. We had a small room with a balcony looking out onto the night lights of the Tanzanian city.

Surprisingly, our tray of eggs made it without a single cracked egg. Faired better than us I’d say. On a camping stove, we poached baked eggs in baked beans with tomato sauce – call it a poor mans shakshuka.

We dined while overlooking the city lights.

The next day we slept. Refreshed, we made our way to the ferry after a night in Dar es Salaam.  We had a week to recover from our journey before the flight back to Cape Town. Things didn’t go according to plan. Exhausted, yes. But at least we had a week to recover in the island paradise of Zanzibar.

Worth it.

Source: Getaway

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