Posts Tagged ‘train Zambia to Tanzania’

Our Journey from Livingstone to Lusaka is relatively brief and scheduled to take six hours. The Muhwanza Family Bus service leaves surprisingly on time and soon we are hurtling down the road overtaking trucks on blind bends. It’s only six weeks ago that Zambia experienced a terrible bus crash where over 50 people were killed and I wonder if our driver missed the news of this event.

The inter-city bus terminal in Lusaka is soggy but this has not stopped the local unlicensed taxi drivers from gathering around as each bus arrives. This is madness. I feel like a discarded chip at the beach being fought over by angry gulls. We look for the licensed drivers but there are none. They are all parked outside the intercontinental hotel some 5km away!

Lusaka Bus Terminal

Lusaka Bus Terminal

We remain calm and endure the barrage of questions, collecting our thoughts and letting the gulls know we are in no hurry, especially when they are asking triple the going rate for a short journey. Eventually as they disperse we get a reasonable offer and head to an area 3km north where there is a small collection of cheap hostels. The first is full and does not allow camping. The second camp site is a construction and is currently under two inches of water. For this privilege they want $10 USD. Eventually after a bit of a walk around I find the Broads Hostel, no camping but the small chalet with shared bathroom is only $20USD and seems the best on offer. I wonder what the catch is and wait to find out. It’s Sunday afternoon and nothing is open so we go through our packs looking for new and improved ways to make everything fit.

The Broads Hostel also doubles as a popular BBQ restaurant and soon pulls in a large crowd of entertaining locals who gather to slap backs and solve Africa’s problems over a beer. They stay onto 2am. Catch is now clear.

The next morning we rise early as there is much to do and we want to get out of Lusaka as fast as we can. We need to arrange visas for Tanzania, so we head to the consulate first so we can submit our passports and pick them up in the afternoon. While the visas are being processed, we set about trying to get information on how to book the Tazara train which leaves tomorrow afternoon, or the mythical MV Liemba which sails from Mpulungu on Friday.

Several travel agencies are unable to help us with either option. Voyages travel who market themselves as Lusaka’s finest proves about as useful as a mammary gland on a bull. It seems flights are easy enough but ageing charismatic battleships on Lake Tanganyika are out of the question.

Frustrated we hike across town (refusing to take a taxi) to the Tazara office and try to get berths for tomorrows train to Dar es Salaam. It’s a no… the allocation in Lusaka is sold out and we are told we might be able to get seats in Kapiri Mposhi itself. We are now faced with a choice, both of which carry no certainty.

We either travel 13 hours by bus, once a week to Mpulungu arriving at 1am and see if we can get a cabin on the Liemba by asking around. If we can, we still have no way of knowing if the connecting train from Kigoma that runs twice a week and is 40 hours to Dar has any compartments? We could always just sleep on the deck for three nights with 800 Zambians and Tanzanians, but I am not sure Emma would agree. Actually she probably would maybe it’s me.

The second option is to travel 3 hours to Kapiri Mposhi tomorrow morning and see if we can get a compartment on the train (50 hour service) to Dar es Salaam by way of Mbeya at the station. We decide as its closer and leaving first, we will try our luck there. If this fails we will be able to get the bus on Wednesday to Mpulungu and get the ferry no matter what class they have.

Kapiri Mposhi is a small little town with no charm or reason to exist other than the Tazara railway connecting Zambia with Tanzania. It’s as though they ran out of money and could not continue the service all the way to Lusaka. In fact that is probably what did happen.

Mr Mosi wears a clean navy jacket and is the station officer. We squeeze into his tiny office and enquire about available compartments. There is no 1st class but 2nd class berths are available. We are not allowed to travel together unless we buy all six places. The price is steep about $250 USD in total. The train is scheduled to take 50 hours and suspecting it will be longer, the decision is made to take the entire compartment. We feel a bit sad as the Liemba promised much but its myth will remain just that for now.

Emma glancing around “New Kapiri Mposhi” station struggles to spot anything new. The toilets are kept immaculately filthy but we use them anyway. The smell of urine and God knows what else is so strong it stings your throat and makes your eyes water. The station swells with passengers throughout the day and even a few other Muzungu’s arrive. It’s fun to watch their faces as they exit the ablution block.

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

The train is due to depart at 4pm but this is surely too much to expect. We prepare ourselves for tomorrow morning just to be sure. Word spreads through the station that a derailment will delay our start for several hours. I confirm this with Mr Mosi who looks worried but assures me it will only be a couple of hours. I apply the rule of double and this proves accurate, The Mukuba Express creaks and groans away from Kapiri just after 8pm.

Joining us on the journey is Flynn and Imogen from the UK and three Canadians who are in 1st class. Already there are guesses as to when we will arrive and I allow 24 hours extra and take a stab at Friday lunch time. Our compartment is drab and bares the scares of neglect. The door will not lock which dictates that one of us must always be in the compartment at all times.

The scenery for the first 24 hours is fairly unremarkable. It’s an endless sea of low green scrub. It may be unfair but it feels aside from Victoria Falls that most of Zambia has been this way. We arrive at the border with Tanzania around 6pm after 22 hours since leaving Kapiri. The formalities are simple enough and we are spared the usual silly questions that all customs officers are taught around the world. On the heels of customs come the money changers. I have about 80 kwacha left and manage to get a rate of 285 shillings about 15 short of what it should be. I have no other option as there will be no banks in Dar that will change it later and the dining car will oddly no longer except them once we have crossed into Tanzania.

looking back


We arrive at Mbeya around 10pm after a fine meal of rice, chicken and chutney. The train sits along a gloomy platform lit but just a couple of fluorescent tubes. Martin, who is in charge of the train, assures me we will only be here for a few hours! I smile and ponder his use of the word only. Morning comes and we are stranded at a new station only 120km up the rails from Mbeya. The Zambians who have been waking us up each morning at 5.30 are at it again but they are now packing and the rumour is the train will be stuck here for a day. They have business in Dar and have decided to abandon the train in search of a bus. Most of the train empties but we are determined to see it through and surprisingly the train pulls away about an hour later. Martin confirms there is another derailment about 300km ahead and they are fixing the tracks. We will proceed slowly hoping the tracks are repaired by the time we arrive.

Rolling through southern Tanzania

Rolling through southern Tanzania

The scenery has gone from boring to spectacular. We carve a path through rolling hills, dense jungle and dark tunnels. The train picks up speed as we descend a pass and the temperature and humidity rise alarmingly. We pull into Mlimba around 4pm on Thursday. We are already 4 hours behind the scheduled arrival time into Dar with a long way to go. The tracks are not ready and we are stuck here in the middle of nowhere hot and sticky with not even a breeze for relief.

Martin delivers bad news; it’s going to be at least 12 hours. The rule of double bares no thought.

Where there is a station there is a town and we all go in search of some cold drinks. The town of Mlimba is not on any tourist map; in fact I am not sure it’s on any map. It proves to be an oasis though. It’s rough and shabby but somehow beautiful.  A stroll through the main street is causing a small commotion as people come to their doors and children call out Muzungu (white person). I feel lucky to be here and on the train. This is real Africa. The delays, the charming people, the rough little town, it’s all an adventure that I would not swap with the passengers of the five star train; Pride of Africa that now sits next to us. I envy the bathrooms but not the experience.

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Webster who is built like the middle weight champion of Zambia calls us over to a plastic table set up in a small garden. He is also on the train travelling to Dar with business colleagues, so Flynn, myself, Imogen, and the Canadians all join them for a beer or two. I don’t stay too long as Emma is guarding our compartment. Walking around the pride of Africa, I can see the AC’s condensation running down the windows. The men are wearing bow ties for dinner. Now I am jealous but still, the drinks and conversation with Webster and his friends in the garden are more rewarding.

Night consumes Mlimba and both trains sit together in stark contrast. “The pride” is lit up like a Christmas tree; ours hides its ugliness in total darkness. Emma sits on the platform reading her kindle. We are both enjoying the experience for this is what overland travel is all about. Meeting the unexpected and making friends with people you are unlikely to ever see again.

Flynn, Imogen and Webster join us in our compartment for drinks. Flynn has a small speaker and plugs in his iPod. The Canadians, Brian, Mina and Katrina squeeze in as well and we pass the time away. We all vow to meet again in twenty years’ time on “The pride of Africa.”

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Webster

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Emma, Webster

Friday morning and still we are parked at Mlimba station. Webster informs us that the Doctor on the Pride has been assured that we will be leaving in about three hours. We take this as reliable information as most of the passengers are on holiday and have flights to catch or reservations confirmed in Zanzibar. The toilets on the train have been locked and Emma is forced to locate a suitable place in the jungle. The spirit of adventure is waning this morning as perspiration and dehydration take over. The skin starts to crawl and your clothes begin to stiffen. We have been in our compartment so long that even the cockroaches have become familiar and are no longer hiding in the cracks. Even the locals are feeling the pressure and demands are made to Martin this is not acceptable. Tazara railway compensates everyone with 3000 Tanzanian shillings about $2 USD. I realise we have purchased 6 tickets and make sure I receive compensation for 6 passengers.

The Doctor on the Pride is right and we leave Mlimba around noon. The familiar platform pulls away. I wonder if we shall ever see it again. Wind blowing through the carriage is a welcome relief. The scenery is wonderful. More high mountains draped in green jungle. Small Children run and wave as the train passes each village. We make good progress and Martin informs us we will arrive in Dar about 2am tomorrow morning.

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

The fourth night settles over the Tazara and the best is saved for last. We sit in our compartment with the lights off. The jungle must be singing loudly as we can hear it over the sound of the train which is considerable. Hundreds of fire flies blink in the darkness and a crescent moon hangs low in the sky. Everything has gone wrong but everything is just as it should be.

Arriving into Dar at 2am is not ideal. We have heard recently about tourists being kidnapped in taxis from Dar station late at night and being forced with violence to withdraw money from ATM’s. It’s probably unlikely but we are in the grips of paranoia and the darkness and shadows of Dar station is not helping much. The travellers all group together for safety. The security of 7 is promising but Martin advises us to sleep in the 1st class lounge until morning. I take a walk around the station to break the boredom but a man who can’t speak and works for Tazara urges me back into the building. He places his own hands around his neck simulating choking and points outside. The message is clear and understood and I go back inside and wait with the others. Maybe I wasn’t being paranoid after all.

The first ferry to Zanzibar leaves at 7am, so we leave the station at 5.45 as we all need to get some money out before we buy our tickets. The usual dodgy tout spots us and starts to hustle us for an inflated ride. We get him down to 20,000 shillings still about double. The rank outside is dark and they put our bags into plain cars. I can see there are licensed taxis waiting and insist we go with them. The tout speaks with them and some deal is made. We all ensure the two taxis will follow each other the whole way and are relieved when our driver waits for the three Canadians. We all a little nervously withdraw money, all the time peering over our shoulders into the darkness.

Safely back in the taxis we arrive at the ferry terminal. The sun is up we can relax. At last Zanzibar is in reach. It feels a long way back to Livingstone when we started our journey but it has been the most adventurous part of the trip so far. We feel we are now well prepared for what Africa will throw at us next but before we do its time to soak up some sun and relax on Zanzibar’s world famous beaches.

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Love and Hugs Greg and Emma

Read Full Post »