Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tazara Express

It takes 46 hours to get from Kapiri Moshi to Dar es Salaam if the train's on time. We bought our tickets for the journey in Lusaka the day before. They look like 20 year old movie tickets which the woman behind the counter flipped over a few times writing our names and some numbers on each side. On the day of departure, we took a two hour bus to Kapiri Moshi. It's a dusty nothing mining town in the Copper Belt province. The exporting of copper was the reason the train was built in the 70's by the Chinese. As we waited for the train, we reunited with our new friends Tank and Daniel, who we'd been running into ever since Zimbabwe.

The train was scheduled to depart at 4:00 pm but we heard that delays of up to 12 hours were common. However, around 3:30 we boarded the train and by 4:00 we were rolling out of the station. We sprung for 1st class tickets. First class is a four person sleeper, second is a six person, and third is a bench. First class was only about 5 bucks more and we thought the personal space would be worth it. On Tanzanian trains men and women aren't allowed to sleep in the same cabin unless they purchase all four tickets. As the journey began we both had our own personal cabins right next to each other. The Zambian countryside rolled by as we enjoyed the setting sun. After dark, we met in the dining car for a simple meal. Tank and Daniel soon appeared and we drank a few not-so-cold beers from the bar. Later we hung our heads out of the window, looking up at the star filled sky. The middle-of-nowhere Zambia is excellent southern hemisphere star gazing territory.

After a good night's sleep we woke up to another relaxed day of reading and watching villages pass by. We still had the couchette to ourselves. 18 hours into the trip we crossed over into Tanzania. Immigration was handled on the train and, with the visas we got in Pretoria, it was all very smooth. In Tanzania, the small villages and stations became more frequent. At each stop tons of smiling and waving children ran towards the train and women came to the windows selling fresh bananas, onions and potatoes from the baskets on their heads. We bought a few "nye nye", tomatoes, for our sandwiches. We kept on rolling, enjoyed another sunset, and met up with the boys in the dining car for another night of stories.

On the final day, we rode through Selous National Park, the largest in Tanzania, though we just saw a few baboons. As we neared Dar es Salaam we realized we were right on time. Forty-six hours after leaving Kapiri Moshi we arrived, delay-free, in Dar.

1 comment:

foster said...

What a musical train whistle! I love the idea of star-gazing from the train window and the shots of the people and the curving train, especially the reflected setting sun one!