04 Feb The Train III
Yes, the third chapter is here…
Oky let me take you backward ….2016 I decided to become more useful to the people who read my blog posts and after much thought, I combined my love for engines, adventure, thrill and experience and came up with one post that is just out there to help anyone who needs the help. That is how the Train series began.
The First chapter was the whole experience on the Lunatic express, which surprisingly excited a few people who later took the train from my experience, but unfortunately, I lost that post due to a few people in Nairobi who lacked the white matter in between their ears.
The second chapter was on the Madaraka Express, wrote it because I had made a promise to keep writing the chapters and amazingly it still it helped a few more though to me it was so tasteless. By now if you have not used the SGR to Mombasa please do not just do it yet, research what people are saying about it. But since we all need pictures to share around and to tick things off from our bucket lists; you may. Pay for first class if you can and while there read the general experience of the people behind you here.
Well, The Third Chapter … I am more learned, more exposed, more skilled and everything else needed for this chapter
#Bread Lots and lots of Bread
At Noon, Every Friday, Tanzania, Dar es Salam people start flooding into the train station. Now am sure in every transport terminus there are shops around that sell some biting and the kind of foodstuff sold around there can tell you roughly the number of hours you will spend on your commute. So in a terminus that has say some small packs of crisps, soda and biscuits you can tell maybe that is a 2-hour or so journey etc.
This particular station, you meet women at the gate selling bread of all shapes and sizes. I did not see those carrying thermoses, you know, of porridge or tea used to easily digest the bread … so I walked past the first few ignoring them like am allergic to wheat and just before entering the station, one woman reached out and said in Swahili
“kaka utahitaji hii mikate badaye” (which in her tone translated to me as “my guy you will die in there”)
Look, the thing that made me buy two king sized loaves of bread was that after she told me that, she walked away. Instantly I knew am in for one long train ride. I bought two liters of water too so that I will not also chock on the bread and end up dead all the same.
The Tazara Train station ….i know, I expected different but it is what it is
I sat in the first class lounge area and was unaware of the crowd that was growing outside. Of course, when boarding time came, we were the first to be allowed into the platform area for bag checking. The train leaves at 1540hrs every Friday but at 1600hrs, I was still trying to decipher what was written on my ticket apart from the obvious coach number. I do not know why they cannot make the tickets easily understandable and a bit bigger; I mean whats so hard in that. The crowd was let in and since they were all running to get good seats, for a moment I ran past my coach in fear the earth is opening up like in the days of Moses. This crowd is mainly people who sit in the 2nd and 3rd class who alight after about 5hrs
I was smitten when I finally got to my coach. Unlike our Lunatic express that had a smell that would set you back 200 years, this one was clean and smelled fresh. I was even tempted to remove my shoes before I walked in. There was attendant on each coach, and on my coach, he helped me understand the last part of the ticket.
There it was a neat, clean, well-lit cube. There was no dustbin or water sink that I think was very good. This helped to maintain some level of cleanliness and to keep away the cockroaches, which I had not seen any so far unlike the ones that welcomed me to the lunatic express(Truth is there were many cockroaches but they only showed up at night, how is that for insects respecting human space).
Oohh look! The lights were working, the fan was working fine and yes there was a PA system that had African music playing. I know it does not sound as much but it is because I had an experience with the lunatic express that was the complete opposite. It has sockets which are fully functional to help you keep in touch with reality along the way and generally to help you kill time with your gadgets.
The six-sleeper cube slowly filled up but the train never left up to 2hrs later. Not quite different with the lunatic express, or maybe am just unlucky. I think this is how we Africans celebrate our heritage, by not keeping time. The good thing was that they apologized for the delay unlike you know who.
At about 1740hrs the doors were locked, the long icon train hoot sounded, and it began, destination Zambia.
Everyone seems to have planned for this trip, some had books some had devices some it was time to catch up with an old friend…..I, had time and an empty mind waiting to be surprised and engaged by anything or anyone.
As the sun set we were in the vast emptiness of the Tanzanian land.
This particular train is a new version called the Makuba Express, widely known as Tazara and came to live in 2016. The Tanzanian government with help from the Chinese did some excellent work in refurbishing that particular train. Another train plies the same route, the “Odinaree” as the locals call it. With their description, I would equate it to the lunatic express that got decommissioned here in Kenya. It is cheaper and you all know that they say about cheap things.
I got lucky to share my cube with one of the train drivers from Tanzania and he shared a lot of knowledge. I also got a chance to step into the locomotive and learn how it all works. Truly, it is worse than driving a car and needs a lot of attention and keenness. You cannot be in there trying heel & toe tactics and the longer/heavier the train the more it demands. For this reason, there two drivers per locomotive and each team has 5 hours ONLY then pass on to another team.
#Many … Many hours Later
Sunday, at about 2000hrs, through the PA which had be of great companion to me, we were welcomed to Zambia at a station called Kapiri Moshi about 200km from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.
It’s a 1531km trip and if you are lucky, you will do it in about 50hrs. We were unlucky since we had prolonged stops at some stations. Some were food stops and some were exchange stops since it’s a single rail line. Luckily all through there was someone informing us where we were. There was no much restriction, which makes the whole journey bearable, so if one was tired of sleeping you could walk from one end to the other end to stretch as you make friends. At every stop, they would open doors and people would go out to take pictures or anything else of interest.
The train, especially the first class empties out as it gets close to the Zambian border and that is where you start even questioning your own ability to build castles in the air because you seem never finish building one. In fact from this point on could be a good test how close you are with your significant other. See the body by now is weary, probably sore from all the sleeping orientation you have tried, your eyes are heavy, mind dilated and those are the conditions that produce very edgy and angry people.
PS: there is a rule you can never be in a cube with your wife, women sleep in one cube and men in another but once the train crosses over to the Zambia side, there is freedom of movement in a way since its about empty.If you need a cube with you partner you will have to buy it all.
#What You need to Know
You definitely need to find your way to Tanzania. Depending on the mode you use, make sure it gets you in Tanzania by Friday. I recommend you use the bus from Kenya, which is about Ksh 3500. It is an adventure journey; I mean what other way is best to kick one off? Moreover, the best stories are never written in air, the road sets you in the mood. It takes about 14hrs and the buses from Kenya are comfortable you will not realize those hours fly by. Tahmeed, Dar Express and Dar Lux are the buses I would recommend. More of those buses here https://victormatara.com/list-of-luxury-buses-from-nairobi-to-dar-es-salaam/
Two trains go down into Zambia from Tanzania. One is the Makuba Express (on the left) which is what I took and which i would recommend. Its services are just awesome. The other train is the Ordinary (on the right). This has cheaper fare but not as good as the new Express even with the look of it can make you have a tingly feeling. However, if you do not plan to stay long in Zambia it would be the ideal option since it leaves for Tanzania from Zambia every Friday. Thus, you can arrive with the new one on Sunday hang around Zambia until Thursday and return to Tanzania with the Ordinary. Tickets HAVE to be booked at least a week in advance after it opens up for booking one month before departure date. There is no online booking but you can make reservations. I was given this number to call to help with the reservations +255 713 413 141 hoping it will get answered.
Here are the Tazara Fare and movement charts(Courtesy of Seat61.com)
|Dar es Salaam ► Mbeya ► Kapiri Mposhi|
1S, 2S, 2, 3, M or R
1S, 2S, 2, 3, R
|0||Dar es Salaam||depart||15:50 Friday||13:50 Tuesday|
|1852||Kapiri Mposhi (New)||arrive||12:46 Sunday||13:37 Thursday|
|Kapiri Mposhi ► Mbeya ► Dar es Salaam|
1S, 2S, 2, 3, M or R
1S, 2S, 2, 3, R
|0||Kapiri Mposhi (New)||depart||16:00 Tuesdays||14:00 Fridays|
|1852||Dar es Salaam||arrive||12:10 Thursdays||15:46 Sundays|
|One way per person for the Express train. Ordinary train fares are around 20% less.|
|Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi:||104,000 Tanzanian shillings in 1st class sleeper.
84,600 Tanzanian shillings in 2nd class sleeper.
78,700 Tanzanian shillings in a 2nd class seat.
72,600 Tanzanian shillings in a 3rd class seat.
|Dar es Salaam to Mbeya:||47,200 Tanzanian shillings in 1st class sleeper.
39,200 Tanzanian shillings in 2nd class sleeper.
36,300 Tanzanian shillings in a 2nd class seat.
33,300 Tanzanian shillings in a 3rd class seat.
|Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam:||1st class sleeper, express = 473 Zambian kwacha
2nd class sleeper = 385 kwacha
2nd class seat = 358 kwacha
3rd class seat = 330 kwacha
|Kapiri Mposhi to Mbeya:||1st class sleeper = 264 Zambian kwacha
2nd class sleeper = 209 kwacha
2nd class seat = 202 kwacha
3rd class seat = 186 kwacha
£1 = 16 Kwacha $1 = 12 Kwacha. £1 = 2,900 Tanzanian shillings. $1 = 2,300 Tanzanian shillings. On Tazara, Children under 7 travel free, under 15 pay half fare.
1S = 1st class 4-berth sleepers; 2S = 2nd class 6-berth sleepers; 2 = 2nd class seats; 3 = 3rd class seats; M = meal at seat service; R = Restaurant car.
Truth is we from Kenya do not need a visa but the Immigration officers who come onto the train make you think you have to have one. Thus, if you cannot lie on the purpose of visit, try establishing a contact there and ask them to send you an invitation letter or talk to a grogon mechanic to help you lie with a straight face. Personally, I did not know what I was to face so I told them a future truth, am going for honeymoon and my wife took the flight since she is afraid of trains.At the border there was a money changer who came on board and just like our politicians its time to eat. He offers a very bad rate but since the journey is very far from over, change about $50 so that you don’t starve.
Carry lots of food, water, books for the readers, gadgets for the addicts and some toiletries. I however compiled a list of who should never take this train; if you are the kind that get tired of daydreaming or sleeping please fly, if you do not enjoy your own company, NEVER take it. If you can’t do 3 days without shower (and must particularly shower with big soaps like geisha) please consider other means, not that there are no showers; in fact they are there and very clean but the train ride is not quite smooth; showering needs, you to learn a principle called conservation of momentum. You will be applying it when you are stack naked. If you cannot read maps, come for lessons first.
#Once in the +260
You will need to get a local line for internet to help you navigate. This you can get at the station if you are early enough. You can choose to sleep over at the small town where it stops or go into the capital by paying at most 250 Kwacha on public/private means.
If you choose to go further down as I did (as a competition against my train-mates) into LivingStone town or anywhere else for that matter, you can either to go with the Zambia train which leaves for the town every Monday and Friday. Fare is 150 Kwacha and takes 19hrs. It might not be as good as the Makuba Express but its way better than using road where you pay 230 kwacha. In addition, drivers in Zambia are mad and drive as if you are a bag of potatoes, it so bad that government had banned night travel to reduce accidents. They break all driving rules, the buses are poorly maintained, as part of my adventure I took the bus; it rained on the way, I could not tell if I was in or out of the bus. I took two others that stalled in the middle of nowhere.I think their drivers contribute to why most Zambians are just so religious because every-time they have to use the buses they got to pray it gets them there. Kenyan drivers are not so different though, for them i think they just use they head as a teeth closest. Like seriously our drivers can detour for 20kms just to avoid 500m of traffic. And in those 20kms is just a nightmare. Also city commuting PSVs in Kenya are so poorly maintained, you would be afraid to catch tetanus when using one. Though don’t know which of the two is worse.
My advice, you are better of in the trains throughout, into Zambia, around Zambia and out of Zambia unless you get private means or you can’t totally avoid the long distance public means.
Being the third chapter, we hope i will not go any lower than the standard set by the Tazara. For a train service in this region, it is worth your time and your money
I do not know where the fourth chapter will be, maybe it will be the electric train in Ethiopia or the interstate train that goes from the West coast to the East coast. If you wish to suggest one please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org I will evaluate and see what is within my reach and venture out. In addition, if you wish to donate to the chapters please do send me another mail to email@example.com and i will put up your details at the top on the next chapter. If you need more explanation and options since we used them all talk to me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Also if you wish to join me in the next one please feel free email email@example.com because you will have to foot your bills 🙂
Let us kick 2020 like football