Our party consisted of me and Emily and our Australian friends James and Angela. Our trip began in the flooded, gridlocked streets of Dar Es Salaam where twice we had to give up on our taxis, getting out to walk in order to make it to the train station on time.
We were taking the TAZARA express, a three day trip across the Tanzanian countryside and on to Kapiri Moshi in Zambia. The station would have been quite a sight when it was built in the sixties but as with many of these well intentioned projects there hadn’t been the investment to maintain it and it was now a leaking relic. There have been very few occasions when I’ve refused to drop the kids off at the swimming pool but that station bog was extraordinarily grim. I crossed my fingers that the train would have improved facilities particularly because we were in ‘first class’, though these things are relative and the cost of the ticket for the trip was only 100,000 shillings (£40). If we arrived within a week we could have no complaints at that price.
On boarding the train we were pleasantly surprised to find the standards were much better than in the station, we had a cosy cabin to ourselves with top bunks that folded up to create our living space. Also the toilets, although basic, were bearable.
The train left on time or 2 hours late depending on whether you live in Africa or Europe and we spent the remainder of the daylight hours staring out of the window enjoying the verdant countryside passing by as we sipped cold beer. We were very happy; it was a promising start to our adventure.
The next day was spent staring out of windows and playing a few games of Bridge, all very relaxing until later that evening we reached the border from Tanzania to Zambia. The process should be straight forward as the immigration officers come onto the train and do the stamping in your cabins. That is of course only if your papers are all in order. Emily’s weren’t, she’d overstayed her tourist visa by one week and her work visa hadn’t yet come through. We’d forgotten this and now we were staring at the largest most intimidating man and he was licking his lips thinking ‘pay day’. He started with his spiel saying the fine is $600 and how dare Emily think she could behave outside the rules. It’s the same with a lot of misdemeanours in Tanzania, we weren’t in any danger of having to pay the full amount but a sizeable donation to the immigration officers’ beer funds was in order. I won’t say exactly how much we paid but it put a fair old dent in our holiday funds. That said, it was only money and it was our own silly fault not to have checked so we carried on to the (much friendlier) Zambian check point already smiling again and over the hiccup.
Emily had her head out of the window nearly all of the last day, waving at local children who ran alongside as the train chugged through small villages. She would have made a good royal; she was most content just smiling and waving.
We left the train at 8pm, with some sadness but also excitement at the thought of a shower more substantial than a baby-wipe wash. The minibus from Kapiri Moshi to Lusaka insisted they could drop us off at our hostel which of course they didn’t. They didn’t even take us to Lusaka, instead stopping at a town en route where they found a coach heading to the city that could squeeze us on. All part of travelling in Africa and splitting a taxi four ways from the bus station was not expensive.
After a night spent in the Lusaka backpackers we spent 9 hours on a bus to Livingstone. And that’s all I have to say about that day as we were early to bed in preparation for one of the highlights of the planet Earth: The Victoria Falls.