Sat, 26 Jul 2008 08:50:14 +0000

TAZARA Day 2 Index Kapiri to Livingstone

The border crossing was, of course, in the middle of the night. It started about half past midnight. The train had stopped, and a guy from Tanzanian border police came up the carriages handing out exit cards and stamping passports. Everything was handled right there in the compartment, which is a level of service I've never encountered before. Maybe that's only first class people though, maybe second and third classes had to queue up as usual.

There wasn't quite enough time to get to sleep before doing the Zambian side. The train heaved itself over the border, stopped, and eventually another border guard came along doing the Zambian formalities. A quick form and a stamp and that was it. I took the opportunity to ask if I could have applied for a visa at the border, and of course the answer was yes, I could have. However, I got the impression that this might have been a bit of a palaver, and I don't know whether you would still need to bring photos and so on. I didn't see anyone doing this. I'm happy with my decision to stay on the safe side and get my visa beforehand.

But then I really did go back to sleep, and didn't get up until the sun was up, around seven. It certainly is nice seeing the sun rising over the scrub from a moving train. I took my remaining bread and jam to the restaurant car, which was deserted, and had my breakfast, and read for a bit. When I'd done eating I tried moving myself to the lounge to read there, but they have the TV on permanently at an ear-splitting volume. It's really no fun there at all. I read in my compartment instead.

The Polish guy and the other Zambian guy were talking about the shower, which I didn't even realise was there. There only appears to be one for all three first class carriages. I resolved to try it out. Unfortunately, as you'd expect, there was no hot water. In fact there was no shower rose either, and basically what I got was a room with a tap in the roof and a hole in the floor. I washed my lower half in the freezing cold water, but couldn't stand any more and gave up. At least it was refreshing.

About eleven I decided that I was still peckish and went to see if I could get some more food from the restaurant car. The lady who seems to be in charge was eating a huge meal, partly involving scrambled eggs on toast, so I ordered some for myself. While I was waiting for that, there was a sudden wave of white smoke that rolled down from the engine, and we ground to a halt. It soon transpired that this was the inevitable breakdown that I'd been warned about.

I couldn't really see what was going on, and anyway, I had my scrambled eggs to deal with. The Polish guy in my cabin wandered up and back, and told me on the way back that we'd hit something left across the level crossing. It could have been really dangerous if we had jumped the tracks. No-one was hurt, apparently. He said they were going to try rolling back a bit to see if they could free the engine from the wreckage.

So I sat there in the restaurant car, reading my book, as the train laboriously ran through several rounds of very gently chugging backwards a few metres. I didn't mind the delay a bit. I have nowhere to stay in Lusaka, and so the very worst thing for me would be to arrive in the evening, and have to scramble to find a place to stay. Every delay made it more likely that I could spend the night on the train and find a place to stay early in the morning, a much better result. After about an hour we got moving again, without apparent damage.

Only a couple of hours after having my brunch, I had some proper lunch. This time I ordered beef and nshima, the last on the grounds that I had no idea what it was. It turns out to be some kind of white boiled meal with the consistency of play-doh.

You're supposed to use your hands to roll it up into little balls and eat your food with it somehow. I really have no idea how: there was another guy in the car eating the same thing, but I couldn't see clearly what he was doing. I just mopped up the gravy and cabbage as best I could, and picked up the lumps of beef with my fingers. I splashed gravy on myself something awful in the attempt. At least the waitress brings a basin of water for you to wash your hands before and after you eat. A satisfying meal, but I don't think I have any great need to try nshima again.

I had a couple of beers to go with my meal, and then with my book. In the late afternoon we stopped at a station for an awfully long time, apparently to change the engine, which must have been more seriously damaged than I'd assumed. I just sat there with my beer watching the kids play around the train tracks, which is no doubt as exciting a place for kids to play as it is dangerous. I had one of my moments, with the sun setting, the train quiet and still, and my beer in front of me. A beautiful place to be, and a beautiful quiet moment of relaxation. Somehow these moments only happen when I have a beer. Weird that.

A Canadian woman in the dining car gave the kids some cashew nuts from the window. I talked to her for a little bit: she's actually living in Lusaka. I seem to have left all of the backpackers behind, and everyone I meet is in Zambia for something more serious. Makes me feel a bit out of my league.

I also talked to a train driver who was travelling back to Lusaka as a passenger. He told me about life as a train driver: he takes the midnight shift, and for that only gets paid about enough to pay for three of the beers I was drinking at the time. A pretty rough deal that. Thinking back, I should have offered to buy him a beer, but I was already about to leave.

Instead, I had my second shower of the day, taking my chance while the train was moving and the weather was warm enough. This was a lot more successful. The water was still horribly cold and made me gasp, but I was able to put up with it long enough even to wash my hair. I decided, on balance, that attempting to shave would be a gruesomely bad idea.

I waited for my hair to dry in the compartment for a bit, angling myself to catch the last few rays of daylight on my book. Eventually it was time for dinner, and I went to order some beef and chips. This time the order took ridiculously long to arrive. After about three quarters of an hour I had to complain, but was promised that it would be done in about twenty minutes. When I did so, I peeked in the kitchen and saw that the potatoes were actually being peeled and cut up by hand! No wonder it was taking so long. About ten minutes later I had my beef and chips, and felt a little guilty about complaining (indeed, about ordering it in the first place). I never got my change back from the 5000 shillings, so maybe that makes up for it.

By the time I finished it was 8:00 and time for bed. The theory is that we'll be in Kapiri Mposhi at midnight at the earliest, but from the delays we've had I expect it to be closer to about 3:00. So that should be a reasonable amount of sleep before tackling Lusaka.

TAZARA Day 2 Index Kapiri to Livingstone