A Journey of a life time
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
I want to tell you about a journey that I took with my husband over 20 years ago. Steve and I have taken many journeys together, going to Mt Elgon with our then 3 weeks old baby, going by bus to Lamu with our two young sons, driving through Mo
zambique from Maputo to Tete. So this is just one of them.
Of the two of us, Steve has always been the dreamer and so we thought we should go to Botswana by road and rail. I tried to plan the trip the best I could because I like plans.
Day One and Two
The journey began in Eldoret, where we left our two young sons with my parents. We travelled by road to Nairobi. We spent the night at my brother’s place and then got onto a bus to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, at 5.30am. The journey was uneventful, stopped halfway at Bombo at about 3 pm to stretch our legs. We eventually arrived in Dar at about 8 pm to a cacophony of taxi brokers. Once we figured out what was happening, and retrieved our luggage from the bus, we settled on one guy. We told him where we wanted to go, negotiated the cost and he took us to a taxi. We watched as the broker and the taxi driver haggled and before we knew the broker started unloading our luggage and shouting for us to get our of the taxi, he then proceeded to load our luggage into another taxi. You can’t imagine what was going through our minds at this time, we had only done 14 hours of an 8 day journey. Eventually we get into the sec
ond taxi and we hoped that we will actually get to where we wanted to go. We did get to the hotel we wanted and found our reservation still intact.
The next day we went to the Tazara offices to book our train tickets to Zambia. My plans started to fall apart at this point. Firstly the train didn’t go to Zambia everyday, we had missed the last train and the next one was only leaving two days later. Secondly there were no 1st class tickets. Either you booked a cabin that sleeps six or you book a public cabin with seating only. Thirdly cabins were booked either men only or women only. With this information we booked two tickets to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia. After this we got onto a ‘Daladala’, public transport, and went into town center. We happened upon a cyber café, we sent email to the family. Found a bookshop bought postcards to send to the boys. We had promised them that we will send them postcards from every place we stop along the way.
We spent one day in Dar-es-Salaam. Sight seeing, though we didn’t move about too much. We went to the market and bought some fruits for our 3 day train journey. By afternoon we decided it was best we go and try to rest since we didn’t know what we were going to be faced with the rest of the journey.
On the day of departure we go to the train station at about 3 pm as the train was leaving at 5 pm. The horde of people, mountains of luggage was unbelievable to our eyes. We tried to see if there was any order in boarding of the train but there was none. We decided to stand aside, thinking that we would wait for the crowd to lessen before we tried to board the train when a porter approached us and asked if we were going to board the train. We told him that we were waiting for the crowd to lessen. He laughed and said if we didn’t fight to get onto the train, it would leave without us. The crowd would not lessen. He offered to help us. We accepted his help. He disappeared then miraculously appeared on the train and he asked us for our coach number, once he had found it he asked us to pass our luggage to him through the window. He then told Steve to help lift me so he could pull me through the window as the doorways were jam packed. I refused. So Steve fought his way onto the train to be with our luggage as our helper jumped off the train through the window. He took my hand and literally push
ed and pulled me through the crowd at one of the doorways onto the train. We paid and he jumped off the train through the window facing the tracks; that’s how he had got in! We realized that without his help the train would have certainly left us because hardly had we sat down the train started moving. And true the crowd didn’t seem to have lessened. Steve’s cabin had six men, I went to find mine. In the women’s cabin it was so full of luggage, mothers and children. There was hardly any space to sit. We were six women and eight children. After sometime Steve came to find me and thought maybe we could go and sit in the dining car. It was no better because it was full of people who were already preparing to sleep. There was no food to be had. We stood around in the corridor because I didn’t want to go back to my full cabin just then, but we soon had to go back to our cabins because people were using the corridor for sleeping. I went to the ladies bathroom and found someone taking an actual bath at the hand basin, water splashed everywhere. I quickly went to my cabin and chose the top most bunk. Have you ever slept in an oven set at its highest? That was my experience.
By morning I didn’t think there was any moisture left in my body, I had sweated all fluids out of me.. And when I tried to get off the bunk I didn’t know where to step, two more women and their children were in the cabin plus their luggage.
I went to find Steve and I was so envious because the men’s cabin was not full at all just the six men no luggage on the floor and they had their window open. I guess the women could open the window just in case one of the kids fell out!
Anyway I decided th
at I was going to sit there with the men. The other men didn’t seem to mind. I at last managed to turn my mind to the passing scenery which was beautiful, green and at every station where the train stopped there were traders selling all sorts of things from agricultural produce, plastic toys and household goods. More and more people kept on getting onto the train. By evening we crossed into Zambia. The immigration officers came onto the train and stamped our passports.
Bedtime came and I had to go back to the women’s cabin. If I had hoped that it was less full I was solely disappointed. If anything it seemed even fuller with huge sacks of things on the floor. I climbed onto my bunk and at one point looked down and saw that some of the kids had been made to sleep on the sacks. So basically if I had wanted to get down I would have had to step on someone’s kid.
Looking outside, the scenery had completely changed. The landscape wasn’t so green and there were fewer traders at the stations we passed. Zambia didn’t feel as hectic as Tanzania. We got into Kapiri Mposhi at about midday. There was a rush to get off the train, and people rushing to get to the public transport providers. Again we were being genteel and stood aside waiting for the rush to quiet down. One of the guys who had been in the cabin with Steve rushed to us grabbed our luggage and told us to follow him. He had commandeered a taxi, loaded his luggage and ours and told us to get in so we go to Lusaka. After 2 and half hours we reached Lusaka. A beautiful city but at that time there were no new buildings. Fred, our new friend, took us to his office where he offloaded his luggage, merchandise that he had bought in Dar. Took us to the bus station to book for our trip to Zimbabwe. Again my plans went awry, I thought we could have been able to book a luxury bus all the way to Botswana. Not so.
Fred then took us to his home, shocked his poor wife with impromptu overnight guests who needed to have a bath and be fed. She had to get water from an outside tank as there was no running water in the taps and cook a meal for us, plus make up a place for us to sleep.
After a nice rest in a beautiful bed; Steve will never get over the pinkness of the bed linen, we went to get our bus to Livingston. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about this leg of the journey as I slept all the way. We arrived in Livingston, caught a brief glimpse of the spectacular Victoria Falls, went straight to the border crossing and within no time we were in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. A beautiful tourist town. We were told of a good hotel, made a run for it, just so we could use the bathrooms, used a flushing loo, ate pizza and ham sandwiches and had a cup of coffee. The small things.
We boarded another train that took us to Bulawayo. A very sedate experience, a far cry from our Tazara experience. We had a cabin for ourselves and a hot shower. Imagine that! Though truth be told I kind of missed the Tazara, the hectic humanity.
We got to Bulawayo in the morning. Got into taxi and asked to be dropped at the bus station where we could get the bus to Botswana. We missed the bus, the taxi guy said it’s not a problem, that since it’s a ‘chicken bus’ he would catch up with it. Basically it stopped at every bus stop to pick and drop passengers. Sure enough we did catch up with it. It was an old rickety bus and all ready quite full though we managed to sit together.
At the border crossing we were asked to alight with all our luggage, go through Zimbabwean immigration then walk to the Botswana immigration about 1 and half kilometers, but it might as well have been 100 kilometers. We had to carry our luggage, poor Steve had to carry the two heavy suitcases, one of which had my books. It was so hot and the road was not paved so he could not roll the cases. It didn’t help when the bus passed us without stopping to wait for us at the other side. To say that Steve was hating me for my heavy tomes at that time is to put it mildly. He actually contemplated throwing the books away. We struggled through immigration, hot, tired thirsty and ready to collapse, got onto the bus and it was only after a few kilometers did it dawn on us that we had made it to Botswana. We arrived in Francistown and booked another train to Gaborone.
We got to Gaborone, we were met by our friend who could not believe that we actually made it.
This was a journey that tested us and will always be remembered. We hope to one day do it again and see how things have changed over the years. I hope you can come along with us.