Brian loves taking public transportation everywhere we go. Usually it works out great, but sometimes it ends in disaster. Either way, it's fun, and I would never rob Brian of this joy! He feels like it's a puzzle, and I'm happy to let him put the pieces together. The Taraza train, was by no means a puzzle. It was a straight shot from point A to point B, but still an adventure nonetheless. Plus, we had trusty Brendan and Brit to give us some intel on the experience, and we knew this was exactly how we wanted to travel!
Getting to the Tazara train station however, was a battle in and of itself. Of course it was, right? It’s Africa. We left Panga Chumvi before the sun greeted the sky at 4:00am to head to the ferry terminal. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to figure everything out for the train, so we booked the 7am ferry that was scheduled to arrive in Dar around 8:30am. As we drove down the bumpy, dark roads, the morning was silent except for the call for prayer. It was silent until we heard a loud POP and felt the car slowing down. Oh no. As we came to a complete stop, the driver reluctantly told us we had a, "puncture." A flat tire! NO!! Immediately, Brian and I both jumped out to help. I held the flash light (phone) while Brian aided in finding the right tools. It seemed to be going smoothly, and I even thought to myself, wow, NASCAR better watch out! That is until it started raining. I'm talking sheets of rain, buckets of rain, torrential rains. Even the driver let out a cry of frustration (which sounded much nicer in Swahili). We were soaked before we had time to run back to the car. WHY!!!! We were already forty-five minutes late with a flat tire. Thankfully, the rain caused a delay with the ferry too and we made it just in time to wait outside in the storm.
When we arrived in Dar, it was still raining and we were starving so we played it safe and went back to the Grand Casino for breakfast and to find a grocery store. A train ride isn't a train ride without snackies (and Brian was terrified I'm sure, of being stuck on a two night train with a hangry Shiva. No one wants to be witness to that!). We hadn't noticed the first time, but luckily there was a grocery store next to the restaurant. We bought all the essentials, water, wine, chips, and cookies, and finally made it to the Tazara station. Once we are caught up on the blog (if that will ever happen), we plan on writing the ultimate guide to the Tazara Train. We'll go into all the details on how to buy tickets, etc, but for now I'll spare you the details, but you can watch the video here!.
Right as we took our seats in the giant waiting room, someone approached us and and mentioned that we got to sit in the first class lounge. No way! First class!! We grabbed our bags and headed over to relax in our luxurious private lounge for the next three hours.
The train was either two hours late or the time tables were wrong because it left exactly two hours later than our schedule which happened to be the same time as the Tuesday train (we were on the Friday train). Either way, the boarding was complete chaos. Everyone made a mad dash to the platform with more supplies than passengers. Oh no. I completely underestimated our need for reinforcements and started to really second guess my choices. Why didn't I pick up that extra pack of cookies!!!
Since it was our first train ride, we splurged and booked out our whole cabin, so we had it to ourselves (highly recommend). We nervously entered our tiny room decorated how I imagine a prison cell to be, unloaded our bags, and started jumping up and down like silly school kids. We loved it! I instantly started making our steril cabin more homey while Brian snapped some pictures before the facilities were used.
The next three days were pure bliss (as far as bliss in a prison-esq cell can go). We agreed we probably could have tolerated one more night, (as long as we had more snackies of course) but we're grateful we arrived on time. We joined all the locals for traditional meals of nshima (a Zambian staple made from maize flour), relish, and your choice of chicken or beef for lunch and dinner, drank the train dry of Kilimanjaros (local beer) while partying at the bar. I even managed to get pawned off to the bartender for free beers by a local woman who kept telling me, "Marriage, no matter!" On the second evening, we had a romantic night in with a deck of cards and a bottle of wine with no cups. I put my (nonexistent) craft-making skills to use and managed to make cups out of the bottoms of our empty water bottles. Voila, two wine glasses and a bowl for nuts hath been procured!
The nights were FRIGID, and we woke up both mornings covered in dust and soot from leaving the window cracked. I took it upon myself to make sure the hallways and our floors were mopped every morning and evening which proudly earned me the nickname of Crazy Mop Lady in our car. The locals laughed every time they walked by asking, "Why are you still mopping Crazy Mop Lady!?" They, like Brian, had a hard time understanding the sheer joy I get from cleaning. The only unpleasant thing that happened was on the second night. There was music playing nonstop on the train, and every cabin has a switch to disable it which everyone usually does, especially at night. We weren't sure if our neighbors really enjoyed the music or if they had gotten off at an earlier stop and left the switch on but either way, Zambian pop was playing all through the night, loud enough that wearing ear plugs didn't make a difference. Brian and I didn't have the courage to knock on the door.
We arrived at the Kapiri Mposhi station right on time (the sounds of Zambian Pop still stuck in our heads) and teamed up with a Taiwanese couple to search for our bus to Lusaka. We were told that a large charter bus came every hour with a nonstop to Lusaka, a two and a half hour ride. The only thing we didn't want to do was get stuck on a local mini-bus. After walking thirty minutes with our luggage, we found the bus stop and waited for the next hour and a half under the hot African sun. Every charter bus that came through was completely full and when Brian turned to look at me, I knew what he was about to suggest. So, the four of us climbed into the back of our mini-bus, a third of the windows were plastic instead of glass, piled our luggage on our laps, and got ready for the first mini-bus experience of the trip. Brian and I agreed it wasn't as bad as we always imagined it to be (or perhaps Brendan and Brit did a great job of setting our expectations). We stopped every fifteen minutes to somehow pick up more passengers in an already crowded bus, creating seats out of luggage and having people sit and stand in the aisles. Our legs were completely numb with the weight of our luggage resting on them, our ears going deaf from the flapping sounds of the plastic windows against the wind, and the ride took us over five hours. But, we arrived and in one piece! Neither of us are eager to make mini-bus travel a mainstay of our future traveling but happy we were able to experience it.
We checked into The Palmwood Lodge in Lusaka and made the difficult decision to skip out on the seven hour bus ride the next day to Victoria Falls. As much as we wanted to see it, we just couldn't wrap our heads around a fourteen hour roundtrip bus ride with only two and a half days to do it all. We will just have to save it for next time!
Next up, Safari!