14 Jan – 23 Jan 2016

Tazara train

A part of our journey that we were really looking forward to was the 3day/2-night train journey from Dar Es Salam, Tanzania to Kapiri Mposh, Zambia, (2000km) using www.tazarasite.com. It sounded like a great couple of days relaxing and watching the African countryside of Tanzania and Zambia go by…

We called them directly to book tickets one month in advance, we booked out all 4 beds in a first class sleeping cabin, as recommended by the train travel website; www.seat61.com.  The Tazara train company don’t have email and they don’t take credit card, so the only way to be confident we were actually booked was to physically be at the station and pay!

It all sounded a bit uncertain so we tried calling the station a week in advance to confirm the booking was still fine, they passed us a mobile number to call, who then passed on another number and it seemed to go round in circles for about 3 days before someone told us that his was in fact the correct number but today is a national holiday, could we call back tomorrow! This didn’t fill us with much more confidence as you can imagine…

When we eventually made it to the station one day ahead of departure we were relieved to find our booking was all good, phew. Our “first class” tickets were hilarious, bear in mind this is a 3 day/2-night international train journey, the tickets were little pieces of cardboard with a few handwritten scribbles, I’d say they haven’t changed since the 1800s!

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The “first class lounge”
Similar to BA’s lounge at Heathrow T5, only very very different

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We got on the train and our cabin was just about acceptable, the walls hadn’t been cleaned for years, the fan was broken, 1/5 lights worked.  We had to find a stick to prop the window open, but we had read the reviews so weren’t too shocked.

Finally, we were off, the rolling hills of Tanzania and Zambia were going to come to us and all we had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride…

It was fun for the first day and then things went a bit downhill. We had to share a makeshift toilet with 25 other people and we both took a turn at being sick for a full day. Although the food was acceptable, all we ate for 3 days was breakfast (eggs and bread) and a dinner of crackers and cheese.  It probably didn’t help matters that we were reluctant to drink water in order to limit how often we had to use the toilet, which got pretty unpleasant.  It’s not all bikinis and speedboats !!

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We eventually arrived at midnight on day 3 (11 hours late). The train journey seemed like a big deal to the locals.  It only runs twice per week and at all the little towns and villages where we stopped it was always greeted with dozens of people out to simply wave, or so it seemed to us. We were told some of the villagers travel hours to their nearest train station so it’s a train they can’t afford to miss.  Bear in mind ours was 11 hours late so they would head for the train station for say a 10am departure and would have to wait until 9pm that night for the train to actually arrive! We will think twice next time we moan about a 5 min delay on the Tube!

Lusaka

As it was so late, we stayed that night at a motel near the train station and the next morning made our way to Lusaka where we were staying with Aidan’s childhood friend Rowan and we couldn’t have been happier.  We had just come from 3 days on a pretty minging train to the sight of Rowan’s groundsman cleaning his swimming pool and the smell of home cooked lasagne from his very own Mrs Doyle, aka Diana.  Emma was back in her comfort zone.  Diana used to work for the US military in Lusaka and her claim to fame is she once cooked for George Bush, we didn’t want to disappoint her with our views on Bush!

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Despite living in the lap of luxury we got to experience load shedding for the fist time.  Zambia uses a severely depleted reservoir for power generation and with limited rainfall there just isn’t enough power to go round.  The city is split into “zones” and each zone is forced into an 8 hour block each day where it has zero power.  Highly frustrating for Rowan who works from home as a computer programmer.  He has a petrol generator which is expensive to run and only turns it on when absolutely necessary, for example when Mrs Doyle was making us tea and toast for breakfast the following morning 🙂

Livingstone

Our few days of luxury came to an end, we loaded up the backpacks and headed for Livingstone and the majestic sight of Victoria falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and what a sight it is.  It makes Niagara falls look like Glenariffe waterfall, County Antrim!

Victoria falls straddle the Zimbabwe/ Zambia border and word on the street was to make sure to see it from both sides, which is what we did.

For anyone who visits in the future, we paid $20 into the park on the Zambian side, $70 for a double entry visa to Zimbabwe (as we were coming back for our onward transit to south Africa) followed by $30 into the park on the Zimbabwe side.  We think it was well worth the cost and would recommend doing the same.

The photos don’t in any way do it justice, but here they are:

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Livingstone is a small really relaxed town and has cleverly used the tourist pull of the Victoria falls to transform itself to the adventure capital of Africa, similar to Queenstown in New Zealand.  We stayed in a hostel that we’d highly recommend, Fawlty Towers –  http://adventure-africa.com.  Livingstone has all the adrenaline sports; bungee jumping, white water rafting, safaris and microlight rides to mention just a few, but we found an adrenaline rush to beat them all…..

All the pub talk was about going to swim in “devils pool”, an infinity pool at the top of the falls.  The only problem however was some spoilsport 5* hotel had a monopoly on the only boat allowed to take people to it and were charging $100 per person for the pleasure, ridiculous!  We kept asking around and finally bumped into some UK medics in a bar who told us about the “back door” (there’s always one!) Legend had it there was a dodgy local guide who would walk us across the top of the falls to the infinity pool for $20, we were in!  Writing about it now and thinking back on it, what we did was very dangerous and admittedly stupid.  We waded through the massive Zambezi River with a strong current that lead to a waterfall with a drop of 100m.  He took us over rocks, right to the edge where we got this shot, great to have now but still makes our stomachs turn thinking back to it (sorry mum, but it’s done now).

  • Devils pool
  • The edge of the falls!!