Lunatic Express

A train journey.

4:11 pm: Arrive at the station and receive a card that looks more like a ticket than my ticket. (It later turns out that the non-ticket-looking ticket is in fact the actual ticket. The card is more like a boarding pass.) There is no formal boarding process. I eventually make my way to coach 1223, Compartment B.

5:07 pm: We depart practically on time. Let's see what happens.

5:25 pm: First unexplained stop (approx. 3 min.).

5:31 pm: Second unexplained stop. (I think I will have to stop keeping track. Kind of like elephants.)

5:40 pm: There is some yelling. (There was another stop in between the yelling and now.) (The yelling has stopped, but so have we: 5:44.)

6:04 pm: Evans the train manager responds, in answer to a question about whether or not we can get beer, "The bartender will get on board the train at a later village."

8:04 pm: Dinner is served. This means tablecloths and full place settings. Chicken soup with bread. Rice and potatoes and chicken and beef stew, with fruit for dessert. Also, the bartender has arrived.

9:37 pm: There is a knock at the door of the party car. The party car belongs to an Aussie-Kenyan newlywed couple that have taken me and another couple under their wing. We are advised that a freight train has derailed 4 stops ahead of us. We have been asked about our connections, if any, as it appears we may be immobile until tomorrow morning.

A bus has been arranged for those with close connections. Not sure if it is only for them.

The bar car closes at midnight, but I have met the right people. Between us we have scotch and gin and red wine and the aforementioned beer. There is much promiscuous smoking. To put the ashtrays to good use.

Around 11 pm: We are stopped near Mackinnon Road, just outside of Tsavo (where the man-eating lions killed at least 130 as the line was being built). Someone floats a theory that we have stopped early, near a "truck stop" on the highway to avoid being stopped in Tsavo where, as you can imagine, supplies are scarce (but lions are not). This may become important, as Evans advised us that we will remain here until 8 am, at which point breakfast will be served and the bus will pick up those needing a lift.


We are still 12 hours from Nairobi. 

This means instead of arriving at 11 am we are due to arrive around 9 pm, for a 28-hour train ride (rather than an 18-hour one) (or a 6-hour drive).

I have it on good authority that a number of Kenyans travelling 3rd class hightailed it through the bush to catch a bus. I will not be following their lead.

1:56 pm: I am booted from the party car. The honeymooners need their beauty rest. Time for bed.

4:42 am: We're rolling?

7:28 am: Groggy... the bell sounds for breakfast.

7:49 am: Breakfast is served, we are in Tsavo, our new ETA is 7 to 8 pm. One good thing about travelling Mom-Nai rather than the other way around: this trip just gets cooler and more comfortable as we climb. (Also means we are unlikely to run out of water.)

9:54 am: Leaving Tsavo.

Late morning to mid-afternoon: Much napping and snacking. I polish off my Tanzanian cashews, find a forgotten packet of cookies left over from safari, and wolf down the cliff bar I have been dragging around this whole trip ("in case of an emergency" as I told Max when I refused to give it to him).

2:17: The lunch bell is sounding?!?! I was under the impression that we were going to be left to starve, but that appears very much not to be the case. Lunch is a repeat of last night's dinner, minus the tablecloth and potatoes, plus corn in the rice. There is still plenty of cold beer.

3:22: I have just been given an ETA of 6. Or 6:30. Or 7. (From staff, so an informed opinion, but not from Evans, so hardly official.) (Operating on the premise that intel from Evans is official.)

3:29 pm: One unmistakable middle finger from a young man walking down the tracks. There may have been 2 others yesterday. The rest have been smiles and waves. (Mostly.)

4:14 pm: Ostrich sighting!

4:31 pm: Giraffe sighting!

4:32 pm: Another non-official report confirms a 6 pm arrival!

5:14 pm: Somehow, for some reason, a man just walked past my compartment carrying a live chicken.

7:01 pm: We have arrived! Just about 26 hours to the minute.

(In the possibly too much information department: the train has both "up" and "down" style toilets, both of which empty directly onto the tracks below. While this poses its own issues, what it means is that the train is not unbearable in the morning. (I'm looking at you, Chiang Mai-Bangkok.))

All times approximate.

No comments: