“So, would you recommend taking the train from Mwanza to Dar?”
This is the question everyone has asked me and my husband since we returned from our recent holiday – travelling on the notorious Tanzanian trains.
My answer is yes, providing you have plenty of time and you are fairly resilient, then the train is great experience. But it is not for the faint-hearted.
Our journey was due to start in Mwanza at 6.30pm on Sunday July 26th. At 9.30 Sunday morning my husband received a phone call from a representative from the Tanzanian Railway Corporation’s Central Line, informing us that the train would be delayed by 24 hours, and would now leave on Monday evening at 6.30. We subsequently arrived at the station on Monday evening only to find that the train would be delayed by a further three hours. The next delay came in Tabora, this time for an unbelievable nine and a half hours… yes nine and a half hours! Frustratingly, the last delay was when we were only about two hours from our destination, when the train ground to a halt and stopped in the middle of nowhere. It was stationary for about seven and a half hours, from 10pm until 5.30am. We finally arrived in Dar on July 30th at 5.45am.
People ask: “How long did it take?”, and I am not really sure; if we were due to leave on Sunday evening and we arrived on Thursday morning, then it took three and a half days – but then for at 40 hours of that the train was either not there, or not moving.
These delays coupled with the frankly perilous toilets and the bed bug ridden bedding made the journey an “experience” to remember.
But saying that these wonderful moments from the journey which I caught on camera reflect our adventure in a very positive light. The scenery is stunning, and diverse, from the rusty red earth punctuated by acacia trees in the north, to the lush banana groves and palm trees in central Tanzania, via the cloud capped Uluguru mountains. And when the travel stops at stations, and weaves its way through the Sub Saharan countryside you get a real flavour of local life, while you interact with fellow passengers and the food and drink vendors.
“Would you take the train again?”
That is the next question I am asked by people, curious about our journey. The answer is that I probably would – as American chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain said: “The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.”
I wanted a travel experience and that is what i got, but I’ll be honest, I was happy at the end of the holiday when we flew back from Dar to Mwanza.
And while I sat in the air-conditioned departure lounge at Julius Nyerere International Airport knowing I would be home in about 3 hours, I felt so lucky that I, unlike many other people around the world, can actually choose whether I fly or whether I take the train.