Train Across Tanzania

At the Dar es Salaam railway station the boarding platform was a sultry with wet air and bad attitudes.  Pushing, juggling infants, sneaking past the gate guards, and knocking down police barricades was fair game for 3rd class passengers of the Tanzanian Railways Corporation’sservice from Dar to Kigoma.  The trip is just over 1200km.  The cost is 40,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 36 USD).  And took 45 hours (that was with no mechanical problems.  Average speed: School Zone (20mi/hr).

Scarlett and I were not traveling 3rd class though, which is bench seating.  Unless you don’t get a seat, in which case there is the floor.  But then that filled up, so naturally there are some people standing.  But that is tiring, so by the end of the trip we were finding passengers in interesting locations.  One guy was sleeping in the luggage closet, on top of all of the luggage.  One person was sleeping in the toilet (just a hole in the floor of the train) which was also being used as sugar cane storage. 

This women pulled up a chair to find a breeze next to the window.

This women pulled up a chair to find a breeze next to the window.

We were in 2nd class.  Which means we were in gender segregated rooms with sleeping cots of 6 people.  (See previous post for pictures).  However more people always ended up in our rooms as 3rd class cars could be seen physically bulging with so many passengers and cargo. 

So the train ride lasted for 45 hours, leaving serious time for reflection on the joys of train rides.  We had plenty of time to learn some Swahili, and even met a fellow backpacker named Carmelo who is really into visiting national parks wherever he goes.  Watching the scenery, climate, and geography change and all the cool changes people make to adjust to these different environments (such as types of houses, transport, and dress). 

But what I found the most telling about the train and its origins was that every stop, no matter how insignificant, had a German built station house almost 100 years old.  Before Tanzania was Tanzania (which is a portmanteau of Tanganyika and Zanzibar which were brought under common government in the late 1960’s)  it was Tanganyika.  Tanganyika was a German colony, until after WWI to whence the victors (the British) went the spoils (land and the people that lived there).  But the Germans managed to finish most of the railroad before they were removed, which is probably one of the reasons it is running today…even though the TRC is plauged by mechanical problems, track disrepair, and lack of funds. 

German Station House

German Station House

There are 3 classes on the train: 1st (with 2 beds), 2nd (with 6 beds), and 3rd (every person for them self).  If I took this train again I’d opt for 3rd class, just for the experience.  There was a surprising absence of livestock on the train.  I only saw the odd chicken.

Hanging out the window was my favorite train-based activity

Hanging out the window was my favorite train-based activity

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5 responses to “Train Across Tanzania

  1. 45 Hours of Serious Reflection…. did you once start a round of “It’s a Small, Small World…”
    I bet the locals would know every word.
    ..remember John Candy on the bus in “Planes, Trains, &….” with the 99 Beers on the Wall song?

    I love the clouds in the photos.
    Maybe shoveling coal in the coal car would be a better gig than the 3rd Class Experience

  2. My favorite train-based activity was not sleeping on the train, any time I could avoid impromptu showers above my bunk or rats scuttling across my legs I was having a ball.

    Definitely an experience I will tell my kids to have though. 🙂

  3. You and your travels never cease to amaze me. I am most honored to say I am your “mother”. I spoke to a women in Grapevine yesterday at a business she owns, a small shop downtown. As we spoke she said, she remember you, I said your name and she said YES!! Graham. My eyes popped open! She has two young sons and smiles big back at me. She says “we pray for Graham.” Not asking or knowing “who they are” but feeling truly blessed to know people do, do this!!!! I left her with an invite and hope I see her two sons at the benefit. We both cried tears of the blessings of motherhood & hugged tightly.
    I can hardly wait to go visit her at the Magic Pen” again.
    Much KISSES & TIGHT HUGS
    Mom & Emily 🙂

  4. How about the reverse way of train travel across Tanzania? Possible, from say Livingstone to Dar er Salaam?

  5. Man, this brought back memories of travelling this route frequently in my young days between Kapiri mposhi and Dar.
    Fish and rice is an upgrade; it used to always be bream (tilapia) with ugali (maize meal). It was great then too. The bar is still there after all this time!.
    One trip took over 7 days due to a derailment. I had to sleep on an unknown platform for a couple of days and finally one morning decided to venture into the veldt and found a Patel general dealer; i was running out of supplies. There i found baked beans and bananas. These were my ration for a couple of days. I guess my love for baked beans still remains after 25 years now.
    I would urge anyone willing to take this trip; it is rustic yet safe and breathtaking scenary on the Tanzania side; fresh fruit and great coffee on the trains or on the railways stations you stop by.
    Hopefully will do it once again when i return back to South Africa.

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