Life around the railway in Tanzania

Tanzanian Central Railway line goes from Kigoma to Dar es Salaam (and return), which means that it passes central Tanzania (from west to east and the other way around) in about two days (48 hours). It leaves twice a week, from Kigoma it’s always Thursdays and Sundays at 4pm. We got on the Sunday one.

TAZARA goes from Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) to Kapiri Mposhi (Zambia) also in about 48 hours (in theory, it should be 36, but in practice there are huge delays). It also leaves twice a week, from Dar es Salaam it’s always Tuesdays and Fridays. We only found out afterwards that Fridays is the express one that doesn’t stop at every single stop and on Tuesdays it’s the normal one, that stops much more, hence goes slower. We got on the Tuesday one.

My travel buddies – Luci, like always, admiring the view, hoping to see some wild life and Adi struggling to drink water that, for his standards, doesn’t taste good

We didn’t want to travel all the way to Dar es Salaam, but we did want to find a way to catch TAZARA in order to get into Zambia. Looking at the map, it seemed to us that the best option would be to get off in Morogoro. The first class ticket from Kigoma to Morogoro was Tsh 60,500 (all second class tickets were booked out). We weren’t sure, though, what time we’d get to Morogoro. It turned out to be 3 or 4 in the morning (Tuesday early morning), after having spent two days and one night on the train. TAZARA doesn’t pass Morogoro, but it does pass another small town, south from Morogoro called Kisaki. It’s a 5/6 hours bus ride between Morogoro and Kisaki, on a bumpy and dusty road that has really beautiful scenery, among my favourite scenery from what I’ve seen in Tanzania (at least when I wasn’t sleeping). It’s definitely one of the places that I would have liked to explore more in Tanzania. The mountains around that area look great for hiking.

We got on TAZARA in Kisaki at around 9pm, the train was delayed – it turned out that they lost the last wagon on the way (the staff wagon), so they had to move the staff in the remaining wagons. Apparently no one was hurt, the wagon just got off the rail without much happening, no one was worried. We had called to reserve our tickets a few days before arriving in Kisaki, but it wasn’t 100% sure that we’d get a second or first class ticket (for a 48 hours journey, travelling without a bed can become very tiring) – everything was booked out, we were told that there’s a chance people would give up their reservations on the day of the departure, and it did happen so. We were even upgraded to the first class after Mbeya (the train got almost empty after Mbeya anyway, that’s after about 24 hours) although we only had second class tickets. It might be that the wagon situation also contributed to us being upgraded without having to pay for it. It seems that there’s no way of booking TAZARA just for a part of the trip, or at least getting on from Kisaki or from Dar es Salaam didn’t change the final price for us (Tsh 70,600 for a second class ticket).

Local negotiating the price for her basket with someone on the train

Both Central Line and TAZARA pass a lot of small villages which seem to depend economically on the train – many locals wait in the station for the train to arrive, so that they can sell their local products. Every place offers different things (some have more rice, some have more tomatoes, some have more mangos, some have more bananas, some have more baskets, some have wooden spoons, some have palm oil…) and each time they sell it much cheaper than what you can find in cities. Many of the locals buy large quantities. All transactions happen on the windows, travelers don’t even have to get off the train in order to buy whatever it is they want/need.

Copyright to Luci, who took this picture with my camera – this is already in Zambia, it was full of kids running around, mostly asking for money to the passengers or just waving/observing the train

One of the things that Luci, one of my travel buddies, noticed is that we couldn’t see any wild animals from the train. Luci was stuck by the window for hours on end waiting for a zebra, or at least a bird. All he got to see was some kind of badger. We wondered what the reason might be…do locals hunt all animals that are out of a national park? Or maybe simply animals don’t like the noise of the train and run further in the country.

We finally arrived to Kapiri Mposhi at 3 or 4 a.m. on Friday morning, which means our second train trip from Kisaki to Kapiri Mposhi lasted around 54/55 hours. We slept in the train station for a few hours until the buses started leaving towards Lusaka. After five days of sleeping on trains or train stations, we finally got to a fancy hostel. I haven’t seen so many white faces since I left Berlin! There’s even WiFi here! 🙂

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