Oasis Overland Tour Leader Joe tells us about his group’s train journey from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls…
I was recently asked by the folks at Oasis HQ to take my group on the train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls as part of our 75 day Grand Adventure trip. Being somewhat of a train travel enthusiast as a result of my previous travels through Asia, Europe and Africa I was eager to take up the challenge as were my 13 fellow travellers on the trip.
Being Africa I knew it would be a somewhat unique experience and a quick browse of seat61.com seemed to affirm this. No online booking, a somewhat relaxed approach to scheduling and carriages that were built in the 1950′s during the colonial heyday, that have received little or no TLC since independence in the 80′s. Perfect! It was shaping up to be a uniquely African experience.
As I settle into my sleeper cabin a quick inspection reveals, one very grubby mirror that still bares the insignia of Rhodesian Railways (It hasn’t been referred to as Rhodesian Railways since independence in the early 80′s). Two well worn benches. Four lights that, try as they might, produce only a dull, annoying hum but alas no light. One sink, tarnished and inoperative and one crisp packet. The carriages on this particular train were built in the 1950′s either in the UK or in South Africa so a degree of wear and tear is to be expected and besides, this IS Africa after all, or T.I.A as it is popularly shortened to.
What we did have though was a rather large fold out table, food to eat, beer to drink, some tunes on the ipod and a packet of cards and when all the revelry is through a reasonably comfy bed to sleep on. If you wish to part with $4 you can also have it expertly made up with crisp white linen by the carriage attendant. Result!
With the train under way 3 minutes early we settle down to a dinner of chicken rolls. Progress is soon halted for quite a period of time for no apparent reason, this would prove to be a rather common occurrence on our journey to Victoria Falls. In such situations there is nothing to do but sit back, relax and crack open a refreshing beverage while sighing the immortal phrase, “T.I.A”.
One refreshing beverage became several and before you knew it there were 12 people crammed into a 6 berth cabin, we had a train party on our hands. It was a good thing we had each only brought a limited supply of drinks otherwise I feel it had the potential to carry on well into the wee hours.
When daylight broke it was to reveal a sunrise only Africa can turn on. The sun’s rays of golden light transformed into a hue of deep red by the haze of dust particles in the air that you only really get in the height of a dry season. The train worked its way through the Zimbabwean bush like a long lazy brown snake that’s just had a meal.
As it turned out the train had been delayed though the night as we slept. When I queried the cabin attendant he dutifully informed me that we were indeed 300 minutes behind schedule. No biggie, only 5 hours. There is little to do in this situation but sit back, relax, eat your delicious breakfast muffin while sighing the immortal phrase, “T.I.A”.
As the train trundled on we passed through Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest national park. Here from the comfort of our cabin we saw Impala, Zebra, Kudu, Giraffe and even an Elephant! One of the greatest things about train travel, in my opinion, is to sit quietly and watch the world slide past the window with the clickety-clack of the rolling stock on the rails beneath you. Throw in a splash of African wildlife and you are onto a sure winner.
Another quite long stop, in a town called Morden, to drop off the coal cars our train seemed to have acquired through the night ensured that we would not be making up any of that lost time. A few enterprising locals were walking up and down the length of the train selling ice cold water and soda as well as biscuits. This made for some light entertainment for a few minutes. With the burden of the coal cars relieved on our aging engine we carried on.
A mere few hours later, the sight of the “Flight of the Angels” helipad out the window told me that we would soon be approaching our destination of Victoria Falls. On the other side of the train a mist hung above the bush, this was the tell tale spray of Mosi-Oa-Tunya, The Smoke the Thunders or as we know it Victoria Falls.
The old girl gracefully came to a halt at the beautifully historic Victoria Falls Station and we disembarked a mere seven hours late. It was now time to get settled into our accommodation at Rest Camp, find a spot by the pool, grab a cold drink, sit back, relax and sigh, “T.I.A”.
You can take the Bulawayo to Victoria Falls train on these Oasis overland trips in Africa: