Lazuli Green Island Mama

Lazuli Green Island Mama

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

reminiscing on a train

I can't remember the last time I caught a train in Sydney - they don't exactly make it through my neck of the woods. I drove for thirty minutes before parking at the nearest train station. That's a great privilege in my world view: a) to have a car; and b) to live only 30 minutes away from a train station with reliable trains.

The train I'm on is a "Tangara". They've never been a favourite of mine. But, it's uncrowded, pleasantly air-conditioned (I'm wearing boots - it's really too hot for boots today), and the ride is smooth. It does stink a bit, but nothing too offensive.

My most memorable train journey was in Africa... home of my Zimbabwean's heart - Africa. Clive was traveling with us, we'd not long before met for the first time (me and Clive). The three of us were 21 and carefree, up for a little adventure.

We'd already stayed with my sister- and brother-in-law at Victoria Falls for 2 weeks, sneaking in to hotels we couldn't afford and lolling about in their swimming pools whilst sipping Mazoe orange and Zambezi beer under the African sun. The night before our train journey we gathered our supplies: one two-man tent, one sleeping bag, 3 plates, 3 mugs, 3 forks/spoons/knives, 2 cooking pots, a swiss army knife and a very small camp stove. I'm pretty sure that was it. O... and a couple of sandwiches and 1/2 litre of water each. Early the next day, another hot December morning just after Christmas, we loaded up and walked through the town of Victoria Falls to the Zimbabwean-Zambian border. I dodged baboons on the bridge. I was quite scared of baboons.

We hitched a ride 15km to Livingstone train station where maybe a hundred people waited for the train. Hmmpf. How did they know it was coming today? The train had been scheduled for 9am the day before but on that occasion the three of us (with smiley white faces) were the only people on the platform and the station master had said, (put on your best African accent)
"ahhhh but the train is not coming to day.
May be to morrow?" (with a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head)
But, on day 2, the train did arrive and up we climbed. We were by no means rich - we had about $120 AUD between us and we wanted it to last for another 2-3 weeks - but we could still afford a "1st class ticket": a vinyl bench each in a small cabin which we shared with the son of a Zambian chief, on his way home from university.

We traveled all day and nearly all night. It took us 16 hours to travel about 600km on that rickety train. The Zambian country side was beautiful - green and lush. Each time we stopped - seemingly nowhere, every 10-20 minutes - hundreds of people would crowd around the train (they were definitely somewhere), many reaching in to peer at us and touch my nose. The chief's son explained that, with my blond hair, white skin and fresh ring through my nose, rumour was that I was a princess... for that one day in my life.

Those Africans looked happy, and I think they looked well. It's a lovely memory: that sunny day on a very slow, very crowded train in Africa. I was on the way to one of the most dangerous nights of my life but... that lush green land, those smiling faces in the daylight, the two white boys I was traveling with (still two of my favourites), that chief's son... they were on my most memorable train ride with me.

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