13/40-1 The Train from Livingstone to Lusaka

23 Nov

The only thing I really wanted to do in Africa is ride on one of their trains. Sure the falls were nice

and the Safari was ok, I guess.


But what really gets my motor running is a train ride adventure across an amazing continent where I defeat Steve by either a single point or on tickets.

Preferably on tickets

The train from Livingstone to Lusaka runs twice a week and it leaves at 8 PM. We caught the Monday train – tickets went on sale at 14:00 the day of travel and we were first in line. Posted journey time was 14 hours to Lusaka. We bought two first class tickets for about $13.50 CDN each (125 Kwacha). We asked for first class but our tickets said second class. We realized later that first class appears to be a second class cabin for two people instead of three. There was a couple from France on the same train – they got their second class tickets later than us at 1700 and they ended up in different three-person berths (one for boys and one for girls).


Boarding was supposed to be at 1900 for a 2000 departure. We got there at 1840 and boarded at 2000 and we finally got moving at 2100. The platform looked like this. Everyone around us was very friendly.


Our cabin was basic with a lower bunker and and upper bunk (the middle bunk was not engaged). It has a power outlet so we could charge our devices. The window opened for air flow (it got quite hot but cooled right down at night). There was a sink we didn’t use that was covered with a dropdown table. The door had a good lock. There was a restaurant car that sold food (I think). I got us a couple waters on my one visit before we left the station.

The toilets in our car were ok. There was water on the floor and the flushing mechanism was broken so we had to empty the toilet manually by pouring water in the bowl from a fifteen litre jug. But that was ok because each of us only had to use the WC once.

Going to the toilet on a train can be tricky especially if ones’ business requires sitting. So it’s generally a good practice to eat light and not drink lots in the hours before starting a rail journey with questionable washroom facilities. Earlier in the day we had lunch at a resort so fancy the cheapest room price was $800 CDN and I think I saw the President of Namibia walking down by the river. While I was excited for the train ride, I managed to forget the previously-mentioned best practice of eating light and making room. I had a huge burger and fries and didn’t go before we headed to the station.

This was not a problem because my constitution went into survival mode when we got to the platform. When we first arrived it was telling me, maybe… but then after a few minutes everything got locked down and I was good till we got to our resort home in Lusaka.

So the train ride. Was supposed to be fourteen hours. While we had beds, there were no pillows or sheets provided. We improvised by using our perfectly sized 25 litre backpacks as pillows and it was warm enough that we didn’t need sheets. Went to sleep around 0100 and woke up at about 0700 to find that we had completed roughly half of the 475 km journey in about ten hours. We were very behind schedule. While the evening had been cool, during the day it was well over thirty degrees in our cabin. It got even hotter when we napped (we closed the door and lost the cross breeze from the window).

Basically we spent almost a full day in a (private) twenty-five square foot room with minimal air circulation and during the morning the hot African sun was blasting us through the window. The only food we had was two packets of crackers, four tiny bananas (donated by Antoine – the French dude), and 105 grams of Lays’ potato chips. When I was lying down resting I sweated so much the vinyl from the bed fused with my shirt (which is now ruined). And the train was loud and at some points, very shaky.

But we did have decent 3G coverage most of the way so I was able to chat for a bit with Joc who was not traveling on a train for twenty-four straight hours. Also we would frequently stop for long enough to go buy some food and water from the locals selling stuff at the stations (which we didn’t do).

All told we got into Lusaka around 1915 – over twenty-four hours after we first got to the station in Livingstone. Anna kindly picked us up at the Hungry Lion restaurant right next to the train station and the three of us went out for Italian and beers. Sarah and I had been showerless for a while (about thirty-six hours), but we managed to change into some fresh clothes right before we got off the train. And it was a covered patio – so kind of outside and we sat far away from the other guests.

Then end.


Our Lusaka Resort Home


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