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T-minus zero for train departure time:

When I arrive at the station my mousse is squashed but I’m told the train is leaving on time. Built in the 1970s with an interest-free loan of about £252.5 million from China, the Tazara, aka the Great Uhuru Railway (‘Uhuru’ means ‘freedom’ in Swahili) became a significant alternative transport system for Zambia, a copper-rich but landlocked southern African state which, at the time, was sanctioned by still-colonised neighbouring regimes for supporting the liberation struggle of many of those countries.

There’s close to a million passengers using the railway annually today, with the train a necessity for locals in southeastern Tanzania where the roads are poor, impassable or nonexistent. Locals, including men sitting on bags of cement, have been camping outside the station waiting for the train all day and when it arrives the children cheer and run towards it. Luggage is passed in through the window. I’m sharing a car with thee women including Mary Mwape, a trader from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, who’s been in Tanzania for work. “We get there when we get there,” the frequent Tazara traveller replies when I ask about our ETA in her home country. I spend my time on board getting to know the locals and reading. The fan in our car doesn’t work, making it unbelievably sticky and humid, there’s no running water and the dining car menu leaves a lot to be desired. Despite the train squeaking and jolting heavily when it stops, it’s surprisingly easy to get some sleep. But two days into the trip no one seems to know when we’ll arrive in Zambia. As railway spokesman Conrad Simuchile warned me before leaving, “The things you experience on TAZARA are the real life experiences Africans have on a daily basis. So the important thing is to get on TAZARA with an open mind.”

Danish couple Sara Strandstoft and Jacob Anderson are travelling with their two young boys and planning on doing a Zambian safari later on. “We took our watches off, time goes as it goes,” she laughs towards the end of the trip. After we cross the border into Zambia women run alongside the train selling caterpillars, a popular high-protein delicacy in the country, to passengers on board who’ll take them to Lusaka to resell at Soweto Market. By the time we arrive in Kapiri, nearly four days after leaving Tanzania, we’re at least 17 hours late. But it’s been the trip of a lifetime

TIP: You can buy visas for both Tanzania and Zambia on board the Tazara. Take some US dollars.

Spinning out of control:

No longer in the land of boda-bodas and tuk-tuks, I get a minibus from Kapiri to Lusaka, which takes about two hours.The capital is off the tourist track and appears tame, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll be surprised at what it offers. The ‘block party’ held in Hollywood City Night Club (1686 Panganani Road, 10101 Lusaka) in the Villa Elizabeth neighbourhood, usually every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9pm, is something you won’t hear about from other tourists. Besides dance-offs, a highlight is the ‘burn outs’ by the BMW sports club, featuring local women half hanging out the window of cars as the stunts are performed, the crowd rushing to capture the action on their phones. “You’d get locked up for doing that back home!” exclaims Dan, an Aussie I met at Paseli Hostel, a good stop for travellers passing through.


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Planes, trains and tuk-tuks: Uganda to Zambia and back
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