Onwards… to Livingstone!

A week in Lusaka later, the time had come to board our next train… yes train… the Zambezi Express – onwards, to Livingstone.

The new “Jubliee Express” train only began running last year, and we were promised a short and snappy trip in a luxury first class cabin with showers, air conditioning, a great restaurant car… We rolled our eyes at the lot of it, expecting the worst.

When we arrived at the station to board, we were met by the train “captain” himself, who shook our hand and cleared off a bench of waiting people to make way for us, apparently the first white tourists to ever take the train judging by his behaviour. And promising great things, and that we were leaving in just five minutes time, off he bustled.

Unfortunately, “five” minutes wasn’t quite right, but when we eventually did board the train our jaws dropped. Not only was there a team of cleaners scrubbing away with industrial cleaning equipment, our cabin had actual bed mattresses, and really did feature an air conditioner. Our carriage really did have a flushing toilet, and actual shower rooms. Astonishing.

Before long, a lady came on the intercon to welcome her esteemed guests, and invite us to place our orders at the a la carte restaurant, and wished us a pleasant journey. WHAT PARALLEL UNIVERSE WAS THIS??

Sadly it was dark by the time we left, so there wasn’t much to look at, but we ventured forth to the stuff of legends, the restaurant car, to see what was what.

Sure enough, there was a restaurant equipped with chefs, waitresses, and plenty of food and drink.

Tom went off to find a smoking corner, leaving me with my book and beer.  Over rushed the conductor, and wringing my hand he apologised for not coming to greet me sooner.

“Now, where are you from?” he demanded seriously.

“I’m from London.”

“AH HA! Yes! London,” he was beaming. “Of ALL the countries in Europe, London is my very favourite!”

Brilliant, I was very happy to hear it, I told him.

“Do you know why?” he asked.  I told him I’d love to hear.

“You know, us we used to be a colony of London! London people came here to live with us and we were its colony, and it was very good. London people are very peaceful, Zambian people we’re very peaceful, we did a lot of work together, everything was very good,” he announced, to my utter disbelief.  Now here, was a version of colonialism I’d never encountered before.

Not really sure I wasn’t being taken the piss out of, I ventured: “Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course, London colony was the best!” He announced. Well, if he says so.

“Well, I’m glad you feel that way,” I told him, “I very much like Zambia too.”

“Do you love Zambia? Is it your favourite?” he asked, serious again. Yes, yes, I assured him, definitely my favourite.

Right, that sorted out sufficiently, there were pressing train matters to attend to, so off he rushed with a “my friend, I will be back”… leaving me utterly bewildered.

Soon it was time to place our a la carte orders, and feeling in the swing of things, I went for the basic Zambian nshima (maize meal), with vegetables – to be eaten by hand.

Little did I know what a stir it would cause. Tucking in to my meal, along ran the captain and conductor positively in raptures.

“YOU LIKE NSHIMA??? YOU CAN EAT NSHIMA???” they asked, disbelief etched all over them. Yes, I like it a lot, I said.

“YOU LIKE ZAMBIAN FOOD???” they pressed. Yes, I told them, very nice.

Slapping each other, me, and everyone else on the back off they toddled in peals of merry laughter, spreading the news: those white people like our food!

After dinner we watched the on-board movie (yes, there was even one of those), before heading back to our cabin for a comfy night’s sleep.

In the morning, we awoke with a start: the train wasn’t moving, had we arrived already?

We had overslept, and should have arrived two hours before. Tom ran off down the train to investigate.

Soon he came back with the news, we were stuck in the bush, we ran out of fuel and our engine was broken due to the fact it wasn’t powerful enough to carry the amount of carriages attached. What a double whammy of mis-planning.

We went along to sit in the restaurant car, and patiently drank cups of coffee, read our books, and fielded the tag-teamed apologies of the captain, conductor, and every member of staff. We were quite comfortable, so really didn’t mind.

Eventually a replacement engine arrived to pull us to the next station, where, with much embarrassment the captain informed us a bus would take us the rest of the way. So long, fair train – we were lumped onto a real African bus, overflowing with people, our luggage under our legs and ontop of our knees, – fellow passengers including the train’s waitresses, old Indian lady in sari munching on barbecued corn on the cob, boy with pet chicken in plastic bag on lap…

Three hours, a lot of sweat, and two numb legs (each) later, we arrived in Livingstone where we were unceremoniously dumped at the train station.

Suddenly, all the noise and bustle of a long journey were gone, and we found ourselves alone, lugging our cases along a dust path in the 40C afternoon.

We had made it all the way to Livingstone…overland.


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