Monday – 06/05/2013

Since I had a couple of hours to spare before the train to Victoria Falls was to depart and I didn’t have a cent of viable currency on me, I took the opportunity to take a brief stroll into Bulawayo city center to see if I could find an ATM or even an exchange. My search was short lived as the sun would shortly dip beyond the dirty horizon and I was not yet comfortable with my Africa travels to be walking around at night looking like a pawn shop with all my belongings on me. I gave in to fact that I would be going hungry for the night and returned to the station platform where I collapsed on bench.

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Platform Entertainment

I couldn’t have been sitting there longer than a few minutes when a fella dumped his bags next to me and asked if I would mind them while he went to the loo. Whilst he was gone I started to ponder the question, “If someone trusts you, should you trust them?” Upon his return he sank down next to me and we struck up a conversation. He was a wire artist and was heading to the Falls since there was better business there due to all the tourists. Our topics ranged from the political state of Zimbabwe, him stating that the best thing for the country would be change, to how he learnt his trade and the fact that there was even an association of wire artists in South Africa. Once we had exhausted topics he took his leave to make his way to platform 4 where our train was being prepared, leaving me contemplating my question and wondering what would have happened if I had left my bags in his care.
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The waiting game
A short while later I decided to join the trickle of passengers passing me by on their way to platform 4. Reaching the end of the platform I walked smack into the middle of a still standing stampede waiting to find their seat on the 19:30 to Victoria Falls. Stuck in the middle of this herd I rather enjoyed the jovial nature of my fellow passengers and shared a few brief interactions with them, most of them amused at my hefty load. Around 8pm the station guard gave the okay and the fidgety stampede broke loose down the platform while I stood and let them fight for the best seats. As the dust cleared with the fresh evening breeze I found my carriage and dropped my bags before introducing myself to the travelers in my neighboring cabin.
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My Cabin

Will and Debora were working at a mission together in Zimbabwe, Will from England was spending 2 months in Zim as a doctor and Debora from the Netherlands had been at the mission for 3 months. Friendship was solidified with a peanut butter sandwich and discussions of our travel experiences, after which I retired to my cabin, fortunate to have it to myself though at the same time lonely in not be able to share the experience with someone close. 

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The journey itself was fantastic and I encourage anyone who finds themselves in Zimbabwe with time on their hands to jump aboard and enjoy the romance of rail travel. I was in 1st class sleeper which cost $12 and consisted of a single cabin with two beds, the lower which converts from a seat and the upper which folds down when needed. There is also 2nd class sleeper at $10 which has an extra two beds per cabin. Beds are sold on an individual basis, so if you want to ensure you have the cabin to yourself you should book all the beds or you can take your chances as I did. Shortly after we left Bulawayo, delayed by about an hour, the guard came around asking if we needed blankets and linen. I had my sleeping bag with me which was perfectly cosy at this time of year. I’ve traveled by train enough to know the one thing that always soils the experience is the toilet, since I had not entrusted my fellow passenger earlier on in the evening with my bags I had to make a visit early on in our journey. I found the toilet in clean order, though since it is of the long drop type, I can only assume that as the journey wore on its state would not hold up to western ideals. 
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Spotless
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An invitation to join the sleepers club.
The train made a number of stops through the night, these appeared to be at random points, possibly requested by passengers but this just added to the novelty of the journey. With each stop the train would blow its horn to signal it was on the move again, at some point during the evening I stopped noticing these and enjoyed a good night’s rest. I deliberately slept with the blind open so that I would be woken by the sunrise, which I think was around 6am. As the world outside stirred to life I was the only one on the inside moving about and so stumbled down the empty hallway to inspect how bad the toilet had become overnight. To my surprise it was once again spotless, so much so that I had to grab my camera to capture some proof. The morning light made the last few hours of the journey magical as most passengers, including me, couldn’t help but poke their heads out to let the soft warmth bathe their skin as a fresh breeze washed the sleep from their eyes and the majestic landscape passed by with the click clack of the train.

We arrived at an iconic Victoria Falls station around 8:30am the following morning feeling as if were the lords and ladies of a colonial past about to enjoy the grandeur of high tea overlooking the falls. It was a brief feeling of wealth which was snatched away from us as we found ourselves at shoestring backpackers.