|Day 8, 9 July 2010: Nairobi to Mombasa by train
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
All I wanted was a lovely lazy morning not being in a moving vehicle. I got it, with the additional bonus of being curled up on the sofa with a good book (Philip Caputo’s Vietnam memoir A Rumor of War) and kittens warming my toes. We breakfasted on sausages, eggs, tomatoes and toast at around noon. At three, after several rounds of coffee, we finally mustered the energy to go to the bank to exchange some currency and pull out additional cash. This expedition, like most tasks in Kenya, takes about three times longer than it needs to. For some reason, everywhere you go for service there are at least three people fussing around you trying to fulfill your request. Only one of them actually knows what to do about it - inefficiently.
We returned to the house to collect George and walked to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant for a small meal. Its unprepossessing concrete exterior and small, tatty sign gave no indication of the lush, comfortable interior. We ordered Tuskers, a mixed vegetarian platter, a goat curry and a lentil dish whose name I promptly forgot. We mopped it all up with the light and fluffy flatbread.
The taxis to the train station picked us up at 5:30 PM for the 7 PM departure of the train. Ten minutes’ drive from George and Anne’s house, we hit gridlock. The taxi drivers executed maneuvers involving pavements and the wrong sides of roads, trying to find a way around it. Our driver played weirdly peaceful gospel music throughout this chaotic experience, which utterly failed to calm any of us. Six PM arrived and went, leaving us still two kilometres from the station. George made an executive decision that we should all get out and walk. Our drivers put up a powerful resistance to this notion, even after we paid them the agreed price for the journey while we shouldered our packs. We left them still protesting that they could get us there on time and began hoofing it toward the station through Nairobi’s Friday night traffic.
We arrived at the train station with half an hour to spare and obtained our boarding passes at the Upper Class entrance, which is slightly larger and marginally less grimy than the 3rd Class entrance. We’ve opted to travel first class, since it costs all of £10 extra. This turned out to be luxurious in a faded 1970s sort of way, which is fantastic. Our cabins joined together with sliding doors. We opened these and some Tuskers.
As we left Nairobi, total darkness descended. However, we knew exactly when we began to pass through Kibera. The railway goes through the heart of the shantytown, which doesn’t officially exist, and the shantytown comes as close to the tracks as it can without actually being on them. We turned out the lights in our cabins so we could see by the lights of the open fires. We could see directly into the interiors of tin-roof shacks, men playing pool under a canopy erected, children running alongside the train. The reek of it lingered long after we left Kibera, which isn’t too surprising since the guidebook informed us that there is one pit latrine per 50-500 people.
The stewards came through clanging a bell to summon us to supper. We trotted off to the dining car. It only seated four people per table, so we ended up sharing with an Irish and a Canadian girl. After a week of enforced confinement with other people - lovely people, don’t get me wrong, I just need my space - I wasn’t in the mood to meet new ones. I sat as far from them as possible, especially since if talking were an Olympic sport, they would be capable of representing their respective countries.
We failed to do justice to the excellent three-course meal, having stuffed ourselves with Ethiopian food. I had to retire to the cabin for a while just to be away and the bloke gallantly accompanied me. After a couple of hours, my equilibrium was sufficiently restored to join the others, who hadn’t left the dining car and were now spectacularly pissed. With the aide of two large glasses of red wine, I managed to attain a compatible state of drunkenness.
At midnight, the last remaining attendant ran out of patience and chucked us out of the dining car. We went back to our cabins to consume the remaining Tuskers before everyone sloped off to their bunks. These were pretty comfortable, as was the rocking motion of the carriages. A few bumpy spots were enough to jolt me out of sleep, but once steady progress resumed, I found it easy enough to fall asleep again.