Monday, 19 January 2015

Night train to Mombasa

It has been a while since I took the night train from Nairobi to Mombasa, but I still remember that last unforgettable journey and my futile attempts to sleep.
En - route

The railway track was an engineering marvel of its time, created with the intention of opening up markets in Uganda.

There are two books to read which tell the story of how this line was built, 'The Man Eaters of Tsavo' by Col J H Patterson and 'The Lunatic Express' by Charles Miller; where everyday hazards included waterless deserts and consumption by lion . The hunt for the lions was made into the film 'The Ghost and the Darkness'.

Despite all the odds the railway has lasted the test of time, which for Africa is impressive.

My previous trip to the coast by overnight bus had been enlivened by unscheduled stops in remote dark places for unknown reasons, where the slightest light attracted vast swarms of flying insects into the coach to happily feast upon their captive audience for the remainder of the journey. I felt sure any alternative would be an improvement.

In Nairobi the train was clean and smart, with sittings organised for dinner and the service was great. It all looked quite promising until it was time to turn in.

It quickly became apparent that there was going to be a party in the next compartment.

They had come well prepared with a primitive music machine and two unspeakable tracks which they played again and again at increasing volume.

One visit to the near riot next door assured me reason would not prevail.

I returned with a selection of my favourite African music tapes as a contribution to the revelries and left them to it.

The rest of that terrible night was to hear my once favoured music tracks slowly murdered at volumes I would not have thought possible for the human ear to endure .

Sometimes the train stopped and the faint hope the torture would soon be brought to a close was extinguished, until with agonising slowness the journey shuddered back into life.

Finally as the sun came up you could feel the temperature increase as the coast drew near.

The music had expired and the inhabitants of that appalling pit next door lay sprawled, stunned unconscious by the racket.

I left the train, excited to be back in Mombasa, and assured that however tired I felt, my nocturnal suffering would be as nothing compared to what my fellow passengers were about to endure when they woke up.

Morning arrival in Mombasa

The landmark tusks - Mombasa

Today the lunatic express is an  experience for the history books for in May 2017 it ran for the last time; the end of a legend.