Trains, trials, teams, and transitions

Thu, 28 Feb 2002 04:24:53 +0800

On the 15th, I took a taxi from the hotel to catch a train for Kigoma. I thought it would simple and straightforward. It wasn't quite. I arrived at a little before 3:00pm because I was told I should report at 3:00pm and the train would leave at 4:00pm. I get to the station and there are many people but no real order. No place to actually check in. There is a posting (well down the track) of which people are assigned to which compartments. I figure out where I need to go, make my way to the carriage, and climb aboard. I figure I would just go to my compartment stay there. But it is very hot and no-one seems to be handing out keys to compartments. The compartments, however, are open. So I move my stuff (in two stages because the hall is too narrow) into the compartment. All the time, I keep my camera bag on my person because I know it is an obvious, high value target. I then go back to the front of the carriage (it's far too hot to stay in the compartment) and find an employee who tells me exactly which compartment I should be in. (I was off my 1). He also tells me I really shouldn't be on the train yet as they are still marshaling the cars but since I am on I should stay on. I go back to the compartment and move my stuff over.... all except the day pack. It is missing. I check back and forth and sure enough, it's not there. I think back: did I have it when I boarded? Yes, because I stuffed my sun glasses there shortly after climbing aboard. It finally sinks it has been stolen, right out of a first class compartment.

When I think about the theft, I alternate between the usual sick feeling I get when I know I've been robbed and sense of amazement that more was not lost. For there has never been a time when the day pack was more empty. There was no money in any currency. Travelers checks were not there. No guide books: they were in a shopping bag because I had been walking around town that day.

What I lost was:

1) small camera ( ~$80 + 2 rolls of unused film and the few photos I took on Zanzibar) 2) binoculars ($70) 3) airline tickets 4) my nifty (if overpriced) LED flashlight.

My assumption is that the airline tickets can be re-issued. I don't fly out until May. The tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable.

My opinion of the train never did improve. The fan seems to only work at night. The reason no-one gave me a key is because the compartments have no locks. I spent almost the entire 38 hours in the compartment.

When I arrived in Kigoma, it was raining. The place I intended to stay wasn't all that far but I opted for a taxi. Later I checked back with the train station to see if, however unlikely, the pack wasn't stolen but merely misplaced and would show up at a lost and found. It appears that they have no concept of a lost and found. That didn't surprise me in the least.

I bought a cheap and cheesy day pack in Kigoma along with an equally cheap and cheesy flashlight. Neither is of the quality that I lost, but they will do. In the short run, I will just get by with one camera.

The hotel in Kigoma is interesting. It's pretty clear at the Kigoma Beach Hotel was a classy establishment in it's day. But that was probably 30 years ago. Now it's a little run down but still nice and at about $9/night for a single it's in the budget range. It has a nice restaurant, a nice view of the lake, a lake side bar with tables and umbrellas. But I think the most interesting feature, though not something they advertise, are the lizards. If you gaze at the grass, sidewalk, etc in any direction you will see lizards: 2 or 3 in one glance is typical. Most are small, unremarkable creatures that would not look out of place in States. But, one day, I saw and heard a commotion in the grass. I thought it was a snake but then I saw it's feet. A 3-4 foot long monitor lizard had scurried across the lawn.

The object of the trip, of course, was to see chimpanzees. Reduction in ferry schedule (one ship/week) meant that far away Mahale was impractical. That left Gombe Stream. I tried to get information about inexpensive local transport to Gombe from the guide book recommended travel agency. They were unwilling to assist, preferring that I take their own, prohibitively expensive, transport service. I went to the nearby village to get the scoop from the lake taxi operators. What I learned was good if it could be believed but was likely to be inaccurate, if not completely wrong. It's a common problem in Africa. The locals have little concept of time or scheduling. If you press them for details, they are likely to make something up which matches what they think you want to hear.

I intended up sharing a dedicated transport with a German traveler. Same kind of boat but the scheduling was both controllable and predictable. It also cost $50 instead of $1. What swayed the decision was uncertainty in how park fees are charged. Taking a lake taxi would mean going out on one day and returning the next. At $100/day I didn't want to risk being hit with 2 days of park fees.

The chimpanzee trek was splendid. Really, I think it is a better trip than the gorillas. With the gorillas, you get to spend one hour with one group. And, frankly, the gorillas don't really do much while you are watching. At Gombe, there are several groups of chimpanzees. When you finish an hour with one group, you simply go find another. We probably spent 5 hours in all. And the chimps are active. They move from tree to tree. The whole group starts howling every 10 minutes or so. Large males will walk right past you on the trail.

The chimp trek was on Monday. The left me with an extra day before the boat left on Wednesday. I visited the village of Ujiji. There isn't much there: A beach where they construct wooden boats and a small museum. But I can say that I have stood on the very site where Stanley uttered those famous words: "Livingstone, I presume?".

The trip down Lake Tanganyika was a far, far, better experience than the train. The doors locked, and there was something a dozen of us mahzoongoons aboard. The lake shore scenery is beautiful, although it doesn't change much one end of the lake to the other. An interesting bit is that, although there are many stops on the way to Zambia, there are actually on 3 places where the ship can dock. Everywhere else, the ship just anchors and is met by cluster of wooden boats. A few larger boats have motors. The smaller ones, are little more than large canoes. All are involved in frantic effort to move people and cargo to and from the ship. Luggage, large bags of grain, even furniture gets transfered between the ship and the boats. And this happens at all hours of the day and night.

Of the original 12, 5 left the boat at the last port in Tanzania. The rest of us continued on to Mpulungu, Zambia. We decided that, as we were all headed pretty much the same way, we would move forward as a group.

The first step was to change money. Now the banks in Kigoma would not Zambian. The banks in Mpulungu returned the favor by not changing Tanzanian currency. I ended up converting a rather large sum of Tanzanian on the street. Rate wasn't bad, but it left with a rather large quantity of Zambia Kwachas, probably the least useful currency one could carry. I ended up playing banker for the group, swapping Kwachas for dollars and even travelers checks (which I will deposit after I return).

In Mpulugu, we arranged for a minibus taxi to take us first to see Kalumbo Falls and then to Kasama. He tried to pull a fast one: showing us some lake instead of the falls. After getting it across that we weren't buying it, he took us to the falls. It took a while, probably because he didn't really know where the falls were and had to ask for directions. After a long ride on a really dodgy road, we walked the short distance remaining to the falls. It was nearly dark. I took one photo of the top of the falls and then it was just too dark. Still, a local popped out and wanted $10/each for entry into the unmarked park. We eventually gave him a token amount. I doubt any of it went to the park services. He had already been drinking and the money almost went to buy more beer.

We eventually made it to Kasama at about 2:00am. Again, the driver didn't seem to know his way around very well. There was a direct bus to Lusaka but it left at 6:00am. Too early. We decided to take the train to Kapri Mposhi at 10:00pm, instead.

Next day we go the station and discover that the train doesn't actually get in until 2:30am. It actually showed at 3:45am. This train was a little better than the one I took to Kigoma. We still had no keys but there was a lock, albiet one which only the conductors could use. We also had a big enough group that watching our stuff was not a problem. What they didn't have was water.

Water seems to be a re-occurring problem in Zambia. It was difficult to find water in Kasama. None of the small shops sold mineral water. The only place to get it was the large ShopRite in the center of town (and far from the train station). Even in Livingstone, only the largest shops carry bottled water.

Water wasn't the only thing missing on the train. About 3 stations down the line, the locomotive ran out of fuel. Now, how a train on a regularly scheduled route runs out of fuel is a bit of a mystery. But this is Africa and it happened. They had to substitute a locomotive from a freight train further up the line. When we finally rolled into Kapri Mposhi, it was 11:00pm (instead of the scheduled 12:30pm). We opted to stay the night in Kapri Mposhi, rather than wait for the buses to Lusaka to arrive at 2:00am (or whenever they decided to).

That morning, all 7 of us took the bus to Lusaka. 2 of us, myself included, took the next bus to Livingstone, arriving about 7:00pm. The rest seem to want to relax for a little while before moving on. Though, in my opinion, Lusaka is just not the place for that. It's a large town with not much tourism. Relatively dangerous and not much fun. Maybe they will catch up soon. I don't seem to be moving from Livingstone very fast.

Zambia is Southern Africa. It's noticeably more modern. Shops are larger. The mix of tribal religions, Islam, and Christianity gives way to nearly pure Christianity. Hotel rooms come with bibles. Buses windows have stickers with Christine inspired "words of wisdom". It feels a bit like the Deep South, complete with choir singing that could pass for gospel.