Having arrived Bulawayo much later than expected at around 1 pm, the only thing in my head was "I need food". The area around the station is dominated by a huge factory, and the streets surrounding this have just a few shops on them, mostly selling dry packaged food. I did find one restaurant, "Mama's Cafe" serving an ok T-bone steak, chips and salad for an extortionate US$5. I wouldn't pay that much back in London but I had no other choice.
Victoria Falls station
After lunch, I walked for about 1.5 km to the railway museum tucked around the back of Bulawayo station. The walk was nothing special but safety wise I felt ok. The museum houses a collection of locomotives, coaches and memorabilia from the Rhodesia Railways era.
I spent the majority of the late afternoon and early evening just waiting at the station for my overnight train to Victoria Falls as the town, from what I had seen, seemed to be lacking any sort of vibe or things to see or do. Whilst at the station I got chatting to group of young guys, two from Zambia and another from Zimbabwe all enjoying a break from college. As the train departure time drew closer, the guys suddenly decided it was time to get food so they left me waiting on the platform with their enormous bags. No a problem I thought, as they said they would be back in 15 minutes and there was still 35 minutes to go. I did wonder where they would find food as the closest places I had found were 15 minutes away by foot!!
A small collection of locomotives from the Bulawayo railway museum
About 5 minutes before departure, after everyone else waiting for the train had boarded I decided I had to just leave their bags with the security police and board the train myself before I got left behind. On the train, I got my ticket checked immediately and the conductor looked rather bemused as to why I hadn't paid for bedding (I didn't know at this point that bedding was ever an option). The conductor told me that another traveller would be joining me in my 2-bed compartment unless I paid for another ticket. I asked him from which station, and when he seemed to not really know I thought he was probably just trying his luck to get some money out of me.
The train departed late, may be around 8.30 pm and I never saw the three guys that evening again. I closed and locked my compartment door (with the lights off) and was just getting ready to fall asleep when the train stopped on the outskirts of Bulawayo - and here it stood for the next 2 hours. As with all travel in Africa, delays such as this should be expected and eventually the train continued on its way with no explanation.
The beautifully preserved Bulawayo station
At some point that night, there was a load knock on my door - it was the conductor with I assume a passenger for the upper bunk in my compartment. As I was asleep, I was very slow at getting up, and after a minute of waiting he just said never mind and walked off. I didn't open the door, I didn't really care what it was about and instead I collapsed back into my lower bunk, put my head on my make shift pillow (my rucksack with a fleece wrapped around it) and fell asleep.
When I woke up in the morning, the train was again around two thirds of the way along the journey (may be 6 hours behind its scheduled time), this time on the borders of Hwange National Park. Again I didn't mind the delay as it gave me a few hours of daylight and a chance to spot some game along the way. Safety and security didn't seem too much of an issue on this train either, and I felt comfortable leaving my belongings in my compartment and taking a walk up the train.
It was around 9 am and as I walked through the restaurant car, and there I found the three young guys from the evening before all drinking beer and already rather drunk!! We had a some interesting conversations together, albeit a bit loud at times and we didn't say our goodbye's until after getting off the train at Victoria Falls. It was an interesting journey, with beautiful scenery and plenty of cheerful Zimbabwean's travelling between cities and villages. Would I make the journey again - of course I would.
Timetable and Fares
Tickets for all classes of travel can only be booked on the day of departure and must be purchased at least 30-60 minutes before the scheduled departure time of the train (also observe ticket office opening hours). Tickets for 1st class (sleeper) are US$12 (excluding bedding) and that could be in either a 4-person or 2-person compartment. 3rd class tickets are US$10 (airline style, two by two seating) and 4th class tickets are US$5 (bench like seats or three by two airline style seats).
Bulawayo departure board and ticket / reservation office
The ticket office opening hours can be found on the door of the ticket office - Bulawayo: Monday to Friday 08:00 to 19:30 and Saturday / Sunday 16:00 to 19:30. Victoria Falls: Monday to Friday 07:00 to 12:00 & 14:00 to 16:00and Saturday / Sunday 07:00 to 10:00.
Trains from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls depart daily at 7.30 pm arriving Victoria Falls the following morning at 8 am. The return train departs daily from Victoria Falls at 7 pm arriving Bulawayo the following morning. From my experience, these trains arrived approximately 6 hours late in both directions so it's best not to plan tight connections.
The Zimbabwean railways website has timetable information, but it seems to show many routes which I don't believe are currently operational. The Man in Seat 61 is also a valuable source of information.
Meeting locals along the way
What was the train like?
Both trains (Harare to Bulawayo and Bulawayo to Victoria Falls) were a combination of the newer, 1980's blue and grey carriages and older, 1950's beige and brown carriages. It seemed almost pot luck what you might end up with.
The Bulawayo to Victoria Falls train had three sleeper carriages (old), a restaurant carriage (new), one 3rd class carriage (old), two 4th class carriages (old) and a luggage van.
Note: the restaurant carriage only served cold drinks and packaged snacks, and at stations food sellers didn't really materialise - therefore I recommend taking some food with you for breakfast in case of delays.
A 1950's brown & beige sleeper (1st) class carriage - each carriage has a mixture of 2- and 4-berth compartments
A 'modern' blue & grey restaurant carriage selling a very limited selection of cold drinks (including beer) and packaged dry snacks
There are always more photos to be shared, (but sharing them all on this journal page will just make it look cluttered - so if you want to see more photos for inspiration, check out my Flickr Zimbabwe album.
Victoria Falls National Park - Monday 11th December 2017 (coming soon)...