Laying the first rail in Mombasa, May 30, 1896.
Indian stone masons building a bridge abutment at Mile 100.7.
The Kilindini area in Mombasa harbour was still primitive in 1897.
This is the loop built to climb the Mazeras Escarpment; picture taken in 1922.
The lion that killed Supt. Ryall met a violent end of his own.
“Nyrobi” as it appeared when railway construction crews reached that point in 1899.
The Nairobi railway station was a busy place in 1901 as this small town grew in importance.
One of the lake steamers which provided service on Lake Victoria.
Squeekie took this picture of the old dockside railway station in Mombasa which was close to where Rotterdam was docked; sadly, no trains come here any more.
A remnant of the old Kenya and Uganda Railway remains just outside the Mombasa harbour.
The present Mombasa rail station seems nondescript and run down.
The booking hall—if that is the right word—of the Mombasa rail station
Travelers are waiting for the train to be spotted on the platform at left.
Maasai men walk on the platform—where will they get off the train?
At last the train backed down to the station—in British fashion the luggage van is at the end of the train.
At last the waiting passengers began to load aboard; these are the Third Class coaches.
My Compartment “B” in Car No. 1210—my back was to the direction of travel.
A portion of our table setting in the Restaurant Car.
A nighttime stop was made at Mariakani Station.
As the sun rises, the full moon sets (behind the tree at right); it is Friday morning on the train and we still have nearly six hours until we get to Nairobi.
As I watch cattle grazing from the train window, the problem of overgrazing is apparent.
This view of our train against scrub and overgrazed ground is typical of the scenery along the railway in the interior of Kenya.
At the station of Kalembwani, some children waved at our train but others just stared.
Don Lowe and his son Martin watch and photograph the passing countryside.
The nature of the countryside changed—there was grass on the ground and more vegetation overall. We were in a nature reserve.
Before long a gazelle is spotted in the nature reserve . . .
. . . and then a giraffe is seen in the distance!
At last our train reaches the outskirts of Nairobi.
Unfortunately, there were horrible slums adjacent to the railway tracks.
As we neared the station, the skyline of Nairobi came into view.
Moss poses beneath the Nairobi station sign. He has arrived!
The railway museum in Nairobi; the display building and archives are at left, and the outdoor display is at right.
Silverware from the Kenya & Uganda Railway on display.
Track inspectors bicycle on display with a section of track showing the steel crossties used in this part of Africa.
President Theodore Roosevelt (left) riding on the special bench which now is on display.
The Captain’s table from the Konigsburg.
The Captain’s sideboard from the Konigsburg.
Moss in front of one of the two driver assemblies of KUR #87 Karamoja; how I wanted to bring this locomotive home in my travel bag!
One of the mighty Governor class Beyer-Garratts I had traveled halfway around the world to see.
An example of steam traction in its prime, a Beyer-Garratt locomotive on the loop climbing the Mazeras Escarpment, 1949.
The street side of Nairobi’s railway station.
The business side of Nairobi’s station.
The station bar; from my seat I wrote notes and contemplated what I had seen.
The track side of the Nairobi station.
Moss stands in front of Carriage 1223, to be his home for the next 17 hours.
Compartment “D;” I would be seated in the direction of the train’s travel.
Sunrise over Voi Station.
Raising cattle as a sign of wealth—one reason why there is overgrazing in Kenya.
Goats, another reason why there is overgrazing.
Watching the train pass by.
Our train was very long, filled with vacationers going to the beach for Easter Break; this is only the front half of a train that was almost 30 cars long.
Going under the loop as we run down the Mazaera Escarpment.
Mombasa coming into view.
Our diesel locomotive just is not as beautiful as the mighty steam locos it replaced.
The Rotterdam looked very welcoming as I returned to the dockside in Mombasa!
Mombasa Harbour as Rotterdam was leaving.
Eightieth Day (Thursday, April 9, 2009)-- When Captain Olav announced that the political troubles in Madagascar had caused changes to be made in our itinerary and we would be extending our stay in Mombasa by one day, I was very pleased because that extra day made it possible for me to take a round trip by train to and from to Nairobi and to visit Kenya’s railway museum. As the Rotterdam sailed toward the coast of East Africa planning began for this adventure, the prospect of which was as exciting to me as the safari was to Squeekie because this famous railway is one of the very last in Africa to retain any semblance of old-time railway travel with comfortable sleepers and traditional restaurant service—or so I was led to believe. I was very excited at the prospect of riding these metre-gauge rails! By the time Rotterdam tied up at the old railway dock in Mombasa, my trip to Nairobi was in place. (I wish to take just a moment here to extend a sincere thanks to Chantal and her staff in Rotterdam’s Front Office for braving difficult radio-telephone connections to make my reservations.)
A railway to the interior-- The railway which runs from Mombasa to Nairobi and then on to the shores of Lake Victoria is a very historic construction tied to the chronicle of European colonialism in Africa. Great Britain, concerned with protecting its traditional sea route to India, had taken control of Cape Town and “Cape Colony” (South Africa) in 1806. When the Suez Canal was finished in 1869, Britain saw the need to protect that “shortcut” route as well and gradually took control of Egypt. In the late decades of the nineteenth century, as improvements in medicine and armament technology made it possible for Europeans to travel into the interior of Africa, there emerged in London the concept of “Cape to Cairo” control over the core of Africa; that is, administrative (and military) command over the lands contiguous to crucial seaports. Because control over the Nile River was perceived as essential to their management of Egypt, British explorers raced against French competitors to locate the headwaters of this vital waterway. Thanks to the journeys of David Livingstone, by the late 1870s it was known that a large lake in east central Africa (he named it Lake Victoria) was the most remote source of the Nile. In the following decade (the 1880s), as competitive European nations scrambled to seize control over as much of Africa as they could, Britain negotiated a “protectorate” over Uganda, the land surrounding Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Nile.
At the same time as European control over the interior was being determined, events were also taking place on the seacoast of East Africa. Mombasa, an important seaport whose existence is recorded as early as 1151 AD, had shifted between various rulers for centuries. The Muslim rulers of distant Oman and nearby Zanzibar technically controlled Mombasa into the nineteenth century, but the British had been involved periodically as they worked to end the Islamic slave trade in East Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1887 the Sultan of Zanzibar transferred control of Mombasa to the British.
The problem then became one of how to gain easy access from the seacoast into the distant interior region. By this time railway technology was seen as the best way to provide transportation into remote areas, as had been demonstrated by construction of the transcontinental railway in the United States in the late 1860s. A private company organized the Central African Railway with the intent of running trains into the interior. They laid eleven kilometers of light rail from Mombasa on to the mainland, but the company collapsed before any trains were operated. (Subsequently these rails were lifted and reused to form a two-foot gauge “trolley” line [hand or animal-propelled rail cars, no locomotives] in the port at Mombasa, which was the first operational railway in East Africa.) By 1896 all was ready for a second attempt to build a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. The “Uganda Railway” was organized and an inaugural platelaying ceremony was performed on May 30, 1896. This railway was not built to the “Cape gauge” (3-feet 6-inches between the rails) that the British had used extensively in Southern Africa, but rather to the metre gauge that already was in common use in British India because this provided a reasonably close, more convenient source of locomotives and rolling stock. In addition, most of the skilled and unskilled labour used to build this line was imported from India, and many of them remained after their contracts ended to become the nucleus of the modern Asian community in Kenya and Uganda.
The first major obstacle faced by the builders of the railway was the fact that the Kilindini area of Mombasa had not yet been developed as a harbour, and thus it was difficult to unload materials to construct the railway. The second problem was that Mombasa is on an island, and a wide “creek” of water had to be crossed. The steelwork for “Makupa Bridge” was delayed in Britain for months, and there was an insufficient local supply of wood to build a temporary trestle immediately; nevertheless, excavation of earthworks continued on the mainland side until a bridge could be finished. Although no rails were laid, these earthworks soon reached the formidable Mazeras escarpment over which the railway would have to ascend 170 metres in elevation over a distance of 25 kilometers. The resulting relatively steep gradient still holds the record as the steepest railway rise in the British Commonwealth of Nations. At one place a loop, patterned after California’s Tehachapi Loop, was built to ease the necessary climb. Needless to say, these problems (harbour, bridge, gradient, and loop) slowed construction; after one year of work the railway had advanced just 36 kilometers out of Mombasa, and very little of this yet had rails laid upon the earthworks.
In February 1897, a new engineer, Ronald Preston, was appointed to superintend the tracklaying. Construction did speed up, but new problems arose. Not far out of Mombasa the rail line entered the waterless Taru Plain. Now every drop of fresh water had to be taken by train from Mombasa to the construction camps. This water was made from seawater in a distillation and filtration plant brought out from Britain and installed in the Mombasa harbour. Then, 220 kilometers from the seacoast, the Tsavo River had to be crossed. At first the line was carried across the river by a temporary wooden trestle to allow rail construction to continue while a permanent bridge was built under the direction of J. H. Patterson. Then some of the Indian workers began to disappear. When the mangled corpse of one of the workers was discovered it became apparent that a man-eating lion was ravaging the camp. Work on the track and bridge was stalled for a while as terrified Indian workers refused to come out from their barricaded sleeping quarters. Despite this, over several months 28 Indians and some African labourers were dragged away and eaten by what turned out to be several lions. Patterson tried to hunt down the culprits but it took some nine months before he shot the offending animals. (The stuffed and mounted pelts of two of these lions are now on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.) Some years later Patterson wrote a book of his experience; “Man Eaters of Tsavo” became a best-seller and is still in print over one hundred years later. Not so well known is that marauding lions caused trouble all along this part of the railway. In 1899, a road engineer by the name of O'Hara was dragged from his tent near Voi and killed. A year later, on June 6, 1900, at Kima station, Police Superintendent C. H. Ryall was sleeping in his observation saloon, number 13, when he was killed by a lion which entered the carriage and dragged the body through a window and off into the bush.
By 1899 nearly 500 kilometers of track had been laid. The line had crossed the Athi plains and arrived at the foot of the Kenya Highlands, at an area of swampy ground known by the Maasai name of Nyrobi. Here a major depot was established to facilitate the construction of the line up into the highlands. The administrative offices were also moved here from Mombasa and homes built for the staff, which in turn attracted an influx of Asian merchants to supply goods and services to the railway workforce. In addition, the Colonial Administration headquarters was moved into the new town from a nearby settlement by-passed by the railway. In 1900 the spelling was changed to Nairobi and the future capital city of Kenya was born.
The railway was originally intended to link directly with the Ugandan capital of Kampala and the route had already been surveyed. However, the British government in London, upset at the cost of the railway’s construction, caused a change in plans. A new route was surveyed from Nairobi to the nearest point on Lake Victoria with the intent that steamships on the lake would provide access to Uganda. Railhead finally reached Lake Victoria, 930 kilometers from Mombasa, on December 19, 1901, at a point initially called Port Florence (named after the wife of Ronald Preston), but now renamed Kisumu. After the First World War a new main line was constructed along the original route around the north side of the lake into Uganda, and Kampala eventually was reached in 1931.
The railway originally was built to provide access to the interior, traversing lands ignored as desert-like. But once the railway was operational, it did not take long for people to realize the agricultural potential of much of the land between Mombasa and Nairobi. Originally the land was called the “British East Africa Protectorate,” but in 1920 it was renamed “Kenya” after the high mountain in its interior. The railway operated under the name “Uganda Railway” until 1926, when it was renamed the “Kenya & Uganda Railway;” a year later “& Harbours” was added to the title. In 1948 the railways in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganikya (now Tanzania) were consolidated under the name “East African Railways and Harbours.” In 1969 the East African Railways and Harbours system was divided among the three now independent nations who owned the rail rights of way. The lines in Kenya (including the original Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu line) began operating under the name of “Kenya Railways.” In 2005 (?) a concession was granted to the “Rift Valley Railway” to operate the Kenya Railway, and their name now appears on some of the cars and locomotives, but not all of them. Well, that is the history of the rail line I was about to travel upon.
My rail adventure begins-- I spent much of Thursday aboard the Rotterdam writing in my blog, sorting photographs, and preparing for my rail adventure. I really was not sure what to wear and take, because I did not know if there would be any formal requirements on the train (like in the old days). I finally decided on dockers, a button shirt, and my tan sports jacket—and my wonderful Aussie bush hat which has become a symbol of this world trip for me. I packed one tie just in case, and brought extra pants and a shirt because I expected it would be hot and I would sweat. Finally, at 3:45 pm I could wait no longer and decided to go. I was pleasantly surprised when Jenilen of the Front Office staff walked with me off the ship and through the dock area to get a taxi to take me to the train station. As we walked through the dock locale I was interested to see that the old dockside railway station remained intact—even its clock tower still stood, although the clock time was wrong. Jenilen obtained a taxi for me, waved good-bye, and I was driven off through Mombasa toward the present-day rail station. At one point just outside the harbour entrance we passed by a reminder of the old days of the railway, a bridge over the road which at one time had carried the rail line into the harbour (there does not appear to be any freight rail service in the harbour any longer although abandoned rails may be seen in many locations). The bridge had the letters “KUR” cast into the side of one of the arches over the roadway, and I immediately knew this announced the old “Kenya and Uganda Railway.”
I do not know enough about the earlier history of the town of Mombasa to know if the rail station at the harbour was for all trains or just for people debarking from ships, but I suspect that there once had been a different railway station for the city than that now in use. I was horrified—and I selected that word intentionally—when my taxi arrived at the rail station now used in Mombasa. The buildings are shabby, dirty, and unwelcoming, a far cry from the type of depots built by colonial railways in days gone by. While I did not expect to find a grand cathedral such as Squeekie and I saw in Bombay/Mumbai, the surviving dockside station had led me to expect a structure architecturally similar. Instead, I was confronted by tattered structures which obviously had seen better days.
With a sense of uncertainty crossing through my mind, I paid off the taxi and walked over to the scruffy building which a sign announced was the “Booking Office, Upper Classes: 1st & 2nd.” The woman working behind the rusty iron grille had no record of the reservation made for me by the agents in Nairobi. For a moment I was afraid that my grand adventure was about to evaporate, but she then said that there was space available on the train. I was assigned to a first class sleeping compartment, “B” in in Carriage No. 1210, on Train A01 to Nairobi.
It was still rather early; the train was not yet at the station platform, so I wandered into the station grounds, looking and photographing just like a typical railway enthusiast. I was intrigued to watch the people who were waiting to ride the train up to Nairobi or intermediate points. Many native Kenyans were preparing to ride in Third Class, which would be coach seats, carrying their luggage, often colourful bundles. Several first class passengers—many but not all of them white—had gathered in the bar-café on the platform, and were chattering away. I assumed that most of these travelers were people who lived locally, and were not tourists, because they mostly seemed to be familiar with the station layout and operations. Finally, as the time approached 5 o’clock pm, the train backed down to the platform from which it would load. In typical British fashion (this is the cultural ancestry of Kenya’s railways, after all) the luggage van was the last car on the train, behind all of the “carriages,” and so came first into the station as the train backed in. People did not immediately rush to board the train, and this apparently was because cleaning crews had yet to finish their work. As I walked down the platform to find my sleeper carriage, I saw workers loading bedding materials into the sleeping cars. I was interested in this because it is so different from how American sleeping cars are operated. Men pushed large trolleys (handcarts) toward the end doors of the sleepers. Each trolley carried a mountain of bundles; each bundle was olive green in colour and most were extensively worn. As I watched men unload the bundles from the trolley by throwing them through the door into the wide end hallway of each sleeper car, I saw that many of them were simply tied closed with strips of fabric torn from the bundle cover itself. Many of the bundle covers had zippers, but few seemed to function, thus the bundles were tied instead. Inside the bundles were the bedding materials, a blanket, sheet and pillow already made up into a sleeping bag-like arrangement. Other workers were sweeping floors, washing windows, or otherwise preparing the cars for service. Why this was done at the platform just before departure was unclear to me, but at least there was evidence that the cars were cleaned—at least in some fashion.
The train was scheduled to leave at 7 o’clock, but at 5:45 pm people were beginning to board, so I decided to enter my sleeper carriage and settle into my compartment. I do not have technical data on the carriages readily available, but it appears that the sleepers were British-built, some time in the mid- to late-1960s. Because they were metre-gauge, and the compartments were wide enough to carry three people seated side-by-side in the lower couch-bunk, the hallway along the axis of the carriage was necessarily narrow. I found that I had to turn my portly frame sideways to pass along the hallway. Oh well, that is one of the costs of building rail equipment in a narrow gauge.
At this point I should add that my First Class trip from Mombasa up to Nairobi had cost me 3660 Kenyan shillings—about 75 US dollars, and this included dinner, breakfast, bedding, and a slight fee for having just one person in what was a two person compartment. This seemed a reasonable price to me, but when I arrived at Compartment “B” I was concerned to find that very few things in the compartment worked and that, while not outrightly dirty, was in very run-down condition. The linoleum flooring in the compartment had been torn up, exposing the composite-material underflooring. The water basin did not work (not that I would have used the water in this car anyway; I had brought my own bottled water as a health guard). The compartment fan did not work and the lights were broken, only the low-level non-reading lights turned on. The upper bunk did not fold away into the wall, so I had to duck my head as I sat on the lower bunk/couch. Even the compartment door did not lock shut. Despite these comments on the condition of the sleeper, I do not mean to imply that I didn’t like it. The Orient Express or Blue Train this was NOT, but it was an adventure and I was eager to have it begin.
I settled in to my compartment. I carried two tote bags with me—one had a change of clothing and the other had a few toiletries, my camera, and long lenses. That was it! The big lower couch-bunk was comfortable and easily settled into. I hung my sport jacket up on the outside of the closet (the doors of which were jammed shut and would not open), and looked out the window at the preparations to leave. But we didn’t leave. . . . After awhile I got up and faced out into the hallway (into which I could barely fit), and started up a conversation with another man who occupied the compartment two down from mine in the middle of the car, but who was looking out the hallway windows onto the activities on the platform. This marked the start of an interesting acquaintance. (One thing I have noticed on this cruise is how Squeekie so easily strikes up conversations with people which soon translate into acquaintances or friendships. I find this difficult to do most of the time, but on this train trip I did do it, once on the up trip and again on the down trip.) The man I met was Don Lowe. He had been born in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), where his parents had a farm, but he was one of the white citizens who were given 24 hours to leave the country when the black government of Mugabe took control. He now lives in Sweden, although his son goes to school in Kenya. Despite what happened to him and his family in Zimbabwe, he still believes in the future potential of Africa—more about him later.
As we talked and got to know each other the sun westered and began to go down. At 6:55 I heard a loud sound in the distance which I think was a gunshot. Don was unfazed by it, stating, “That happens frequently around here.” I made some offhand comment about gang violence in Los Angeles even as I was wondering privately to myself “what have I gotten into?” Seven o’clock came and went, and we still were stuck in the station. It got dark, and still we were unmoving. Mr. Balera, the train manager (what they now call the conductor here), came through our carriage and told us that “mechanical problems” had delayed our departure, but that we were expected to leave “soon.” Yeah, right! In fact it was after eight o’clock before our train left the station, which is why I have essentially no pictures of the scenery from the train as we left Mombasa. The stationmaster rang a bell (of the sort of hand bell that teachers once used) into a microphone to announce the train’s belated leaving. This bell-ringing was yet another holdover from the days of British rule.
About fifteen minutes after our delayed departure, a steward came through our car ringing a gong to announce the first seating of dinner. I am accustomed to this, of course, because that is what they do on the Rotterdam. What I was NOT accustomed to was the gong itself. It was just a round section cut from a steel pipe, I think, which the steward hit in a very un-melodic pattern, resulting in an equally unmusical sound. I was assigned to the first seating and asked to sit with Don Lowe and his son Martin. We walked forward two carriages to the Restaurant Car; naturally, I had to turn sideways to push myself through both sleeping cars we passed through.
The restaurant car was of the traditional design, a galley at one end (the crew would not permit me to photograph it), and a dining room with four seated to a table on one side of the aisle and two to a table on the other side. The three of us (Don, Martin, and I) sat at one of the tables for four, with me facing them. The table was set with a white linen tablecloth, traditional silver plate tableware, and china primarily marked with the “Kenya Railways” logo. All of the traditional items were on the table: glassware, salt and pepper shakers, butter plate, and an open sugar container brimming with the off-white crystals of cane sugar refined in Kenya. What caught my eye immediately, however, was the fact that the silverware and chinaware, although clean, was very used. There were chips out of some of the china and glassware, and the silverware was heavily scratched. Much of the silverware was marked with the logo of the old “East Africa Railways & Harbours,” which dated those pieces to before 1969. Furthermore, there were no knives for the place settings (there were a few butter knives, however), so fish knives were placed instead. At any rate, to an historian such as me, this was almost a museum display despite the rather tattered condition of the pieces. I wondered how dinner would be served, but soon found that instead of menu service, specific dishes were passed from which the passenger chose to be dished or to pass by. The first item offered was a salad of fresh lettuce and some cut vegetables, which I chose to pass over because of the lesson I learned in Mexico so many years ago about avoiding uncooked fruits and vegetables high in water content. Then a cauliflower soup was served; the best description I can give was that it was little more than water through which the cauliflower had walked briefly. Then the stewards brought by large trays loaded with two types of rice, a saffron rice brightly gleaming with yellow colour, and a white rice with no flavour. To be placed onto these two rices we were then offered either a beef stew-like conglomeration or something allegedly containing chicken. I selected the beef, but the first chunk of meat I put in my mouth was all tough gristle which I barely was able to chew and swallow. I passed over the chicken, but did select the saffron rice which had some nice flavour to it. Then a fish “appetizer” was passed and I tried it at the suggestion of Don Lowe, but regretted it immediately. There may have been some sort of dessert offering, but I cannot now remember what it was. I also drank two Coca-Colas. That was my meal. Fortunately, I had a lovely conversation with Don and Martin, who explained to me what I was seeing out the window of the diner as we traveled through Kenya in the dark. Our train was crossing the very dry Taru Plain, and there was little to see other than the various villages which had grown up around the stations built along the railway. (In the days of steam locomotives, it was customary to erect “tank stops” every three to five miles along the tracks so that the steam engines would never find themselves too far away from a refreshment of water.)
After dinner and conversation was over we returned to our sleeper carriage, where I bid the Lowes “good night” and retired to my compartment. It was hot and stuffy in the car; there was no air conditioning, of course, and the installed fans did not work, so I kept my compartment door open onto the hallway and the window in the hallway open wide, and the window in my compartment also open so that as the train moved there would be a cooling crosswind. Although there were wooden screen “doors” to cover the open windows to keep the insects out, I kept them out of the way as they blocked my view out the window. Instead, I sprayed tremendous amounts of insect repellant (which I had packed with my toiletries) on my person and around my compartment in the hopes that no mosquitoes would find me tasty. I had also taken my malaria pills to keep down the chance of contracting that traditional African disease. At one point the Train Manager came by and asked me to close my compartment door, but I explained to him about the cross draft and he left me alone with a warning not to fall asleep with the door open as that might contribute to the chance of the theft of my valuables. I kept as comfortable as possible, lying on top of the “sleeping bag” bedding and using my tote bags and the provided pillow to prop me up so that I could watch out the window at the passing scenery, which was visible to an amazing amount because it was the night of the full moon. Eventually I did close my compartment door to provide some privacy as I dozed.
At one stop overnight I was awake enough to get a nice photograph of the station in the night light. It was a long, long night. At one very long stop around 1:45 am mechanics came down the length of the train clanking the wheels to ensure (by the sound they made) that they were not cracked. This is, of course, a traditional railroad practice which, by its very familiarity was comforting. When I was awake the light from the full moon was usually significant to allow me to see outlines of whatever was out there. The moon set at 6:45 am just after sunrise. One thing I must comment upon at this point is that the engineer on the “up” train to Nairobi had a VERY heavy hand on the throttle. His starts from stops were always very abrupt, with a powerful jerk that awakened me from my dozing. His stops were equally rushed. As I wrote in my pocket notepad (I certainly did not carry my laptop on this adventure!), “Is this abruptness because of the length of the train or lack of skill?” I endured insufficient sleep through this very long night, yet the railway activities which intervened into my rest were comforting and of interest. And so the night passed. . . .
Eighty-first Day (Friday, April 10, 2009)-- Dawn was beginning to light the eastern sky when I became conscious of my surroundings. The clock on my camera said that it was 6:15 am, and the full moon had not yet set. Our train stopped at a small country station named Makindou, and I watched some of the local people walking to their work (or rural activities?) on a path which ran alongside the tracks. This got me to thinking that the railway was the tool which opened up some of Kenya, because the older ivory- and slave-trading routes into the interior had been much further to the south, perhaps to avoid the dry lands in the Taru area northeast of Mombasa. After the railway was built, however, and stations with water were located along this new route, villages sprang up and agriculture followed. By 6:40am the sun had arisen in the east and off to the southwest there was a glimpse of a distant, very high mountain peak standing almost alone. I believe it to have been Mount Kilimanjaro.
As the sun rose and the moon set, and it became possible to see the landscape surrounding the rail line, there was major evidence of a problem which troubles Kenya painfully—overgrazing. I spoke to Don Lowe about this as it became apparent through our windows, and he explained it to me in some detail. Cattle are important to the native cultures of East Africa—they are a symbol of wealth and status. As the population has increased in rural areas, the number of cattle also has grown. As these herds have increased, the ability of the natural vegetation on the land to support these herds has decreased, leading directly to overgrazing. The overgrazed land is readily apparent in Kenya: although there will be patches of green where there are trees or bushes that are not eaten by the cattle, there is no grass on the ground, just large areas of bare brown dirt. Don was deeply concerned by this (understandable given that he came from a farming family in Zimbabwe), for overgrazing is very damaging to the land and can contribute to the desertification of areas. He, coming from a Western culture, cannot understand why the native tribes cannot adopt the Western solution to this problem, having some farmers grow food for the cattle (hay or alfalfa, for example), to support the herds raised by others. As logical as this sounds to western ears, mine included, it would require native tribes to abandon too many of the cultural values they treasure. And so the result is that, as the rural population in the interior of Kenya increases, so too does the overgrazing, with resulting serious damage to the land. Had the railway contributed to this problem by opening us the interior? Perhaps. . . .
I enjoyed watching the interior of Kenya from the window as our train moved along. At many of the small stations through which we passed (often without stopping), local children would gather beside the track and watch as we passed by. Upon seeing people looking at them from the train, the kids often would wave back. It was an interesting illustration of a contact point between two very different aspects of human life. I was also fascinated by the obvious British ancestry of the railway and its operations. Of course this is to be expected, because the “Uganda Railway” had been a tool of British colonialism, but the extent to which British practices still remained nearly fifty years following independence tickled my curiosity. Old mileposts (actually kilometer posts) remained in place and to the design once used on British railways in the “mother country.” In some places I saw the old change-of-gradient signs that are typically British. Similarly, the cable-and-pulley technology used by the British to control signals and switching in station areas from a central “cabin” with levers remained at many of the small stations along the railway, although it also appeared that most of these facilities were no longer in use. Because the machinery used on the railway, from rolling stock to hardware had largely come from British suppliers, it all seemed to be British in design and operation as well—the water “plugs” once used to refresh the tanks and tenders of steam locomotives were one such example, and I was surprised how many of these plugs and the tanks which supplied them were still in existence. At the same time, there was also extensive evidence of the deterioration of this equipment. Part of this comes from the reality that the railway is no longer the major transport mode in Kenya—unfortunately! Branch lines and sidings have been abandoned and in some cases partially or entirely lifted. But also there is obvious evidence of lack of care—I saw it in the equipment which made up the train in which I rode, and as well saw it in stations along the line. This is sad, because the railway was an important asset for Kenya and this deterioration is a tragedy that will have lingering repercussions in the country—just as it has had elsewhere when railways are abandoned for less environmentally-friendly modes of transport (like trucks, for example).
Around 7:20 am a steward came through our sleeper ringing a bell to announce that breakfast was being served in the restaurant car. This is yet another lingering practice from the past that is slowly dying because of changes in culture and from lack of training or care. The steward had no uniform, nor was he particularly clean. The xylophone he was using—where was the section of steel that had been used last night?—was dilapidated and had only one chime plate, which the steward banged upon with no attempt at tune or rhythm pattern. I decided, based upon the very poor dinner I had had last evening, to forego breakfast this morning, and just remained in my compartment looking out the window.
Speaking of looking out the window, I must say that I saw no evidence of success here in the interior of Kenya. Everything seems to be a struggle to survive, more like an attempt to impose “civilization” (with all of that word’s various meanings) upon a land that doesn’t wish to have it! The overgrazing, the deterioration of the railway physical plant, the clear decline of local stations and appended villages, all of this suggests that Kenya (at least this part of it) is in serious trouble!
At 8 o’clock am we stopped for a few moments in the station identified as “Sultan Hamid,” which I later learned by consulting a map (oh, how I wish I had had one to study during my train trip!) is just about 50 miles from Nairobi. Here, and at other stations along the line, I enjoyed watching young children stand at trackside and wave at people viewing them from the train windows. In the rural stations, the children were just viewing and greeting, but as we approached the two big cities (Nairobi and Mombasa) the greeting turned into begging which was very unpleasant—kids with their hands outstretched shouting “gimme, gimme, gimme!” Fortunately, in the rural stations the kids were much more pleasant, and often curious about what (and who?) they were seeing.
Finally, in the late morning, the land began to change. There were more trees, and of the types native to East Africa (acacia being most common). Most importantly, there was grass (and other vegetation) on the ground! No longer was the land overgrazed. I commented on this to Don Lowe who, with his son Martin, was looking out of the hallway window in front of the door to his compartment just down from me. He told me that this was because just south of Nairobi there was a very large nature reserve, and if I looked closely I might even see some of the wild game which once had predominated in this part of Africa.
I confess that I was very excited by this possibility. Squeekie had gone off on a safari which I had declined to do. I admit that I had turned up my nose at this chasing of wildlife, using as an excuse the observation that this is something many tourists do. Oh, how unthinking had I been! Of course, at this point in our respective adventures I had as yet no understanding of the wonderful experience Squeek was enjoying at this very moment (although you will already know if you have read the blog entry just before this one). Suddenly, confronted with the possibility of seeing African wildlife for myself—and from the window of a train to boot—I became aware of how exciting this could be. I put the telephoto lens on my camera and stood vigilant in front of my hallway window to see what I could see. My first spotting, aided by the guidance of the Lowes, was of a type of gazelle (there are many variant species in East Africa). I saw many of these over the next few miles. But my greatest joy came when Don Lowe shouted out that there was a giraffe in the distance. At first I could not spot it—after all, these animals do intentionally blend in well with the vegetation around them. I searched frantically through my long lens and at last saw the giraffe, contentedly looking out at the top leaves of a nearby tree, and snapped off two shots before the train carried me away. That was all; no other native animals were seen, but that was enough. My first contact with African native wildlife was sufficient to show me the stupidity of my earlier contemptuous rejection of animal-gazing safaris. I was hooked for life! Of course, the fact that I saw it from a train only reinforced my love of train travel (in this case, despite the clear deficiencies of service found on Kenya’s railways in the first decade of the twenty-first century).
All too soon this part of my adventure was over. As our train rounded another hill the grass cover disappeared, overgrazing reappeared, and a sprinkling of buildings hinted of our approach to Nairobi. Another hint was the fact that the railway track improved in condition as we got closer to Nairobi. In outlying areas the old colonial-era trackwork of steel cross ties (so used because wood sleepers—ties—deteriorated so quickly in Africa) and short, 30-foot rail sections bolted together at joints survived unchanged, and often unrepaired. But close in to Nairobi we were treated to welded rail (which eliminated the “click-click” sounds which result when car wheels pass over the older, unwelded rail joints) which seemed to be in good shape, perhaps because they are of recent installation.
The capital of Kenya is not a huge city by western standards, but it evidenced many of the developmental problems as we have seen in other cities. Most dramatic was the appearance of extensive slums located alongside the railway right of way and also beneath the high-voltage transmission lines that were adjacent to the tracks. While these slums did not strike me as being as horrifyingly bad as we saw in Mumbai, they were appalling enough, and even the approach of the downtown skyline of the city could not remove their unpleasantries. At last our train pulled in to the Nairobi Station, a construction dating back to the days of colonial dominance. Our train had been scheduled to arrive at 8:30 am, but actually arrived near noon. I must confess that I was glad to get off and walk around a bit, but at the same time I was sad to say good-bye to Don and Martin Lowe, with whom I had developed a nice friendship. Don’s commentary had been a useful—may I say essential—part of my “up” trip from Mombasa, and Martin’s questions about California and life in university (he will be headed into university in a year) gave me the opportunity to share some of my life experience in return. We photographed each other beneath the station sign on the platform, and then parted on our separate ways.
I spent a few minutes photographing the bustle associated with the arrival of the train. I really like experiencing that activity which seems to be similar no matter where the train is, or when in time (era) it is, for that matter. Then I had an errand. I had been instructed by the Front Office girls to find the Station Master when I arrived in Nairobi, in order to clarify my return trip and to facilitate my journey over to the museum. I went to his office and was met by his assistant, the “Station Foreman,” who greeted me as though I were some premier guest of the railway. Boy, was I surprised! It appears that, even though information of my reservation and interest in the museum had not reached down to Mombasa, it was well known here in Nairobi. My return trip reservation was confirmed by the foreman, whose name was Amos Nbuati. He also arranged for a driver to take me over to the museum.
Moss visits the railway museum-- The railway museum, which was my reason for taking the journey up to Nairobi, is small but charming. It is located just a half mile or so from the Nairobi Railway Station, down Station Road which parallels the main line of trackage. It is located in a building built for the purpose (often an unusual thing for a railway museum) that was opened in 1974 by the East African Railways Corporation shortly before it ceased operation under that name. Today the museum is owned and operated by the Kenya Railways Corporation. It apparently was the creation of a British-born man who spent his working life in Kenya, staying on after independence. The building houses a wonderful collection of historic artifacts. While many of the paper records are stored in a different area (although accessible to researchers upon request), the museum room does present a fascinating collection of maps, drawings, photographs, posters, and artifacts which are well identified to ensure that the visitor understands the significance of what is being shown. Immediately outside this building is a permanent outdoor exhibition of locomotives and rolling stock which covers the entire history of the railway in East Africa, from the original “Uganda Railway” through to the present-day Kenya Railways. OK, here is what I saw at the museum—if you are uninterested in this, please feel free to jump forward to the point below where I resume my narrative of the journey.
Archives-- First off, the museum has some wonderful archival materials, including: eight albums of original photographs from the 1896-1900 construction period of the original Uganda Railway; over 100 specialist books and suppliers' catalogues on steam locomotive engineering, from the technical library of the CME's department; the original letter books from the Uganda Railway from 1900 to around 1912; the General Manager's reports (printed and bound) from early 1900s to 1980; original letters and files from the two German forerunners of Tanganyika Railways, up to about 1915; Working Timetables, Appendices, Rule Books, Traffic Regulations, and so forth from mid-KUR period (around 1930) to late EAR period (about 1970); some files relating to line construction and projected branch lines; records relating to marine vessels used on Lake Victoria and in seaports; and a number of miscellaneous maps, plans, and drawings, and some rail industry publications. This is a marvelous collection, and is augmented by a photo file in the Kenya Railways main office near the museum.
Inside exhibits-- The artifacts exhibited inside run an unusual range, from a track and cant gauge (used to measure the elevation of the outer rail on a curve) to a bicycle rebuilt to run on the metre gauge tracks of the railway. There was silverware and china from early restaurant cars, and the bench built to allow famous passengers to ride on the front of the locomotive to view game in early days (Theodore Roosevelt rode on this). Undoubtedly, however, the most unusual exhibits in this museum are two artifacts not even connected with the railways of East Africa. In 1915 a German cruiser, SMS Konigsberg, was scuttled by its crew near Dar-es-Salaam. Some artifacts from this ship were recovered by the British, including the Captain’s dining table and sideboard, both now on display in the railway museum.
Outdoor exhibits-- The outdoor exhibit is fascinating because it includes items from all of East Africa’s railways, primarily from the steam era, but including one diesel locomotive. Here is what I saw:
Kenya & Uganda Railway (KUR) #327 (later EAR #1127), Class ED1; this is a 2-6-2T tank engine built by Britain’s Vulcan Foundry in 1926. It was used for shunting (switching) and branch line work into the mid-1970s.
Tanganyika Railways (TR) #301 (later East African Railways #2301), Class DL; this is a 4-8-0 tender engine built by Beyer Peacock in 1923. Originally a main line engine, it later was used in branch line work in Uganda; in 1985 it was used in the film “Out of Africa.”
Kenya & Uganda Railway #87 “Karamoja” (later East African Railways #5711), Class EC3; this is a Beyer-Garratt 4-8-4+4-8-4 tender engine built in 1940 by Beyer, Peacock & Company in Manchester, England. It was the third of the famous Beyer-Garratt articulated designs to be supplied to KUR and worked heavy freight and passenger trains into the mid-1970s. Until the delivery of the “Tribal” class engines in the mid-1950s this was the most powerful engine used on the railway.
East African Railways #2921 “Masai of Kenya,” Tribal 29 Class, 2-8-2 tender engine built by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow in 1955; and East African Railways #3020 “Nyaturu,” Tribal 30 Class, 2-8-4 tender engine built by North British; and East African Railways #3123 “Bavuma,” Tribal 31 Class 2-8-4 tender engine built by Vulcan Foundry in 1955. The “Tribals” were the final, and most powerful non-articulated steam locomotive operated in East Africa, used for secondary line work. They were split into three slightly different designs, known as the 28, 30, and 31 classes. “Nyaturu” is one of two locomotives in the collection which has been restored to operating condition and are stored at Nairobi’s Locomotive Depot.
Magadi Soda Company (no #) “Hugh F Marriott,” a 0-4-0ST (saddle tank) engine, built by W.G. Bagnall in Stafford, England in 1951. This was used as a switcher at the soda works in Uganda until 1970. A 140 kilometer-long line was built in 1913 to connect the soda works to the main line of the Uganda Railway, and it remains in use to this day; I saw a locomotive and cars lettered for this firm in the rail yard at Mombasa.
Kenya & Uganda Railway #2401; and Kenya & Uganda Railway #2409 (ex-Uganda Railway #170); 24 Class (formerly EB3 Class) 4-8-0 tender engines built by Vulcan Foundry in England in 1923. This is considered to be the most successful design in the history of the Uganda Railway, with 62 built and all remaining in use until the very end of steam operations in the late 1970s.
Uganda Railway Coach #12, a first class coach of four-wheel design, built in 1899. This was the coach from which a lion dragged Superintendent Charles Ryall while he was sleeping at Kima Station about 80 kilometers from Nairobi in June 1900. This event is written about in the book “Maneaters of Tsavo,” and is portrayed in the film “The Ghost and the Darkness.”
Kenya & Uganda Railway #5505 (ex-Burma Railways #unknown, then Tanganyika Railways #752); 55 Class Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated tender engine built in 1944 by Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester. This locomotive was built to the standard War Department lightweight design and was originally delivered in Burma, where it worked for two years before being transferred to Tanganyika Railways as “GD Class, #752.” In 1948 it went to KUR and then to EAR.
East African Railways #1315, class type unknown, a 4-8-4T tank engine, converted from 4-8-2T tank engine, built by North British in date unknown.
East African Railways #6006, “Sir Harold MacMichael,” 60 Class, aka Governor Class; Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated tender engine built by Franco-Belge of France in 1953. These lightweight Beyer-Garratt engines were designed to work branch line trains all over the EAR system. All 29 engines originally carried the names of British colonial governors. This is the only survivor, but several nameplates from engines now scrapped are on display in the museum.
Kenya & Uganda Railway #393, “Nasmyth Wilson,” (later East African Railways #1003), Class EE, a 2-6-4T tank engine, is on display on a plinth in Jamhuri Park, Nairobi.
East African Railways #5918, “Mount Gelai,” and East African Railways # 5930, “Mount Shengena,” 59 Class aka Mountain Class, Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated tender engines. They were built in 1955 by Beyer, Peacock and were used until the early 1980s. These engines are the pride of the collection, and #5930 is stored in operating condition at the Main Workshops of the railway. These were the ultimate development of steam traction in East Africa. The design was a reversal of the customary Beyer-Garratt concept, which was to keep locomotives as light per axle as possible (the articulation was to traverse sharp curves customary on colonial narrow gauge lines; instead, this engine was designed to be as heavy as the track from Mombasa to Nairobi could support. The result was a 254-ton giant capable of carrying 1200 ton trains—the most powerful metre gauge locomotives ever built!
A side note on the Beyer-Garratt locomotive design-- The Garratt design first appeared in 1913, when British engineer Herbert Garratt came up with an idea to increase tractive effort on railways which were plagued by light construction, tight curves and narrow gauge; these were problems which particularly plagued some of the railways which had been built in the British Empire. His solution was to keep axle weight low (an essential issue on lightly-built railways) by adding more driving axles, and adding articulation to increase flexibility (ability to traverse curves). The Mallet design had been doing this on mainline railways for over a decade, but that design suffered from flexibility problems. Garratt’s clever solution was to sling the boiler between the drive wheel constructions, and to put weight in the form of tenders for fuel and water on the drivers. The Garratt locomotive had two articulations rather than the single one of the Mallet design. The Garratt boiler could be made shorter and fatter (up to the limitations of the loading gauge of the railway), and the overall weight of this engine could be spread over more driving axles. It was a brilliant concept. The first Garratt, usually called the Beyer-Garratt because most (but not all) of them were built by the Beyer, Peacock firm in Manchester, England, was built for the Tasmanian Railway in Australia. It was a small, narrow gauge 2-6-2+2-6-2 design; the first of these was recovered from “down under” and is now on display at Britain’s marvelous National Railway Museum in York. Most Beyer-Garratts were built to narrow gauge, and none were built for railways in North America. The majority were used in British Empire countries, particularly Australia, Southern Africa, and East Africa.
I am of the opinion that the “Beyer-Garratt” design was the most brilliant type of steam locomotive ever created, and I am sad that none were ever used in North America. They increased the ability of lightly built narrow gauge railways to carry a heavy volume of traffic (admittedly not a problem for most of America’s surviving narrow gauge railways by 1915), but they could have done (indeed did do) the same thing for standard gauge railways as well—Australia’s standard-gauge “Commonwealth Railway,” opened in 1917, is a good example. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to have seen in Nairobi the best surviving example of narrow gauge Beyer-Garratts, the 60 Class Governors. I only regret that I could not see one in action, although when I returned to the Nairobi Station and spoke at length with Amos Nbuati the Station Foreman I did hear his memories of seeing the Governors in action in the 1970s when he first came to work for the railway.
Back to my adventure-- Well, I consumed the better part of three hours at the railway museum. I could have spent more time taking careful photos of the rolling stock on display, but I am happy with the pictures I got, especially those of my most favourite locomotive, the Beyer-Garratts. I had a nice chat with the young lady who was staffing the museum that day; I don’t remember her name, unfortunately, but she was a student of history at the University of Nairobi, and this was class credit for her. Sadly, she knew next to nothing about the history of the railways of her country. I wish that the museum had had books and stuff for sale, but I was able to purchase a copy of their VERY NICE (if somewhat abbreviated) guide pamphlet, along with two post cards and a DVD copy of “The Lunatic Railway” program which had been on the National Geographic Channel, I think. All in all I spent 1250 Kenyan shillings (about 35 US dollars) on this stuff, and came away wishing there had been more!
My very patient assigned driver, who had waited for me all this time, wished to drive me around Nairobi looking at the sights, and I would have liked to do this, but he wanted money to do this and I did not wish for him to know I had money on my person. So he took me back to the railway station and returned me to the care of the Station Foreman. Amos (the Foreman) took me on a tour of the station itself, identifying some of the historic locations. That was interesting! We also had a nice chat about his recollections of the earlier days when the railway was more active than now. As I mentioned above, he remembered the Beyer-Garratts and Tribals still in service in the mid- to late-1970s, and even (in the case of the 60 Class Governors) into the early 1980s. Then I checked in with the booking clerk and was informed that sleeping compartment assignments would not be issued until 6 pm, so I wandered around taking pictures about the station. When I tired of this, I went into the station bar and sat with a Coca-Cola, writing notes about what I had seen and reading the museum guidebook I had purchased. At times a clean, fresh-painted diesel performed switching (shunting) outside. While I was waiting and absorbing yet more railway atmosphere, I began to wonder how Squeekie had enjoyed her safari. What had she seen?
By five o’clock people were beginning to come on to the platform at the station. A passenger train had backed down onto an adjacent platform, and they were heading toward it. This was not my train however. I sat out on the platform with some other passengers who were waiting for the train to Mombasa. While there I met David Ditundu, who was selling some of his art in a kiosk on the platform. David, it turns out, was (or claimed to be) a supporter of the museum and sold some of his art in that cause. However I had no interest in his art (it was the usual game and tribal art) and bought nothing, although I had a nice and lengthy chat with him. He told me that the train on the far track went to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, and that this, and a local passenger train to Nanuke in the area of Mount Kenya, and five daily commuter trains in the Nairobi area were the only passenger trains still operating in Kenya. He also explained to me about the “Rift Valley Railway” concession, which apparently is not too popular in Kenya at the present time. He also mentioned that there has been talk for the last several years of rebuilding the rail line to standard gauge, but that nothing has been done on this at present. (I also had read of this in an online news release before I left on our cruise.)
I also spoke with some of the other waiting passengers who were seated around me. One group of twenty-something girls who were teachers going down to the coast for their Easter Break told me that all air flights to Mombasa were sold out and the train was all that was left to get to the coast this weekend. I had forgotten that this was Easter weekend!
Just before six o’clock I went to the booking office and received my compartment assignment for the trip down to Mombasa . I got Compartment “D” in Carriage 1223 on Train A02. Then I went back out to the platform and resumed conversation with the others. Finally, some time about 6:15 our train backed into the platform. I asked one of the teachers to take my picture by the train, and then, at 6:30, I boarded my carriage and sought out my compartment. I must say right now that this train was much longer than the train I had ridden up to Nairobi; I counted 27 cars altogether!
It did not take me very long to settle in to Compartment “D,” which was every bit as battered and run down as had been my compartment on the up trip. Before long a lady and her young son came into the compartment next to mine (Compartment “C”). The woman was a black African, and gave an impression of being well educated. Her son was curious and kept peeking around the door into my compartment; perhaps he did not see that many white people up close. Before long I struck up a conversation with the woman and was amazed at what I learned. Her name was Pauline Kivila and her son’s name was Arthur. She had attended Cal State Fullerton, graduating in 1997 (the year I began teaching there) and after some reminiscing she recalled having me for World Civilisation in her last semester!!! (Some CSUF students who don’t like history have been known to put off taking World Civ until the very last moment they could.) I have often wondered if, in an environment outside of the university itself, I would ever run into anyone who had had me as a teacher, but who would have thought that this would happen in a place as far away from Fullerton as Nairobi, Kenya? At any rate, with this commonality we soon became chatty acquaintances. She told me that she had worked for Price Waterhouse after graduation, and had married another Kenyan working in the States, but in 2000 he had demanded that they return to Kenya and start a family. At first she didn’t wish to do so, but she has gotten used to it and now has become involved in politics. Pauline went on to tell me that she was headed to Mombasa to celebrate Easter Break with her husband and Arthur, but that all of the flights were full when she tried to make travel plans. She said that she was forced to take the train as an unwelcome second choice, and she didn’t like it at all. We continued to chat right up until the train left—on time at 7 o’clock.
Shortly after we departed from Nairobi—and it was too dark outside to see much through the train windows—I went to the early seating of dinner. Remembering how bad it had been on the up trip, I was surprised that the dinner—essentially the same menu as before—was in fact better this time. I looked at the silverware and was very surprised and pleased to find one fork marked with the original “Uganda Railway” logo (surmounted by the crown) which dated back to before 1926, and another carrying the “Kenya & Uganda Railway” logo and crown from before 1940. As the diner filled up I had to share a table with a white woman and her two young children; they were Britons traveling to the coast to go to the beach. We talked a little bit, but without the enthusiasm and candor that I had had with Don Lowe on the up trip or with Pauline either, for that matter.
I retired fairly early to my compartment and settled in for the night. This time I decided to sleep with my head against the window facing the compartment door into the corridor. I kept the door open as long as I could but the train manager on this run asked me to close my door fairly early. Needless to say, this meant that my compartment was rather warm. While I was sitting there thinking about this rail journey so unlike others I have taken, I came up with an interesting thought. Is this train and its deficiencies just the result of the decline of what once was, or could it be considered more as a parody of rail travel? With that deep thought pondering in my tired brain, I drifted off to sleep.
Eighty-second Day (Saturday, April 12, 2009)-- Considering that I slept sitting up all night I slept pretty well and woke up feeling reasonably refreshed at 6:40 am as our train pulled into the station at Voi, which is the junction of the connecting line which runs south into Tanzania. In the days of the old East African Railways, which had operated all of the rail lines in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Kenya, and Uganda, this was an important junction, but now it seemed to be rather unused, although the rails heading toward Tanzania were still in place. There also was lots of evidence of the former operation of steam locomotives still in place here. A steam shed (we would call it a roundhouse in the US, even though it was rectangular and without a turntable), several water tanks, and water “plugs” (the spouts from which the water was loaded into tenders and tanks) still existed, and looked usable—I suspect that when the preserved steam locomotives are used this facility still gets some usage.
At Voi there was still little evidence of overgrazing such as I had seen on the up trip, but as we headed southeast toward the coast the problem of overgrazing became more evident. In some areas the highway between Nairobi and Mombasa closely parallels the railway, and it became readily apparent why the railway is less busy now than it was even in the 1980s. Most of the containers (and Mombasa appears to be a busy container shipping port) now are carried by truck rather than rail. As this became apparent I became depressed. It troubles me that the rest of the world has learned NOTHING from the stupid mistakes America has made about surrendering our rail system in favour of expensive and polluting trucks on congested highways. Oh, damn!
After breakfast was called (I still didn’t go) I spoke with a train guard who told me that we would not be arriving in Mombasa until “around noon.” We were running some three hours late even though we had left Nairobi on time. Is this any way to run a railroad? By this time, as much as I like rail travel and you all know that I DO LOVE TRAINS AND TRAIN TRAVEL, I was ready for a tasty meal and a shower.
In the notebook I brought with me on this trip I jotted notes and commentaries about the little station-villages through which we passed, briefly stopping at some and just running through others. Some of these stations seemed to be essentially abandoned; others remained the focal point of a small village. At one station, Samburu I believe, in the brief stop our train made I could hear children singing in the background. At first I thought it might be an Easter Sunday service, but then I realized that I was off by one day, so perhaps it was young ones practicing for tomorrow’s service. At any rate, it was a nice sound to hear. As we came closer to the coast we began to see palm trees, but the land was still very dry and overgrazed. I spoke again with Pauline, listening with real interest to her description of her efforts to enter into the politics of Kenya. She was running for a seat in Parliament, but found it difficult because many Kenyans retain the traditional view of women as fit only for motherhood. Her desire to break this cultural barrier arose from her long stay in the United States when she went to college at Cal State Fullerton. Perhaps our students are making or will make a difference in the wide world!
As our train came closer to the coast the humidity in the air rose by at least 60 percent, making the train less comfortable because of course there is no air conditioning. As we came closer to Mombasa I noticed another change, one that was not very pleasant. All along the line I have seen children standing and watching our train as it passed by, often waving at us, and I assume returning the waves of people at windows on the train. Now, however, with discomfiting regularity, we saw children begging as the train went by. They would stand or run alongside the train as it moved, holding up their hands and shouting “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!” Clearly they were begging for food or money, and just as clearly they were doing this because passengers on previous trains had responded by throwing things out the windows. Indeed, as I watched out the window in my compartment (I was still snapping pictures upon occasion), I saw that someone in a coach closer to the front of the train was throwing something out the window, and the children would rush to go after whatever it was regardless of their safety as the train passed by. I took pictures of villages and village people as our train passed by, but I tried to avoid photographing people who were begging.
The last point of interest to me as the train approached Mombasa was the loop built to climb up the Mazeras Escarpment. I had not known about it on the up trip because it had been dark when we climbed up and around it, but I had learned of it at the railway museum and now got to see it up close as we circled down and around it. It was a narrow gauge replication of the famous Tehachapi Loop back home in California, and it was of real interest to me. I took as many pictures as I could as our long train came down the grade, swung around the loop and burrowed through the tunnel which went underneath the tracks overhead. When we came through the tunnel on the other side of this small hill, we could see the outskirts of Mombasa in the distance.
At long last (it was about 11:45 am) our train arrived at Mombasa. I gathered my two tote bags and got off, but took a few last pictures before going out to the front of the station to find a taxi. I endured one last drive through the streets of Mombasa and finally arrived at the dockside where the mighty Rotterdam loomed. I was very happy to see the ship, and its “Welcome Home” sign posted over the gangway held real meaning for me. My Kenyan railway adventure on the “Lunatic Line” (as it had been named by one British pundit angered by its original cost to construct) was interesting but tiring. I had spent a total of 33 hours on the train to get three hours at the museum, but it was worth it for the intimate glimpse the train trip gave me of both the good and bad sides of Kenya. It was not the most efficient use of my time perhaps, but the railway offered me a look at Africa that I otherwise would not have seen, and so I am VERY GLAD that I did it!
When I arrived back aboard the ship I found that Squeekie had not returned from her day trip around Mombasa, so I went up to the Lido, had a dish of ice cream, and then went to the cabin to take a shower. By the time I was finished cleaning up, Squeekie had returned, and we spent a lot of time sharing with each other the adventures we had enjoyed. We lunched together in the Lido and then went out on the dock for a bit of shopping among the vendors selling their craft wares. Later in the afternoon we stood together on the forward Deck Six and took pictures as Captain Olav expertly turned Rotterdam 180 degrees and headed through the harbour and out to sea. Afterward, at dinner, we shared our respective adventures with our Canadian friends Don and Iris. Our first visit to Africa had been very exciting, and more was to come!