We made the effort 6 years ago to take the train from Dakar to Bamako. But when we arrived at the station a few hours before its intended departure, we were told that it would arrive maybe 2, 3, 4 days later. Alternatively, there was a 28 hour bus ride and clearly our only option.
We were a bit more optimistic this time when other travelers were also attempting to make the same 12 hour train trip headed towards the Malawi border. Arriving just in time to buy tickets for the following morning, I was told that 2nd class was sold out and that only 3rd class/economy was available. Having never taken the train, I returned with tickets and Marc shaking his head saying that we were better off taking a bus.
I bit my lip the following morning and hoped that getting there an hour earlier would ensure a seat, but it seemed like people had camped out all night rock concert ticket style. I held tight to Alex’s hand and used my backpack to shove our way onto one of the first cars, but the people and bags were so tightly packed already, we could barely find space between the two cars. We knew this was not going to work so we disembarked and headed to try our luck in the supposedly sold out 2nd class. Peering into the cars, we spotted the British couple (Rob and Pauline) we met in Ilha de Mozambique also making the same journey. (We would eventually catch up with them again later in our travels!) Their cabin looked nearly empty! I decided to approach a train conductor and told him that we intended on buying 2nd class tickets, but bought 3rd class ones (mistakenly, oops) and were willing to pay the difference. He gave the okay to find seats there and that the ticket officer would work out the difference. We were saved.
Deliriously happy for a 5am departure
Ample room for sitting, a large window, and storage above for our bags – what a relief.
Settled into our space, I decided to check out the dining car. What was once reserved for customers wanting to have a meal during the trip was packed with more passengers and their baggage. I slithered past the smokers and found the counter to place my order for breakfast. I wasn’t sure how I’d make my way back carrying coffee and egg sandwiches but that was easily solved by the fact that they delivered the orders to the passengers in our car. I opened the door for the server to find coffee and sandwiches in ceramic cups and plates!
The train had definitely seen better days and despite its high ridership maintenance was not a priority.
On my way to the dining car
The loo with a view of the train tracks through the seat
Every stop was also a chance for passengers to have the market come to them. Fresh bread, oranges, carrots, bananas and sugar cane were all for sale in bulk.
Villages dotted the green between the gorgeous mountains and the train tracks. Both provided stunning views along the way.
By 2pm, a snooze on a couchette
Our first trip on a train in Africa and completely worth it!