|Rhodes straddling Africa|
At the end of the nineteenth century, Cecil John Rhodes envisaged a solid block of British territory running from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt and linked by a railway line – the Cape to Cairo railway. Of course, the dream never became reality, and now much more serious problems than a plethora of different railway gauges beset a concept that would require a route through nine or ten independent countries. Still, it is possible to travel a long way by rail if you’re willing to put up with corrupt border posts and warm to middling hostilities between the countries along the way. Wikipedia claims that only the section across Sudan is missing. Perhaps one needs to switch to Camel Gauge for that part of the route.
|The proposed line and colonies|
I’ve done the section from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls by rail through Botswana, and that is now a regular tourist route. There is even a very high class tourist train which undertakes that journey, but then it turns around and comes back. My only experience on more northern African trains was in the early sixties.
After a particularly disturbing period in South Africa, my parents decided to emigrate and, unwilling to leave Africa immediately (we eventually ended in Australia but that’s another story), my father accepted the headship of the mathematics department of the University of East Africa at Nairobi. We moved there in 1960 just after Kenya’s independence from Britain, and lived there until 1964. During that time my mother and I explored the wonderful wildlife areas of East Africa in her long wheel base series II Land Rover -christened Brontosaurus - while my father proved mathematical theorems.
|My mother, Teda, with Bronto|
It was not encouraging. The roads along the lake – not highways at the best of times – had deteriorated into swamps. We would need to backtrack a long way and then head through the center of the country to try to get through. Eventually another plan was suggested. There was a goods train that ran through the town and would travel the whole way up the lake and across to Mwanza on Lake Victoria. There we would be on the doorstep of the Serengeti and out of the mud.
I’m sure that nowadays a variety of regulations ranging from safety and health issues to red-tape formalities requiring multiple costly signatures would prevent such an adventure. Then, a few calls from the hotel manager to the station master and the next day the Land Rover was nicely settled on a flatbed truck and we were off.
It was three days and two nights before we reached Mwanza. And this was only a goods train so we had to ride in the vehicle. Our view was from the Land Rover windows as we headed north through the sodden landscape, the lake unfortunately out of sight. Luckily we were prepared for camping with food and a bed which spread across the back of the vehicle, but when the train stopped at a station, there would be a rush to the toilets. The train driver knew about us, and waited till the station master waved the all-clear when we were back aboard. Until the last morning. Unbeknownst to us, the driver had changed overnight and the new driver was not aware of his unusual cargo. At the first station in the morning, we emerged from the facilities relieved, only to watch the train and our vehicle pulling out of the station. Only the quick thinking of the station master in switching the signals saved the day.
When we reached Mwanza, we checked into the Victoria Hotel and enjoyed baths and cooked food before continuing the trip in a more conventional way.
And Bronto? After that her tires didn’t leave the road again until she sailed for Australia…
Michael - Thursday.