Train to BulawayoDecember 28, 2019 in Zimbabwe ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C
We're leaving Victoria Falls today, heading to the old colonial town of Bulawayo. To get there, we opt for the overnight train.
At the train station, there's a bit of confusion, as we are quoted 90 dollars each. We were expecting it to be 10 dollars each, so we are shocked. Unfortunately, we're locked into this plan now, and we rush around to source some extra dollars. With a grimace, we reluctantly hand over 180 USD. The ticket officer peels off 20 bucks. It turns out the ticket price was in Zimbabwean Dollars (the so-called Bond Notes), and the rate is about 9:1. Since Vic Falls is a tourist town, we haven't had to use Zimbabwean Dollars yet.
So we turn to our next task: finding Zim Dollars. These are difficult to come by. Since the catastrophic inflation under the Mugabe years, the Zimbabwean government has issued a new currency, which is very tightly controlled. In order to avoid inflation, the government simply doesn't print enough money. It is also impossible to draw money with a foreign bank card. I assume that this is because it is not an internationally recognised currency.
We ask our regular taxi driver, Clifford, where we can get some, and it turns out that he knows someone who can change the money. We like Clifford, but given the scarcity of moeny, we're worried that we're going to get ripped off on the exchange rate, as we have been at all the border crossing so far. Our concerns weren't justified though, as his brother gives us an extremely generous 16:1 conversion. 50 USD gets us 800 Zim Dollars. a new problem: Zimbabwean money only comes in 2 and 5 Dollar notes. This means we end up with a huge stack of notes.
After stocking up on water and snacks at the supermarket (where we see someone buy 100 packs of peanuts and nothing else), we head for the train. The carriages are decked out with Rhodesian Railway logos. This was the old colonial railway company, which existed until 1980. It seems that the rest of the train hasn't been updated in the last 40 years, either.
We settle into our sleeping cabin, and prepare for the journey. It's scheduled to take 12 hours, bringing us into Bulawayo at 7am. As we depart Vic Falls, we see elephants grazing in the bush near the railway tracks. We crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately, after the sun sets, we discover that there is no electricity on the train. This means no lights, and no fan. And it's very hot.
After splittling a bottle of wine, we sleep well enough, and wake up the next morning before 7. 7 comes and goes, but we're stilling pressing on. The hours fly by, and we still don't arrive into Bulawayo. We tuck into our snacks at lunchtime and patiently wait for the train to arrive. Finally, at 6pm, we pull into Bulawayo station, 11 hours behind schedule. At least our Zambian train ride had prepared us for that.
In the evening, we head to the Bulawayo Club for tea. It's an old colonial club that now, since the fall of the colonial regime, allows guests. It's a strange place- all mahogany wood panels, big fireplaces, hunting trophies and betting books that go back over a century. And it's completely empty. We have the place to ourselves and have quite a nice tea. Given that this is Zimbabwe, a fancy meal at this very fancy place cost us less than a tenner. It's surreal.Read more