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Pole to Pole

Day 119: Victoria Falls to Bulawayo

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe train rolls in an hour late but is worth the wait. The coaches are in a dignified, rather unfashionable livery of brown and cream and the interlinked initials 'RR' - Rhodesian Railways - can be found engraved on the windows and mirrors of the older coaches, whose dark, mahogany-panelled compartments contain display photos of wildlife, the Victoria Falls and other Zimbabwean attractions. The past has been assiduously preserved here, in marked contrast to Zambia, where not even the present is well preserved.

The difference between the two countries is much on the mind of Elizabeth, a chatty Zimbabwean who quite unselfconsciously applies a squirt of underarm deodorant as she chats to myself and Angela and a very obliging Zambian.

'Zambians are . . .' she searches for the word, '. . . so humble. Maybe it is because of their poverty.'

The Zambian gentleman smiles benevolently, displaying patience rather than humility.

A few minutes after leaving, a guard comes by to check I have everything I need.

'Where are you from, sir?' he asks.

'London.'

He points to his tie.

'Do you have a badge? I will put it on my tie.'

I apologize for not having a badge, whereupon he smiles broadly, crosses himself and leaves. No sooner do I have my map out to check the route than the door slides open once again and an attendant appears with a litter bag. This country has a most un-African obsession with tidiness. On my way down the corridor to the restaurant there is an instruction from Railways of Zimbabwe urging us, with graphic underlining, not to 'Expectorate in Corridors'.

Darkness has fallen by the time we reach Hwange, or Wankie as it used to be called. There is a large coalfield here, and perhaps because of this a number of steam locomotives - Beyer-Garratt compounds, burning seven tons of coal a day - are still working, and the sight and sound of them under the night sky brings a lump to this old train-spotter's throat.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 119
  • Country/sea: Zimbabwe
  • Place: Hwange
  • Book page no: 265

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