Steel Safari

Kenya Time – on the Jambo Express DeLux

Nairobi to Mombasa by train

A hollow whistle, a sigh, clank, wheeze, creak, squeak, clack, squeak, clackety-clack and the train finally groans back into life. It is 4.43am on the blackest night imaginable somewhere in the middle of the African bush, between Nairobi and Mombasa. At about 10.30pm, less than 4hrs after leaving Nairobi and well under a third of the way into our extremely leisurely journey, we came to a total standstill behind a derailed freight train. The party mood on board is forgiving. A couple got off and went up to watch the activity at the crash site, getting locked off the train by their well-oiled cabin mates, ending up prowling the windows begging to be let back on. Most people are happy because it means we will be travelling through Tsavo National Park in daylight offering far better chances of spotting wildlife. It is hard to imagine the same reaction back in Britain where impatient commuters demand refunds if the trains are 10 minutes overdue.

I wish I could post this now, but of course, even my mobile dongle is way out of reach of any server. Instead, there is just the glow of the keyboard, the infinity of the African night sky, and clack of the train wheels to rock me to sleep for what little remains of the night in my first class sleeper on the Jambo Express Delux.


Update. It’s now 11.30am and we are in the middle of the Tsavo National Park, vast acreage of red dust and grey scrub with tiny glimmerings of vivid green shoots, the instant results of the first rains in nearly three years. Wildlife count so far – one large indeterminate bird, one dead zebra and three live ones, but I have hopes. The train captain has just been round to say we will make it to the Mombasa area by 4pm (we were due in at 8.30am) but when I say area, I don’t mean station – we are ending our journey at Mazeras on the outskirts of the city as, apparently “a second train has capsized, and this time it is more serious.” Two derailments in one night on one line is quite a track record.




  1. Hi Melissa

    Great post! I found my Safaricom dongle worked pretty well all over the country, especially along the Nairobi–Mombasa route, though I failed abysmally to keep my blogs up-to-date all the same! I would guess the derailments are possibly to do with heavy rain eroding the track?

    Good luck, safe travels and safari njema!


    PS Do have a coffee at the Jahazi Coffee House along Ndia Kuu, in the Old Town near Fort Jesus.

  2. sorry, about that sometimes it happens. i take train down every year and this has never happened to me (i pray it doesn’t)

  3. No need to apologise. For me, it meant I got some great photos and saw things I would never have seen in the dark. I just feel sorry for the drivers of the trains. I read somewhere else since posting this that Kenya averages 8 derailments month across the country…

  4. Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the great work.

  5. Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the great work.

  6. Highly energetic blog, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

  7. Hi there, I read your blogs on a regular basis. Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up!

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