Up at the crack of dawn, checked out of the hotel, and grabbed a cab to the train station. Picked up Jordan along the way, and we were there at about 5:15am for the 7am train. We’d been sternly warned that we had to be there two hours in advance…which turned out to be quite a joke. A picture of the station, waiting to get inside. Unfortunately poor quality because of the lighting, but enough to get the idea:
A shot of the ticket window, courtesy of Jordan. He got much better pictures than I did of several parts of the train ride, and several of the pictures in this post were taken by him.
As the sun started to rise while we waited, a picture looking back onto the town from the front of the station:
…and the vendors were out in full force, selling food for the journey. Bottled water, bread, fruit, cookies, and gum seemed to be the most common items for sale.
Soon it was 6:15, and finally time to Board. A quick passport/ID check inside the station, and we found the car that would be our home for approximately the next 13 hours – Car #111 in First Class:
On the inside: It turned out to be nice and roomy, and at no point was the car more than about 25% full. The best part? There were two sets of seats in the middle that had power outlets, to keep the iDevices happy and charged for the journey. Add that to the fact that the car was air conditioned and it looked to be a pretty comfortable ride ahead, even though it was going to be 13 hours.
From our seats, we could see the tariff board posted. The train was about $55 in First Class, while flying would have been somewhere around $80. Travel time of 45 minutes versus 13 hours. So why in the world did we take the train? For the experience, and to see a bit of rural Congo. It would be the only chance to get a feel for what the countryside was like, and potentially interact with some local people. Plus, how many people can say they’ve taken a train across Congo!
Right at 7am sharp to the minute, we pulled out of the station:
Early in the day, pulling through a small town.
About two hours into the trip, I got a little bored with the scenery and started watching Season 1 of Homeland on my iPad. Before the journey would end, I’d finish the entire first season, and get a couple of episodes into the second season. Around 10am I started getting hungry, so began munching on the double chocolate chip cookies I’d brought with. I told myself there were 8, and I’d allow myself one an hour…but by around noon I was getting hungry for some real food.
Only problem was…the dining car was already completely out of food! All that was left was alcohol, and the rest of the train was beginning to consume it in some pretty serious quantity. The dining car was about four cars away, and it gave me a chance to check how full the rest of the train was. I’d say 2nd class was around 50% full, so either today was unusually light, or this route isn’t all that popular.
Early in the day, we pulled into Bouansa station…a small station where nobody seemed to get on or off:
Somewhere in the mid-afternoon we ran into a character on the train. Jordan met him first, but I had the pleasure of a long chat with him later. Not sure if it was because he was more comfortable in French or not, but he was a character. His name was something like Reggie, and he had a long story about how he’d gone to Pointe Noire for oil work, but traveled all over Brazzaville, Ghana, and Nigeria with friends and relatives. He wanted to go to Canada, and had all sorts of questions about immigration. Honestly, he didn’t likely stand a chance, but I wasn’t going to burst his bubble. I just gave him generic advice about how to make a stronger immigration application, and finally he left me alone.
In the late afternoon we pulled into Dolisie, which looked to be about 3 hours from the end. The problem? We sat. And sat. After about 90 minutes I started asking around what was up, and finally learned that trains were single-tracked all the way to Pointe Noire, and we had to wait for the train coming the other direction to pass. UGH.
3 hours later, in darkness, we finally left Dolisie, and got into Pointe Noire somewhere around 2am, 5 hours later than expected, and nearly 19 hours after departing Brazzaville. I was starved. 8 chocolate chip cookies and 3 cans of beer isn’t an ideal diet. Fortunately, my hotel was a quick five minute walk from the station, and when I got there…no food. Room service was closed overnight. Went to bed hungry, and ready to explore Pointe Noire the next day!
So would I take the train again? Probably. It was a unique experience that I’ll definitely remember from my travels, and was cool to do something really unique. I’ll admit by the end I was pretty annoyed with things and wondering why we hadn’t flown, but in retrospect (as many great travel experiences are) it was well worth the day we invested in doing it.
I greatly enjoyed this post. I’m a Canadian entrepreneur exploring the possibility of doing business in Pointe Noire Congo. I would be thrilled to communicate more with you to gain perspective of what it’s like in Congo