Probably one of Africa’s most dense travel experiences, the Cuamba/Nampula train departs in each direction at 5 am on alternate days, but life starts to manifest itself around the machine between 3 and 4 am, with people walking in the darkness back and forth along the train in search of a seat. First and second classes are usually unavailable, so third class is the way to go. People, have a seat, no social stratification here.
Later, sunrise will unveil a crowd of silent faces, some sleeping, some eating, all patiently waiting for departure. Sunrise is when the machine becomes a tangle of human lives.
Since passengers largely outnumber the wooden seats, people optimize the available space with placid determination. Bags, firewood, chickens, bodies over bodies, nobody complains, and nobody will for the rest of the ride, which takes between 10 and 11 hours, sometimes much longer.
One might think that the main raison d’etre of the train line is to allow trackside vendors and passengers to exchange their wares. Many merchants ride the train just to buy produce along the way and then sell it at a profit on the coast. The train stops often and there are always throngs of people selling fresh produce, surrounding the train as soon as it stops. What is amazing is that the train crosses one of the poorest areas of the country, so you won’t see a single town. You will see craggy mesas, dry bushlands, termites’ nests, baobab trees, and people. Crowds of people coming out of nowhere, to sell things and witness the fact that their land is alive.
The Cuamba/Nampula train
Travelling from Cuamba to Nampula by train, crossing one of the poorest areas of Mozambique. This was one of the numerous stops the train made along the way. As at every stop the train would make - always apparently in the middle of nowhere - throngs of people would instantly appear from the bush, surrounding the train to sell fresh produce and other goods.