The sun, a drowsy orange orb peeking over Mount Kenya, painted the sky in hues of honey and rose as I boarded the Nanyuki train on Sunday morning. It was not your sleek, bullet-train affair but a vintage charmer chugging along at a leisurely 50 kilometres per hour.
During the peak school opening season, it was a steal, at a thousand bob in first-class (four hundred in economy). Even if the charging ports were comatose, the water dispenser thirsted for a mechanic’s touch and the sliding window danced a stubborn tango with its frame. Do not expect any onboard catering on this old-timer, either! So, sort out your meal matters beforehand.
But that was part of its charm. This train was a time machine, transporting me back to a simpler era, where the journey was just as important as the destination. As we rumbled out of Nanyuki at 9 am, the town’s red-tiled roofs and eucalyptus trees shrinking in the rearview mirror, I felt a sense of anticipation bubble in my chest.
The first few kilometres were a blur of rolling plains. Emerald blankets dotted with the occasional zebra, their black and white stripes stark against the canvas. Then, the landscape morphed. Concrete giants willingly surrendered to fields of agricultural produce. Maize, the odd crop and Sunflower. Their golden faces turned towards the sun, a silent army worshipping their fiery deity.
Children, their eyes wide with wonder, pressed their noses against the windows, mesmerised by the changing scenery. Farmers, sun-kissed and calloused, waved from the fields. Like wind chimes, Laughter tinkled through the air, a chorus of shared stories.
The train, a slow-motion kaleidoscope, weaved a tapestry of sights and sounds. Hawkers peddled their wares, their voices a melodic chant. Market stalls, bursting with colourful fruits and vegetables, flashed by like a fever dream. The air thrummed with the rhythm of the tracks, a lullaby that lulled me into a peaceful trance.
As the hours unfolded, the sun climbed higher, painting the sky in a dazzling turquoise. The train rumbled on, a patient tortoise journeying to far-off lands. Each stop, I counted seventeen, was a tiny adventure across six counties and two hundred and thirty-five kilometres. A chance to glimpse into the lives of the people who called this land home.
In Karatina, the aroma of coffee berries mingled with the scent of freshly cut vegetables and fruits. Each bite, a delicious portal into local life. In Thika, vast pineapple plantations, their thorny exterior masking their inner sweetness, slowly go by.
At five o’clock, after seven hours, the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky in fiery hues of orange and purple. Finally reaching its destination, the train pulled into the Nairobi Central Station. Stepping out onto the bustling platform, I felt like I had been on a journey across miles and through time.
The Nanyuki train was slow, but it was a ride worth taking. It was a reminder that sometimes, the most beautiful journeys unfold at the pace of a vintage postcard, with a few quirks and a whole lot of charm. Indeed a journey through the heart of Kenya. Where sunflowers bowed to the sun, zebras grazed on emerald hills, and the slow rhythm of the train tracks lulled you into a world where time seemed to stand still.
As I walked away from the station, the image of the Nanyuki train, a fiery silhouette against the twilight sky, lingered in my mind. It symbolised adventure, slow travel, and the magic that unfolds when you surrender to the pace of the world around you.