A look back at my trip on the Lunatic Express

Kenya’s Lunatic Express got its name from its notorious expense and the high death rates of the largely South Asian workforce that built it at the turn of the last century. But the main thing that was insane about the railway when I rode it in 2010 — and I suspect little has changed — is the absurdly long time it took to transport me from the coast of Kenya to Nairobi: some 14 hours for a trip that could be made by road, in good conditions, in about six.

Why rush though? My overnight journey on the clattering train was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my many trips to Kenya. Waking up in a cheap sleeping compartment and watching giraffes watch you from an expanse of parched savannah was otherworldly. Those 14 hours were some of the most peaceful I’ve had in a long time.

I reported a story on the trip for the Global Post, though they seem to have taken down the (awesome) audio slide show I did for them. Good thing I still have the recording of the interview of a curator of the Nairobi Railway Museum. Have a listen.


With news that a significant portion of the new coast-to-capital railway will supposedly be finished by 2017 — and I must stress the supposedly part here, given the disappointing pace of recent Kenyan infrastructure improvements — it seemed like a good opportunity to resurrect a few photos of my trip.

Fort Jesus cannon, Mombasa.
Laborer, Mombasa train station.
Mombasa station.
Troubadour, Mombasa train station.
Deserted station houses, dawn.
Morning breaks west of Tsavo National Park.
Dining car detail.
Lonely house.
Shambas on the way.
Near Nairobi.
Nairobi shantytown.

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Originally published at eamonka.com on June 23, 2016.