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Nairobi Railway Museum

October 8, 2010

I felt I didn’t do this place justice last time I mentioned it, in passing so to speak. So a quick entry all about the wonderful Nairobi Railway Museum. It’s tucked away behind the station proper and a university, down a dusty road so long you think you’ve gone wrong. But finally you get there, after an askari has taken your car reg down, and find it is housed in the old railway station house which is just a perfect size to wheel a baby around. There are two fantastically enthusiastic young men on the door who took our 200Ksh (about £1.30) and immediately proffered a box of what I thought was some old teeth at first. Yuck! But it turns out they were lion’s claws, and not just any old lions, oh no! But the Man Eating Lions of Tsavo! Oh Yes!

More of them later. The museum celebrates and tells the tale of the history of railways in Kenya, most specifically the Kerala – Mombasa line which was built by them mad Victorians. And it really was an awesome undertaking, stretching from Uganda through Kenya all the way to the coast. It has all sorts of artefacts, including the chairs the Queen and King sat on in the 1950’s and presumably preserved ever since. Plus lots of mechanical toys like ticket machines and lamps and signal boxes which were super ace for Alfie to play with. And some amazing photos of course, my favourite being of the special attachment they built to go on the front of an engine, a sort of bench affair thing, with 3 white hunters in full safari attire sitting on it, commissioned I think for some Prince of Wales to sit on and admire the scenery as they sped (slowly) through the Masai Mara and other game hunting hot spots. What a way to travel!

But by far the most fabulous thing is the goods yard outside, where they have a dozen or so engines plus assorted carriages and Pullmans all in varying states of restoration. And you have free rein to climb in and out and all around these wonderful beasts. Did I mention they are all STEAM engines? A true train spotters paradise. And of course Alfie and I did our best though carrying a baby up and down those steep, narrow ladders wasn’t ideal. (We did stop under a shady tree for a snack though which to him was just as much fun).

And of course there is the carriage from which an English captain was dragged by those Man Eating Lions of Tsavo. During the building of the tracks (in Tsavo, now a national park) lots of the poor Indian workers kept disappearing and rumours of lions were dismissed by the English managers. Until the English managers started to become Simba’s favourite snack too, of course. Much was made of it and rewards promised so this daring Captain set himself up to shoot the lioness(ess) with his rifle. Only he fell asleep and promptly karked it. Anyhow, very unusual for lions to attack men so they must have been hungry. I can’t help thinking of it like tinned food for them; lots of meat inside some metal tins and of course once they got a taste, who can blame them for continuing? I think the whole thing was made into a film or two, starring Clint Eastwood or someone. So quite a story and we saw the claws and the carriage and everything!

And the last thing to mention was the phenomenal singing coming from an evangelical church next door. Really quite haunting and fantastic voices, so much so I was convinced it was a recording at first. It went on all afternoon and was lovely. Much to recommend this place for a visit!

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