Press Centre

Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones

  • Episode: 

    1 of 5

  • Title: 

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 10 Apr 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 15 2015 : Sat 04 Apr - Fri 10 Apr
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

“Africa. There’s nowhere else quite like it. A billion people speaking thousands of languages and a paradise of wild animals and natural wonders. I’m going to take it on in an unhurried manner aboard Africa’s railways. It’s the ideal way to meet its people and to experience its beauty.”  Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones explores Africa the unhurried way, as he takes to the continent’s railways to immerse himself in the joy and sometimes the frustration of travelling through a beautiful and beguiling continent, using the most romantic method of transportation. Travelling a total of 7000 miles over five journeys, he explores fascinating landscapes, encounters unforgettable wildlife and meets extraordinary people.
Stunning aerial photography combines with observational travelogue to produce a fresh portrait of Africa through Griff’s experiences on and off the train. On each epic trip across five episodes, he discovers how the railway reveals a great deal about the places he travels through.  Griff uses the train to get to unexpected places in deserts and forests, villages and cities, learning stories of their past and finding out how they are used today.
Griff travels through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, Kenya and Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. He experiences the extraordinary diversity of Africa, on and off the railways, drawing together a rich and entertaining narrative. 
In the first episode, Griff crosses wild terrain in Namibia, southwest Africa.
Griff says: “I’m travelling into a part of the world where the names tell the story.  The land that God built in anger. The Skeleton Coast. The Gates of Hell.  This is Namibia.”
Namibia has the least rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa and is home to what is considered to be the oldest desert in the world.  Griff begins his journey in the far Northern town of Oshikango, where a brand new railway was built just two years ago.   Passengers are still an uncommon occurrence and he is surprised to find he is the only person in his carriage during most of the seven-hour journey.  Fewer than 200 passengers a day use the freight-oriented trains, in the whole of Namibia.  
Griff says: “I’m hoping on this journey that I’ll meet people, although that may not be as easy as it sounds because Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. There are about two million people here and they’re living in an area the size of France and Germany combined.” 
Griff detours to ‘The Great White Place’ in the Etosha National Park, one of Namibia’s main tourist attractions.  Watering holes around the park’s salt ban attract thirsty wildlife, including gazelles, lions and rhinoceroses.  
Griff enjoys some luxury camping before venturing out with an anti-poaching team on rhinoceros patrol, at first light. It’s a serious business due to the risk of confronting armed poachers. 
Patrol leader, Binius Kamerika, has some comforting words for Griff: “If you see any lion approaching, don’t run. If you run then I’m going to shoot you. I’ll leave the lion and I’m going to shoot you. So please do not run.”
They soon track down a mother and baby rhino and Griff is glad he dressed inconspicuously, in the knowledge that they can charge at 30 miles an hour.  
Griff says: “There’s the mother and the baby, just looking at us now.  Still waggling her ears a little bit because she can hear something over here. What an extraordinary privilege to be able to see that. That’s beautiful.” 
The rhino’s horn is worth a cool £100,000, more than its weight in gold. But under the watchful eyes of Binius and his team, the rhinos here have a chance of a long life, protected from poachers.
There are no passenger rail services from Tsumeb, so Griff must hitch a lift on a southbound freight train to his next destination, Otjiwarongo, 120 miles away.  
Otjiwarongo houses vast cattle farms and this is the territory that cheetahs thrive in.  Griff visits the Cheetah Research Centre run by Dr Laurie Marker, which cares for cheetah orphans. He is stunned to discover that the animals can accelerate from a speed of 0 to 60mph in just three seconds.  
Next, Griff departs Usakos by freight train and crosses the Namib Desert. The Namib is 55 million years old and said to be the oldest desert on our planet. It stretches nearly one thousand miles along Namibia’s western coast. 
Griff says: “This is our planet in the raw. Bare, naked, unclothed, shaped by nothing except the wind and seismic movements of the earth’s crust for the last 1000, million years and as such, it looks like nothing on earth.  It looks other worldly, we could be on Mars.”
Griff arrives in one of the most surprising towns in Africa, Swakopmund, which has remained a German town since Namibia was a German colony a hundred years ago.  It is full of German holidaymakers.
After a spot of melon collecting with the indigenous inhabitants of a deadly dry desert, Griff flies into Namibia’s most Southerly port, Luderitz. Here he embarks on the final leg of this section of his African journey. For the last 16 years, it has been cut off from the rail networks after desert sands swallowed the existing tracks.  Griff is invited to test out a brand new section of tracks, which will reconnect the town and turn it into a major centre for import and export.
Fishing became central to Luderitz’s economy in the early 1900s and the area’s cold water current from the Antarctic helps produce 13 million oysters a year. After seeing the bay for himself, Griff is keen to sample its delights.  
He is also tempted to go in search of diamonds nearby, but the risk of being shot is enough to keep him away. He explains: “Luderitz is right on the edge of the forbidden area. Well the restricted area. You are simply not allowed to wander into it and the reason is, there are diamonds there. This area, it’s the size of Wales. No, I’m not kidding, it really is the size of Wales.”