Chitipa to Blantyre
21.01.2007 - 22.01.2007
21st January 2007
We were woken and pulled out of bed early on Sunday morning. The taxi driver (who I had helped get un-stuck the day before, halfway between Mbeya and Chitipa), made us get our shit together and jump on the back of his truck.
Being used to delayed transport which only leaves when it’s full, really full, I wondered around taking early morning shots of pigs and humorous signs.
The driver got impatient and told me he was leaving right away, much to my delight, as I had a far way to go and didn’t want to repeat the previous day’s experience. The girl had disappeared and we spent 20 minutes driving around town looking for her. We couldn’t just leave without her since her luggage was already on the back, packed deep under the cargo. We left anyway. It was a miracle we made it to Kalonga, 150km away on a seriously muddy track. The vehicles coming in the opposite direction all got hopelessly stuck in the mud. On arrival at the busy taxi rank, I found some Malawian food. It was Sunday morning, so I had to settle for stale scones, Maheu and several cheap and nasty MSG covered packets of maize crisps. Maheu is a delicious maize drink that resembles yoghurt but tastes nothing like it. The milk and honey flavor was my favorite.
My plan was to catch the large passenger steamboat knows as the Illala, which chugs up and down Lake Malawi, once per week in each direction, between Monkey Bay in the south and Chilumba in the north, stopping at about a dozen lakeside towns and villages. Although many travellers rate the journey as the highlight of their trip, the occasional nasty storms ruin the experience. I was currently enduring the occasional nasty storm, which wasn’t planning on going anywhere soon. While on the back of an open truck, after speaking to Lunga, a local school boy, I decided to go to Livingstonia, which the LP describes as ‘a small piece of Scotland in the heart of Africa, quiet and restful, an ideal place to recover from hard travel or the rigors of beach life’. This was exactly what the doctor ordered!
He said it would be easy to get up and we wouldn’t have to pay. I had an interesting chat with Lunga about religion, Malawi, bicycles and Africa. He was very religious and believed it was a way out of poverty.
He wasn’t surprised when I told him that Malawi had the world’s 2nd highest disparity between rich and poor, and that the poor live on less than a dollar a day. To escape the heat, we sat under a giant tree and played my Rwandan drum. Nearby was the best African bicycle taxi I had ever seen. I begged Lunga to ask its owner the price and if he could buy it (I didn’t want to get involved, preferring to find out the real price, not Mzungu price). It was dirt cheap – about $40. I wanted it badly. It wasn’t for sale.
After waiting too long for a lift up the mountain, I saw a big bus stop at the security checkpoint on the main road, and flagged them down to go south. The alternative was a 25km walk up the steep mountain, not a realistic proposition considering what I was carrying. Apparently local children offer to carry your pack for $2. I needed more than ‘local children’ to accomplish that!
Coachline was Malawi’s only respectable bus company, and offered a luxury nonstop service with air-con, toilet, snacks, steward service and good drivers! I didn’t have enough Malawian Kwacha to get further than Mzuzu, and didn’t particularly fancy the idea of staying in the sleepy city. I begged the driver to wait for me while I chartered a minibus taxi to the bank and back. I withdrew MK 100,000 (about $200) as I was sick of running out of local currency, and fewer people took dollars than I was led to believe. I met a French couple on bright yellow mountain bikes, travelling through Malawi, who told me that it had been raining without a break for the past week. Despite that, I still wanted a bike, and asked the taxi driver to find me one, showing him the giant wad of dough that was bulging from my wallet. It was Sunday and he couldn’t help me out. So I went to the local grocery store instead, stocking up on stale white bread, small cute jars of local peanut butter and honey, and my favorite milk and honey Maheu. The bus was going all the way to Lilongwe, another 15 hours, so I bought some samoosas, chapattis, water and chocolates for the road. While waiting for the bus to return from filling up, two local girls begged me to take them with me, explaining that they couldn’t find work and how hard life was in Malawi. I told them that my brother already employed a Malawian named Hossan, and that they should look for some celebrities (Madonna) to sponsor them, instead of adopting cute little children as fashion accessories. The views through the giant bus windows were awesome, and I soaked it up in the air conditioned luxury!
The bus journey was fast and efficient, with the exception of the painful indentation in my side caused by the reclining lever in between the seats. I tossed and turned all night, trying in vain to get comfortable. Every stop involved me running outside for a quick cigarette in the rain and a piss in the bush. We arrived in Blantyre at 05:30 and it was still raining. The bus stand was a muddy pool, and I battled to negotiate my way out of there without slipping on my ass (my hiking boots were in Rwanda and my sandals had no tread whatsoever). It was only a few hundred meters to Doogles Camping and Backpackers. I arrived when everyone was sleeping, and took advantage of their internet café to download all my pictures and let the world know I was ‘still alive and kicking’.