Lake Malawi: The Adventure Begins
We left Lusaka at 6:30, tucked into the back of a Toyota truck, hiding from the wind whipping by as we sped along the highway. We were on our way to the “hitching spot,” a lay-by area where we’d be able to pick up the transport that would take us to Chipata, and hopefully speed us on our way to Malawi.
We pulled off the road into the dirt, offloaded our gear, and set about the arduous task of flagging down transport. Hitching in Zambia is often safer than using buses or public transport, not only in the quality of the vehicle but the mental and physical state of the driver (generally sober, not often exhausted, and much more importantly, you can be much more selective in the hitches you take. Key word there is can… Hitching is a hitcher beware situation, and it means using your head, common sense, and making an evaluative call on the quality of the vehicle, the driver’s state, and you’re safety. If you take these into account though, hitching here in African countries can be enjoyable, exciting, and introduce you to a whole new subset of the population.
Our first hitch was a lucky find – two ‘90s era U.S. Imported Freightliners. For those of you who don’t know what they look like, that’s an 18’ wheeler. They were on their way from Namibia, and after some socializing and discussion, they took us to Chipata (six and a half hours) for free. That was pretty awesome, and it saved us a little extra money to spend on our vacation.
What’s spectacular about the big freighliners are the seats – they’re air ride equipped, and are ridiculously comfortable.
We reached the Chipata Peace Corps office, settled in, cooked up some grub, and were unsurprised when the power went out. We had a nice evening of good company and candle lit discussions. Then we were on our way again. Up at 5:30, out the door by six, and on the road. A short taxi ride to the border post, a quick walk, another taxi to the nearest border town and a beat up, bald tired, terrifying mini bus to the capital city. It’d been 4 hours, but we were only getting started. In Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi, we got dropped off at the bus station, and set about deciphering the bus system and finding ourselves a ride. We’d missed the morning buses, and were a bit nervous about taking the afternoon buses (they’d drop us in Mzuzu (an hour and a half away from Nkhata bay after dark). We couldn’t find a direct bus to Nkhata, so we picked the nearest bus and found seats spread out through the bus, then to our surprise they started loading in standing passengers. This is a 55 passenger Marcopolo transit bus, (think greyhound) and they stuffed the isle with another 15 people who were going to stand the six hours to Mzuzu…. Talk about a heck of a ride. Hot, sweaty, baking in a tin can in the African heat, stuffed so full of people, chickens, and luggage it felt like a cargo container. Honestly, another experience that could only be described as uniquely African.
As we rode through the twisting roads, and gorgeous countryside of Malawi we started passing into the remnants of the British Pine plantations. Mile after mile after mile of pine forests at different levels of growth and maintenance. The Malawian government and local enterprise have taken over the old British system and have continued it. The smell of damp mountain air and thick pine forests was almost overwhelming.
We kept winding and twisting through the hills, and finally arrived at Mzuzu – it’d been seven excruciatingly hot and torpid hours. Pack in that many bodies, animals with no air flow and a lot of B.O. and well, let’s just say that we burst forth from the bus like a flood breaking free of a dam.
Despite our best efforts, we’d arrived in Mzuzu after dark, and now were in another bus station, in the dark, in a foreign African country. Keeping our gear tight to our bodies, and doing the wiggle and nervous jitters to deter pick pockets (keep moving constantly to make it harder to slip a hand into something) We identified four shared taxi’s that might be going to Nkhata bay, only to discover, much to our chagrin that Malawi was facing another major fuel shortage – meaning that every pump in the city was dry. Without fuel the taxi’s didn’t want to make the trip… well, that’s not true, they wanted to double the prices. It was a good 45 minutes of arguing to get us a taxi that said he’d take us at just slightly above the normal rate. It wasn’t until we were all packed into the overcrowded minibus that we discovered he might not have enough fuel to make the trip. We went to the fuel station, where he tried to bribe the attendants to sell him some of the fuel, he failed miserably and another hour of arguing and waiting later we were off – he was going to try and make the trip, and see if we got there…
Thankfully, Nkhata is all down hill from Mzuzu, and we coasted most of the way. We pulled in to Nkhata bay an hour and a half later and stumbled exhausted, dehydrated and sweaty into the Hostel, in near pitch black (the power was out), we found our beds, struggled to stay awake as we ordered and waited for our food, and then crawled into our mosquito nets and passed out.
Sunrise @ Nkhata bay:
The next morning we woke up at 4:30, surveyed our surroundings, watched the sunrise (photo above) and promptly checked out – moving to the beautiful, relaxing, and deliciously outfitted Mayoka lodge.
I’ll talk about Mayoka a little later, I thought the story of our transport would be enough of a read!
P.S. I typed this on my Phone – so no judgment!