It has been an almost surreal last couple of days.
We left Harare, Zimbabwe for Malawi, and it feels as if we have entered a time warp. Our route took us across the borders of first Mozambique and then Malawi - both in the same day. In the process we have crossed back into the "Africa" that we visited 10 years ago.
What I mean is that we've entered into a place of poor infrastructure. The road quality has deteriorated, transport is more sparse and therefore more crowded and also more difficult. Also, there is more bureaucracy, i.e. more "red tape".
It took us 13 hours on the bus to go from Harare, Zimbabwe to Blantyre, Malawi, a distance of only 375 miles! Take a look at our maps. That's an average of less than 29 miles per hour.
The first 3 border crossings went fairly smoothly, but the 4th, into Malawi, was interminable. The border guards decided to search the bags of everyone on the bus. This was being done to make sure that all of the people who were bringing in merchandise for resale were paying the required taxes. This meant that everything on our incredibly overloaded bus would have to be unloaded. Check out this photo of how much stuff was on the bus.
It was at this point that we decided to grab our very full Eagle Creek Independent Journey backpacks and abandon the bus. So we marched over the border and were able to get passage on the last microbus of the day going to Blantyre. We finally arrived at our hotel after 8:30 pm, hungry and tired.
The next day was no better. We started out at 9:00am to find a bus to take us the 164 miles to Monkey Bay and from there on to Cape McClear. We were told it could take as long as 5 hours because the buses stopped so often to pick up passengers.
We finally found ourselves a nice bus that left at 10:30am. After about 45 minutes of uneventful riding, we heard a loud bang which turned out to be a tire blowout. But no problem, the bus was jacked up, the spare put on and off we went. Until about an hour later when we had a second blowout! At this point the driver decided to abandon the trip and refunded 50% of our money, since we had completed about 50% of the trip.
Now came the really fun part. We're stuck on the side of the round trying to flag down a ride. Very soon a van came along that took us to the fork in the road that went toward Monkey Bay. After waiting about another hour, a very crowded minibus stopped and picked us up. After squishing our backpacks, daysacks and bodies into the van, we were off. After more stops, we finally reached the city of Mangochi where we switched to an older, more beat up minibus with even more people in it. After even more stops, we got, you guessed it, another flat tire! Three in one day is a record for us! Finally, after 7 hours on the road, we reached Monkey Bay which was only 164 miles from where we started. That's an average of only 23 miles per hour and we weren't even at our final destination!
The next morning we decided we really wanted to get to Cape McClear early, so we hitched a ride to the town center from our hotel and paid a pickup truck driver $10.00 to leave with the passengers he already had and let us sit in the front seat with him. In countries where there is not a lot of public transport, ordinary people with pickups offer rides for a fee and stuff as many people as possible in the back. In this case, the driver wanted at least 20 riders before he would leave. Our payment allowed us to leave immediately and sit comfortably. We arrived in Cape McClear at 10:00 and were able to start relaxing with a beautiful view of Lake Malawi only 20 feet away.