“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” –Lao Tzu
The IFP is on holiday for two weeks, so Caitlin and I decided to go on a trip to Malawi. Our original plan involved a trip through Tete and Manica and making our way back to Mozambique. Once we realized we only had 5 days, we decided to only go to Malawi. We were going to spend a night in Blantyre, the financial capitol of Malawi, a night in Zomba, a mountain town, and two nights at a safari camp in Liwonde. Despite our planning, our trip ended up nothing like this.
Caitlin and I got to the chapa paragem at 5:15am. We easily found one going to Mandimba, the border town, which left by 6:30. We were in Mandimba by 9:30 and met a friend who helped us to change money and get a bike boleia across the border. It was strange sitting on the back of the bike while it rode the 10km to the border. We got our passports stamped and were on our way.
Right away we were ushered into a rather luxurious and spacious chapa, which took us to the crossroad town Mangochi. There, we navigated another chapa going to Blantyre. It was about 6-7 hours to Blantyre, so we relaxed and enjoyed the beauty of Malawi. It is probably the most beautiful country I’ve visited, from what I’ve seen. When we got to Blantyre, we were dropped off at Limbe, which is the chapa stop about 10k from Blantyre. We asked our driver where our hostel was, and he offered to take us there for 150 kw (about 15 meticais or 50 cents). On the way, he drove through a bunch of back roads, picking up a group of about 30 workers on the way and then dropping us off. As we approached our hostel, the driver asked for money. When I handed him 200kw, he told me it wasn’t enough and that I in fact owed 1500kw. He claimed that the gas was just that expensive, and that we were receiving special treatment. When we refused to pay it, he drove us to a policeman who was patrolling the street. After yelling at him in Chichewa and explaining his side of the story, I explained mine in English. In the end, the police officer yelled at him. Turns out if he wanted to charge us that much he should have taken the main road and shouldn’t have picked up the workers. In the end, we only paid 250kw, but it was not a great introduction to transport in Malawi…
We met up with Tania and got some delicious dinner. Afterwards we got a few drinks. We met a Malawian/British man named Roy who grew up in Malawi but now lives in England. We talked to him for a while and he introduced us to his Malawian cousin, Foxy. He tried to convince us to come to Mulanje, his hometown, rather than going to Zomba the next day. Eventually, being exhausted, I went to bed.
The next day we woke up and took a delightfully hot shower. We got some breakfast pizza and walked around a bit. At one point, everyone was lined up on the side of the street. Wondering what was going on, we stayed to watch. Turns out the new president of Malawi had just gotten married in Blantyre. He was parading through the streets, so we saw him and his new wife drive by! That was pretty interesting.
The president of Malawi
We called Roy, our friend from the night before who was coming to Blantyre, and we went back to take a nap. When he got there, he took us to Blantyre’s shopping mall. Unfortunately the cinema had closed, but we had a good time at the bookstore, the Shoprite, and the Game, a store like Walmart. It was such a culture shock! We got some coffee, and then headed back to the hostel. After freshening up, Roy took us to this cool bar in a residential area. Turns out it used to be someone’s house, but it was deemed haunted, so no one can live in it. It was really cool! Afterwards, we went with him to a wedding reception of a family friend. It was really random, but a lot of fun! We crashed this Greek-Malawian wedding and had a great time!
Caitlin and Tania with Roy in the haunted bar
Tania and her new friend Ballz at the wedding
The next morning we took off for Mulanje with Roy. The mountain was BEAUTIFUL. Malawi in general is, but he was right when he insisted we go there. He drove us to his plot of land where he is building his future house. He was sad because a bunch of his mud bricks had been ruined the night before by the rain. We decided we would build him 100 each. He didn’t believe we actually would, even as we took off our shoes and stomped in the mud.
The process for making mud bricks isn’t too complicated. First you dig up the dirt so it is pretty loose. Then you pour water on it and stomp it with your feet until it’s about a wet cement consistency. Next you pack it into molds of 4 bricks each and flip it over all at once to dry. This is as far as we went, but later on after the bricks are dry, they are cooked in an oven and then laid. Sure enough, we made 300 bricks in about 2 hours. It was a lot of fun for us, and very amusing for the passing Malawians.
Us with our 300 bricks and the kids who were watching us
After cleaning up and a quick lunch, we headed up the mountain. We went to a place where there are natural pools, which were beautiful and so serene. Tania did fall in, but it was still a fun time! Afterwards, we hiked up to the waterfalls a ways up. Those were beautiful, and I think we all would have swum if it hadn’t been so cold! We went and got some dinner and drinks and met up with Foxy again.
That night we stayed at Roy’s grandfather’s house. He was such a sweet old man, and very welcoming. They made us breakfast the next day before our next adventure out to the tea fields. We went to go see another waterfall on the other side of the mountain. To get to it, you drive through these gorgeous tea fields, which may be the most beautiful place I’ve seen in Africa. We drove around a bit, then hiked up to another waterfall. When we got back, the empregado had prepared a traditional Malawian meal for us of couve (chinese cabbage?), pumpkin leaves, chicken, and nsima. Yum! We took a nap on the couch and played some very confusing card games with some of the kids who lived in the house. After another drink and some debating, we went to bed.
The next day Roy kindly drove us to Blantyre to be on our way. We got a ride with a man who said we would pay 3000kw (about $8.30) all the way to the border town of Chiponde. When we got to Mangochi, however, he decided he was stopping there and wanted to be paid the 3000. He escorted us to a pickup truck that wanted us to pay 2500kw to Chiponde rather than the 1000 we paid the other way. We refused both, so once again we were driven to the police. This time he agreed with our driver, and we agreed to pay provided he dropped us off at a place we could stay.
We ended up staying at the Hot Pot Lodge were we paid 1500kw total (about $1.33 each) for a small guest house with a twin bed and a toilet. It was all pretty hilarious to us. We took off early the next morning for Chiponde, and were able to get an open-back chapa (pick up truck) where we rode for an hour and a half with 30 other people hugging boxes of fish and bags of onions. When we got across the border, we found a truck delivering cabbage and potatoes to Cuamba, so that is how we rode back, on top of bags of vegetables. We made some new friends, namely crianças on the way, and even a new Mãe who was selling us for flour, a metical, and a papaya. We made it back on Wednesday around 3pm, later than we had originally planned, but it was a blast! We did nothing we originally planned, but we wouldn’t change it for the world. Now back to work.
The most comfortable ride home.
There are always kids looking at us…
Portuguese word of the day: Camião (Truck)
Macua word of the day: Wemela (to speak)
French word of the day: ingenieur (engineer, one of the options for my students characters)