SATURDAY: The carving salesman came back so we could take his photo and Linda swapped her Walkman for a pair of carved heads. We hung around at the camp all morning, then packed up and walked over to the Nkatha Bay town to wait for the ferry that we planned to take down the lake to Monkey Bay.
It arrived at 4 p.m. and I queued up to buy our tickets. When the gate guard spotted me waiting, he pulled me up to the head of the queue!
We boarded at 6:30 and staked our claim on a piece of the second class deck. The ferry sailed at 7:30, and by the time it left there were about 15 backpackers spread about on the steel plates of the after-deck. It was nice sleeping under the stars as the boat headed south down Lake Malawi.
FRIDAY 29 NOVEMBER Kath and I made a trip over to Mzuzu to the bank. We left camp at 6 a.m. and walked over to Nakata Bay township then sat around on the grass waiting for the bus. No bus turned up, but eventually, a battered minibus came along so we caught that in the trip to Mzuzu took about an hour.
At the bank, I changed £40 worth of traveller’s checks and then we walked with a couple of German travellers up to one of the local restaurants where we had a slap-up feed of sausage and chips, washed down with coffee. I also ordered the steak sandwich and the waitress forgot to charge me for it. The German guy bought my excess Tanzanian shillings for US$3.
Kath and I spent an hour or so looking around the market and shops, then set off to hitch a ride back to the bay as there didn’t appear to be any buses going. We walked out of town then a bus came along so we flagged it down, and an hour and a half later we were back at Nkhata bay.
Later on, back at camp, Linda and I bought a carved warrior from one of the salesmen who come around every day selling ebony carvings, bangles and other trinkets. We paid 27 kwacha (about £6) for a beautiful carving of a Malawian warrior.
THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER We spent the day relaxing completely. It was light at 5 a.m. so we started the day with a swim, then alternated the rest of the day in and out of the water. Kids came around selling banana cake and peanut brittle, and we kept our fluid intake up with sodas from the bar.
TUESDAY 26 NOVEMBER – TOWARDS A REST STOP At 7AM, we caught a local bus bound for Mzuzu where we could connect with a bus down Nkhata Bay. We took the slower local bus, because we could get a student discount which meant that the 19 kwacha (Kw) fair was reduced by a healthy 12Kw to 7Kw!
The trip was mind-bogglingly slow and uncomfortable, but eventually we arrived at the new bus station in Mzuzu and caught an onward bus down to Nkhata Bay. The countryside was dry and hilly, not unlike the outback of Australia, with eucalypt trees and outcrops of bare, hard rock. It took an hour and a half to reach Nkhata Bay, and when we got off the bus, we sat on the steps of a shop and had a cold drink. A couple of backpackers wandered past and told us that the beach was a great place to camp, so we set off to walk there. It was a long, hot 2 km walk up over a hill, but it was worth it for as we walked down the rough track, we were greeted with the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.
The cove was about 200m wide, with rocky promontories at each end, and trees running down off the hill to the edge of a beach of coarse, golden sand. There was quite an assortment of backpackers camping there, and not much space, but we found an area to pitch our tents in the shade, then swam in the wonderfully cold water of Lake Malawi.
Later in the evening, Linda, Kathy and I went into town for an ice cold beer and some food – ugali [pounded corn], vegetables and meat – and when we returned it was time to turn in.
“To those who speak of Pan-African union, I ask ‘what are we supposed to share? Each other’s poverty?’” – Felix Houphöet-Boigny, President of Ivory Coast.
We were up at 5:00 AM, long before dawn, and after packing our gear, we walked down to the bus station. It took us about 20 minutes to find a vehicle going to Kayla, near the border, and we ascertained from a couple of locals that it was actually going to the border, and not somewhere nearby.
The “bus” was actually just a truck with a row of seats down each side and as we left town, they jammed more and more people into it, until it was packed tight with sweating natives and their bags of junk.
It took about 4 1/2 hours of jolting along potholed roads to reach the turn off where the road the border branched off the road to Kayla. It turned out that the truck didn’t, in fact, go to the border after all, and we had paid 600 shillings each to get there! So after a row involving a lot of swearing, we got a refund of 100 shillings each.
There were four of us now. An American girl called Sondra had joined us for the push to the border, and we were faced with a 5km walk to get there. We set off down the newly-sealed road, swearing, and cursing Tanzania, and after about 2 km we flagged down a passing truck and paid 50 shillings each for a ride to the border post.
The “worst border in Africa”¹ turned out to be a cakewalk. We had expected trouble, but we were through in less than 15 minutes and walked across the Songwe River bridge into Malawi. We sat under some trees and ate mangoes given to us by crowd of children, and planned our next move.
The first police checkpoint was no trouble, although they searched our packs, obviously looking for the Africa on a Shoestring guide book [see below]. We sat for a while outside of shack selling Coke and Fanta, and a slimy young man offered to change out Tanzanian shillings for Malawian kwacha, but we refused, as we didn’t like the look of one of the other men sitting there listening to everything we said.
Three English backpackers walked up from the border, and we all sat there wondering what to do. Then a dump truck pulled in with a load of shingle, and the driver said he would take the 4 of us up to the Custom’s post at the border gate. So we rode in the back of the truck for 20 km, and we’re dropped off about 1 km from the Customs Police Post.
We were again approached by a group of men offering to change Tanzanian shillings and again we refused, which was lucky because just as we moved away an off-duty policeman approached us and asked if we changed money with them. We said no, and he warned us about illegal monetary transactions.
We sweated buckets walking up to the border post, but the formalities were quick, and after a cursory police check, we were on the waiting bus and bound for Karonga. We didn’t have any Malawian currency so we paid the fare with 200 Tanzanian shillings, which the conductor seemed happy with, and about an hour later we were showered, changed, and ready to do a deal with the hotel owner for some kwacha.
We changed $US20, and straight away went to the first store we could find for ice cold Cokes. We spent the evening hanging around town, and to be on the safe side, we each changed a few quid legally at the District Commissioner’s office, in case we were stopped by the police and asked where we had got our money. It was just as well we did that, because at 1AM next morning, the police raided the hotel. They were only checking passports, but we had a hurried rush to hide our illegal money before we opened the door. Kath and Sondra ignored their knocking and they left them alone!
¹Travellers were routinely hassled by the guards at this border post. The main reason for this was a negative comment made about the Malawian president’s son (a violent, corrupt gangster), by the editor of the Lonely Planet guidebook Africa on a Shoestring. Since then, the guidebook had been banned in Malawi and any traveller caught carrying it was fined and had their copy confiscated. I hid our copy (I have it still!) by rolling it up in a sleeping bag stuffed into a bag, and even though the guard squeezed the bag, he didn’t detect the book inside.
SUNDAY 24 NOVEMBER – LAST DAY IN TANZANIA There was nothing to do in Mbeya on a Sunday. If there was anything to do on any other day, it’s hard to say. So we sat around at the Moravian Youth Hostel where we were staying for 200 shillings each. I spent most of the afternoon wrapped up in two sleeping bags, fully clothed, with a bottle full of hot water under me, sweating the cold out.
SATURDAY We caught the boat at 8:00 AM, which put us back in Dar-es-Salaam at midday. The six of us walked up to the Salamander Cafe for a snack, then Linda, Kathy¹ and I said goodbye to the other three and set off up to the bus station.
We had about two hours to wait before the bus left, so he sat in the cafe drinking cold drinks and talking. At 4:00 PM, the big red Scania bus pulled out of the crowded lot, and we raced out of town in convoy with three other buses. The driver pulled plenty of the usual mad stunts that African drivers pull when behind the wheel, but we made good time, and the road was in surprisingly good condition. The first stop was for a meal at a wayside station, where chicken, eggs, and chips were being roasted over coals, and salesman were selling chunks of sweet, juicy pineapple.
By now it was dark and the bus roared on into the night. At around 10:00 PM we stopped in a town to drop off some passengers, and I got off to stretch my legs. After 10 minutes, the bus began to move, and as I hopped on some thieving cunt, grabbed my watch and ripped it off my wrist.
I ran after him with a couple of other passengers, but the fucker had a head start and got away into the scrub. I was seething, and if we had caught him, I would have beaten the shit out of him. Anyway, the strap of the watch would have broken when he tore it off, so it won’t be worth much to him.
As if it wasn’t enough, I had the makings of a nice cold, and by the time we got to Mbeya at 6:00 AM, I was sneezing, sniffing and shivering.
¹Kathy was a new Zealand girl we had met at Bwejuu beach. She was travelling alone so we invited her to join us for a few weeks as we made our way south to Malawi.
FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER After only a couple of hours sleep, we were up and packed. Then we walked up the beach in the bright moonlight. The tide was coming in, and there were a few people walking in from the tidal flats where they had been harvesting seaweed.
We joined up with four other travelers from another villa, who were also returning to Zanzibar Town, and sat on the steps of the house while we waited for the bus driver to arrive. The bus left at 2:00 AM with much tooting of the horn and revving of the engine, and bounced its way through the darkness back to the other island. It was six o’clock when we arrived back in Zanzibar Town, and Linda and I went straight round to Flamingos Hotel again.
Later in the day, we went out and wandered around the streets, looking at the sights, and in the evening we met the four other travelers from Bwejuu Beach for a beer at the New Africa Hotel where we all watched the sun go down.
THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER Another day in paradise! We spent the day sprawled out in the shade of the coconut trees, drinking soft drinks and eating chocolate. We went out for a couple of hours of snorkeling on the reef in a dugout canoe, and ate crab and coconut sauce for tea.