The morning we left Gorongosa we were excited to get on the road again and cross into Malawi. I had heard many things about Malawi- the friendly people, the beautiful lush mountains, and the home of the third largest lake in Africa- Lake Malawi. Our first stop in Malawi was going to be the industrial city of Blantyre. This was going to be a quick stop over because it was too far to drive from Gorongosa to Liwonde National Park in one day.
As we continued to drive through Mozambique the landscape became drier and drier.
It seemed to be the endless cycle of nothing, nothing, nothing, small village of mud huts, and then a market. Repeat for the next 400k’s. By the time we got to the border crossing I was looking forward to a change in scenery.
The border crossing, unlike the previous ones, was very hectic. One thing you need to do before crossing into another country is to change currency. They are usually a ton of guys hanging out on the side of the road waving money at your car as you approach the border. Make sure you know the current exchange rate beforehand. If you ask them, without knowing, you can guarantee you will be taken. Before the crossing, we pulled to the side of the road and motioned to a guy for currency exchanged. I let Gert handle this, knowing full well he had done this a hundred times before. He also made sure that I counted all my currency before getting there. As soon as he motioned one guy over, about 15 more huddled around our car on both sides arguing for our business. Gert claimed in a very loud and commanding voice, “I will only work with one person.” Setting this tone helped to manage the situation. I don’t know about you, but I am not used to this type of situation and it was very daunting at first. The best advice, I learned, was to keep cool, don’t show fear, and remain in control of the situation.
We exchanged our Mozambican Meticals for Malawi Kwacha in front of 15 pairs of staring eyes. We then went to the border post and were stamped out of Mozambique in minutes. The actual process of exiting a country is usually pretty fast and easy. It’s the entering a country that is usually the challenge.
After processing out of Mozambique, we drove about 15 mins to get the border station in Malawi. As we drove up, we were presented with a large, modern building. As we stepped out of the car, people descended upon us like locusts, urging us to buy this and that; little boys begging us to let them “watch” our car. As least now we were in a country that spoke English.
There were no issues with our passport, but Malawi requires a certain type of vehicle insurance when you enter the country. For this process, make sure all of your vehicle records are in order before you reach the border! The insurance we needed cost $60 but like everything in Africa, we bargained with the official and only paid $40. We also had to pay for a temporary import permit for the vehicle which cost us $30. Our visa’s were free, so in total we paid $90. After the inspector inspected our vehicle, we were free to go. Again, the officer controlling the entrance gate into Malawi tried to get us to give him something. We smiled, but graciously told him we had nothing to give him. After a few more words he finally let us go through. I am completely against bribery and giving in to these people. If you ask me, I think people, mostly westerners are scared of Africa and feel that they have to give officials or whoever something to let them pass…whether it be a packet of smokes or money. Honestly- if you give them something it just perpetuates the cycle of bribery and corruption. So please, if you are traveling around Africa, try your best to not give in to the corruption!
It amazed me that as soon as we crossed into Malawi, the scenery rapidly changed as it did last time we crossed from Swaziland into Mozambique. All of sudden we had seemed to transition from Scar like territory (as seen in Lion King) to beautiful lush mountains. The sun began setting and I caught this beautiful photo as we headed towards Blantyre.
We arrived in Blantyre around 7 in the evening. We stayed at the Sunbird, a moderately priced hotel with decent rooms and internet. The next morning, I looked out the window and woke up to a very pretty, but industrial city. It is nestled in the mountains and is home to many of the main plants in Africa, to include Carlsberg beer (which they are very proud of!).
We headed out on the road early because we wanted to arrive at Liwonde around noontime. Unfortunately, as we would come to find out, that plan went straight out of the window and our day was going to be full of challenges.
Before getting on the road, we needed to get diesel. We only had three quarters of a tank and it was not enough to make it to Liwonde and then to Cape MaClear the following day. We pulled up to the first petro station, which was completely empty except for some very bored gas attendants lounging on the curb. In two words they crushed our souls: No diesel. Apparently, Malawi had completely ran out of diesel. We stopped at two more stations, but it was exactly the same situation. What to do?
At one station, we started a conversation with the attendants. We asked, “how long has this been going on? They replied, “About three weeks.” “When is there going to be diesel?” we asked. One blink of an eye and the words, “No idea,” uttered from their mouths. There were no major cities along the way and therefore, Blantyre was our last hope.
We looked around and noticed many diesel buses zooming around. How were they getting diesel? we wondered. We asked the attendants and they told us that the community stocked diesel at their homes in preparation for events like this. Apparently, this isn’t the first time a situation like this has happened. We told them we were willing to pay and within seconds of asking, the attendants began to furiously call their friends. A half hour later we had a full tank of diesel. Africans learn how to survive- and so were we.
On the way to Liwonde, we were stopped continuously at random police checkpoints. As soon as they saw our South African plates, they looked for anything to fine us. It is complete corruption and very frustrating. They get angry very quickly when you contest the fine and the system is anything but legitimate. Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons people are scared to travel around Africa. We tried to explain to them that this type of corruption drove away tourism and ultimately harming their countries’ economy. But they did not seem to care as they pocketed our 5,000 kwachas. Again I had to remind myself this is Africa.
We finally arrived in Liwonde National Park in the early evening. Frustrated by the day’s events, we were more than ready to relax. As I sat outside my cabin I reflected on the fact that Africa is diabolical- both in the way that it inspires and disheartens. What an interesting day indeed.
Until next time, travel well and travel often.