A Long Way From Lilongwe


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, April 21, 2004 was originally posted on April 28, 2004.

DAY 186:  Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city wasn’t the reason why I came to the eastern African nation.  While stoners may know Malawi for its “gold,” the mainraison d’être is Lake Nyassa — more commonly known as Lake Malawi — the lake between Malawi and northern Mozambique so big that when looking at the horizon from shore it looks like an ocean.

There are two popular shore towns where travelers base themselves:  Cape McClear at Monkey Bay, a couple of hours by bus from Lilongwe on the southern part of the lake; and Nkhata Bay, about an eight-hour road journey in the north.  Nkhata Bay, was my destination of choice since I had to make headway northbound to keep on track with my global itinerary. 

A TAXI BROUGHT ME FROM KIBOKO CAMP to the crazy market area where all the buses and shared mini-buses waited for passengers to fill them up — they won’t depart until they exceed the manufacturer’s suggested capacity.  Conductors fill their vehicles in the most aggressive way possible, by assaulting prospective passengers of arriving taxis, like myself.  About half a dozen guys grabbed for my bag when Geofrey the taxi driver opened the trunk, pulling it in all the directions of the compass.

“Hey! Hey! HEY!” I argued back, pulling it in the direction of me.  “HOLD UP!”

Geofrey closed the trunk door until I decided which vehicle to go with.  “What do you think?” I asked him.  He gave me this looked that said “It’s your call, man,” which I retorted with a “Hell if I know” look.  The incessant yelling of the conductor guys continued like barking guard dogs.

“Just go with this one,” Geofrey said, pointing to the nearest mini-van.  It was my inclination anyway since I heard that since they are smaller, they fill up faster and therefore depart sooner.  I went over and had one guy bring my bag over to the mini-van trunk.  Once it slammed shut, the dogs stopped barking, although throughout my waiting time, one guy from the other bus kept on calling me over.  “My friend!” he’d call me over.  “You speak English?  It’s faster here.”  I ignored him and simply told him I already had my ticket.

I sat in the scent of that distinct central African B.O. that sort of smells like Campbell’s condensed Chicken Noodle soup mixed with coconut gone bad.  While waiting for the mini-bus to fill up, walking vendors calling attention with psst!s tried to sell the most random things just in case, on my road journey, I needed any of the following:

  • Not-So Random Items: sunglasses, snacks, watches (some with Osama Bin Laden on the face)

  • Questionably Random Items:  toy cell phones, wallets, towels

  • Really Random Shit:  dinner bowls, toothpick packs, cement trowels(?!)

For a good two hours the vendors came over and over again like prison guards making rounds, until we finally filled the van to above capacity.  The driver took us out of Lilongwe and north towards the city of Mzuzu, yet another one of the ever-present places in a country with cities that begin with two consonants that don’t normally go together.  As the mini-bus made its way passed the rolling hills, wild grasslands and the occasional rocky knoll, the passengers occupied their time in various ways.  A woman in front of me plaited extensions into her hair.  The guy to my right pulled pieces of plastic off his grocery bag and chewed on them.  Two older guys behind me had an anti-American conversation in English and Tongan.  I just kept my mouth shut and read a couple of chapters in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LATER, after having stopped periodically in little villages along the way for pick-ups and drop-offs (picture above), I arrived in the northern Malawian city of Mzuzu, only to wait another hour for my next mini-bus, just across the way, to fill up.  The usual walking vendors came around with their random goodies — I passed on the cement trowels but couldn’t resist three samosas (fried dumplings) and a Coke.

The hour flew by and soon we were off on the hour-long ride to Nkhata Bay.  On the way I befriended a traveling mzungu couple:  Frank, a Frenchman, and Francesca, an Italian woman.  They were in Mzuzu for the day to exchange money and send some e-mails — Mzuzu was the closest city to do so — and recommended the place they were staying at, Mayoka Village, a mini-resort secluded from the main part of town on the other side of the bay.  When we arrived in Nkhata Bay, I walked with them on the twenty-minute hike through town, over a bridge, up a dirt road hill, and up and down an undulating hiking trail that seemed to go on forever with my heavy bags on me. 

Nearby were two other lodges, The Butterfly Lodge (recommended to me by Catherine in Lilongwe) and Njanya Lodge (recommended by Lonely Planet), but it seemed that Mayoka Village turned out to be the place of choice since everyone from other other two places always came over to hang out in its restaurant/bar deck that overlooked the beautiful Lake Malawi — which was conveniently shimmering with the pink hues of sunset when I arrived.  The central bar/restaurant/reception area was just one part of a laid back lakeshore village of private chalets, a dorm house, a library, a patio with a hammock, a mini-beach and free snorkel gear and canoes.  Not bad for a place that only cost me about $2.50 per night (in the dorm).

Luka, one of the managers, gave me a tour and, more importantly, a beer.  Later on that evening, Gary the owner gave me a free beer and his daughter Morgan gave me some of the homemade ice cream they made earlier.  These welcomed and appreciated freebies were interspersed with dinner and a pool competition with some locals — some with normal names like Phillip and Kenanie, and others that went by nicknames like Special and Gearbox — and fellow travelers, most coincidentally starting with the letter “E” — Erik, Ed, Emma, Eddie. 

After coming a long way from Lilongwe that day, it was great to find a place to chill out.  The atmosphere was so laid back I felt I could have built my own house there, but then again, I never did buy that cement trowel.

Next entry: The Malawian Feel

Previous entry: Catch Up, Chill Out

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Comments for “A Long Way From Lilongwe”

  • Osama bin Laden?...ummm..ok?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  06:28 PM

  • ebay it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  11:39 PM

  • Love it when you post accomodation pics smile

    Posted by Liz  on  04/29  at  12:17 PM

  • Oh no! Not the “U” word! Undulating!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/30  at  08:40 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
The Malawian Feel

Previous entry:
Catch Up, Chill Out


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