Getting There: Livingstonia, Malawi

Hey World, 

Yesterday I shared the news that I am currently eating cheese doodles and not scuba diving, but before I got to that point, I had to get from Tanzania into Malawi, and spent a couple of nights in Livingstonia. So let's backtrack a bit, shall we? 

Not pictured: me sweating like I had just run a marathon


After an early morning trek to the Tanzania-Malawi border, I left Tanzania without much hassle [though they didn't look thrilled when I said I'd be coming back in a week] and walked over to Malawi. 

[[Note to travelers: stay LEFT when you get to the Malawi side. That official looking place on the right that everyone is running to? Turns out it's a bank and not immigration]]

After hanging out in the bank for a few minutes before realizing I was in the wrong place, then changing money to kwacha, I headed for immigration, where I was greeted by a nice but stern woman who immediately put an Ebola gun to my forehead {apparently it takes your temperature -- but it's really quite disconcerting when all of a sudden you think you may die upon entry}, and after 'passing' the Ebola test, was lightly interrogated because I said I was a Miss and not a Mrs, and she wanted to know why someone my age [AKA: old enough to be married] wasn't. When I realized she wasn't going to let me laugh it off, I insisted that I was coming to Malawi to search for my obviously imminent husband, which she accepted as a valid claim, and passed me off to another immigration officer who quickly stamped my passport and let me through. 

I then had my first haggle of the day, low-balled hard and fast to get a reasonable price for my minibus ride to Chitimba and off I was!

Before continuing, I should say that minibuses here are both the best thing and the worst thing about Malawi. It is amazing that there are buses running long distances at all hours of the day (and quite frequently) so that you aren’t SOL if you miss the one and only bus at 6 AM [ahem, Tanzania] but despite the straightforwardness of the road way system in the North [IE: there's only one major road], these minibuses move extremely slowly due to:

1.     The conductor’s insistence to pulling over for any live body at the side of the road to try and convince them that they actually want a ride instead of walking. More often than not? The people just want to walk.

2.     The driver’s personal agenda to buy a ton of food roadside while the rest of the mini-bus waits cramped for him to fill a bag with pristine yams or stanky fish and then shove it on one of our laps. His personal agenda also includes: stopping to chat with friends, stopping to guzzle a bottle of water, stopping to pee, and stopping for the sake of stopping. 

3.     Everyone’s apparent need to pull over every hour for a 10-15 stretch/snack break….even though we’ve barely gone anywhere! Clearly, these people have not endured the transnational bus rides of Tanzania. 

We also had a flat tire break -- interestingly enough, this was our shortest pit stop!
4.     The Malawi traffic police – who no joke stop every vehicle about every 5-10KM, peer inside and make eye contact with every individual, do random bag searches, and for some reason, look in the trunk of the mini bus (which doesn’t really exist…but a bunch of precarious bags are shoved there and subsequently topple out every 5-10KM)

[[ Addendum: The entire northern part of Malawi smells like a giant salty fish. If you are easily nauseated, you might consider hiring a private car and keeping all of the windows up the entire time, whilst also putting your head in a vacuum sealed bag. Or if you are but want to be a hero, go right ahead and crawl into a minibus and hope for the best. ]]


After 4ish hours and countless stops (including the time where we drove around a town for a half hour aimlessly, only to realize that our driver wasn't actually the driver and just some random guy trying to make extra money while our driver took an extended food break) I made it to the Chitimba, where I then waited almost 3 hours for an already full jeep to drive up the hill [about 10Km straight uphill, with over 20 hairpin turns] to where I was staying, an awesome eco-lodge called Mushroom Farm. Thank goodness vacation means you have nothing but time (or does it?).

The alternative is to begin walking and then try and hitch a ride [good luck!] or to hire a guide to walk you up, with the option of paying a couple extra bucks for him to also carry your bags/gear. It’s estimated to be anywhere from a 1.5-2.5 hour walk, depending on your tenacity. I would have done this, had I not arrived at high noon, and the desire to walk anywhere for any amount of time was actually in the negatives.

Don't worry -- that's not the truck I took up the hill. However, mine was not much better...but it did have four doors and two chairs strapped to its roof!
So I sat, and drank questionable water {but it was cold and the lady was nice}, and turned off my brain for a little bit, which was definitely a good thing, because once the vehicle started moving, I came to realize that potentially the only thing holding my door onto the vehicle was…me. Not exactly what you want to realize as you’re careening around hairpin bends on a mountainside, but good to realize nonetheless, because I had to divert most of my attention from playing with the most precious toddler in existence (who had taken to punching me in the shoulder, much to the joy of everyone in the truck) and allocate my attention to holding onto the doorframe for dear life.

Less than 45 minutes and two stops to fix something under the hood later, I was dropped at a sign that said “Mushroom Farm” with a big arrow, and at 4pm, 9-10 hours after leaving my hotel room in Mbeya, I had arrived – vacation had officially begun!

More on my Livingstonia adventures tomorrow.


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