A ferry, pig on a truck, disintegrating gearbox and a positive Malaria test

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Africa » Malawi » Central » Lilongwe
July 25th 2008
Published: August 17th 2008
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Cape Mc Clear to Lilongwe

There are many ways from Port Mc Clear to Lilongwe but they all include a rough bumpy ride on a flatbed truck to the close port of Monkey Bay. So I found myself again standing and holding on for dear life on an overloaded truck. The good news was that there was a slow but very relaxing trip ahead. Lake Malawi is serviced by one ferry the Ilala which plows up and down the lake every week. It takes about 3 days to get up and then it turns around to go back down. It takes so long as the lake, as previously mentioned, is over 500km long and the ferry is not going at race boat speed. It also doesn't help that the Africans never seem to hurry and nothing leaves on time ... ever. My highlight while docked was to see some man (there is never just one or two doing a job) filling the ship with diesel from a tanker. Once this was finished (already 30 minutes late) they started to siphon diesel back from the ship into a bucket from which they transferred smaller amounts into tiny oil barrels. Why they did it? No idea but the speed they worked at is really calming. Once they were finished and the last passengers came on board the ferry was already 1 ½ hours late without leaving port.
As I wanted to see a doctor in Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi) I couldn't stay too long on the ferry and found myself on dry land again 3 hours later and by then 2 hours late. As it was already 2pm we needed to get going, by coincidence and luckily for us (I was still traveling with Nico and Dani) there was already a flatbed truck waiting for us near the port. A close inspection showed the content to be around 10 African men, two chicken, four goats and two enormous pigs. To this day I do not understand how they got the two pigs, which must have weighted over 200kg each, on the truck. After a bit of should we shouldn't we, we hopped on and I had one of the most pleasant truck rides so far. There was actually space for my legs and I had something that resembled a seat. It all went smooth and we arrived in Salima, said goodbye to the pigs and looked for the next mode of transportation. That again didn’t take too long and we found ourselves sitting in a battered minibus. Apparently Malawi introduced a new law which prevents more than 3 people to sit in a row and we were told that it applied in this minibus. True to their word we set off and I was in heaven. A whole seat to myself... that’s unheard of. It was a little bit spoiled by the driver which thought he is a racing driver and was speeding up and mostly down hills. Normally that wouldn't be a problem as we were maybe doing 90 but this bus has seen better days and it was rattling and shaking. I even contemplated praying and wanted to ask for all tires to stay intact and no bursts. Depending on if you are religious or not it might have been coincidence or God was ready for a practical joke as while we were doing 90 down the hill the tires did not burst but instead the gearbox disintegrated. This was accompanied by a biggish bang, screeching, sparks flying into the cabin (did I mention the small holes in the floor?) and a small fire in the cabin. Luckily the driver knew what he was doing and he slowly stopped the car and gave the oil time to flow out (Could also be that the breaks weren't that good). After an agonizing 2-3 km we came to a halt and we all streamed out of the car. All unhurt but a bit shaken. We were still gathering our things out of the minibus when the locals already flagged down another minibus, piled in and left without even looking at us. So it was just us three whities, the conductor and driver left in the middle of nowhere.
Dani tried her womanly charm to flag down cars but no one stopped including some really nice, big, very empty Landcruisers from WorldVision (You lot wont get any donations from me anymore!). After 30 minutes or more I tried my luck and to my amusement the second truck I flagged down stopped. It was a different truck but with one of our old friend from the previous truck... the pig . We conceded defeat when we saw how overloaded the truck was. That didn't prevent the driver to try to convince us to hop on. A second truck followed pretty closely and our luck had it that it stopped too. So we found us crammed into yet another truck, charcoal piercing into my tights but on our way to Lilongwe. Couldn't have been happier when I saw the city lights.
Once in Lilongwe, which could also be described as most boring city, I settled into the backpackers and went to the doctor the next day to have a look at my knee. He just said that those things can take a while especially if you’re over 30.... Damn age.
The next day I went on a quest to find a doctor again as I had quite a lot of stomach pain in the last few days and it was especially painful that day. Finding one was quite hard as it was Sunday and most private hospitals were closed (you really don't want to go to the public hospitals) but in the end I found one. He said that it was either too much Acid in my stomach or Malaria. Apparently one of the symptoms of Malaria can be stomach pain so he made me do a blood test which is just a small blood sample viewed through the microscope.
The surviving touristsThe surviving touristsThe surviving tourists

The minibus is in the background. As you can see there is no one else there as they jumped into the first minibus thats topped leaving us in the middle of nowhere...
The result came back and it was positive. That’s one more tropical disease down on the list. Wasn't all that bad as I just had to take a few tablets over the next days.
Malaria is hard to detect and false positives are not uncommon so just to be on the safe side he also gave me some anti acid medicine too. The medicine worked and I felt better within two days. Still need to do another blood test to confirm that it’s really gone...
All that survived I only did some R&R and used the Internet for a long time before heading of to my last stop in Malawi which is Nkhata Bay

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17th August 2008

Tough luck on the malaria, there. That's one tropical disease we could all do without. Did the doctor put you on chloroquine? If so, it seems you'll have to keep taking that for 4 weeks after you leave any malarial area. Seems the parasites can survive for quite a while after infection and treatment, although the worst should be over in two days... More info at http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/malaria-medications (I know! Trusting medical info on the web...)

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