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Published: August 10th 2012
Lilongwe is not the typical African capital city. It's laid back and low key. We decided to stay an extra day to catch our breath and also because we liked our hotel room so much. But, it turned out our room was already reserved. So, we went to the bus station around 11:00 and caught a half bus to Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi (Lake Nyassa). We were told it was a 4-5 hour trip. From Monkey Bay, it's a short hop to Cape Maclear, our actual destination.
A half bus is a bus that seats less than 40 people and are older and less comfortable than full size buses. Only one full size bus goes each day to Monkey Bay, but it leaves early. The half buses leave whenever they are full. Full means really full. People standing between bags and parcels. We had seats, because we were some of the first to board the bus. The bus finally left at 12:45.
First stop was the petrol station to fill up. The bus took 89 litres of diesel for 40,000 Kwacha. That's about $140 or $1.55 per litre. Since the bus fare was 1,800 Kwacha per person ($6),
it took 22 people to just pay for the fuel. No wonder they have to pack the bus to the gills to make it profitable. The bus was quite old and rickety, and had a hard time climbing hills. But, we chugged along.
About 13:00, while climbing a hill, the bus just stopped. The driver could not even pull over to the shoulder. We realized this was a major mechanical problem. Turned out the clutch fluid was all gone. They pulled out some spanners, unloaded the parcels and luggage near the front, and started taking things apart. After 2 hours the bus started up again and they moved the bus forward and backward to make sure the gears were working.
Everybody got back on the bus, and we were ready to proceed to Monkey Bay. But, as soon as we started out, we stopped again. This time, the driver emerged with a broken part. It was a broken clutch fluid line that had to be welded. It had been welded in two other places already. The passengers started demanding their money back. It was getting late and people were angry.
After some discussion, the passengers let the
driver hitch a ride to the next town to get the part welded. The passengers made sure the conductor and assistant stayed behind to continue the argument about getting their money back. But, how do you give back money you've already spent on fuel?
We decided to retrieve our bags and find an alternate form of transport. The sun was low in the sky and it was going to be dark pretty soon. It was 16:30. We didn't join in the argument about getting our money back. We'd done the math.
We flagged down a pick up truck, known as a motola, and asked to go to Salima, the next big town near Lake Malawi. We arrived in Salima just after sun set. It took us over 6 hours from the time we left our hotel in Lilongwe, to get to Salima, which is normally only an hour away from Lilongwe. As we got down, a small passenger van stopped and said they were going to Senga Bay, a beach town about 3 km away. So we hopped aboard. Maybe our luck had changed?
The passenger beside us worked for one of the higher end hotels in
Senga Bay. He phoned his place of work, but they were full. Umm ... maybe our luck hadn't changed yet! He then phoned two other places, and still no luck. So, we asked the mini-van driver to take us to the Livingstonia Beach Hotel, the largest and most prestigious of the beach hotels. The driver stayed around, since we were the only people on board at this point. The Livingstonia had no rooms either. What? Turns out there's some conference taking up most of the hotel rooms.
The driver Was a local and an interesting character. He'd been a paratrooper in the Malawian defense forces, served as a peace keeper in the DRC (Congo) in Kinshasa, and was now starting a new business importing vehicles from Dubai and reselling them in the local market. He took us to another hotel that had plenty of free rooms. We exchanged contact info with the driver, thanked him profusely for all his help, and settled in. So, we're in Senga Bay, not Cape Maclear.
It's a nice place, so we'll probably stick around for a couple of days.
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