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Published: January 27th 2019
The bus ride to Mbeya was uneventful once we got going. Having eventually been put on the correct bus, our seats were occupied and the man sat there refused to move. The conductor remonstrated with him but to no avail. Instead we were put in the row in front of our stubborn friend, hoping than nobody wanted to oust us from our new-found seats. We nearly got off the bus on the outskirts of Mbeya because a fellow passenger told Trish we had arrived. The journey from there to the central bus station took another 25 minutes through heavy traffic. Getting off the bus we were charged to get our luggage back. Then we managed to negotiate a reasonable taxi fare to get to our hotel.
We opted to stay in the Desderia Hotel
because it is very new and the prices were reasonable. When we got there it was like a ghost town! This didn’t stop them from asking us to change rooms after one night as our room needed some maintenance doing. We said no and that the maintenance would have to wait another day, and that we couldn’t see anything that needed doing anyway! In the end we
were not the only guests but it was far from lively. Still, it was very comfortable and made for a very atmospheric night hike back from town in total darkness!
Mbeya itself is nothing to write home about. It’s a bit of a ramshackle town with little of interest to the passing traveller. The market area was nothing special but the traders were very friendly and we did find nice fresh salad vegetables there, as well as plenty of fruit. The “stadium” has definitely seen better days. From one of the surrounding roads it was possible to get a glimpse inside. We were also thankful for tuk tuk rides as we discovered just how hard it can rain!!
After a very peaceful night’s sleep and a breakfast with no coffee (in one of the main coffee growing areas of Tanzania) we had our customary wander around. We found the track leading up to Maua Café
which looked like it was full of rustic charm but had no coffee! It's a shame as their menu looked great but no coffee in a cafe is a big deal for us.That’s how we ended up in Ridge Café.
Now that’s what I call
a café. They had loads of coffee and it was delicious. They also had cakes and quiches. If you have to be in Mbeya, go there. We also had the good fortune to meet Tracy, a US Peace Corps volunteer living in a local village. She gave us a great recommendation for dinner. Aslaam Tandoori Chicken
is a streetside barbecue and the coals are lit at 7pm. Their tandoori chicken was succulent and delicious, more so with their Zanzibar sauce on it, and we believe this was the best food we had in Tanzania. Not bad for a shack where you eat with your fingers and wash your hands clean afterwards. It was really cheap too, and a bar 100m down the road allows you to take a beer away as long as you bring the bottles back. Whilst sat there we met a Canadian woman married to a Tanzanian farmer. They were so friendly and gave us a lift back to the hotel saving us another night hike.
So that was Tanzania. Moving on to Malawi looked on paper to be full of challenges. Here’s the advice Russ has posted on Tripadvisor:
Well that was
so much smoother than expected. We got a taxi from our hotel rather than squeeze onto a dalla dalla and went to the Nane Nane bus station a few kilometres out of town. That cost 15000TSH. The driver then made sure we got on the right bus towards Kyela and that the conductor knew that we wanted to go to the Malawi border. It was pretty full but not overcrowded like almost every other bus we have travelled on in Tanzania
. Fellow passengers were in very good humour, possibly at our expense, but they were keen to share their roasted corn with us! Many got off along the way and the bus was only half full by the time we got off. As we got towards Ipinda the conductor explained that the bus didn't go to the border. We already knew that but I asked him to confirm it would take us to the Kasumulu market area. He said that's what would happen. The cost of the 2.5 hour ride was 5000TSH. Then we were loaded onto motorbikes who we paid 5000TSH per bike which seemed a bit pricey but it saved us the half hour or so walk to
the border with our bags in tow. At the border we were swamped by money changers all offering a poor exchange rate but unless you have lots to exchange, writing off a few dollars for simplicity's sake isn't a big issue. Getting stamped out at the border wasn't a problem once we'd got the right forms to fill in. We then used the toilets in no-man's land. Keep a couple of 200TSH coins if you are likely to need to go! The Malawi visa took about 20 minutes of hanging around after paying our $75 each and filling in the paperwork. Then we were in Malawi and before we knew it we were squeezed into some transport to Karonga for K3000 each. We had expected a minibus but the reality was a 7 seater car with not a lot of room for baggage. There were two police checks along the way but only the first one wanted to see our passports and welcomed us to Malawi. The other stop was customs who were not particularly interested in us. The journey took about an hour because of the speed bumps which slow everyone down with alarming regularity. Getting out at Karonga
we were immediately pounced upon by drivers wanting to take us on to Mzuzu, and they struggled to grasp the idea that we are actually staying in Karonga for a couple of days first. The staff in Airtel were very friendly and helpful in getting us back online with SIM cards. All in all, a surprisingly smooth day.
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