BootsnAll Travel Network

Adventures in African transportation

Hi all! I’m here safe in big, bad Nairobi, waiting to meet my safari group this evening for the trip that leaves tomorrow. I’m pretty thrilled about the prospect of meeting some other travelers and having someone hold my hand for a little while. So, I think I left you in Blantyre, Malawi, where I landed with a nice Danish couple. Here, my friends, is where the transportation saga gets really interesting. Brace yourself, mom and dad. Everyone else, pop some popcorn.

Phase 1 of the epic journey from Blantyre to Nairobi begins…
There are many bus companies operating out of Blantyre, I’m told, and advised to take a night bus called the “Axa bus,” which departs Blantyre at 5pm and goes overnight to Karonga, near the Tanzania border, arriving there around 10am, which is perfect, as Karonga is not a nice place to spend the night: One must make it all the way to Mbeya in Tanzania for a good option. Anyway, this bus leaves on Fridays and Sundays. I arrived on a Thursday late at night, and just couldn’t face another 17 hour journey the next day. So, I decided to take a bus run by the national bus line called the Sacramento (I don’t know why, either.) which made the same journey, only leaving on Saturday night at 5:30 instead – I certainly didn’t want to wait till Sunday to leave – way too late! And this Sacramento is a “luxury” bus service, people – think Greyhound, only shittier. So I thought, same difference. Here, dear readers is how it played out:

1) Arrive at bus station around 5pm, and sit, waiting, till 7:30. In the dark. Fall into narrow trench I don’t see after crossing road to eat dinner. Well, at least the bus came, I thought, never mind the windshield, cracked in a million places or the rust around the wheels.
2) All’s well till 3am, and then Boom! a huge expellation of air as the bus hits what I can only assume was a crater-sized pothole and limps to a stop about 20 minutes later.
3) Everyone, including self, mills around bus, waiting for something to happen. Eventually decide to go back inside and try to sleep. Large African lady in seat opposite me keeps shaking fist in air and saying “Aye, Sacra-MEN-to.” As it gets light, notice many young Malawian boys standing outside my window, holding out their hands, repeating “Give me money.”
4) Around 7am, an American expat guy named Mike announces to me that he’s abandoning ship and I’m welcome to join, cause this bus could sit here all day while they wait for an elusive mechanic from a city 200k south. I throw in with him, cause really, how could it get worse than sitting in a dead coach by the side of the road with no toilet? Side note: If any of you ever travel extensively in Africa, I’ll make two life-saving suggestions: First, carry toilet paper. This is essential. Second, severely, severely dehydrate yourself. One day I went until 5:30pm till I had a sip of anything. It sounds harsh, but believe me, it’s better than having to pee when you’re wedged into the back of a minibus.
3) We exit the coach to hordes of young boys with bicycle taxis, 3-speeds, ready to take us to Dwanga, a “town” about 2km ahead. I think they’ve just been sitting there, waiting till we gave up. I get on one bike and my bag gets on another. This part was actually pretty fun. In Dwanga, I have to pee, despite dehydration. I enter a pub, they show me to the toilet outside, which makes the squat toilets everywhere else look palatial. It’s so gross I pee next to the building instead of inside it. Back on the road the most decrepit chapa (minibus) I’ve ever seen, held together with duct tape and gum, is waiting to take us to Nkhata Bay, not where I want to go, but close-ish. At this point, I’ve abandoned hope to get to Karonga and have decided to settle for Mzuzu, where there’s at least a hostel. It’s about 8:30am before the bus fills up, and I mean FULL, and we take off.
4) Minibus, inevitably, breaks down. Am struggling to see humor in situation. Haha! All of us are shuttled from dead bus to a passing pickup, where there are: 22 people in the bed of the truck. My size truck, people. The bags are “tied” to the back end, although to be fair, they didn’t need to be, as the 4-6 people sitting on top of them held them down just fine. I begin to question the integrity of my brand-new conditioner bottle, as everyone uses my bag as either a seat or a step-ladder to get in and out. I sit, at various times on bags of grain, the floor, standing and finally holding onto a bar on the back to make room for an old lady with some live chickens.
5) About an hour into the truck ride, guess what?? Haha! The broken-down Sacramento bus PASSES us!!! Haha! Hilarious! I talk myself off the ledge though. This will make an hilarious story!
6)American guy disembarks to walk 40 minutes to his solar-powered hippie compound near Nkhata Bay and leaves me to fend for myself. The truck stops about 3km outside Nkhata Bay, and everyone is instructed to get out and walk, because the truck doesn’t have a taxi license, I assume. I politely say, “I cannot get out of this truck. I would like to ride in the front. Thank you.” The truck driver can see that I’m five seconds from losing my shit, and says, uh, OK.
6) I’m here in Nkhata Bay! Yay! Except that now I have to catch another minibus to Mzuzu. On minibus, am sitting next to man with huge bag of dried fish. Of course. This ride, though tedious, is uneventful.
6) Arrive in Mzuzu, where I should have been this morning at 5am, around 3pm. Get taxi to hostel.
7) Here it is people, the very best part: I must spend the night here in Mzuzu and leave for Karonga the following morning, Sunday morning. Cast your minds back is none other than the Axa bus, en route from Blantyre, the very same one I didn’t want to wait for! HAHAHA! (Maniacal laughter).

That, everyone, was one day! Here’s the next day, but I’ll abbreviate for all your sakes.
1) Taxi to bus station in Mzuzu.
2) Bus from Mzuzu to Karonga
3) Shared taxi from Karonga to border.
4) Walk across border and additional mile, I’d say, to
5) Minibus (called daladalas here in Tanzania)
6) Bus stops every 25 feet to pick up and drop off. The usual, by now. Could have taken taxi direct to Mbeya, but wanted to save ONE DOLLAR. What is wrong with me?? There are banana trees everywhere though, and the nice man sitting next to/on top of me, buys me a cooked banana to try when I express skepticism. It’s like tasteless mush, not sweet at all; they actually salt them. Is gross. Man throws most of it out window for me, in addition to aluminum cans and plastic bags. This is also normal.
7) Arrive in Mzuzu, relatively unscathed at 4pm. Eat. Finally drink something – can of Coke in 30 seconds flat. Bus to Dar Es Salaam at 7am next morning. Nightie night.

I was going to combine the entries and write about Dar now too, but I’m sure you all have to take a break and go to the bathroom or something, so I’ll make it a separate entry. Peace out. xx


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