We decided to travel to Lake Malawi during a week long break from clinic. In our wisdom the overland bus seemed the most appropriate. We’re seasoned travellers we thought. Let’s get the 5am bus. Armed with pre prepared tomato and cheese rolls we departed. We were ready.
The first leg passed easily enough; it wasn’t until Lusaka that the fun really began.
Blinking, much like new born moles, we emerged into the midday sun and attempted to find the correct bus for the next leg. Much pushy helpfulness followed; before long we were led to the slaughter.
‘The bus is leaving, it costs this much, there is no other option, this is the last one, there are only a few seats left, time is running out.’
We get on the bus. I fear we may have been duped. If I saw those men again I’d like to think I’d wave my fist at them. Or at least write a strongly worded letter. On arrival at my seat I managed to insert my behind into a space where there really was only ‘room for a little one’. I resembled origami folded by a four year old; all corners and minimal forward planning. Exchanging sweat with the people either side of me I remained in the same position for approximately the next four hours. Ah yes I thought, I remember what this is like now. It’s a shame the glamour of this situation isn’t available for public consumption on social media. #wanderlust. I’d rather gouge out my own eyes with a spoon.
Unfortunately given we were now split at different ends of the bus the pre prepared snacks were some distance away. About hour 6 one of the cherished rolls (now resembling a soggy cheese toastie) made its way to me. My kindly neighbour bought a bunch of bananas for the helpless muzungu silently melting next to her. The in-bus entertainment system (besides my physiologically incompetent self) played a variety of different, and yet very similar, popular music videos featuring songs praising God. The key to a Zambian smash being that the lead singer remains in one place (a beach, for example) while a group of backing singers/dancers (all in matching outfits) stay somewhere else. It was like some kind of easy listening ground hog day. The real treat were the Zambian military choir who mixed the aforementioned recipe for music video success with khaki and occasional fitness tips.
The promised seven hours inevitably extended to over nine. 1000km down, we arrived at Chipata. The initial plan had been to get across the border into Malawi in one day. My 18 year old self would have strongly considered cracking on that night, risking the border being closed and jumping in a taxi to complete the next 100km at night. Because, you know, we’d planned to get to Lilongwe that day. But I’m not 18 anymore. Now I place higher importance on the little things. Like self preservation.
Luckily a man called Martin was on hand to take us to an establishment with a bed. The fact that the bottom of Martin’s car appeared to be dragging along the road under us was irrelevant. We pulled up at rather a posh hotel. At best they were a little perturbed at our arrival. At worst they were absolutely horrified. ‘How much is your cheapest room?’ Joe tried to help our situation. ‘I really don’t mind sleeping on the floor. I’ll sleep in the corridor, I just don’t care. Sometimes I sleep under my bed when I’m hungover because the sun comes in and it gets too bright.’ I suspect they dropped the price just to get us out of the lobby.
Having made the most of decent water pressure, air conditioning and complimentary buffet breakfast we packed all the miniature bottled goodies into our bags and made a beeline for the border. All this passed rather uneventfully. Was today to be a better day?
We were too aged to cope with the many buses and route changes required so engaged Gibson to drive us the next leg. Gibson had taken the same course as Martin entitled ‘How to Detach Your Chassis en Route’. He was also very attentive. Towards anything but the road. I was quite impressed as he crossed the central line, the opposite side of the road and nearly drove off the kerb all while still looking directly at the road in front of him. He wasn’t asleep or anything.
Soon though, we left the bright lights of Lilongwe and Gibson behind us. I’ll take your Gibson and raise you a Willy. Not even an innuendo. Willy had a nice car and was able to remain in one lane. Our chips were up. He proceeded to skim at least 30 minutes off the journey time, made possible by only touching the brows of hills (less friction when all four wheels are in the air). He was so ahead of time he was able to jump out and chase down a cyclist on foot. He then proceeded to use his foot to kick the cyclist on the bottom before marching back to our waiting vehicle. We decided against engaging Willy for the return journey.
As I had taken a bit of a lead in this decision making process, I couldn’t help but feel a little anxious at points as to how others were feeling about all this.
Get the bus to Malawi she said. It’ll be fun she said.
But like in all the best fairy tales, I was right. I believe my carefully constructed Instagram posts went far enough to show my family and friends that I was, indeed, living the dream while on holiday in Malawi. It really was worth every drop of sweat. Thank God for that.