I asked timidly, afraid of offending the three ladies standing around the counter.
Earlier in the week, I had asked around where I could get my haircut, and a local suggested to me that cutting mzungu hair was not as straightforward as shaving the head of a black African. “Be careful they don’t screw it up!”, he cautioned. He handed me a flyer and recommended I go to a place across town. I wondered what was so special about the place and asked him. “No reason”, he said, “they left their flyers here.” :)
“It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.”
Just arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa where I am staying the night as a tourist before I head on to Lilongwe. As I walked off the plane, I struck up a conversation with a fellow beside me, hoping to find a companion to share a taxi with into the city. Not going that way he instead suggested I consider taking the new light rail – launched as part of the preparations for the 2010 World Cup. Since I haven’t been here before, I am curious to know how much of Jo’burg (and South Africa’s) modern look is due to sustained economic growth, and how much of it is due to enormous investment to prepare the city for the influx of football fans two years ago? Does it matter? Continue reading First visit to Johannesburg→
At the moment I am in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique – a Portuguese-speaking country on the south-eastern coast of Africa. The weather here is quite a bit warmer than it was in Malawi and Zambia and I am quite enjoying the scene here. The city is coastal, and has quite a vibrant atmosphere. Mix in the Portuguese, and the humid weather, and it all feels quite reminiscent of Brazil. In just a week I’ve gotten a good feel that I could spend some time living here.
I find it very helpful to read other’s accounts of how they got from point A to B in strange places, and so I thought I’d return the favour. I’ll try to do this as often as I can during this trip – click on the tag “bus travel” to find more of the same.
Travel time: 12 hours Cost: 170,000 ZMK (Zambian Kwacha) or 34 USD Bus company:Kobs Bus Services
I travelled with Kobs Bus Services, and caught them at the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus. I was recommended to go with Kobs by a few locals I’d met during my time in the city who I paid a few bucks to do some travel research. They said it was the most comfortable, the fastest, and the most reliable. I was told that they even provide a snack and a cold drink along the way. That was good enough for me!
I went to the bus station to buy a ticket ahead of time as I wanted to be absolutely sure I would make it on to the bus. The ticket cost me 170,000 Zambian kwatcha, which is about US$34. I know that I didn’t overpay as this is what was listed on a sign as I approached the ticket office, and someone else in the bus confirmed having paid the same thing. Since I have troublesome knees, I asked for a seat at the front. The fellow at the ticket office (Masuzio) was very nice and met me the following morning to make sure I had a comfortable seat. I tipped him 5000 kwacha (US$1) for this as I really appreciated it.
Departure and Baggage
The bus boarded at 4:30am, and was scheduled for departure at 5:00am. It left on time. I decided to put my large backpack into the hold down below. The baggage handled tried to pull a fast one on me, by saying that there was a charge for bags stowed under the bus. I just ignored him and he didn’t do anything. But a scary thing did happen on route. About an hour and a half into our trip, along a dusty highway through the countryside, the bus went over a bump and the hold opened up and several bags fell out on to the highway. The bus stopped, and passengers ran back along the highway searching for their bag and clothes that had fallen out of those that had burst open. Thankfully mine was safe as it was in one of the other holds. Still, quite disconcerting!
During the trip, we stopped about half a dozen times. This was not a surprise, as I had been told that the bus was an express but that several stops were planned. However, consistently the bus driver said we’d only stop for 10-15 minutes, and we always stayed at least double that. So this dragged out the length of the ride quite a bit. One of those was the town of Chipata, where we stopped for about an hour. Some passengers alighted here and took taxis to the Malawian border, and caught another bus on the other side. One local suggested to me that he wished he had done so himself, as he would have saved himself up to an hour.
There are no bathrooms on the bus. In some places you’ll find private restrooms which charge a small fee for use, and others you’ll have to hunt around for a spot to go. This is obviously much easier for guys than girls. In the countryside, folks will step off into the bush. As a rule, I always bring a roll of toilet paper with me, and this is often useful on bus trips. I also find popping an immodium a couple of hours prior to the trip can avoid an uncomfortable (or embarrassing situation!).
The border crossing was uneventful. Leaving Zambia is easy, you simply fill out an exit card and they stamp your passport. Entering Malawi is about as easy. You fill out a visitor register, carry a log number with you to the agent, and fill out an immigration card, and he stamps your passport. There is no fee for entering Malawi (as there was for Zambia and Mozambique). I doubt the reverse is true for Malawians entering Canada! And there are always moneychangers around willing to take your money for a fee (or for free!). Good idea to check rates ahead of time if you’re worried about getting fleeced.
Arrival in Lilongwe
Depending on who I had asked, I had had quotes of anywhere from 8 hours to 14 hours for the ride. In the end, we arrived in Lilongwe in 12 hours, which was about what I had hoped. The bus was usually traveling at a pretty good clip and often overtook other vehicles on the road.
On your arrival in downtown Lilongwe, there will be plenty of local taxis (motorcycles and vehicles) available to take you to your destination. If you don’t have a place to stay and your budget is flexible, I would highly recommend the Kiboko Hotel where I stayed myself for long enough to have a very informed opinion. If you need something more affordable, I have heard good things about Mufasa Backpackers’ Hostel, although I have never stayed there myself. For either hotel, it should not cost you more than 3-4 USD from the bus station using a regular taxi (much less for a motorcycle taxi).
I would travel with Kobs again but if you can, bring your backpack on to the bus with you. And of course, be aware that bus travel is not the safest form of travel in many countries with poorly enforced road laws. News article: Zambian bus accident kills 33
Is there something else you wish I’d commented on or want to know about? Leave a note below.
Cathy and I decided to place these memories online so as to make them part of the public domain forever. There are plenty of ways to memorialise someone and although my dad never used the Internet, being the family history/genealogy buff that he was, I know he would have appreciated making this available and easy for anyone to find. So here is my eulogy too…
Internet is slow as molasses here in Lilongwe today but thought I’d see if I could get speed to post an update. Just spent last two days in a hotel restaurant working on reports and things. Haven’t done much touristy at all and ready for a break! So, tomorrow morning I am leaving early on a bus to the Mozambican-Malawian border town of Dedza where I plan to hike up to the top of Dedza Mountain (photo inset shows the view from the summit).
Dedza is Malawi’s “highest” town at an altitude of 1590m and being winter right now in the Southern part of the African continent the night-time temperatures get down to 10 degrees or so. It’s refreshing and brisk and I’m looking forward to a cold beer in a local bar (or maybe some hot chocolate :)) and meeting some interesting people, locals and travellers alike.
On Sunday morning, I’ll then get on a bus from Dedza into Mozambique, stopping at the town of Tete sometime on Sunday afternoon. I hope to catch an overnight bus from there directly to Maputo. I think it could be as long as an 18-20 hour ride.