The Road to Livingstonia, Malawi,
The car screeched to a halt in front of us. Three men jumped out shouting and gastrulating as they tried to corral us towards its passenger doors. Apparently this was our taxi from the Malawi border to the next town. Earlier, Harry the tout who had followed us across from no man’s land and through Malawi immigration, told us that he had a taxi ‘just down the road’. Eight minutes later, after getting our passports stamped, we were still walking. Harry was becoming more and more evasive about the location of the car and we were just about to ditch him when the boys turned up.
Now travel guides and common sense tells you that getting into an unmarked car with a ‘friend’ of the driver is not a good idea. However, in Malawi sharing cars and pickups along the way are common, mainly because cars are rare and bicycles or mini-buses are the main form of transport for most people. Still I was not convinced and we started to trudge back to the border post to find out what time the buses left. 6pm apparently – a 4 hour wait. So we haggled, engaged in some banter, agreed that they would take us all the way to the hotel we wanted to stay at 80 k down the road for 4 dollars and set off. We picked up a couple of passengers along the way and it was fine.
The main reason for stopping off at the first town in Malawi was to cash up as the next ATM was half way down the country. I hardly saw any cars or motorbikes on the road and the main form of transport appeared to be bicycles. After checking into a dark cadaverous but functional hostel room I walked at least 3ks into town with the sun beating down on my head, to locate the bus station, banks, foreign exchange and market. On the way boys on bikes wearing vests with numbers on pedalled past me with goods and passengers perched precariously on small flat metal attachments fixed over their back wheels. This was the local taxi service.
The next day I found myself riding side saddle behind a young man watching my baggage sail ahead of me on another bike as we rode to the bus station. We were off to Livingstonia the first part of our Malawi adventure.