Tanzania to Malawi – The unexpected journey

Mentally prepared for the long journey ahead, we left Mafinga at around 10am. We boarded the back of a not-so-packed bus to embark on a 4hr 30 minute ride to the lovely city of Mbeya, our first stop and change over. From Mbeya we took a mini bus – known as a Daladala – to the Kyela district on the border between Tanzania and Malawi which took a further 2 hours. I can safely say it was the first time I’d ever been on a bus with a chicken or seen someone buy seats for plants and some soil, a strange experience to say the least.

Arriving at the Border, Immigration was a breeze. Entering Malawi didn’t require any visas; it was a quick and simple show of my passport, answer a few questions and walk on through.

From Songwe (the name given to the border on the Malawi side), we got another Daladala which took us 3 hours from the border to the town of Karonga where we would need to change to another Daladala. Up until this point the ride journey had been quite straight forward and exciting, however, it was on the Malawi side when the problems began to arise. Luckily we managed to get three seats on the mini bus which would take us on to Mzuzu – another 5 hours of sitting. For the first half an hour or so we had plenty of space before the jam-packed suffocating ride began; the ride was bumpy, tiring, and most uncomfortable. People where sitting with their luggage crammed onto their laps, under their seats, and on the roof – lack of space was more than obvious but that didn’t seem to bother the driver or conductor.

Every few miles we would approach road blocks where the Army or police would ask us to vacate the vehicle so they could have a look inside. This happened at least five or six times throughout the travel. Agnes and I were they only two people who would be made to show our passports and give reasons for our visit to Malawi. The best situation was when the Army found a suspicious box under my seat but they couldn’t open the door on my side. They ended up reaching in through the window to see into the box while grabbing more of me than the actual box – in the end it turned out to be a giant box of condoms. I didn’t expect that..

The mini bus was designed to seat only 13 people including the driver, I found there was 26 people squished on top of each other with two massive baskets of Dagar (small fish) taking up at least three of the seats in the front row. The smell was foul, even the passenger who had brought them on had to move away. As if the bus wasn’t packed enough the next two passengers wanted to bring a live pig on board. Thankfully the driver declined and drove off..
We wanted nothing more than to stretch properly, get some fresh air and then have a decent sleep but that was going to be impossible.

Finally arriving in Mzuzu, we were beyond tired and hungry. We hadn’t eaten since the evening the day before we left. We found out there would be no buses running to Nhkata bay until the next morning so we had to decide to take a taxi or sleep over night in an empty bus with other people. We took the Taxi option but quickly concluded we should have stayed in Mzuzu.

About 15 minutes into the next section of our journey we found out our driver and his friend were both very drunk. Our driver was reckless and speeding down the dark roads where he hit a pothole and popped the tire. We had to stop in the middle of nowhere, stranded. They weren’t able to use the jack to boost the car up or change the tire properly, so they had to call for help. It took almost an hour before their friends showed up to give us some aid. At last we were on our way again to the hotel but not without fear of crashing. The driver became even more reckless than before almost crashing at least twice, I remember thinking: “Oh god, we are going to die” So many times. Things popped into my head which I hadn’t given much thought before. It was a terrifying ordeal which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

17 hours, 4 buses, and 1 taxi later we finally arrived at our destination.

A long and exhausting experience, one which I wouldn’t like to do again – needless to say it was one heck of an experience and for that I am grateful.

Peace, A. xo

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