Sat 19 Jul
We got a lift with a woman and her family who had also being staying at the guesthouse. She had rented and filled a Land Rover but we were grateful to squeeze in at the very back and pay a share of the mileage.
As we approached the border, moneychangers ran down the road behind us. When we stepped out of the vehicle we were surrounded by thirty to forty of them. It was a little bit intimidating. On a point of principle and to a certain extent reflecting concerns for our security we refused to deal with any of them as we went from hut to hut, official to official, barrier to barrier. This just made them more determined and we could hear the rate getting more favourable. The other consideration was that it being the weekend, we were not likely to get to a bank before early-closing, so in the end we relented and changed just US$50 to see us through. Even then there was some jiggery pokery with the counting out of notes, but all was satisfactorily resolved in the end.
We walked across the bridge and cleared formalities entering Malawi. Outside the gates, we found a minibus quite quickly and then realised it could still be another hour before it was full enough to depart. We loaded our bags and bought a cold coke. All the doors and windows were open; in fact the sliding door was not even attached. Despite the music blaring from the cassette player, we sat inside as at least it offered a little shade. We put our watches to local time (back an hour) and got ready for the long wait, not sure that we had much option anyway.
Once we were ready to depart the music got turned up even louder. This may have been to drown out any yelps of concern as people held on for their lives or it my have been simply to compensate for the increased wind noise due to the lack of glass in most of the windows. I sat in the front and worried about securing my seat belt, while those in the back only had to worry about how long the conductor's assistant would be able to hold the sliding door in place. It was hard to imagine that this vehicle would pass any sort of road-worthiness inspection let alone a licence to carry passengers but when we did get stopped by a couple of police officers, half an hour later, it was because they wanted a ride.
We arrived in Karonga sometime after 2pm and caught the first bus south, towards Chilumba. The road was excellent and we made good time. After a while the crowd eased a little and we were able to make sandwiches on the back seat. It was all going too well. Unfortunately an empty bus is not good business and before we reached our destination the driver decided not to go any further and refunded some of our fare.
After half an hour of waiting we got a lift in the back of a lorry with four pigs, two nuns and many sacks of rice. We were dropped as requested at a lodge recommended in the guidebook only to find it was deserted. Apparently the bar had recently burnt down and the place was no longer open. It was 5:30pm and nearly dark. We took our bags back up to the road, sat and waited for a lift to anywhere.