Wed 16 Jul
At 1:15pm we reached the town of Mbeya. We took the locals' "dala-dala" (minibus) into town and got dropped at Sisi kwa Sisi, a "grass-roots" eco-tourism organisation. A friendly chap called Niko listened to our ideas and helped us to formulate a programme. There is a village at the northern end of the Lake Malawi called Matema, which we could not get to easily by public transport. We reckoned it would pleasant to stay there a couple of nights. So basically we wanted the use of a vehicle to take us and drop us there. On the way we would pass near to some local tourist sites. With a four-wheel-drive we could take them in on the way: a crater lake, waterfalls and natural bridge. We would end up on the northern shore of Lake Malawi in time for tea. Initially we were told a car would cost US$60 between two of us, which did not sound unreasonable for a day's sightseeing and relocating. Then it transpired that we would have to pay guiding fees and fuel on top. Now at US$100 it was sounding a bit expensive but still worth it so we agreed and naively I gave Niko an advance of US$60. We crossed our fingers that we would see him and a vehicle the next day.
Thu 17 Jul
We were up and ready by 8am; breakfasted and bags packed. I went off to buy some provisions leaving Barry in the hotel reception watching for our transport. After an hour or so I returned but there was still no sign; we were beginning to get anxious.
It was some time after 10:30am when Niko and the vehicle finally arrived, much to our relief. It was an enormous fuel guzzling 4-litre Land Cruiser. We loaded up and collected the shopping I had done earlier from the supermarket. At the filling station we found out we would need eighty litres amounting to over US$50. We were unimpressed and this became apparent. We insisted that it would make our trip too expensive and optimistically asked if we could have our money back.
Niko was silent. The driver took us back to his depot and in the yard we explained to the manager that it would be too expensive and that we had lost most of the morning so we would not have time for all that we had planned so we would like our money back, "please, if it's not too much trouble". Surprisingly he agreed and told us to go and see the accountant with our paperwork.
Having avoided what would have been a very expensive lesson we still had the challenge of how to get to Matema. With time lost maybe a two-wheel-drive going directly would be possible? We would still see the scenery but would drive past the local tourist sites. The depot manager listened and then helpfully used his mobile phone to ring around his mates. He asked if US$80 including fuel would be OK? Stood there in the sun with luggage and two boxes of provisions at our feet it sounded fine. Within 30 minutes a chap called Manuku collected us (in a smaller Toyota Land Cruiser) and we were away.