Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: The drive from Harare, Zimbabwe to Blantyre in Malawi via Mozambique. (March 10-11)

Current Location: Blantyre, Malawi.
Highlights: Three countries and two borders to get the paradise we have found in Malawi
Upcoming: Spear fishing in the Lake, feeding fish eagles, and Kilimanjaro in abut 2 weeks!
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S15 47 LONG: E35 0

We picked up Catherine in Harare at 6.30 am and headed towards the Zimbabwe border with Mozambique en route for Blantyre in Malawi. This was a 630 km drive across two border posts and along some very poor tarred roads of which some stretches in Mozambique are still lined with landmines from the civil war.

Exiting the Zimbabwe border into Mozambique was easy, a stamp in the passport and off we go. Passing through the Mozambique border was somewhat more chaotic, but we bought the mandatory car insurance (85 Rands = US$15), paid an additional car document processing fee of 40 Rands (=US$6.50), and then a US$5 passport processing fee each. Now lets think about this. The Mozambican currency is the Metica (US$1= M14 000) but so far we have had to pay all the fees in either South African Rands or US dollars. I have a feeling that these processing fees are what bribes have turned into. In other words, in years gone past when border officials would want bribes for smooth passage, these have turned into "official" or genuinely officical processing fees.

So now we were entering the road known as the Tete Bridge corridor that connects Zimbabwe with Malawi through Mozambique. Up until just a few years ago, this road was littered with burned out tanks and still has land mined areas along its sides. It is a very poor tarred road with some enormous potholes which makes driving slow. We all had an uneasy, almost eerie, feeling at first as there were no people and no animals, not even birds. But as we drove further we started to pass small villages and people selling petrol at the side of the road from 40 liter plastic drums. We reached the Tete Bridge which crosses the Zambezi River in the town of Tete. We decided to try and buy some petrol just to make sure we would have enough to reach Blantyre and to grab some food so left the main road and headed into town. I changed some money into local currency and we bought some delicious samosas from a kid in the street (7 UScents each), petrol, and some fruit in the market. Looking around Tete you could clearly see that it was once a quite spectacular city built in true Portuguese style and charm (as Mozambique had been occupied by the Portuguese since the 14th century). Today it is clearly at an advanced state of decay.

Again, off we went, across the Tete bridge which had been the site of intense fighting during the civil war that followed independence form the Portuguese, en route for Malawi. The border post leaving Mozambique was straight forward, but the post into Malawi was quite chaotic to say the least. I went into the immigration and customs office and started to queue up in true British style. But here the concept of the queue is unknown, so I quickly joined the crowds and just pushed my way to the front of the desk. The guy in front of me put about 40 Kwacha (the currency in Malawi is the Kwacha and US$1=48 Malawi Kwacha), the immigration official took the notes, put them straight into his pocket, stamped the guys passport and off he went. I filled out the immigration card, got my passport stamped, then had to more down to customs to deal with the paperwork of bringing the Landy into the country. Here is the deal: 75 Kwacha for them to process the Carnet de Passage (you don't need to use the carnet as you can get a temporary import permit at the border), and you must have vehicle insurance. So I went off to a small "office" and bought vehicle insurance (cost for 30 days = US$22), them came back to the customs official. He completed the carnet, gave me a receipt, examined the insurance, and said we could go! This all took about 1 hour. We got back in the car and had to pass through 2 more gates each time showing the paperwork and then we hit the main road to Blantyre, Malawis largest city. It was getting dark now, but the road was quite good, just lined with people walking or riding their bikes somewhere. We had to pass through two police check points and I have to say the Police were very friendly and professional.

We arrived in Blantyre about 9 PM and headed for the "Doodles" campsite right next to the local bus station. The next day we went into town to change money and buy some food. Blantyre is actually a really nice city, its not very big, but has a true African flavor. I spent some time wandering the streets and absorbing the sights and sounds. There are still people with polio here which was an eye opener as it was quite sad to see them beg outside of shops. We bumped into some friends at Doodles we had met earlier on the trip: Greg, a South African who we met at Vic Falls and was traveling solo in a cool old Land Cruiser but who had now picked up a "girlfriend" who was hitch-hiking, and Anna who was a German woman we met working at the backpackers bar in Windhoek where we spent New Years Eve. We spent two nights in Blantyre, then left for Zomba up in the mountains.

No comments: