Our trip to the border was good. We were tempted by some of the beautiful fresh produce being sold at the side of the road – ripe tomatoes, shiny red onions, avocadoes and the brightest orange fungi you have ever seen. We’d seen a lot of the latter being sold from baskets along the road and enquiries at one of the lodges revealed that they are good to eat. They grow in termite mounds and are chucked out by the termites, presumably when they take up too much room. We’d been tempted to try them but now we were heading for the border we didn’t dare buy any fresh produce as you are not usually allowed to take such food across. Sadly this included the fried mice on a stick offered to us as we passed one vendor. I guess we could have eaten them en route but we’d already had breakfast. Shame…
We passed another of the several signs we’d seen in Zambia for a tile manufacturer. It was by a police check point so we decided not to take a photo but they are worth sharing. They are emblazoned in black on orange, in very visible locations: outside a school, coming into town, the police checkpoint, etc.. “A roof without Harvey’s Tiles is like a school without teachers. There will be illiteracy!!!” or “A roof without Harvey’s Tiles is like a country without a council, police, education, agriculture and forestry departments. There will be lawlessness!!!” and “A roof without Harvey’s Tiles is like a marriage without friendship. It might not work!!!” They tickled our fancy anyway.
We passed quickly out of Zambia and ran the usual gauntlet of money sharks on the Malawian side. We nearly managed to do a deal with one who realised just in time that he’d offered us his buying rate, not selling rate! We declined his revised price and, despite his insistence that we needed Malawian Kwacha for about half a dozen payments before we could pass through, we went armed just with US dollars, hoping that the advice at the lodge was correct. It was indeed and the crossing was easy, albeit done in African time. Just out of the border town there was the mandatory Police road check – our first in country. He was fairly brusque but friendly and when we’d shown him our COMESA 3rd party insurance he said in a deadpan tone “Go away”. With that we did.
The road to Lilognwe – so much for our plan to leave the rains behind
Our first destination was the capital, Lilongwe, and we hit town at 5.30pm on a Friday. Not great timing. The traffic was appalling and a bit of a culture shock. It was made worse by a crane that had broken down on the main road in, causing carnage. After lots of queuing and playing chicken with the other cars on a large and near grid-locked roundabout we got to our campsite, the main reason we’d headed straight for the city for our first night in Malawi. Lilongwe is effectively split in two by a large park / nature reserve, with the old town to the south and the new, shiny modern part to the north. Our camp was on the edge of the reserve, effectively part of it, and was safe, quiet and secluded. It was attached to a lodge run by a Malawian-born Indian who had spent 24 years in London. Consequently they served really excellent Indian cuisine which we or course had to sample. It was some of the best we’ve had. Fortunately we’d got the tent up before the skies opened and we watched the torrential downpour from the safety of the restaurant. It had stopped by the time we headed to bed and the tent had done a remarkable job of standing up to the rain.
One downpour in Lilongwe
We visited the old town, perused a couple of markets and caught a ride home with the local equivalent of a tuck-tuck. Good fun and just in time as the heavens opened for the customary afternoon downpour! It hammered down. The day we’d arrived there had been bad flooding in the city with two children rescued by army helicopter and two others thought drowned. We weren’t affected and in fact didn’t realise until we did a bit of internet surfing a couple of days later.
A leisurely drive through the capital city
You can buy just about anything along the side of the road with your:
Loadsa money Malawian kwacha (these are worth just over a pound each)
The Six Nations rugby had kicked off the previous weekend and this Saturday England and Wales were playing each other in the fantastic Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (sorry, can’t bring myself to call it the Principality Stadium, after the new insurance company sponsors). We’d seen Wales play, and beat, Scotland there last year and it was a really brilliant atmosphere. We managed to find a bar that was showing the game and rocked up to catch the end of the Ireland-Italy match. Ireland thrashed Italy, much to the joy of most of the crowd in the bar which included a number of Irish and an assortment of ex-pats from various corners of the world including Australia. With the exception of a few Italians, who’d left before the end of their match, they all stayed for the Wales/England game. This was great for Gareth but not so good for Angela, who found herself the sole but vocal supported for England, bar one pathetically quiet man in the corner. It was a great game, both teams really going for it and the score reflecting that, first favouring one side then the other. Both of us were twitching in our seats, shoulders clenched and shouting at the screen. Talk about stressful. Remind me why we watch sport? At 75 minutes it looked like Wales had it and the room was cheering, but an England try at 78 minutes stole it away from them. With the exception of Angela the bar went quiet. There’s really not a lot of love for England out there. Gareth was gutted but magnanimous in defeat and is still talking to Angela, just about. Now that game’s over we can go back to supporting each other’s teams for the rest of the tournament… right Gareth? Hopefully we can find somewhere to watch it again.
We stayed for a few days in the campsite, then decided we’d better see the rest of Malawi before our visas run out.