After the heat of low-lying Malawi, we headed for the hills of Zomba. The views are incredible from the plateau, the stream running near the campsite is cool and fresh, and there is a wonderful market in the town as well. A trip to Zomba is always worth it if you are in Malawi. We arrived in the late afternoon and got busy setting up camp. It was surprisingly chilly at night, but that came as a relief after a few weeks in the heat. The group loved the spot, so we ended up staying two nights - the plus side of a flexible itinerary. We hiked, had 'boat races' and enjoyed our first hot showers in a while. The owners were there and I got to enjoy a cold beer and great conversation as well, and hear about the campsite that was situated on what used to be a fish farm. It was a relaxing two days as we prepared ourselves for the long journey back to South Africa.
We were up early to get to the border 270km away before both sides closed. The drive south from Zomba is incredibly beautiful but sad, as we realized the valley used to be teeming with elephants and wildlife and now it was full of settlements as far as the eye could see. We arrived to the Malawi side of the border just in time to deal with a flat tire. The crew settled in to wait, and I challenged the border guard to a game of Bao, a mancala board game. I had gotten the board in Monkey Bay and was eager to try my luck. A crowd gathered, and soon the guard was called out for cheating - and I got much of the crowd on my side. Fun to bring everyone together and enjoy a bit of competition. It was an inspiring exchange after witnessing many selfish acts from the members of our group in the past weeks, and it filled my heart with joy. The tire was fixed before the end of the game, so we made a deal to have a rematch on the next trip. We exchanged emails, got our passports stamped, said our goodbyes, and it was off to the Mozambique side of the line.
A much different scene as we pulled in, with armed guards and trash strewn, empty dust parking lots. Piet went in first to try his luck, 9 of our passports in hand. The guard wanted to see all of us, so we filed into his tiny office. As he looked at our passports, we began to get a bit nervous. No stamp had been pulled out and there was quite a lot of scrutiny. Finally, he said we couldn't get the Visas at the border and asked us to drive all the way back to Blantyre to go to the Mozambique Embassy and get the correct paperwork. WHAT?! That was a half day drive in the Land Rover, and with 10 people that was quite an expense of both time and budget that we didn't have. Left with no choice, we drove back to the Malawi border to explain our situation. We were welcomed with open arms, and made promises to try and be back the following day. The sun was setting, however, and there was the issue of sleeping and eating to take care of ... and we hadn't seen anything but dust on the back roads here. We headed north, and I checked out the map for somewhere we might camp. About 40 km NW there was a place called Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve that seemed like our best bet, so we gambled and headed that way. Upon arrival we found a gate and people that seemed very surprised to see us. Despite that, we were welcome to camp for the night and given access to a water pipe to fill up some jugs for drinking water. It was a beautiful reserve, although we did not see many animals on our way to the campsite. There were beautiful rock outcrops though, and it was a wonderful surprise along our journey after such a disappointment at the border. We made a fire, cooked our dinners, and prepared for the next day's journey to Blantyre. We would leave at dawn in time to make the Embassy as soon as the door opened.
The 9 of us piled into Sparky and started 3-4 hour journey back up the hills to Blantyre. Nine people in a car at dawn and not a peep. We made it before they opened and hung out in the parking lot. A well-dressed woman arrived told us we couldn't come in without long sleeves, long pants and shoes. I got a bad vibe, and decided to volunteer to represent the group instead of having this dusty bunch roll into that embassy, as diplomacy seemed to have missed this place. I borrowed pants and long sleeves, collected 8 visas (South Africa is exempt) and went inside to negotiate. At first I was told that tomorrow is a public holiday so we would have to come back on Friday. The guy we left with the other Land Rover would die of thirst by then, and the French students on our tour would miss their flights. Not an option. So I tried my hand at diplomacy, and faced questions about how everyone in the group knew each other, why we were traveling, etc... then it got personal and they asked how I expected to EVER meet a man and have a family if I was on the road like this. I got berated for about an hour about my personal choices as the others sat outside on the lawn and awaited our fate. After a few hours the staff conceded to provide us with 5-day travel visas to make it through the country and back to South Africa in time for the return flights if we each got 2 passport photos and paid quite a bit of extra Kwacha directly into their bank account in town. We had to be back before lunch, so the group headed off to find a photographer.
After 6 hours and much verbal diarrhea we had our Mozambique visas in hand, lucky to not wait those few extra days. The group cheered and promised me a cold beer, and we piled back into the Landie to head to our camp at Mwabvi. We returned late to a very dehydrated South African and planned to hit the border as early as possible the following morning. Greetings from our Malawian friend were cheerful, and Mozambique begrudgingly allowed us to pass. It took us three days to get into this country, and now we only had 5 to make it through. Would we make it?
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference and a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born. A place to share stories, resources, and a way to inspire and support others in realizing their individual travel dreams.
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Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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