A Mosey through Mozambique
Our day and a half spent in Lilongwe was rather uneventful. Our campsite was situated quite far from the city center and there was not much to see there in any case. It is also considered a rather dangerous city, therefore, I was only able to wander in so far as I could find another member or preferably members to go anywhere with. I had a number of errands to take care of – namely getting a police report for my stolen iPhone, re-printing my US Tax return to mail back home because I’d forgotten to bloody sign the paper version (my identity was stolen prior to my trip and I had to send a packet of forms to the IRS letting them know that someone had illegally filed my tax return using my social security number – this included sending a paper version of the return, and since I’d e-filed these past six years, I forgot to sign the damn thing) and finding a DHL office to send it back.
The report at the police station was an interesting experience. First of all, I had to pay for the report, 5,000 quatcha, which is about $13…this is pretty much a bribe and as my Kenyan tour leader explained “is how it works in Africa”. This was a place to talk and charm the police officer and then wait hours while they type up their report, which inevitably contains lots of errors and will only hopefully pass for what I need to make a claim on my travel insurance. It was a hugely inefficient office and everything I said was questioned, laughed at, and treated with the utmost skepticism.
I would not want to have to actually report a crime that I had a vested interest in getting investigated here in Malawi.
After a frustrating 2 hours at the internet café, I managed to get my return printed only to find out that they wanted 50 bucks to send the thing back to the States and it might take longer than two weeks. I decided to wait till Harare and hope things moved a little quicker there.
Once I’d grabbed some lunch, I was so spent that the only energy I could muster was to walk back to the campground and have a swim in the pool to beat the blistering heat.
The only other event of significance that happened in Lilongwe was the ant attack. Sleeping in my tent that night, I felt something crawling along my arm and neck. After several attempts at swiping whatever was moving on me away, I cringed as I reached for my headlamp, terrified to look at what was going on around me.
Shining the light – I saw that I was literally in the middle of an ant super highway that was pouring into my tent and making its way across and through my sleeping bag towards my head. I jumped out of the tent and starting shaking, and bashing the little bastards as best I could, but it took quite some time. I wandered over to the other tents and started whispering people’s names hoping to catch some sleep in ant-free accommodation. I later found out that most of our group had also been attacked during the night and had already relocated to sleep in the truck. I found one person awake on the other side of the campground and he kindly let me put my sleeping pad and bag in his tent. Despite being ant-free, I kept waking up in the middle of the night still feeling the damn things crawling on me – but this time it was psychological.
Nevertheless, I was quite miffed the next day to find out that the truck carried a bunch of bug spray on board and that we could use it that next night at our “bush camp”. That would have been useful information to have sooner….
Sigh. This is Africa.
The next two days were long long drives to get us to Harare. The Malawi/Mozambique border was one of the more paranoid crossings we’d experienced yet. It took about an hour and half in line, and there was a laborious process that included having a photo visa issued with a printer that we paid $76 for. I look about as bedraggled as ever, and my mug shot lookalike now adorns the very first page of my British passport.
The officials at this border took their sweet sweet time, taking a break whenever the mood struck, despite the long line of people trying to enter their country, and at such a high cost. We were only going to be driving through, and our guide informed us that we were not to take any photographs of the countryside unless they explicitly designated it a safe photo stop. Weird, right? Much of the country is under strict military watch and the roads have stringent policies regarding trucks and stopping – which we couldn’t do much of either. There were not many pee breaks this day and it was overall a rather uncomfortable experience.
I also found it rather amusing that the customs official processing my visa kept asking me why I don’t speak Portuguese. This used to be a Portuguese colony – but I still found his persistent question bizarre, especially since I couldn’t tell if he was joking or being dead serious.
We had a picnic on the side of the road as storm clouds gathered and we had rolling breaks of thunder. That night we would be bush camping – which basically meant that we would be camping just off the highway with no running water, facilities, or shelters of any kind except for our tents.
The area we chose to camp was actually quite scenic, and I enjoyed the peace in the evening and the sound that the insects made combined with the distant thunder that pursued through the night.
If we thought the Malawi/Mozambique border was bad, the Mozambique/Zimbabwe border was even more stringent – and we waited two and a half hours for our visas, at a crossing which again had no toilet facilities.
I was rather relieved to arrive in Harare at Small World Backpackers to discover a hostel that was like your grandmother’s stately colonial cottage, and I immediately paid the 3 bucks a night to upgrade to a dorm room. I happily discovered that the hostel also had satellite TV – and not having watched anything in over a month, found myself overjoyed sitting on the couch, showered, with some wine and chocolate watching a re-run of Jurassic Park.
Sometimes, when travel is this arduous, it really is the little things that you’re reminded of being grateful for.