I’m writing this having safely completed the first leg on my journey back to the UK.
However, that does not hint at the interesting journey it was. The coach arrived a few minutes late at the coach station, which is based at the side of a filling station. Normally that would not be an issue but, at present Malawi is suffering severe fuel shortages so whenever there is even a rumour of a tanker of fuel arriving cars and vans descend on that particular filling station. Over the last two days there have been trucks and vans just parked outside a filling station, waiting for a promised delivery of diesel!
Anyway, back to my coach. Having fought it’s way through a queue at the coach station as the filling station actually had a tanker unloading fuel so the numbers of cars just seemed to explode, it arrived about 10 minutes late, which under the circumstances was pretty good.
It was not the normal luxury coach that is used for the journey, but a slightly down at heel looking beast, but it was there to start my journey home so it was fine by me. I loaded my bags on the luggage compartment and climbed aboard to be greeted by sagging seats, very limited leg room and a generally grubby and uncared for look. It seemed pretty cold and I soon realised that the sliding windows did not close properly letting in a rush of cool air. And to compound matters one of the windows was missing and had been replaced with 2 or 3 sheets of plastics taped in place, actually expertly. I guess they had done this before. However, I had 2 seats to myself and all was well.
We set off on our 4 hour journey about 20 minutes late and slowly made our way out of the city of Blantyre en-route for Lilongwe. The initial part of the journey was slow, making our way past the various small trading centres that line the route close to Blantyre. Then on the far edge of the urban area of the city we stopped for the first of 4 police checks. After this the journey would mainly be on the M1, the main north-south artery in Malawi, so that would enable us to travel a little faster. Which normally would be fine but when this coach’s speed got over about 45 kph, it started it vibrate very noisily. As most of the remainder of the journey was completed at speeds considerably over 45kph I think I now have something resembling the industrial mining injury ‘white finger’ affecting my nether regions. They have only just started to recover this morning as I write this, some 12 hours later.
After about an hour and a half darkness started to fall and it seemed for all the world as if the driver was trying to conserve the life of his headlight bulbs as even in the gloom it was difficult to spot any sign of headlights. One thing I have learnt in Malawi is that headlights are seen at times as an optional extra!
Eventually the lights appeared and we sped through the darkness towards our destination, with seemingly ever increasing speed mostly using the centre of the single carriageway road [I know I said it was the M1 but it’s all relative] on the basis that, as the coach was larger than most oncoming vehicles they would smartly get out of the way. And I must say, it really worked well! One or two interesting moments when a truck far larger than us approached but we passed by unscathed, by I felt the proverbial fag paper.
Another unusual technique used for overtaking, involved speeding up behind whatever vehicle it was, flashing the headlights furiously, [maybe that’s what he was saving them for!] and the pulling out at the last minute to sweep furiously past whilst at the same time honking the horn to warn the hapless driver we were there. As if they needed reminding after that approach!. Again this worked well except when passing a large lorry when we had to go slightly ‘off-road’ on to the broken edge of the tarmac, and beyond, to find the space to get by.
In fairness once I had accepted that these guys do this journey most days and I had yet to read of a coach from this company having a fatal accident, I decided that my odds of arriving in Lilongwe were probably better than even, relaxed and almost drifted off to sleep. Only to be woken by another flaming police road block. These are really a pointless exercise as they mainly involve stopping the coach, having a quick chat with the on board hostess [forgot to mention her, she certainly helped relax things!] and then after, on rare occasions, a perfunctory look in the luggage compartment for I know not what, we were waved cheerily on our way.
So on arrival in Lilongwe only about 10 minutes late, I was collected by the local project driver who kindly waited while I collected a much needed Indian takeaway and some coca cola and then delivered me safely to the project house in town.
Well after consuming the aforementioned Indian with gusto I retired to a very clean and comfortable room and slept the sleep of those who had briefly stared at their own mortality, very disturbed! But this morning, what a difference. The sun is shining and the room had the best shower I have had in a long while. That being said it does not take a lot to beat a shower that only works if you hold the shower attachment over your head and wait for a dribble of water that could be by turns, either freezing cold or scalding hot, with no warning of the impending approach of either. So after a long and seemingly luxurious shower I am sitting writing this looking out over the well cared for garden and drinking coffee and eating the toast prepared for me by the excellent staff here.
From here I will shortly be taken to the airport to check in for my flight to Addis Ababa and from there will embark at 00:40 Friday morning on my flight back to Heathrow. It’s unlikely that I will be able to access the internet at Addis so I will post another update when I arrive back in the UK.