Sunday, 4 December 2011

blantyre to Livingstone - More African bus experiences…

After leaving Shar and Ryan we caught the AXA ‘luxury’ bus back to Lilongwe – which broke down after the first hour. The bus didn’t actually have to stop, but we stalled on nearly every uphill and the driver would kick it into neutral on every downhill to pick up as much momentum as possible before climbing up and stalling again - the result was a painfully slow trip and we arrived 2 hours later than planned at 2pm. 

Unfortunately, the food served on the bus (deep fried nastiness) was not the best as upon arrival Dave experienced his 2nd bout of gastro of our trip.  This meant that our stay in Lilongwe was prolonged a day so he could recover (we had planned on getting across the border to Chipata that afternoon but there was no way Dave could handle another bus).  Instead we found ourselves a hotel in town and after a feverish, painful night Dave downed a good dose of Imodium and the next day we set out to take a minivan to the Zambian border. 

Finding a minivan was reasonable easy, it was just opposite the main bus station and there were touts yelling out “CHIPATA!” and harrying us towards the nearest, fullest minivan. For the four hour ride to the Malawian / Zambian border, we ended up having 14 people and luggage in a 9 seater minivan – luckily they moved us to the front seat which, asides from now being somewhat deaf due to the volume of the music, was at least slightly more comfortable.  (It turns out being deafened by music on bus trips was something to repeated constantly regardless of the country…)

As this was our first border crossing in Africa, we were a bit hesitant as we’d read many warnings, dangers and scams that *could* happen.  Amazingly, both border crossings were straightforward and half an hour later we easily negotiated a taxi to our accommodation in Chipata, Zambia. It was a short nights stay at our accommodation, Dean’s Lodge, on the outskirts of town as we had to catch a taxi at 4am to the bus station for our 4.30am departure for Lusaka. 

We had bargained for a cheaper seat the night before, but we arrived to find the price was now higher than the ‘normal’ price – the only explanation from the ticket guy was that his colleagues had tried to cheat us the night before. The lesson learnt here – if you’re quoted a cheap price, get the ticket on the spot... a Zambian tout’s promise is worthless.

The bus left Chipata late at 5am, and we arrived 7 hours later in Lusaka.  During the 7 hours we had no toilet stops and the ‘great food’ that we were promised turned out to be a small bag of crisps and a can of coke.  So it was very thankfully that we got of the bus in Lusaka and descended into the mess of touts all yelling at us, one whom David had to fight off as he tried to grab our bags and take them to his preferred company.  Fighting the crowds we managed to shoulder our own bags and wade towards the ticket booths, with the touts swarming us from every direction including the bag snatching tout who was screaming to everyone “They have money in this bag!”  We headed straight for the bus company that we’d read good reviews about – Mazhandu Family Bus Company.  Amazingly, some of the touts who’d followed us the entire way almost started a fist fight with the Mazhandu company’s bag boys over our patronage, it was astounding.

Unfortunately for us, Mazhandu had no luxury buses running that day, but there was a “semi-luxury” leaving in 10 minutes - so we figured that semi-luxury couldn’t be too bad and we grabbed the tickets and ran for the bus (managing to negotiate a much overdue quick toilet stop on the way!). 

In Africa, it turns out semi-luxury means that at least you don’t have to stand.  We endured 7.5 hours of bus hell.  Three people on a two person seat, no aircon (and open windows seemed not to be an option), no food and no stops to buy more water.  It was to be expected really, as this is Africa and to the locals a seat probably really was semi-luxury. I think what made the journey more painful was our first seat companion decided that his bag was more important than us and wedged it onto the seat which essentially meant all three of us were sharing one and a half seats.  Unfortunately after he departed the situation didn’t improve, a woman who was easily the size of both of us placed side by side took up even more room on the seat.

Trust us when we say that we were more than thankful to arrive at 8pm in Livingstone after a 15 hour day that we’d rather forget.  We rewarded our survival with a decent dinner out at a restaurant close to our hostel – Fawlty Towers. Our bus experience made us very, very happy that we’d already decided already to fly the next leg of our journey - from Livingstone to Johannesburg  - rather than take another long bus ride!

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