Malawian Rice Vendor

Friday, 3 June 2011

The road to South Luangwa

We awoke quite early to the blaring sound of morning prayer call as there is quite a large muslim population in the town of Chipata.  We tried in vain to go back to sleep but the roosters and barking dogs would not let us.  Sam, our host, radioed for a taxi to pick us up at 8am as he had told us it was wise to arrive early for the mini bus to south luangwa national park.  It finally showed around 8:45am and Eddy, our driver, who seemed to be only 20 was actually 46, took us to the bus station.  We found the mini bus and negotiated what we thought was a fair price to take us on the 3 hour journey to the small town of Mfuwe.  We were told that the bus would leave around 10am or whenever it filled, whichever came later.  We counted the seats and there seemed to be enough space for about 12 people to sit comfortably or 16 people to sit a little less so...  The van itself made a 1970 VW bus look like a Rolls Royce.  By 10am we seemed to have only about 8 people so we knew we would not be departing on time.  Patience is the key word here in Africa.  By noon, we had  the 16 people to fill the bus.  However, the driver still would not leave.  About 45 minutes later, we discoverd why.  He was waiting for another 8 people to cram into the already loaded vehicle.  This included 2 small children and an infant with a smell of poopy diapers.  Finally, by 1pm, after cramming things in every available orfice, and loading the roof top beyond capacity, and having the luggage boy have to climb through a window to find space, we took off.  Only to stop 5 minutes later to fill the bus with petrol and to fix the spare tire.  Why the driver could not have done this in the am, is beyond belief.  Finally, about an hour later, tank "filled", tire "fixed", everyone loaded back into their pre ordained "seats", we were off.  The first 15 km's seemed to go well on smooth pavement, then things took a turn for the worse.  The road which we were told has been under construction for several years, was severly rutted and massive potholes lurking around every corner.  As we careemed around the dusty road, we heard the bald tires scrapping against the wheel wells which we knew could not be good.  About 2 hours into the drive, the luggage boy yelled to the driver and it turned out, true to form, we had a flat tire.  We stopped in front of a desolate village in the middle of the African jungle.  Everyone piled out of the van and the driver and luggage boy proceeded to change the flat tire.  This process took over an hour and a half before we finally were able to get the tire situated only to discover that we had two other bald tires that were leaking air rapidly but yet had no more spares!  They were able to temporarily stop the leaks through sheer will, we eventually piled back on and slowly took off for another village.  About one hour later, we arrived at a small village where the "boys" were able to take off the tires and find a place to repair them.  This took another 2 hours as the sun was setting and both of us a little nervous that we were still quite far from our final destination.  The boys were able to get the tires fixed using a bicycle pump to fill the smooth pieces of round rubber.  We were told it was only about 24 km's to the town of Mfuwe but what with the driver finally being cautious this leg took more than two hours all of it in pitch darkness.  We passed small villages with only the glow of open fires leading our way.  Finally we were able to get back onto some pavement and we knew Mfuwe was close at hand.  We slowly crested a hill, the poor overworked engine barely chugging along with one final jolt snapping all of our heads back and then forward in unison. The driver slowly dropped his passengers one by one at various huts along the way.   We were the last passengers to depart having endured what turned out to be almost a 9 hour journey.  The driver , upon letting us off, aplogized profusely for having "weak tires".  We were let off at Flatdogs Camp and had originally thought to set  up our own tent but being that it was so late and so dark and both of us exhausted from our journey we decided to splurge on one of the camp's safari tents.  We fell asleep almost immediately only to be awaken by what Erika thought was Jeff's snoring but what turned out to be a grunting hippo...................

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