“We have come up with a plan,” announced Richard, the police officer at the roadblock in Salima, where it took the truck I had hitched a ride with three hours to travel 120 K’s. Not that the roads are bad. They’re better than in Zambia. It’s just that on every slightest incline the truck crawled to 5 K’s an hour. On the downhill, we were flying at 120 (I’m pretty sure we erased some villages off the map).
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“We will tell the drivers that you’re money was stolen,” he grinned with the genius behind it. Except,
“I don’t need to lie to drivers,” I laughed lightly. “I appreciate your planning but really, someone always takes me. Thank you though.”
After a relaxing, rain-pounding night at Kiboko Town Hotel in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, I had hiked about 2 K’s up the M1 highway to a filling station where I asked the attendant to ask drivers if they were going to Nkhata Bay and if so, could they take me.
Due to his lack of English, it took me about an hour to explain it with Charades. I stood by the highway and made sure my guitar was visible which helped me secure a ride with Ahmed.
“I don’t have money,” I began.
“Get in the car,” he grinned. “I stopped because of the guitar. I’m a drummer. I know you don’t have money.”
I laughed as he took me to, “Area 18. You’ll have a better chance hitching from there.”
I thanked him as we discussed music, the band he was in – “The Old Timers. We’re all over the age of 60 -” and hoped off to stop a ride with Alfred who, even though he was heading to Salima (120 K’s away), and even though I explained my penniless ways. And even though he agreed to take me (what I assumed was all the way to Salima) I was dropped off a few meters down the road at the intersection crawling with buses and taxis. I piled on my packs and guitar and decided to hike until someone stopped.
Ten minutes in and a truck slowed to a stop beside me.
“Where are you going?” asked the soldier who had hitched a ride.
“Nkhata Bay,” I answered. Quickly adding, “but I don’t have money.” I gave him my spiel (which was getting tiresome) and he relayed it onto the driver. The soldier looked back at me with a grin.
“OK, let’s go,” he said.
In the truck I explained to Steve, Francis and Mike the driver (who I christened Magic Mike) my bartering ways. Steve, the soldier was dropped off a few meters down the road, wished me well and I climbed into the passenger seat.
Magic Mike and Francis discussed the many possible ways of obtaining entry into God’s Kingdom.
“Isn’t the earth God’s Kingdom?” I asked. “If he, according to the bible, created it, then he created it as a kingdom for himself, no?”
The discussion turned quickly to the heavens and into Chichewe which resorted me to watch my first voo doo shaman (who resembled more of an Afrika Burn punter) dancing wildly by the road. Then we hit the first of many uphills that lead to my discovery of the truck’s 5 K an hour speed ability on a 3-degree incline.
I watched a group of kids run alongside the trailer, waving and screaming at me with laughs and smiles.
But it’s a ride and Magic Mike was taking me to a good hitching spot in Salima, famous for it’s honey-making farms. And it was here that I was dropped off and met officers Richard and his female partner, Blessings, at the roadblock.
And it was here that I declined their plan to lie to drivers to get rides. After about an hour and a half a blue-cabined truck pulled up.
“I’m only going 200 K’s,” grinned the driver who agreed to take me. I noticed a safari-styled Landcruiser behind him.
“Let me ask these guys and if they’re going further, I’ll go with them.”
“We are going just 40 K’s before Nkhata Bay,” said Engelbert (telecommunications engineer) and Ulli (anesthetists), an Austrian couple on holidays.
Agreeing to take me, four hours later I was dropped off at the roadblock 40 Ks from Nkhata Bay. Efraim, Jonathan and detective Happy were the officers residing. Having learned in Zambia that police roadblocks are the best and easiest way to hitch a ride I explained my travel methods. Although they couldn’t believe it, they helped me secure a ride, right after a dinner of fresh mango that Happy brought me (mangoes are in abundance on the streets and can be picked off quite easily for a feast).
Satega sells cigarettes and loves, LOVES Westlife, the Irish boy band of a decade or so back. Subjected to an hour of their, er-hm, music (?) I realised very quickly that Satega knew these roads by heart. He was the African Kent Block (even though he repeated track no. 19 three times, belting out along with the Irish boy band, he still rocked the roads).
As he was still on the job, we stopped nine times in various villages to pick up unsold cartons and to sell to those who needed to stock up. At one stop,a local drunk approached and asked for a cigarette.
“Don’t smoke,” I said surrounded by cartons of Malawian-made smokes.
By 20:40 (in Malawi they use the standard form of telling time rather than the Zambian method of ‘zero three’ or ‘fifteen’ for the afternoon) I was dropped off at the roadblock that had the road going right to Nkhata Bay or left to Mzuzu, some 50 K’s away.
“Is it safe to walk to Big Blue Backpackers?” I asked the officers. My map showed that it was just a 5-K hike.
“Not safe,” said one officer who appeared to be hushing me over the news coming on the radio.
“Can you help me get a ride?” I asked.
“We knock off at ten-” hour and a half – “We’ll take you.”
At ten on the dot, going against all African laws of time (declaring a time of departure\arrival and adding five hours to it) a police Landcruiser turned up and took me to Big Blue Backpackers, where I was to start my two and a half week stint working and playing music and kayaking.
Now, just to get down the 70 steps that weren’t in the brochure.