By foot, by taxi, by bus, by god! A trip through the Malawi countryside

by Amy Rosenthal / Jun 27, 2008 / 0 comments

By foot, by taxi, by bus, by god!  A trip through the Malawi countryside

A minibus from Lilongwe to Zomba was our first experience with cross-country travel in Malawi. And this was not our first choice. We intended to catch a ride on a larger, “scheduled” bus, one run by the Shire Bus Lines (now, for the most part, replaced by AXA). We left our guesthouse in Lilongwe with what we thought was enough time to spare, and arrived 20 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave - only to find that the bus had left early, five minutes before we had arrived at the bus station. The next bus wouldn’t leave for Zomba until later in the afternoon and given that we had limited time, we couldn’t wait. So much for our attention to time and schedules. A minibus it was.

The minibus we rode was equipped to hold about eight passengers comfortably... Extra jumpseats dropped into the aisles and the minibus ultimately held about 18-20 people, and the luggage and bags of all. The 150-200 mile trip took four and a half hours not for lack of speed, but because of the frequent stops the minibus made to drop off and pick up passengers, and to allow us to go to the bathroom and to purchase food and drink along the way. Not knowing how long the trip was going to take when we started, I was glad I had made the decision to go to the bathroom at the first stop, against the advice of the Malawians on the bus, as the restroom I used was a simple community borehole. Someday a future anthropologist will find a Clif bar wrapper, the only thing I had that even remotely resembled toilet paper, at the bottom of that pit.

We made it to Zomba, and it was more than worth the trip. African a cappella music drifted from a nearby church; monkeys ran about roads; soccer (football) played on televisions; and a botanical garden filled with birds, monkeys, bamboo, trees, other greenery and a meandering stream surrounded the area where our hotel was located.

When it was time for us to leave, we did manage to catch a ride on a Shire Bus. The experience was a different sort of transport adventure. It rained most of the way back, and water dripped from nearly every bolt in the ceiling and from the less-than-tightly-sealed windows. Passengers seat-hopped to find the driest seats. People brought their luggage on board, but also their chickens. But the bus and our seats were higher and allowed a view of the countryside that was breathtaking; clusters of tiny grass-roofed houses dotted the green, lush rolling hills. The rainy season brings dampness, humidity and leaky roofs, but it also brings one of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable.

By foot, by taxi, by bus, by god!  A trip through the Malawi countryside



Amy Rosenthal is the Southern and Eastern Africa Editor for WanderingEducators