Blantyre to Cape Maclear

This story is out of date, but while preparing my birthday blog, I realized I hadn’t written about what I generally consider to be the worst bus ride of my life. Okay, bus rides in a lot of Latin America are fucking awful. They’re packed, dusty, and you somehow always end up having to hold someone’s chicken on your lap. A 3 hour ride will turn into 8 hours, someone will shut all the windows, and some jackass with the world’s most annoying phone alert will be carrying on an argument with his girlfriend via text. After my travels there, I usually look at buses in other parts of the world and laugh. Especially in Africa, with their arid climate, eager vendors, and populace of sweat-gland bereft waifs. Go on and try to rattle me, Africa. I fucking dare you.

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About a month and a half ago, I was eating breakfast at Wensa bus station in Blantyre, Malawi. The plan was to head to Monkey Bay and then on to Cape Maclear to join up with some friends I had made in Mozambique, and I had been told to be at the bus station at 6am sharp. My eyes were bleary and my hair was askew, but my belly was full and my bladder was empty… the ideal condition for the 5 hour bus ride. I was ready. I was ready at 6am, I was ready at 7am, but by 9am, when the bus actually left, my throat was parched and the samosas I had had for breakfast had already begun their journey south. Creaking, panting, and painfully full of human cargo, the (seemingly) thousand year old bus finally hit the road.

Ten minutes later, we were at Limbe station, and I got that awful pancreatic twitch that usually signals a marked downturn in events. There was a mass of no less than 80 people and their luggage loitering under the dwindling shade of a very abused-looking bus with an open hood. The sign in the window of this bus also read “Monkey Bay.” So, altruistically, our completely overloaded African bus stopped to load in an additional 80 people from another completely overloaded African bus, and we spent another hour and a half shuffling luggage, shouting back and forth, and compressing Sam Chu into a purple-faced jelly amongst the throngs of sweaty local bodies. By the time we got going again, it was nearly 11 o’clock.

There were two other muzungu (foreigners) there. One of them was a tall Frenchman that had found himself at the unhappy center of a chubby Malawian sandwich, and the other had been stuffed in at such an unfortunate spot that he didn’t actually have anywhere to put his feet, and had to merely hang onto a railing at something of a 60 degree angle while the bus pitched and swerved around the corners of Zomba Valley.

I was the luckiest of the lot, with my window seat and friendly English-speaking neighbor. Unfortunately, he only rode with me for 45 kilometers or so, and when he got off, he was replaced with a complete lunatic who took to punk-slapping the side of my head for fun. This lady must have been about 85 years old, but she had the shoulder-torque of a professional pitcher. OWW! This went on for nearly an hour, and I was somewhere between wanting to cry and wanting to throttle an impoverished African grandmother when the crowd thinned enough for her to get an eyeful of the Frenchman, and she disappeared off to go harass him instead.

Hours later, the bus had emptied enough for everyone to have a seat, and for some people to have even 4 or 5 across. Yet, somehow, on my bench, the father with his 2 children didn’t feel like budging. Here I was, mashed against the window with my legs crossed to preserve space, and most of the rest of the bus was empty. I asked them to move. Nothing. I motioned for them to let me out so that I could move. Still nothing. I wiggled and whined and made the face that a terrier makes right before it craps on your carpet. They were determined to mash me until the bitter end, and I found myself shouting over and over again, “YOU. THERE. GO THERE. YOU GO THERE!!!”

Anyway, by the end of the ride, me and the other two muzungu (Carlos and Fergis) were fast friends. We had arrived in Monkey Bay almost 6 hours later than expected, with Fergis’ guitar practically in pieces, and with touts trying to get us to pay 8x the normal price of a matola (open-bed truck you can hitch on) to take us the rest of the way to Cape Maclear. After a LOT of haggling, we agreed to pay twice the normal price each in order to take a private matola. They then proceeded to load it up with so much crap (and other people, … private my ass), that by the time we took off, Fergis had been reduced to a flesh ball curled around the remainder of his guitar, and Carlos and I, without anywhere to put our feet or arms, found ourselves laying facedown on top of the cab of the truck, one arm looped around each other to steady ourselves, and the other in each window, hunting for something to hold onto. Someone punched me in the ass. Fergis eventually got swallowed by the mass of people and goods. Carlos, unwilling to let go of either the window or me, told me in open-mouthed horror about the mystery hand that was creeping higher, higher, still higher up the leg of his shorts.

The truck broke down. Of course. Once. Twice. Six times a lady. We pushed sometimes, we sat passively inside other times, and we ran after it in the dark as it sped off with all of our belongings other times. A ride that was meant to take half an hour took another 2 hours, and by the time we arrived in Cape Maclear, I was so beyond anger and exhaustion that I couldn’t even be bothered to bitch out the driver for lying to us.

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Anyway, that’s the end of the story. Since I didn’t take any pictures, here’s a video of my awesome sink in Kuta.

4 thoughts on “Blantyre to Cape Maclear

  1. Sweet! These are the stories that you’ll tell to your grandchildren one day, not the bus ride that went smoothly! A pity you don’t have pictures but imagination is a great thing! Take care! x

  2. Pingback: My Wearabouts | Oh, the Places Chu'll Go!

  3. Pingback: Journey to the Center of Asia | Oh, the Places Chu'll Go!

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