The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

The distance from Lilongwe to Livingstonia Beach (Lake Malawi) is 120 kilometers. Less than two hours if you have your own car. Most Africans don’t. Our quest is, and will always be, to do like the locals. Therefore the $100 trip by taxi is out of the question. Africans who want to move long distances over land are likely to choose the microbuses that zig zag this continent. But to be honest they stink. Literally they stink. They also stink in every other meaning of the word. So how do you move when expensive taxies and crammed microbuses are out of the question? Answer: You hitchhike.

─Where are you going, brother, the driver asks and kills his engine. Petrol is expensive, and talk is cheap.

─Salima, we answer, knowing that Lake Malawi is some 120 k down the road.

─Oh, I’m sorry. I am only going half way, the driver tells us.

─Half the way is better than no way, we reply.

Seconds later we find ourselves on the back of a little lorry heading for a place with a name none of us are able to pronounce. It’s four people on board already. Three of them in front, and Yamikan Kamwana (21) in the back.

Fortunately fuel consumption and speeding are inseparably linked. The white vehicle is climbing and descending the rolling hills with great caution. At one point a guy with a bicycle thumbs us down to get a lift to nearest village. The young man, who is about to present himself as Yamikan, has been watching us closely, without uttering more than the obligatory “how are you”. Every now and then his eyes wonders to the green hills where maize, tobacco, tea, mango and sun flowers grows vividly in the red soil, that is blessed with plenty of rain this year.

All of a sudden, his face turns turn into a giant smile.

─I love my country. It is so beautiful. Just look at the maize. It is reap in a month, and it will be a good harvest this year.

He barely manages to finish the sentence before the car slows down, and stops. Salima is no longer 120 k down the road, it’s 60. But this ride stops here. We pay the driver 1000 kwatcha ($3) and jump of.

Three minutes later we’re lucky again. A salesman of Bic ballpoint pens is one his way to Salima with a stunning woman. When asked whether they are a couple or not he answers “we’re in the process of getting to know each other better”. Judging from the giggling of the beauty in the passenger seat the process is going really well.

We are leaning back in the AC car, believing we’ll soon reach Livingstonia beach. We’re wrong. The salesman has pens to sell, and to our misfortune he intends to sell them in Salima town, not at the lake.

20 k to go, and no taxis in sight. The culture relative patience is about to run out. The only means of transportation is a microbus, or a “matoloa”. These buses are always on time. They’re scheduled to leave when they are full. Unfortunately full is a matter of definition. When the number of passengers in the Toyota Hiace reaches 22 and the driver urges more people to join we decide it’s time to leave.

In Norway we talk about “lunchbox drivers” – people who only transport themselves and their lunchboxes around in oversized cars. In Africa it’s the other way around: The cars are so packed with people that you won’t find any space for your lunchbox. If you have one, that is.

Fortunately the next matoloa is still empty. We get in and occupy the two free seats in the front, knowing that the departure time is highly uncertain, yet precise. Finally we’re full, and we hear a sight from the passengers as the driver tries to start the vehicle, achieving no more than depressing sounds from the starter as is struggles in vain to start the damn engine. Finally we have to get out and push. In reverse. Two hours, and a few heavy pushes later we finally rattle in to the parking lot of Sunbird hotel Livingstonia Beach.

We always thought the answer to the question “when does a G&T taste best” was “always”. We were wrong. The correct answer is “after travelling the hard way from Lilongwe to Lake Malawi”.

17 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”

  1. Hitchhiking has become almost a thing of the past in the states. It rarely seen these days. Too many crazies out there.

  2. John Chrisrensen Says:

    I’m only able to stand uprigth, be walking or lay down. By no means I’m able sit in the seat (due to serious backproblems) of any car or bus. I were altough happy to be able to use my OUTDOOR pushbike. By aid of my bike I made my way to Tarebua (my nearest PUB) . I’m not in Malawi temperature (rather Russian) so my drink were not G&T, – but exsellent Vodka. I even found my way back home! Enjoy your temperature! I prefere one or two centigrades below zero. I do envy you the adventures and your experiances! I’ll follow you at a secure distance and with a better temperature. Keep going forward !

  3. What an adventure! Great post. I guess the sign for hitchhiking is universal?

  4. those buses are infamous- thanks for taking us on the journey.

  5. That looks like a fun ride. You remind me of what it was in the Philippines hitch hiking in the towns. Despite of poverty, people are generous and safe to be with. In America, I will think lots of times before doing the same.

  6. i want some of them brown eggs that is in the bus… 🙂

  7. Hi, I just found your blog through freshly pressed. I particularly like this entry. Made me smile. I like the way you write and the fact that your posts are relatively short with lots of content. As I have the attention span of a knat and even less time in my busy life this is great for me.

    Happy travels and happy blogging.

    Love Denise

  8. You have a great blog.
    This is real travel!

  9. Great, simple way of writing and travelling. Love the photos. It’s such a long time ago since I went hitching, it was one of the only ways to get where I really wanted to. But there could never be a real schedule. I’ve had plenty of time to watch a whole lot of ants crawling along ant highways in my time, I can tell you.

  10. hello… your account of your travels and encounters are so engaging to read. thanks for sharing… 🙂

  11. “We always thought the answer to the question “when does a G&T taste best” was “always”. We were wrong. The correct answer is “after travelling the hard way from Lilongwe to Lake Malawi”.”


  12. Loved this episode of your travel adventures! Your description of everything had me in the seat next to you.

  13. That the life of a Bic travelling salesman should be so much fun, not to mention your epic adventures! And how good to know that the crops are doing so well.

  14. What a riot! You are lucky. 🙂

  15. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this blog. It’s simple, yet effective.
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