315am. The phone alarm rings and a long day begins.
3:50am. Scrambling the packs and the two of us together, trying to keep Sam quiet, we exited room number nine. The plan had been to stay up until we left the room and then get some sleep on the bus. The security guard sleeping by the bar awoke with a jolt and demanded our room receipt, which I couldn’t find. 5 minutes late for the taxi. Would it still be waiting? I still couldn’t find the receipt. Would the room key do? It was in the door. Packs down, stay still Sam; I ran back to get the key.
The security guard, finally satisfied he was doing his job, opened the large metal gate. No taxi. We walked down the empty dark Lusaka street with our packs. At the nearest intersection we found a taxi driver who awoke on our approach. Yes!
4:10am. Scrambling on the bus, packs underneath the bus, day packs above our seats, we plonked on the blue velvet seats with relief. Sam broke out the DS. The ‘host’ checked my ticket. ‘Can you come with me please Sir?’ WTF?
Wrong ticket, wrong bus. Even though it was written on the ticket we were going to Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, they had stuffed up. The Lilongwe bus left at 2pm.
‘This bus only goes to the border town of Chipata,’ we were informed. ‘You will have to change there, get a taxi to the border, cross, and then get another taxi and bus to Lilongwe. ‘Here is 100 Kwacha refund.’ Great.
I seethed in my velvet seat. Hawkers roamed the aisle spruiking headsets, memory cards, phone chargers, power packs and crisps.
5am. Why hadn’t we left? More hawkers; sweets, crisps, gloves and underwear.
5:20am. More hawkers; airtime vouchers, lottery tickets and socks. People were still getting on. We were meant to have left nearly an hour ago! Somebody thumped the side of the bus, I don’t know why, and finally the wheels on the bus went round and round.
And round and round. The road seemed to being repaired all the way from Lusaka to our destination of Chipata. Every time the bus would veer off what remained of the bitumen onto yet another dirt detour, the bus would fill with the rust coloured dust, the passengers would all cough, and I would dust off the screen of my Kindle and Sam would dust off the screen of his DS.
The bus was full to capacity, not only with passengers; it seemed some locals travelled with half a house of possessions. As a result, the aisle of the bus was an obstacle course of wheeled suitcases, vacuum compressed clothing bags and taped cardboard boxes, all covered with dust. Occasionally we would stop to let on or off a passenger, who would have to negotiate the obstacle course. One guy just jumped out the window.
The bus pulled to a halt at a small village with a few old shops. I asked the guy next to me if this was a toilet stop. He nodded. I did the obstacle course and ran off to the rear of the shops where there was a toilet block with no actual toilet inside, just, well, an area that didn’t smell so good. As I did my business, I heard the bus start up. Shit!
I ran back and the bus which was just pulling out as I approached; the driver braked and let me on. I wondered what would have happened if I had missed it. I think Sam would have yelled out something. Well I hope he would have. I squirmed back over the dust covered bags and onto my seat
The landscape of the southeast of Zambia was semi-arid scrub. We ascended and crossed a ridge line, and I realised with the appearance of greener vegetation, the emergence of clumps of sugar cane and banana trees, more fruit on the trays on the heads of women in the villages, we had left the central African plateau. We were coming into the physical feature of the planet most visible from space, the Great Rift Valley.
Named by British explorer John Gregory in 1892, the full system of valleys extends from the Middle East, down the Red Sea, through the great lakes of eastern Africa, and branches through to Madagascar and the Indian Ocean. In east Africa, including Malawi, a tectonic plate under the Horn of Africa is splitting away from the rest of the continent, creating a giant split in the earth’s crust, leading to vast deep valleys and lakes, with abundant flora and fauna and varied ecosystems.
Anthropologist Richard Leakey has also described the Rift Valley as ‘an ideal setting for evolutionary change’, and indeed this is where the oldest origins of man have been found. Hence, the ‘out of Africa’ evolutionary theory. This is where we all came from.
To be continued