Today was, I hope, the longest day of the trip so I’m glad that I slept well last night. The single supplement, and the stuff that I bought in Dar es Salaam like pillows, are so far proving to be worth every penny.
We’re finally in Malawi after a day that definitely felt like an African adventure. Our group did warn us that the trip would be an adventure, but crossing into Malawi was definitely an experience.
Preparing for a very long day
Breakfast was at 4am ready for a 5am departure today and so we left Iringa long before sunrise. As a result we didn’t get a chance to see the camp, or Iringa itself, in daylight which is a shame as it looked nice. But the early start meant that we were finally on our way to Malawi which I had been looking forward since booking the trip. The chance to visit Malawi, in fact, is one of the primary reasons that I booked this trip.
When travelling overland, especially in Africa, patience is probably the most important virtue that you need. That patience needs to be for the other people on the trip and also for the long days and delays that you will encounter.
Everybody has their own way of dealing with the long days – some people read, some people listen to music, some people play games, some people sleep, and some people like me like to just watch the world go by.
This day, however, tested everybody’s patience due to how long it was.
We had been told in advance that the Malawi border could take a while for two reasons – firstly that it was notoriously slow, but also as there were several people in the group who were going to take longer than normal to be processed for a variety of reasons.
Crossing from Tanzania into Malawi
We arrived at the border at around 1pm. The Tanzanian side was really quick and in less than 30 minutes we had all been processed. Our truck was still clearing customs so we decided to walk across the bridge to begin the Malawi immigration process.
We had our first taste of the country’s famous friendliness as we were crossing the bridge when the kids who were swimming in the river started waving to us.
The Malawi border was very slow
The Malawi side of the border was an experience, which is the only way to describe it. Upon arrival at the immigration post we were told that we needed to have our COVID vaccination certificates checked before they could process us, however nobody seemed to be know where we should go to have them checked.
We eventually found where we needed to go, a desk inside the World Food Programme tent a couple of hundred metres away. Unfortunately nobody was actually in the tent and, when somebody finally showed up, he didn’t have a scanner to scan our certificates. He said that we should have brought our own scanners!
It sounded like we were all at risk of having to pay USD 100 for tests on the border but one of the group thought of a solution quickly. She used the QR code scanner on her phone to scan the certificates, showing the official that she had scanned them.
This didn’t verify the certificates in any way but it was sufficient for most of us to receive the necessary approval to start the immigration process. The only exception was a group member who had been vaccinated in the USA, since his certificate didn’t have a QR code. He had to pay USD 100 for a test.
After returning to the immigration desks and completing the arrival card I handed over the paperwork and documentation before taking a seat to wait for everything to be processed. After 90 minutes I was called over to the desk and so thought that we had caught them on a good day – after all, we were told that it would take hours!
However, when I got to the desk they told me I hadn’t given me the arrival card and that I would need to complete one before they could process my application. Not only did I definitely give them the card – in fact, it was on the desk in front of him – but this meant that after 90 minutes they hadn’t even started processing our paperwork!
Luckily it was only another 30 minutes from that point until I received my immigration approval, had my passport stamped, and was allowed into the country.
I was told that a total of 2 hours was quick for that particular border, although the person with the Malaysian passport was quicker as he didn’t need a visa. He did need to go into the back office to receive his entry stamp, however. This wasn’t because there was a problem, it was because they couldn’t find Malaysia on any of the lists in their office and they wanted his help to find it.
Malaysia, it seems, was actually missing from all of the lists so the officials had to look on the internet to confirm that he didn’t need a visa.
It took me, and everybody who had done everything that Intrepid recommended that we do in advance, only 2.5 hours to go through the Malawi arrivals process but we were there for another 3 more hours due to delays with some of the other group members.
- One person had received the visa approval in advance but didn’t bring their printed confirmation with them and so was asked to go to the post office to print it. Unfortunately it was Sunday so the post office was closed.
- A couple of other people had applied for their visa but, due to processing delays, had not received their approval letter by the time we arrived at the border. They had to await approval from the main immigration office before they could be processed.
- One person had decided that he would apply for the visa on the border – this took a couple of hours, which is why Intrepid always advise applying for visas in advance where possible.
Even though we were at the border almost 3 hours longer than needed due to the above delays I mentioned above how patience with other group members is key to surviving a trip like this. This is Africa, after all, and nothing will ever be as smooth as you would like. Plus, this is an adventure and we are all in it together, so we passed the time chatting and playing card games.
We were also given a challenge by our crew to find people who were from the Chewa and Tonga tribes, and to ask them to translate some common phrases in their languages. We did this at the border, too, but it didn’t take too long. The person at the main immigration desk was from one of the tribes and his friend who was outside was from the other one. The crew thought it would take longer than that!
Driving through Malawi
The scenery, once we finally started making our way across Malawi, was beautiful and I passed the time by simply watching the world go by. It felt so great to finally be in Malawi after waiting for so long, especially after the arduous process that we had to go through to cross the border.
Our trip notes said that we our journey time would be 10-12 hours but due to the delays at the border it ended up being closer to 15 hours, and I was absolutely exhausted by the time I arrived at tonight’s stop – Chitimba Camp on the shores of Lake Malawi.
I had planned to upgrade to a room so that I could get a proper rest, however another overland group had arrived before us and taken all of the upgrades which means that it’s going to be a night in the tent.
I’m absolutely exhausted so it will be an early night for me tonight, and I’m going to do everything possible to secure an upgrade at our next stop!