36 – Taxi Madness & Cape Maclear

36 – Taxi Madness & Cape Maclear

We wanted to reach Cape Maclear before nightfall. It was far; about three hundred miles away, right at the bottom of Lake Malawi. It was going to be tricky, but we were ready to give it our all. A shared taxi was our best bet – you wait around less as they fill up quickly and ride like the wind! We found one that was willing to take us all the way to Cape Maclear. We agreed on a price. Simple!

Nkhata Bay > Cape Maclear

The taxi filled up quickly, as did the boot. I must say, this trip has changed our perspective on packing! We used to look at the boots and say there was no way our two massive backpacks were going to fit, as well as the other passengers’ sacs, bags, basins, chickens…whatever it was they were transporting. The drivers always proved us wrong! This time, a yellow piece of string held the boot closed. Simple.

After about two hours on the road, all the passengers got out. We assumed they were all going to the same place. We, however, were going to Cape Maclear so we stayed seated. Oh, but no, it was not so simple after all: our driver came to tell us to get into another taxi. The two taxi drivers negotiated prices between them whilst another guy played his own game of Tetris when transferring the luggage from one taxi to another. We, the confused tourists, interrupted the drivers’ conversation to clarify that we were in fact going to Cape Maclear and that we had already paid the full amount to get there. They nodded, told us the second taxi was going there and signalled for us to get in. In we got, hoping that would be the last change before our destination. Oh, but no, it was not that simple! We were handed over several times to new taxis or minibuses, often with other passengers too. Each time we insisted we were going to Cape Maclear and we had already paid the full amount, though our first driver was long gone. Each time they nodded, told us they were going there and told us to get in.

Two car taxis and plenty of bicycle taxis!

The main roads in Malawi were smooth and perfect for speedy driving. Though, occasionally, there were surprise bridges on the road – we held our breath each time we crossed them, hoping we would not end up in the river!

One time we were transferred to a minibus, which obviously took a lot longer to fill up. When we were finally ready to set off, the driver pulled into a petrol station. It had us in fits of laughter at the time!

As usual, it was super fun watching the world go by through the minibus/taxi windows. The road tended to be very flat, with mountains in the distance. In the foreground were homesteads: clusters of small brick houses with corrugated-iron or thatch rooves. Each cluster had its own outdoors toilet and sometimes a separate kitchen with smoke billowing out. Chicken coops and animal pens made from woven reeds, stood proudly on stilts. Large piles of red bricks were dotted about– probably kilns, ovens or fridges? The soil was terracotta in colour. A large expanse of empty terracotta ground signalled a football pitch! Animals roamed around: cows, goats, chickens and geese. The homesteads were never far from crops or baobabs. A few times we spotted paddy fields.

Bigger towns had a manual water pump and shops with fabulous names like “God’s gift”, “God’s plan”, “Only God knows”, “Let God be God”, or “If God says yes, who can say no?”. You would know which one was the butcher because it had large hunks of meat hanging from the ceiling. Market stalls sold dried fish, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. The smell of mangoes continued to follow us wherever we went.

Women carried buckets on their heads and babies on their backs. They wore beautiful ankle-length wrap around skirts on top of their shorts, trousers or skirts – even when they cycled. Bicycles were everywhere and were used as taxis or to transport goods, some had cushions and foot pegs for their passengers.

Our fellow passengers tended to be very smiley and laughed between themselves. Our youngest passenger was a three-day old baby going home from the clinic with his Mum and proud Grandmother (too cute!). His big eyes peaked through the bundle of blankets.

Unlike in other countries, Malawians never tried to charge us for handling our luggage. Though we did have one guy ask us why we did not speak to him in Chichewa. I am sure we would have if we had been there longer than a week!

The journey was long. The fun music and titbits through the window kept us going: Boiled eggs, bits of chicken and apples. Other passengers ate fish and were swarmed by flies! We were not keen on having any more bugs on our bodies after this morning’s ordeal, so we resisted the fish! We telephoned our hotel, told them we were on our way, so please could they keep reception open?!

Click the play button below to hear another of the tunes we heard a lot on the road in Malawi 🚗

Night had fallen and we had lost count of the number of taxis/minibuses we had taken. We started to wonder if we would make it to Cape Maclear before tomorrow. Our taxi pulled over. Again, all the passengers got out. Now connoisseurs, we went to find the next taxi driver to insist that we were going to Cape Maclear and had already paid the full amount. This time we were not greeted by a nod and a “yes, I am going there, get in the car”. This time we were greeted with a motorbike driver who shook his head. He was last in the chain and the negotiations between him and our taxi driver were not going so well. Clearly all the other drivers had taken a larger chunk, he was not happy with the remaining sum.

We had had enough. Each time the drivers had told us they were going to Cape Maclear and yet we were still more than ten miles away from arriving. We just wanted to be there. The taxi driver handed the remaining cash to the motorbike driver, then drove off.

The three of us, plus our two backpacks and small rucksack mounted the motorbike and drove the remaining miles to our hotel. Thankfully, there was no one else on the road. The moon was so so bright – it lit up everything around us. We probably were not on that bike for very long, but it felt like a lifetime. We were so relieved when we finally arrived at Thumbi View Lodge. The reception was still open (hooray!) and due to a booking error, we were upgraded to a fancy room (yippee!).

Happy to have arrived!
The pretty sink in our bathroom

The next few days in touristy, lakeside Cape Maclear were lovely. Coincidentally, Heather’s parents camped at the same hotel twenty-nine years ago, though it used to be called Mr Stevens. The hotel is still on the water’s edge, though now there are fancy rooms and a swimming pool!

For photos of us at Cape Maclear, click the arrows below...

Though we did not swim in the lake (we wanted to avoid bilharzia/taking pills for bilharizia), we enjoyed watching the local community come to fish, swim, bathe and do their washing up and laundry there. The mums who managed to do everything all at once, whilst keeping an eye on their babies were pretty impressive!

One of the highlights of our stay at Cape Maclear was getting to know other travellers. A South African guy called Colin Middleton was driving to England to go live there. There was also a group of young South Africans who road-tripped to Cape Maclear and were about to head back to Pretoria. We exchanged contact details and hoped we would see them again in a few months’ time.

The lovely group of South African friends (well, the two on the end are Ukrainian & Dutch)

3 Replies to “36 – Taxi Madness & Cape Maclear”

  1. I remember well cycling around Malawi in my cycling shorts and my wrap-around skirt flapping in the breeze behind me, ready to fall into place and cover up my legs as soon as I stopped pedalling and hot off my bicycle! The final stretch to Mr Stevens was on a heavily corrugated road – we were thoroughly rattled by the time we arrived and were very grateful for a green or brown (never really worked out the difference in flavour) beer. There were many South Africans visiting when we were there too. I do remember snorkelling in Lake Malawi when we were there – that part of the lake was an fresh undereater nature reserve and the fish were an amazing sight to behold. Ah such happy memories you have evoked and made 🙂 xxx

  2. What a journey – love the various chick/pigeon coops 😉 – ..and then fabulous time at serene Cape Maclear! Lovely to see M & A’s adventurous pics too, bikes & all 🙂 and hear a little about it.. (I was also lucky enough to visit, in 1984, & also remember snorkelling.) Thank you for this colourful post and for everything shared.. Enjoy, Jouir!

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