Saturday, July 9

Malawi - A country with no fuel

Brett: I felt as if I had just stepped into a Mad Max movie when we reached Lilongwe - all the fuel stations had massive queues (maybe 1km long) and we felt like we were running a gauntlet with our jerry cans being flaunted on top of our roof. Soon after we got to the backpackers, the power went out for a few hours and for the first day, the internet wasn’t working, and the hot water had run out. We had to resort to cooking on fire (i.e. braaing).
We had to think long and hard about our route in Malawi – even though we filled up in Zambia before crossing the border (thank goodness!) we didn’t have enough fuel to go to all the places in Malawi that we wanted to. The options were to either just drive straight through Malawi, or try find fuel elsewhere. We did a walk through Lilongwe in the afternoon and found a petrol station which had petrol but no diesel, but they weren’t sure if it would last through the night. Also, they advised us that they are not allowed to fill up people’s jerry cans without paperwork from the Malawi Petroleum Authority. Luckily we had not yet emptied the jerry cans into the tank although we had talked about doing that (we had planned to just take the jerries into town on one of the bicycles rather than moving the car)! I took the car and did the fuel run in the morning. 8th fuel station later, I found some petrol and joined the 25 car long queue. It turns out that there is petrol in at least one station most days, but diesel is harder to find and heard of people queuing for 3 days to get it – we also heard that in rural areas is it better, so with our 170 litres on board, we decided to go for it and continue with the original route and just hope to find some more fuel en route. Apparently Malawi doesn’t have enough foreign currency to pay for the fuel being imported – I believe it has been going on for more than a year since.
We took some time out in Lilongwe to catch up on washing and fix stuff (list below) at Mabuya Camp site. It is a really great place ($4 pppn camping) and we needed a break anyway.  We stocked up on a few things in Game as we won’t reach another major city for a while – got a waterproof jacket for me and a few more useful bits & pieces.

Mary: after a mammoth clothes washing session and a few chores days, we were back on track. We braaied 3 nights in a row and I’m coming to terms with the fact that you can generally still eat meat that smells funny as long as you cook it thoroughly Smile.

After running around town for spanners etc for Brett, we took the main road through the Viphya Plateau heading north and stopping over at Luwawa Forest Lodge ($6 pppn camping) – the place has a slightly wierd feel, with big clumps of crystal in the garden and plenty of activities but no sign at all of other guests. We really liked it though as we had a massive amount of hot water, the camp site to ourselves, and did a great walk and jog through the forest. 
We found fuel and the last banks for a while in Mzuzu. I remember the town fairly well from our last visit here and I remember struggling to exchange travellers cheques (who ever thought those were a good idea?).

The border crossing (for overlanders) into Malawi from Chipata (Zambia) is easy but chaotic and probably how you would expect a smaller border to be. On the Zambian side, we handed in our TIP and signed the book. On the Malawi side, the “buildings” are all shipping containers with no signs so you need to test each one. We had no Malawi Kwacha yet, but didn’t need any – the Carnet meant that we didn’t need to pay 5000 MKW for the TIP and we got COMESA Third Party Insurance which we paid for in dollars. We also signed in the big immigration ledger - nothing at this border post was a hassle and everyone was very helpful. It is partly hard to see where you are supposed to go because of all the abandoned/parked cars inside the barriers which are waiting for the owners to come pay the import duties.

Fixing Stuff (details): Small stuff keeps breaking, so here is a list from the last 2 weeks
  • Tightened bolts for front left shock (wasn’t tightened properly on the service and I could feel it knocking)
  • We bought a Benton BX1 Battery Charger for giving the car batteries a decent charge if the car has been standing for a while – this worked for the first few times, but stopped working in Lilongwe. As we won’t be able to claim on the warranty away from SA, I opened it up, found the switch to be the problem and cut a hole in the case so I could press it at the “correct” angle. I need to fix it properly sometime. I would definitely recommend having a battery charger but we should have gone with the more expensive C-Tech one.
  • Extended our double adapter cable by 10m to reach the plugs at the camp sites. The cable cost a ridiculous $20 for 10m!
  • Added more elastics to hold things in the canopy more securely after all the rough roads and hold the fridge cable out of harms way.
  • Added another LED Light for our “living room”
  • Raised the height of the fuel overflow on the long range tank and carb as we can smell some petrol in the heat of the day. I removed the immobiliser fuel cut-off solenoid while I was at it as it can only cause problems later

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