Johnie does Malawi – Part 3

by Johnie Jonker

Day 3:  Mussina to Manica

Musina to Chimoio

[Source: Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

At 6am sharp , we were on the RSA side of Beit Bridge. 20 minutes later, we were at the other side, just in time to start queuing up behind the few 100 passengers of the 6 busses that beat us to it.

This looked like it could take a long time, so I went to ask the security guard at the entrance whether I could in the meantime do the car-related items – Carbon Tax, Insurance and Road Toll. He asked me how old I was. Upon my response, he declared me a “Madala”, and I went straight in.

This is the only border crossing we did that required you to pay for your gate pass. I must admit though, it did look nice, with a holographic emblem and all. Pity I had to hand it in same day.

Next came the queuing for the rest of the car items. One can of course take out your insurance prior to crossing the border – at Outdoor Warehouse and the AA – which I did, but for some reason I can’t remember now – left at home. So I had to buy it again.

The wasted money was not really an issue, but the queuing was. Not that the wait would have been shorter if I had remembered to bring the papers, as the same counter also administrated the rest of the documentation.

But we made a lot of new friends with the (only) 20 people ahead of us. This helped while away the time, which thankfully was reduced to only 2 hours and 30 minutes after a second counter opened. There are of course THREE counters, but apparently the officials were on a go-slow, in sympathy with a teacher’s strike which started that week. Mmmm, I wonder.

It actually turned out to be quite an education. Contrary to my prior belief that it was only white people who got annoyed when others pushed into a queue in front of them, some of the locals got VERY vocal with the potential pusher-inners and pointed out to them that the end of the line was actually “over theeeere”.

The offenders were mostly accompanied by “runners” who reasoned, argued and lost and then maar HAD to go “over theeeeere”. We were also approached by Knowledge, offering his expediting services for a fee, but declined the offer.

Cost breakdown – payable in Rand or USD – as follows: Gate Pass: R70, Road Access Fee: R70, Carbon Tax: R210 and Insurance: R210. If you tow a trailer, you are going to pay additional insurance.

So eventually, 3.5 hours after arriving at the border, we were through. We stopped at the Lion and Elephant Lodge on the Bubu river 60kms along the A4, for our own picnic breakfast in the parking lot and also a whistle stop, as we had heard that it was not safe to stop next to the road between Beit Bridge and Masvingo.

Not long afterwards we got our only speeding fine. Doing 68 km/h out in the sticks in a 60 zone, with nobody there, except the traffic officials. Our GPS indicated we were not going quite that fast, but we WERE speeding (65 km/h). Adriaan (Colt), who was driving in front at the time, was of course not pleased, but the officials were extremely happy to see us, as we were probably one of very few customers that day. The fine was reasonable, though.

Bear in mind that there is no leeway or discretion in terms of exceeding the speed limits here. If you are going 1 km/h too fast, you are going to pay.

Road toll stations are encountered every now and then – 3 for this leg of the journey – where you pay $1 and is given a receipt.

We fuelled up at Masvingo, where you could either pay in Rand or Dollar, and headed east towards Birchenough Bridge. Petrol cost $1.47/l.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, with granite outcrops scattered all along the route. The bridge itself is magnificent. I’ve of course seen and crossed bigger/smarter bridges, but I think it is the contrast of such a structure being in the middle of nowhere which makes it stand out like this.

Our convoy, entering the bridge.

After crossing the bridge, the road turns north, following the Mozambican border and police roadblocks are encountered with annoying regularity. Nine in all, to Mutare. Mostly only the lead car was stopped and asked for the destination. Rarely were licences/passports asked for. The lead driver then explained that the two cars behind him were also part of the group, and we were then all waved through. Apparently this is the Zimbabwe diamond mining area, hence the concentrated police presence in order to discourage/apprehend prospective smugglers.

Due to the delay during the morning border crossing, we only got to the Machipanda border post after 6pm, when it was already completely dark. This however was quick, and we drove as far as Manica along the E6, finding suitable accommodation at the Manica Lodge, by searching the T4A GPS database.

6 ensuite rondawels were available – VERY basic – but bug free, with mosquito nets and off-cold water. After more than 15 hours travelling, we were finished, and did not care one bit. The accompanying restaurant kitchen was already closed, but upon request, the owner provided us with a microwave oven in which we could heat our own frozen lasagne, brought along from home. They also provided a nice salad. In return, we supported the owner by buying some local beer.

So, day 3 was a premonition of what was to come, and that was that – with rare exception – you could go on a Southern African holiday without booking accommodation in advance, simply by winging it and ALWAYS finding a place to sleep when you got to your destination.

Also, some border crossings are indeed more equal than others.

Part 4 to follow


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