Johnie does Malawi – Part 4

by Johnie Jonker

Day 4-5: Manica to Ulungue via Tete, Lilongwe


Next morning we fuelled up in Manica at 50 Metical/l. The Exchange rate was roughly M4 = R1. We could also draw local currency from an ATM.

Initially heading east on the E6 towards Beira, this road had at some stage been resurfaced by covering with hot bitumen and then rolling a layer of agregate along the top. Well, the glue had gone, and large parts of the top layer is missing, making for a very noisy drive, although the underlying road structure is still sound.

We turned North along the E1 towards Tete. Although there are only 3 “towns” indicated on the map between Manica and Tete – Catandica, Comacha and Changara – there are a large number of villages. This tends to affect your average speed significantly due to the frequent slowing down to 60km/h, so you would be hard-pressed to maintain 80km/h over the distance, taking moving time only.

The route is quite undulating, but a lot flatter than the Zimbabwe part, with only the odd rocky outcrop. One very scenic river crossing is done via a new bridge – but watch out for those speed bumps both sides of the bridge. They are really sharp. You’ll know after the first one. Overall this road is in excellent condition.

By the time you get here, you would have traversed the 3 vicious speed bumps. Hopefully your car is still OK. Watch out for the next three (or was it now 4?) on the bridge exit.


Crossing the Zambezi at Tete is quite something, with an even more spectacular bridge than the one at Birchenough, but the town itself is something to soon forget.

We fuelled up at the next town – Moatize – and lunched at a Portuguese restaurant adjacent to the filling station. Something went lost in the order translation, because what we got looked like no stir-fry any of us had ever seen before. But it was good.

What is very noticeable here, is the flood of 4-stroke 50cc Chinese motorcycles – LIFO – which is a Honda clone, with just the name plates changed. In fact, they must have poached the original designer from Honda, as the off-road orientated models look EXACTLY like the 185cc XLs at the time when I bought my XL500S in 1981. Same tank design, same colour, same indicators.

This section of road towards Massano – where we turned north towards Ulungue – is however very badly potholed in places. Usually you can avoid them, but sometimes, e.g. when overtaking, you are a sitting duck, and have to drive through them. A few times I thought that the alignment surely MUST be out, but no, everything remained intact.
It was the lead vehicle’s – the Freelander both ways – responsibility to warn the other two by radio about bad potholes and oncoming traffic for overtaking purposes – we had Kirisun and Zartek units, which were compatible on the 466MHz band, operating on Channel 8 – simply because no one else was there.

Turning north at Massano to Ulungue, the road was once again all new, with shoulders both sides. We arrived at Vila Ulungue just before sunset, where we stayed the night.

This is a Christian mission station run by South Africans, which has accommodation available for travellers. The intention is to put up decks with tents in the near future specifically for overlanders, but presently there is a lovely grassed area for camping and also the guest house. Contact Charl Cilliers at 082 894 7965 (local) or +258 82 293 0878 (Moz) for more details or a booking.

The guest house consists of a number of two-bed rooms along one side of a passage – bedding and towels provided – with the communal bathroom with donkey-driven hot water showers and kitchen across the way. You also have access to a lapa with a hearth. The campers have their own his/hers ablution with separate donkey, so if the hot water runs out one end, you have a second option.

Upon our departure the next day, we wanted to fill up with fuel – last done at Tete – but being in such close proximity – 40km – to the Malawi border, the pumps had been bought dry from across the border. So we bought diesel (Colt) and petrol off the side of the road.


Let me explain about so-called “black market” fuel. “BLACK MARKET” is an adjective describing fuel, similar to “GREEN” in describing the colour of a door. It has no cloak and dagger/illegal connotation in these parts of the world. It is not as if the police are going to come rushing out of the bushes, pour out all the fuel on the ground and confiscate the vehicles. After all, they also have to buy fuel somewhere when the pumps run dry.

So, in the same way that “fôkol” is not regarded as a swear-word in Lesotho, “black market” has no clandestine meaning. It is a merely a market where black people sell stuff, amongst others, fuel.

Sorry for that digression, let’s continue.

The diesel was reasonably priced at M40/l, but the petrol a bit more expensive at M65/l, compared to the pump price of M50/l. This may have something to do with the fact that there was plenty of diesel available, but we actually bought the last two containers of petrol. I say “containers” rather than “20l”, because you can be sure there is not 20l in there. Closer to 18l, but you of course pay “as if” the container is full.

Adriaan bought 40l of diesel. The first 20l was of a light Cream Soda colour, and the second 20l more like British Racing Green. We commented on this as even a colour-blind person would have been able to spot the difference. “Different fuel companies” was the response. More or less kerosene blended, we thought.

You do need to filter this fuel. A Pool-Gobbler stocking works well, obtainable in packets of four at any shop which sells pool-maintenance equipment at home. This is pulled over a funnel (if you don’t bring it along yourself, it won’t be there). A length of large diameter water feature hose which will fit over the spout of the funnel and into the tank orifice is also useful.

 Take lots of strong young people along on your tour. Someone has to hold the filtered funnel in position, and after a while, that jerry can gets heavy!

We actually wasted money here in terms of petrol, as just through the border post at Dedza, petrol was available at the pump. But no diesel. Speaking of which (again!), the following:

When the change was made to unleaded fuel a couple of years back, for a while both types of fuel were available at the filling stations, sometimes dispensed from the same pump. To help prevent confusion, the nozzle diameter of the unleaded hose was smaller than that of the leaded fuel. Car manufacturers followed suit, and soon you could not get a leaded fuel nozzle into a tank meant for unleaded, as the orifice was too small. The Freelander 2 is like that, NOT the Fortuner.

In due course leaded fuel disappeared and the pumps were all upgraded to small nozzles. Except in Malawi, where you can now buy ONLY unleaded fuel – SUPER, nogal. At least the colour looks more or less the same as at home.

So at times I could not put in fuel without either waiting for one of the smaller nozzle pumps to come free or for the fuel attendants to make some sort of funnel from a cut off plastic water bottle – a normal funnel is too wide, and won’t fit – AND use a piece of wire to push the internal spring-loaded flap in the tank orifice open, to get this lot in.

So if your car has the smaller feed pipe, you will do well to make something at home which will adapt the larger nozzle to fit, prior to setting off. You will also need such a contraption when filling from plastic containers.

Next came the border crossing into Malawi.

The Malawi government is in serious trouble financially. This is after they deported the British consul for reporting mismanagement of foreign aid, and the UK – and other European nations – then withdrew their financial support.

Other than the resultant fuel shortage – no money to pay for it – the border fees were hiked extensively in order to generate SOME additional income. Where the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for your car used to be 1200 Kwacha (K21.5 = R1), this was pushed up to K5000 on the 4th of June 2011. Also the insurance is expensive at R400, compared to Mozambique, where it was M520 (R150). I suspect: “Coming to a Malawian border post near you soon: CARBON TAX!”.

This is also the first time we were fooled by a runner. Picture this: A VERY neatly dressed person indicates where you should park your vehicle prior to entering the immigration office. Prior to getting out of your car, he explains to you that HE needs the mileage of the vehicle for the import permit. You think, what a considerate nation, these Malawians.

It’s only when you get inside the office and you wonder why this “official” is your side of the counter and not behind it that the penny drops. Too late then.

But he fills out all the forms, does all the payments for you – without adding any commission – and only once you are back in your car, suggests that you pay him something for his writing skills.

Upon request as to what would be a reasonable fee, he mentions R100. That would come to around R600/hour – which is more than my salary – but seeing as we did use him, R50 was handed over.

Next onto Lilongwe, where we stayed at the Mufasa Backpackers in Lister St. Here is where we found out that you need BOTH T4A and the Garmin Street Maps if you travel in Southern Africa. Actually, for our trip, the street maps were better. T4A does not have the city detail of the Garmin maps, so we were leading the convoy to the destination at this stage, having last year’s Garmin map set resident in a Nuvi 500.

Having recently moved to these premises from an apartment block, the Mufasa facility was not running at full capacity yet, but we stayed in an 8 bunk dormitory with 4 of the children in the room next door. But decent mattresses, pillows, duvets, mosquito netting, good hot water, a nice pub and friendly people. Shortly they will also take over the house next door, which will then provide ample room and easy parking – even turnaround space for a car with trailer. Out of interest, they also own a private beach in Monkey Bay – they have a picture in the office – which looks simply gorgeous. This would be ideal if you are a convoy who prefers minding your own business, in which case you book out the complete facility.

Contact the very helpful and efficient Katrin at or 00265 99 907 1665.

Parking a bit cramped, but soon to be improved.  Carlsberg is big here, all the variants and also the local Kuche Kuche beer available. And G&T.

The pub as it looks in daylight.


It was recommended by the owner that of all the restaurants available – for which they provided a map – the Chinese one down the road is probably the best. So off we went, only to find that the restaurant was closed for renovations and could only serve take-a-ways. All the furniture had been carried out into the parking lot while the alterations were in progress, and we suggested then that we arrange a table and chairs in the parking area and they serve us there. It took a while for them to take us seriously, but this is exactly how it happened.


12 people being served from a Chinese menu at a table in a parking lot – complete with lazy Susan – having a great time. When it came to payment, they refused to accept a tip – probably regarded this action as dishonourable. I really don’t understand these Chinese people – but I like them.

The next morning we went shopping, as Lilongwe has every convenience, even a Mr Price, Game and Spar. You can draw up to 100,000 Kwacha per day in 20,000 Kwacha multiples from most ATMs. Standard bank is big in Malawi. So is Shoprite Checkers in the cities. Almost every town has a Metro Cash and Carry.

We headed north towards Mzuzu, after visiting Banda’s shrine and driving through the South African built Malawian government building complex, of which the fence railings look pretty much like that of the Benoni traffic department.

Part 5 to follow


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