We have decided to add car transfers to our list of services on this website and I hope that this post helps to explain why it may be useful for some.
This has come about after various conversations with lodge owners and also visitors. A number of people have expressed the view that it has been quite difficult to find out in advance about getting from a to b within Malawi. Of course many people have contacts or organisations who assist them but others wish to make their own plans.
I was visiting Senga Bay last week and where I was staying there a visitor was telling me that he was flying out of the country the next day. Therefore he had arranged transport by car from Senga Bay to Lilongwe airport. His alternative would be to get a minibus from Senga Bay to Salima and then change there for another minibus to Lilongwe. Once in Lilongwe he would again have to change for the airport.
The next morning I got up early as the owner of the establishment had asked me to take a sunrise photo from the beach to help to promote his business. Malawi is a morning country so it is not at all strange to get up before the sun. This part of Senga Bay was a perfect place on the beach to watch the fishing boats return from their night on the lake. Now, the guy who was on his way out of the country was also awake and he told me that the arrangement he had been carefully negotiating had, at the last minute, fallen through.
In fact, as we sat out at the front of the lodge in the very early sun, a messenger from the driver had arrived to bring this news. As the third one in this small group, I listened with some interest to the story. Seemingly the car owner and the messenger (who was with us) had met first thing in the morning. One had gone round to the house of the other and the news had been announced that overnight, upon reflection, the price was not high enough. In fact the story was slightly more complicated than that as the driver and the owner of the vehicle were not the same person. The messenger himself who had arrived was of course neither the owner nor the driver. I thought, (cynically, I must admit), that this is the perfect scheme: tell someone at the last minute that the car journey that they depend on for their flight is going to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke unless the price is upped. Negotiation is going to take some time as the messenger is not the owner...
To be honest my cynicism may have been misplaced. I had misheard the original price quoted and in fact it was quite a low price. However it then transpired that the transport would involve a number of people in a complex scheme where various people would be picked up and dropped off.
Sometimes in Malawi you hear quite unexpected stories that might be dismissed as either 1/ not true or 2/ suspicious. However, it really is a mistake to always jump to a cynical conclusion as it often transpires that unlikely stories turn out to be true. I remember discussing this recently with someone, we were very much in agreement. Sometimes people work quite hard to help out somehow and if it does not work out...it is often for quite innocent, although surprising, reasons.
I wondered what would happen next. I fully expected the visitor returning to Europe to up his offer and agree the journey but he seemed neither too upset or hassled by this turn of events. It would have annoyed me I think if I had spent the last few days carefully crafting and negotiating a travel deal where everything was agreed and arranged in advance...only for everything to fall apart at the last moment. However, what I had come to notice is that Mufrasa Lodge is an extremely laid back place. It was much more laid back and economical than I had expected. However, our friend from Europe cannot have felt perfectly serene about the circumstances as I noticed that he asked me for a time check two or three times. Soon, without showing any signs of resentment he was leaving and walking to catch a minibus from somewhere.
Although not overly surprised by anything that morning it did leave me wondering whether some backpackers would want to use our transfers service. The service is certainly aimed at mid-range and above but sometimes if people are catching a flight or able to share their transfer or are tired of minibuses we might be able to help.
Some people who are spending months or even years traveling through many countries are quite prepared to economise to the fullest extent even if this means that whole days are spent negotiating local transport networks. In fact, in discussing this with the owner of a guest house we agreed that many like to go through this as an essential part of their authentic experience. She did however say that after a little bit of the authentic experience people start to look for alternatives. When people plan to travel on to Cape Maclear (from Senga Bay) they are prepared to look for a more direct car journey rather than having to change minibus in each of Salima, Golomoti and Monkey Bay.
So, it is for those reasons that we are offering this service of connecting visitors to good local operators and allowing people to plan in advance. Hopefully it will be useful for some people and will also get some more nice lodges onto the map.