Lake Malawi and Traffic Cops

Riding through Malawi is a treat- the main road runs along the coast of the lake, except for some runs up into the hills where some fantastic twisty riding is on offer.

Most of the cool places to stay are right on the lake and make for dangerous stops if you’re on a schedule- one day turns into three in the blink of an eye.  The view from my banda (hut) and a place to spend a few hours reading at one such place will give you an idea.

Another day on the road brings you to another place where time just gives up and accepts its fundamental meaninglessness.

Things didn’t seem that they could get better, but at least one of the gods was in a good mood when I pulled into a place and found a bike I’d met a few times since Sundan and a private overland truck I met in Kenya.

Riding/Driving gives you more freedom to go to out of the way places, while it also keeps you out of places where a vehicle makes life more difficult.  This push to a specific segment of the market means that we  tend to stay in the same places and so have the fun of random encounters and re-encounters fairly often.

So, another great day of riding…

Ends with another bike in the parking lot…

And a great chat over a couple of beers with a guy I’ve been randomly meeting up with along the last 15,000km of my ride…

I was just about to declare Malawi the perfect place, when I hit part two- the traffic cops.

Throughout Africa you get road blocks and corrupt cops, but they’re generally nothing more than a minor annoyance.  In Malawi, especially once you head south of the lake, the stops can come every 5 minutes.  Most are pretty quick- show your papers, answer some questions, ride on.  Unfortunately, a few want to find an on-the-spot fine and so they check all over your bike, papers, etc looking for an infraction (real or imagined) and with up to 5 stops an hour, these few can easily become an hourly frustration.  My worst encounter ended with me finally giving up and paying a fine (for which a ‘receipt’ was provided, but somehow I don’t imagine the money went further than the cops pocket) for not having a front license plate or front facing reflective tape on my bike…  The first is only applicable to Malawi registered bikes and the second to trucks over a certain weight.

So, the cops got about $10USD out of me in return for me forever associating Malawi with endemic police corruption.  The sad part?  I’m sure they they consider it a fair trade…


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