Last night was one of the worst thunderstorms I have ever experienced. It rattled you to the bone. I was worried that the 1km dirt road out to the pavement was going to be impassable. Surprisingly, it was ok. 450km and yet another border crossing were on the itinerary for today. As I rode along a thought occured to me, all the villages seem to be the same or at least very similar. Salima was yet another bustling small village with its make shift road side stalls made out of various pieces of wood, metal and plastic. Each one of them selling pretty much everything from plastic tubs to fish. You could smell the fish drying in the sun.
The border crossing was a breeze. Before I had left for the day I memorized the exchange rate from kwachas to the Tanzanian schilling, about ten to one. I wasn’t about to get scammed again. The money changers on the Malawi side gave me a good exchange rate but again, there were about 8 all talking at once trying to confuse the transaction. One guy was even saying, “Hurry up, you can't park here”. Another said that I couldn’t change the kwachas on the Tanzanian side. I had 2600 kwachas to change, about 15USD so in schillings it would have been around 20,000. The guy did the math and handed me 2000 hoping I would take it in all the confusion. I told him that it was only 2000 and he then gave me 20000 then took that back and gave me 2000 again. I told them all to take a hike (not in those terms) and I left. On the Tanzanian side I found an honest money changer. I also had to acquire some third party insurance at a cost of 45USD for 30 days. It took some time to write up the document but other than that it was all straight forward.
You could immediately tell the difference between Tanzania and Malawi much like what I experienced coming from Mozambique to Malawi. It all appeared dirtier and very disorganized. The difference was things were cheap! 500 schillings for a coke (30cents) and 18000 schillings (15USD) to fill the tank and both jerry cans. I alsogot a descent no frills room for 10USD.
Mbeya is not much of a town. Very dirty although they all seem to be and it all appears like organized chaos with minibuses honking, parked haphazardly all over the road (I have yet to see one that was carrying the legal number of passengers, they hold 9 but are often packed with 20 with all their personal belongings hanging off the back or strapped to the roof), various large trucks loading or unloading pineapples, bananas, wood, sacks of grains or even people, vehicle repair done right on the dirt shoulder of the road, goats and cows and kids everywhere. Smoke rising from BBQs made out of old 45 gallon drums cooking some sort of meat. People sleeping on the dirt under a tree, others fixing bicycles while others run around selling items such as food, drinks, shoes or jewelry that hang from their arms. Store owners half asleep sitting on wooden boxes beside the doors of their make shift structures. Line ups outside the local ATMs where armed guards watch over the crowd. People conducting who knows what sort of business transactions out on the street. Most dressed in grubby tattered clothing but you see the odd well dressed person and you can't help wondering where they are going.
Side note: I have been warned about the Mozambique police when I was South America, about the Malawi police when I was in Mozambique and the Tanzanian police when I was in Malawi. I have yet to be stopped and asked for documentation. At every check point, and there have been many, they simply wave me through whether I came into the checkpoint too fast or across a solid center line or whatever. They just smile and open the barricade. Occasionally, they will stop me and ask where I'm from and where am I going.