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The First Seventy Years: Chapter 80 - 'Only'

Eric Biddulph tells of a driver called 'Only' who took them on a mountain trip during their return visit to Malwai.

Ericís book The First Seventy Years can be obtained for £10 by contacting http://mary@bike2.wanadoo.co.uk or telephoning 01484-658175.

All the cash raised by the book goes to a water aid project in Malawi.

At the new Chichiri traffic island a guy approached us and said he worked at the Mozambique Consulate. What a coincidence, having only recently failed to gain entry, a point I made to him. "No problem" he replied. He would process the visa application for us if we returned during the afternoon. Sensing my suspicions he adds "The reason I am on foot is that my car has run out of petrol just down the road. Can you lend me a few hundred Kwacha so I can fill it up and get back to the Consulate?"

I smelled a rat and politely refused.

We returned the following morning to lodge our visa applications. Having left some of our luggage at Doogles we continued by minibus on to Zomba, the old capital.

Situated at the foot of the magnificent Zomba Plateau where we had spent so many happy hours we sought accommodation. A taxi driver latched on to us and drove us around town until we found a hotel that could put us up for two nights. 'Only', for that was his name, is booked to drive us up to the top of the Plateau the following morning. We spend the rest of that day visiting the town centre and its market.

'Only' turned up bright and early the next morning to drive us up the mountain. We were somewhat apprehensive about our chances of actually reaching the top. I had commented to 'Only' the previous day that his car appeared to struggle whenever the road reared upwards.

"No problem Eric and Mary" he replied "I will bring another company car tomorrow.''

Needless to say he turned up in the same battered Japanese made car. As it spluttered up the 15-20% gradient, stalling from time to time, a new dimension entered into 'Only's' continuous dialogue with us.

"It is very expensive to run this car, Eric and Mary. It cost me a lot to drive you between hotels yesterday," he pleaded. I had already settled that bill and negotiated a price for today's journey. I refused to pay the price he was asking but agreed to pay an additional 200 Kwacha.

I have never believed it to be a good practice to drive down prices to rock bottom when in a majority world country but I don't usually tolerate attempts at re-negotiating prices. Eventually 'Only' delivered us to the Kwe Che Inn, a much expanded and modernised hotel bearing no resemblance to the small building that once stood on the same site.

I could not complain, the view is amongst the best in the world. After a coffee we began our long trek down the path back to Zomba.

Spectacular views brought back pleasant memories. There is still a considerable area of woodland on the slopes of the Plateau. In an effort to address the problem of over exploitation the Department of Forestry allows controlled access by local residents from early morning until 3pm. Fallen branches and limited pruning is permitted but the felling of trees is forbidden.

As we walked through the various settlements we constantly had requests from children and some adults for money. Returning to the hotel after a 15 kilometre walk Mary had just managed a soak in the bath when the power went off and we had to resort to candles. Not an entirely unexpected experience. The hydro-electric generating capacity of the Shire River cannot cope with the increasing demand for electricity.

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