The Time Bandit

9 06 2008

Venice clock

Do you have a strap for that? (Piazza San Marco, Venice)

My watch has a 126-page instruction manual, atomic timekeeping, radio-controlled accuracy and time zones for 43 cities. It also has digital and analog displays that enable me to go anywhere in the world and immediately know the time there, and at home. It’s just a pity that I don’t have a clue how it works and still can’t set the alarm!


Keeping track of time zones is always a challenge when you’re travelling. Especially when you’ve been on the move for two days, changed aircraft three times and are ruthlessly deprived of sleep. In theory, my superwatch should do all of that automatically, but I still have more faith in a luminous sundial.


Before I leave home, I meticulously research all time differences. The last thing I want is to miss a flight because my watch is off by an hour.  I get excited by half-hour time changes and suppose you could say I’m a chrono-geek. However, even by chrono-geek standards, there was one particular time zone change that had me rather excited.


After weeks of anticipation, we arrived at the Zambia/Malawi border in the early morning. This was the big one: the first time in my life that I would enter a different time zone overland (little things amuse little minds!). We duly had our passports stamped for exit by the Zambian official, then continued on towards Malawi. While in no man’s land between the two countries, I derived an almost unhealthy pleasure from advancing my watch by an hour. I could see my beaming smile reflected in the crystal of my watch. Upon arrival in Malawi, I handed over my passport and glanced around the office while it was inspected and stamped.


On one wall hung a tired and yellowing map that still bore the country’s pre-independence name of Nyasaland. There was a faded patch where I presumed the photo of former president Hastings Banda had hung prior to the first democratic election a few weeks earlier, and beside that, a large clock.


My stomach sank.


The clock was an hour behind my newly-advanced watch suggesting there was no difference between the two countries after all. As the officer returned my passport, I beseechingly asked if the clock was correct. He advised that it was. I forlornly returned my watch to its previous time and slunk outside feeling deceived and utterly robbed.


Several hours later we arrived in the capital city Lilongwe and headed straight for the bank to exchange traveller’s cheques. We had timed our journey to perfection to arrive an hour before the banks closed for their midday break, have lunch and continue on our way. As we pulled up in front of the main branch of Barclay’s, we couldn’t help but notice the staff locking the doors and heading home for their own lunch.


“Why are you closing at noon?” we asked desperately.


“We’re not,” they replied. “It’s 1pm. But we’ll be back in an hour.”


We stared at our watches and then at each other anxiously. The chronologically-challenged border official’s clock had been wrong and now we were stuck in Lilongwe without any Malawi kwacha to buy food and with an hour to kill, hungrily and pennilessly strolling the dusty streets.


But worse than that, he’d stolen my opportunity to properly experience an overland time change!!



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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