A Travellerspoint blog

Day 154 – Lovely People

23rd February 2012

sunny

We were armed with verbal directions to the waterfall and caves as we wandered through the garden trying to avoid the webs of the Kite Spider that had been strung across the path. Our misuse of directions had essentially led us into somebody’s back yard but that wasn’t holding us back. A young boy directed us towards the waterfall. The waterfall was in the nook of the valley, so all we had to do was follow the cliff edge and we’d get there. But we were struggling to find the correct route. A little further along we found a gentleman carrying largest part of a palm tree, roots included, who pointed out that the road to the waterfall might be a more forgiving path rather than moving from yard to yard.

On the road we found two would be guides who could take us to the waterfall and the caves. They did and I regretted my decision to wear flip flops when slipped and fell flat on my arse; in doing so turned into a grumpy sod with a big brown bottom and a wet bum. Somers thought differently, she couldn’t help herself laughing and taking pictures.

After the enjoyment of the waterfall, nice but by no means spectacular, we began our wandering up the road towards the mission. Surrounded by banana groves and coffee plantations the plateau is essentially the edge of the Nyika National Park which disappears west in rolling green mountains. In Livingstonia we met Rakesh, a Londoner who was teaching at the Livingstonia mission and coaching the university football team. Before long we had established that he had a housemate, a Norwegian called Claus, who hadn’t wanted to teach and so had found a cushy little number volunteering at a local honey co-operative. The co-operative had been set up by a Japanese gentleman to make forward progress in establishing a profitable means of existence for the bee keepers of Livingstonia. Since opening they have already won awards and are selling their sweet product in the nearby town of Mzuzu. We couldn’t resist.

The only rub that the co-operative really has is that problems arise when trying to distribute the meagre income amongst members of the co-operative. Should the man with more hives receive a greater share or should the profit be based on weight of honey supplied? If the latter is the case, how does the co-op support the man who has a bad harvest? And all this before the question of re-investing in the business could even be raised. Claus was book keeper and bringer of new ideas. He seemed to be very happy in what had been achieved and was slowly introducing ideas to take the co-op forward. If nothing else, the honey was superb.

We wandered a little longer, visiting a cafe run by the local orphanage for some drinks; we ate samosas, saw the mission church and the famous Stone House where Doctor Laws had lived and we learned that, around these parts, they’re still killing cows with an axe: Up to ten blows to the back of the neck before a kill is recorded.

On our way back through the town a shout rang out from the shady porch of a shop front. Two men were asking for their picture to be taken and we duly obliged. One of the men, James, could not help himself from giggling every time the camera was pointed at him, his smile was infectious.

Heading down to Lukwe we met a group of kids playing in front of their homes. We danced with them and laughed with them, shook hands and took pictures and spoke about their families. They had us smiling from ear to ear and were so refreshing compared to the outstretched hands we’ve seen elsewhere. We made it back in time for our final feast with the Kenyans. It would be a shame to say goodbye to them.

Posted by ibeamish 05:07 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 153 – Livingstonia – The Mission

22nd February 2012

sunny

Livingstonia is a mission that was founded in 1875 by the Free Church of Scotland. The mission had originally been based in Cape Maclear at the southern end of Lake Malawi, but the malaria transmitting mosquitoes were maintaining a high death rate and the mission had to move. It moved north to Bandawe but still the missionaries gained no reprieve from the flying merchants of death and so it moved again this time not only north but also skywards. It moved to the top of a plateau that had the benefit of an altitude less desirable to the Amosquito and with a splendid view out onto the Lake itself.

A little later on (almost present day) a Belgian named Haug (we never did get the spelling) built a sustainable, eco friendly, perma-culture lodge and campsite on some land that he’d been allowed to rent by the chief. He tamed the land, cultivated it and built upon it and he named it Lukwe. The Lonely Planet told Huag that they would visit and they did, eventually, a little drunk.They later declared in their little book of stories that Haug serves fantastic lasagne. (Haug smiles explaining that he has never served lasagne.) The Bradt people came and said that he did amazing vegetarian dishes, ( vegetarian dishes are offered but their quality is variable in our experience, n=2, 1 positive and 1 negative, in our opinion) later still and a couple of Belgians visited, Belgians who we just so happened to have met back in Mabuya Camp in Lilongwe and they told us Haug served amazing steaks. Only the last group had any consistent truth, but by God that cow did not die in vain.

We’d spoken to the ‘Fantastic four (and a half)’ of Deon, Richard, Emily (and bump) and Flo and had gotten on so famously that we were keen to continue the jaunt up the hill. Lukwe was balanced on the edge of a steep slope that looked out over a forested valley onto fields that lead to the sandy beach of Lake Malawi whose waters lead to the horizon. The tag word ‘permaculture’ implies that all the produce used by the business is grown on site and Haug has cultivated one of the most interesting and impressive market gardens we’ve ever visited. He was growing pineapples, mangoes, passion fruits and peas. Air potatoes (the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,) ground potatoes, chillies, coffee beans and dozens more plants, fruits and vegetables grew in his garden all watered by a spring with channels dug to irrigate the ground. Goats, rabbits and chickens provided fertiliser for the ‘crops’ and our toilets were long drops of a sort but had with them a ‘two scoops’ rule. Following every use one scoop of earth and one scoop of ashes, both supplied, must be sprinkled down on to the dung to help it compost. It will eventually provide more fertiliser in the garden. (It doesn’t bear to think about his last cycle too closely.) The place was quite simply stunning. We arrived late in the day and perched, with drinks, upon the decking on the edge of the cliff; the Mission could be explored the following day.

Posted by ibeamish 05:02 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

On People

Getting to understand Africa, its many customs and its sometimes subtly different, sometimes harshly different, ways of life, along with its marked successes and its well publicised problems is a difficult task. The world is westernising: and why not? Getting up at day break to perform manual work on a field that lacks fertility only to have your harvest destroyed periodically by drought, flood or pestilence is not only backbreaking, it is beyond the physical and mental capabilities of ninety percent of the British public. The chance of leaving such a life behind, the chance of working in a city and earning a, albeit meager, living is too much to ignore. Africa is a dichotomy of rapidly growing cities largely embracing western ideals contrasted with agricultural subsistence living in some of the poorest regions of the world.

It’s a little more complicated than I’ve insinuated but as us foreigners visit the vast ‘country’ of Africa, as so many of us see it, we’re returning home to report that Africans have sold out, that the Himba all have mobile phones, the Maasai all want a dollar for their picture to be taken and that one in ten men of the continent are wearing a premier league football club jersey. There is a distinct feeling that western tourists expect an animal hide adorned and spear wielding tribesman who lives from the earth, sleeps in a thatched mud hut and hunts with ‘circle of life’ morals to feed his family; this family are probably split into those carrying pots on their heads and those washing in a crystal clear river, their phosphate laced powder having no environmental impact on the picture. The truth is that life starts early in Africa. An eight year old boy may spend his days herding goats; in his home it would not be uncommon for him to tend the fire and cooking pot. The daughter may be looking after the new born, changing nappies and providing entertainment whilst mother is pounding maize or gutting fish. In England the idea of children so young taking on so much responsibility is unheard of. An eight year old working alone for twelve hours a day? Someone would go to prison. If the tribesman previously mentioned has chosen to continue living his cultural beliefs and traditions then perhaps he is leather adorned, but his other couture may well involve Indian fabric, plastic Chinese manufactured beads and a pair of trainers made anywhere in the Far East. His family may well still live in a mud hut, with either a gas cooker inside or, more commonly a charcoal fire, ensuring the continual deforestation of the continent. If there is a river nearby and if it has water running along it then it is probably brown with silt. Women will be washing their clothes in it but depending on how many others are living around this settlement the river will be anything from fresh flowing brown water to stagnant pools of foetid scum surfaced water. Washing powder packets strewn on the banks and the remnants of defecation hanging on the humid still air that lingers around such places. There are a lot of people in Africa without access to piped water and without access to sanitation facilities.

To borrow a quote from Niall Fergusson and first written by Thomas Hobbs, “[The life of a hunter-gatherer] ...is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Compare this existence to a nine to five on the shores of Great Britain. You’re in work and the money slips straight into a bank account that probably provides you with credit card and overdraft facilities for when you really need money. This money can be spent in a supermarket around the corner that not only sells fresh produce but guarantees it will always be there and more over sells clothes at prices that are as cheap as anywhere else on the planet. In addition there is a doctor around the corner, he’s busy and you’d certainly be better off with an appointment, but he’s free. And what’s more, if you need medicine, he’ll ensure you get it all for the equivalent cost of one or two hours work on a minimum wage. England wouldn’t exist if the efficiencies of large scale agriculture hadn’t taken over from small scale subsistence farming. Life as we know it couldn’t exist without readily available building materials, banking and credit facilities, medicines and above all consumerism and the money with which to revel in it.

As Africa modernises, we’re driving through it and we’re getting the briefest glimpse of it. People exist in countries whose leaders insist on making decisions that cut the countries income by two fifths (Malawi.) People exist in dictatorships where once hugely productive agriculture has been retarded into semi subsistence agriculture run by unskilled ‘war veterans’ (Zimbabwe) and most Africans live in a country besieged by corruption, men become leaders and leaders become millionaires by unjustly using the powers of office. Funds are diverted, huge contracts are divvied out amongst family members and the country suffers even more as crucial investments in education, health and infrastructure are postponed or prevented altogether.

And then we appear; tourists in our big cars with fridge freezers worth a year’s salary, suitcases full of clothes and wallets with pieces of plastic that allow us to buy hundred dollar safaris, expensive hotels, steaks worth a week’s salary, beer, wine, ice cream, fast food, more clothes, jewellery, you name it we’ll buy it. The Horn of Africa has a food crisis and thousands are literally starving to death. But there is food there; there is food all over Africa, you just have to be rich enough to afford it.

Travelling through so many countries you can’t help but compare the peoples of each to their neighbours. Whilst in a country a sense of feeling towards the locals is developed. Once you have left this feeling matures and settles to form a final opinion. Our opinions have been, certainly in Mozambique and Malawi, formed based on all of our interactions with people within that country and that has biased us away from understanding the actual population. There are five types of people with whom interaction takes place: the immigration officials, the police, sellers of goods (including money changers,) ex-patriots (including the subsequent generations who still hold their ancestors values) and genuine locals.

The first to dissect are the immigration officials; they invariably one of two things: pleasant or trying it on. In addition, they are almost always bored. Their influence on our opinion has rarely been extreme, but they are the first faces you see in the new country and with them come the fear of having your car pulled apart, your alcohol removed and every dubious purchase combed finely for a reason to impose duty or confiscation. The greatest benefit is that as well as almost always being bored, they are almost always reluctant to examine the car too thoroughly. Whether smiling or frowning, process, and life, is easier when expedited. The nice officers make you feel at ease, the others can be anything from absent of expression to downright intimidating. None the less they are our first impression.

The second in line are the police. They have the power to stop you, to fine you, to enforce laws like the necessity of having two luminous vests at hand, to take your belongings if deemed ‘illegal’ and to create offences in order to procure bribes. (I have not experienced the latter, though Laura has been stopped for trespassing on ‘Presidential property.’) There also seems to be lots of them. Bad experiences with officials of any sort shouldn’t sour us to a country but when they’re being publicly humiliating and you’re asked to empty your car at a busy road side whilst being informed that they will have to confiscate some of your belongings, it is incredibly difficult to not feel any bitterness. Being stopped repeatedly and then asked to present any combination of passport, driving license, car papers, warning triangles (two of them,) fluorescent jackets (again two,) fire extinguisher (within its expiry date and close to hand) and first aid kit (imagine what you will as for the ‘required contents.’) Meanwhile a crabbing over laden lorry crawls past with seven men clinging on to its roof, its bald tyres wobble along the road, its wheels are secured to its axles by magic dust and the smell of worn clutch and hot brakes hangs in the air; all whilst a white Land Cruiser with blacked out windows overtakes the lorry across a solid white line at about 100km/h. But your police officer takes pride in his work and he is lasciviously searching his eyes across everything in your vehicle. These officers are few and far between, the majority are only doing their job and are understandably curious of what gadgets you have, but when you come across a bad guy he can erase a hundred good guys, it is very difficult to not let him sour your opinion of a countries police force.

Thirdly are the sellers of goods. Broadly speaking they are the money changers and the curios artisans. The money changers start their touting before you’re even in their country. There are lots of them and you’ll know who they are; because they’re the ones who have to take a step backwards when you force open your car door. They compete against each other chasing a margin that is quite a few percent more than is fair, that’s how the system works after all; but if they’re the first to speak to you then it is seen as a binding contract. If you don’t deal with the first guy, even if someone offers a preferable rate, the changer will not only be highly insulted but he’ll also be vociferously aggressive towards you. So the changers want to change your currency; they mostly just want to relieve you of two or three percent but some would sooner steal it; but, above all if you don’t let them change your money they will not be happy.

Part B of the third group is that of the sellers of curios. They are perhaps the individuals with most reason to barter aggressively. They are in the most competitive market, with the tightest margins and quite often they are the most desperate. They are highly skilled; sculpting remarkably accurate globes of the earth, sculpting all of Mother Nature’s creatures out of the hardest woods on the planet even producing hippos as heavy as a man (as distinguished creatures such as Joseph can attest to,) others paint, some sing. When it comes to buying we all expect to barter; it’s part of the game. The problem arises with assessing value. When you walk into the market place it is an oversupplied one. There are too many competitors offering the same goods with too few buyers. You are offered a price that is high to the point of extortion. Of course you know that you won’t pay that price but if you enquire as to its validity you’ll be told that the sculptor has sold plenty of the items at that price before now. That, for me, is where the relationship can begin to sour. A buyer and seller are bound by a certain amount of trust. Trust that it is a genuine sale, trust that the price will reflect the actual value of the item, trust that both parties will finish satisfied. Lying to achieve a sale may be a sign of desperation, it may be a sign of my over rating my western values, but it is my money and they are my values.

In the face of such an inflated price tag it is difficult not to become competitive; it is easy to think that the higher the start price the lower you’ll set your upper limit; in most of these situations either the buyer is king or the seller goes hungry. The aggression of selling, being surrounded by five men all trying to place their goods ahead of their neighbours, to the point where their goods may not be ‘in’ your face, but they are touching it, can make the transaction far more stressful.

Naturally the game begins when a potential purchaser shows any interest in an object. Interest means a potential sale and it would be silly for a man walking the breadline to allow such a prospective sale to pass. This is fair to a point but when the seller insists on crowding you once you’ve declined interest; if he goes further and he becomes aggressive or dismissive because you’re not interested then the affair takes a turn for the worse. If an object has a value of ten dollars but the seller is asking one hundred dollars then it is only fair for us to start at one dollar; we’re talking the same degree of difference. But logic isn’t always seen in a cold light and when he gets angry because he comes down twenty dollars and we go up only two he thinks it’s grossly unfair and he tells us. When you’re finally bartering over a dollar or two, it is time to hand over the money; after all, one dollar is of no real significance to anybody traveling in Africa. It is certainly of more significance to the guy who is about to earn it. But bartering gets boring; it’s tiring. Especially when everything you buy is bartered for, it can become very tedious. Shopping is done not at one supermarket but at ten different stalls, any of which may add on a little ‘foreigner’s tax.’ (This situation feels most fraught when you are new in a country and have no idea what the true price should be.)

(This is not to say that ‘foreigner’s tax’ is imposed by all. Some of our nicest experiences have been in dealing with honest market holders who are all too happy to find out about you whilst you peruse their aubergines, they ensure that you get their best produce, they’ll tell you when its best for eating (‘that one is a two day pineapple’) and they’ll even go as far as throwing in a few extras to make certain everyone leaves happily.)

The other side to this is the argument that why shouldn’t we pay more? The difference in cost may be us paying twelve pence per potato instead of eight pence. This may or may not add up to a significant amount of money and I’m in no doubt that the buyer abroad is never the poorer party at an African village market stall; but surely an honest set-up caters either to the tourist crowd adjusting prices upwards accordingly or it caters to the masses. If you are dealing with the latter and I visit your stall then I should be subject to the same prices as everyone else; if I am discriminated against due to my status as foreigner (for whatever reason be it skin colour, language barrier, attire or the car I’m driving, or in fact, any combination of these,) then I’m suffering what is tantamount to racism. Sitting next to a local who has just paid two fifths of the amount I have for a cup of tea from the same seller is unfair, even if we’re talking 16 cents versus 40. The feeling of being cheated is created and the mutual trust is lost; the buyer-seller relationship is gone. No one should have the purchase price adjusted in line with their wealth as they walk into a shop.

The fourth group are the ex-patriots. The term ‘ex-pat’ stereotypes the entire group essentially into émigrés from the western world. They like the food you like, they’ve experienced the things you have, communication is easy and they have a culture that is, broadly speaking, the same as yours. They are mostly very hospitable (the majority that we’ve come across are in the hospitality industry) and they see the world like you. They can advise on avoiding the local bad guys and they can point you in the direction of the good ones. I’m biased of course, but they are often a safe haven; they are bays of comfort in the sea of the unknown. Their influence on our perceptions of the country comes not from how they act but from the stories they tell and the way they treat their staff (the latter a telling insight into the economic comfort of the ‘ex-pat’) there are still plenty around with a degree of racism in their attitudes towards their fellow countrymen but there are far more of the liberal variety, people who understand why their neighbours are unable to access proper education, unable to get work, then unable to get higher salaried work and unable to access the quality of healthcare that Europe has become accustomed to.

The final group should be the only group that influences us. They are after all, the country. If I had a little more patience, and was a little less quick to judge, if I was more unassuming and entered every situation as if I were facing a blank canvas I may not find the police and the sellers quite so frustrating and I may then enter any social situation with nothing but a keen interest and ‘joie de vive.’ The truth is that it has taken this long to realise these things. Whatever happens with the former groups they must not influence your interaction with the final group. The final group bear the suffering imposed by inadequate governance and miss-spent funds. Yes they might use the beach as a toilet and yes they throw plastic bottles into the street and they burn down forests for fuel and they have multiple sexual partners without taking any precautions but most of this is because they don’t have working toilets, waste disposal services, they can’t get cheap fuel anywhere else and contraception is taboo or unavailable, there may have been little or no sex education, multiple partners exist in all societies not just the polygamous ones and then there is always the fact that sometimes men and women just get ‘lost in the moment.’ Intercourse with an HIV positive individual doesn’t guarantee its transmission, intercourse between heterosexual individuals neither guarantees a baby. At least one person we’ve spoken to so far explained that he hadn’t expected to get his girlfriend pregnant first time.

But for all the circumstances not in their favour, the final group are the people. They are the friendly eyes with smiles baring more teeth than you ever thought possible; they are the beads of sweat spilling off a man’s back, his muscles bursting through his skin as he pulls an ox cart single handed up hill, loaded with his living; it’s the lady who looks up from her washing and smiles wider with her warmly penetrating eyes than her mouth, it’s the old man who doffs his flat cap when you greet him in the road; they are the singing dancing frolicking children that just want to talk, just want to touch your skin, just want to hold your hand when you walk down the road; the same children who burst into excitement and fervor when you imitate their dancing; they are the queues that form outside the hospital two days before the medicine truck arrives and they are the men carrying a coffin for ten kilometres through mountain passes to get it back to their village where its future resident awaits. So many of these people live on incomes that we would find impossible. How can you blame a man when he asks for a dollar or two for a necklace he’s made? How can you blame a man who asks for a dollar or two because he’s hungry or for a dollar because he’s crippled and there is no support system? The children who’ve learnt to outstretch their hands and squeal ‘gimme money’ are frustrating but they are only repeating a mantra that has been handed down over successive generations, and no doubt it is an action that has been rewarding at some point in the past. We can’t give every man a dollar and neither should we, but neither should we look down on him because he asks. These people are in high definition Technicolor with surround sound. They are the happy and the sad, the sweet and the sour, the life and soul of any country and they alone should be used to judge a countries’ people; and like I say, it’s only just dawned on me.

Posted by ibeamish 05:00 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 150 – 152 – Five Months and Flying

19th – 21st February 2012

We woke and Somers declared she would be swimming to the island one kilometre off shore from Kande Beach. I declared that I’d be sat waiting for her return whilst watching another movie on the laptop. Laura did swim out, she swam so that she was level with the island, but when she got there she had a minor panic about the freshwater crocodiles that might be hiding on the island and so her landing was cancelled.

Back at camp I was feeling a little less groggy and when Somers returned we went back to the beach and decided to go for a swim that ultimately ended on the island. We performed some more rock somersaults before swimming back again. Somers had covered four kilometres in one morning; a machine.

We packed Redvers and travelled further north to Nkhata Bay. A fantastic location sat on a hillside looking out across a lake side inlet. There was a great little spot to eat by the name of Kaya Papaya and we celebrated our hundred and fifty days on the road without realising that we’d been going for that long and spent another night in the Big Blue Star Backpackers.

The following day was in a similar vein; internet, calls home and eating out. It was only on our final morning that we met a guy called Calvin who was born just down the road from where we’d lived in South Africa. He’d been living in London and was riding his bike back home. He’d come through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and now Malawi and his stories were a great appetizer for what was before us. (calvinrideshome.com) We wished him luck as he set off south and we set off north for the ministerial and missionary charms of Livingstonia, a mission founded atop a plateau in Northern Malawi one hundred years ago.

We didn’t quite make it; we stopped at the foot of the mountain at a place called Chitimbe Camp and there we met two Zimbabwean brothers and their sister and her fiancé. Deon, Richard, Emily and Flo (the latter a Frenchman and father to Emily’s belly bump.) Laura and I enjoyed gin and tonics on the beach combined with a spot of star gazing before calling it a day.

Posted by ibeamish 06:12 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 149 – We Want Kande

18th February 2012

Our journey north had resumed. From today on we’d be reaching degrees of latitude untraveled since our drive began; how exciting.

I doubt very much that Kande Beach took its name from the local dialect; but since we don’t know its origins we can’t judge. It’s famed not only for a lovely beach but also as an overland truck stop where those crazy guys jump out and simultaneously ‘see Malawi’ whilst trying to perform some ‘inter truck coitus’ on one of their two nights in the country.

The thought of trucks didn’t dissuade us and we pulled in to Kande to find five of them parked up; at least there’d be an atmosphere. Not for us though this drinking all night malarkey. No, Somers and Beamish preferred a night time showing of The Lion King which had been procured from a chap named Yanis in Cape Maclear. We laughed, we cried and we sang out loud; the joy only heightened by the fact that Somers felt it important to name every animal and African location as it appeared on screen.

Posted by ibeamish 06:11 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 148 – Farewell to our ‘Hero’

17th February 2012

It was home time for Post. We dropped him at the airport and tears almost flowed, hearts almost broke and time almost stood still.

But time didn’t quite stand still as we had to get back into town and sort out another broken ‘Old Man Emu’ shock absorber. On our way we passed a garage that looked suspiciously like it might be selling diesel and we joined the queue to fill up with thirty litres that would see us easily into Tanzania. Post had left his hand sanitising solution in the car and so I made use of it; its watermelon fragrance bringing back floods of memories for those brief few days we’d had with him before he’d left us to return to his unending work tending to the poorly kittens of London Town.

We pulled into North End motors and met a gentleman named Sean who appeared to know a lot more about suspension than 4x4 Megaworld, the team who’d sold us the damned things in the first place. The problem was that when our suppliers and fitters at 4x4 suggested that the shock absorbers would work ‘fine’ with Land Rover original springs what they meant to say was ‘the two are incompatible and your springs will bounce the toughest shocks in the world apart, snapping them in two and guaranteeing a sizeable degree of discomfort in your derrieres.’ So, our shocks were over extending due to our springs, and more over, our warranty had never been official as it only applied to vehicles fitted with both OME shocks and springs; we had been lucky to get the replacement in Namibia.

But Sean had options for us: first he investigated ‘retaining straps’ to prevent the shocks overextending but apparently they don’t work on Defenders. And so that left us with a choice: we could buy OME springs to add to our pathetic shocks or we could call it a day and buy Land Rover shocks to go with our Land Rover springs to support our Land Rovers chassis. We chose the latter.

And so, with Redvers fixed once again, (he still has some brain issues: his headlamps sometimes don’t quite see like they used to despite the treatment he received in Zomba,) we retired for our final evening in Mabuya camp, Lilongwe.

Posted by ibeamish 06:10 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 147 – Road-Side Goat

16th February 2012

Sadly Posts’ time with us was coming to an end. We had a drive to get back to Lilongwe but not before Post did some United Nations style ‘water pump posing’ with the children laughing at a mazungu pumping his own water. We stopped at a road side stall where we went nuts buying even more curios including a hand crafted scale model of a Land Rover, a scale model of the globe, more salad servers (can you ever have enough?), some ebony wine ‘glasses’ to replace our plastic ones that had died and a necklace to add to our collection.

Travelling back to Lilongwe we stopped and bought some fried goat from a road side stall; the assistant had a short piece of cane with a strip of material at its end with which to shoo the flies. This broke every rule in Post’s book of ‘Do’s and Don’ts for Sensible and Healthy Travelling in Africa.’ The meat tasted great; there’ll hopefully be plenty more of it to come.

Back at Mabuya we caught up with Tommy who had, in two weeks since we’d seen him last, (just after the electrocution,) gone down with Malaria and had an infected ankle from what was probably the same bite. He was now on the mend and giving as much lip as ever. We went out for a curry in the Indian in town and ate a sublime mutton bhuna gosh, chicken tikka masala and a palak paneer with garlic naan breads of the highest order.

Posted by ibeamish 06:08 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 146 – All At Sea: When Kayaking Goes Wrong

15th February 2012

We’d thought about hiring some kayaks to do a bit of our own exploring and the previous day we’d visited Kayak Africa to get some prices. Walking back to Fat Monkeys we’d bumped into two local guys who thought they could get hold of some kayaks for us as well as snorkels, masks and fins. We’d told them that we’d be walking to Kayak Africa around 11.30 the next day and if they had the equipment ready then we might be able to do business. The dread locked one of the pair, Jason, suggested the kayaks would cost ten dollars each, we told him that we’d discuss prices when we’d seen the equipment the next day.

So there we were, now joined by a couple of South African guys keen on the trip, Martin and Jonathon. We met our two would be kayak salesmen and they ran off to get the kit. Martin suggested agreeing prices before they went to the effort of getting the equipment but they were having none of it. I personally thought that with them having put so much effort in we’d have more leverage on our prices.

Half an hour later we had two double kayaks and a single kayak in front of us as well as a full set of snorkelling gear per person; and there started the bartering.

Firstly, Jason told us that all of the kayak money would be going to the orphanage up the road. This was as fine a lie as that of the emperor’s new clothes, I didn’t believe him, I told him so and that didn’t help our relationship much. He and his friend wanted two thousand kwacha per boat which was twelve dollars, the same as Kayak Africa. When we told him he’d said ten he insisted that the exchange rate was now two hundred kwacha per dollar and offered to get a news paper to prove it. He was lying again and now adding supporting lies to back up his mistruths. We told him he was lying again, and that the black market didn’t matter to businesses as their exchange rate was set by government. He got annoyed and when we told him his boats’ rudders were broken he became even more irate. It wasn’t going well; we’d been there for an hour and our dealers had named what seemed to be their final price. I jumped up and told them I was going to speak to Kayak Africa, I ran down the beach and returned with the knowledge that Kayak Africa could kit us out for the same cost; only their equipment would be in full working order.

This news went down like an unsinkable ship on a starlit evening in the North Atlantic in 1904. Jason became aggressive and told us that we shouldn’t support big business. We told him if he was to be competitive he had to better them somehow and since his boats weren’t as good as ‘the man’s’ he would have to beat them on price; and also he’d have to not lie to us. With that he told us to ‘eff’-off as he jumped aggressively across the kayaks trying to intimidate us. We held our ground trying to explain the situation and eventually he calmed down and suggested that we could perhaps still rent the snorkels and masks from him. We told him that we don’t deal with people who tell us to ‘eff’ off and thanked him for his time. It gave me some pleasure that he’d have to haul those boats back to wherever they’d come from and that he’d be getting none of our money. We hoped it was a lesson learnt for him but the guy in Kayak Africa told us that Dreadlocks had been aggressive with other tourists before us.

We pushed our kayaks out into the water; with our expensive cameras stowed in dry bags in the supposedly ‘dry’ compartments of our kayaks. We set out for the channel running between Domwe Island and the mainland; we were against the wind, it was two o’clock. We joked that knowing our luck the wind would change direction and that instead of it being on our backs for the journey home, we’d be trapped pushing into it all the way back. Laura and I had a double, Martin and Jonathon had a double and Post was in charge of his own destiny in his single. His ‘British Military Fitness’ course was evidently showing as he found it all too easy to keep pace with the ‘dual-engined’ vessels with which he was travelling.

At the channel we found a small beach, disappointingly peppered with human faeces, where we could moor our boats and do some snorkelling. Bar the sobering smell of dung, the place was a small piece of paradise; crystal clear waters with luminescent fresh water fish, blue skies, warm water and sandy beaches.

Before long there came the question of what to do next. Somers immediately piped up with “Let’s kayak around Domwe Island.” Jonathon seconded the idea and the remaining three guys assumed the mindset of ‘if the petite lady has suggested it, we can’t say no.‘ And so we set off.

No one had factored into our equation that circling the island meant that our initial journey of eight kilometres was about to become twenty. The further along the island we kayaked, the longer we realised the island was. Not only that, but the lake was becoming rougher as somehow we could only find a headwind to kayak into. We paddled and we paddled as the sun began its decent towards the mountains in the west. Rounding the tip of Domwe Island was a nightmare as we had to turn our kayaks side-on to the oncoming waves which was extremely unstable; our belly muscles continually tensing to try and match the sideways loss of balance being pressed upon us. The waves were getting bigger and the wind was getting stronger and the day was getting darker when Martin and Jonathon capsized for the first time. Post seemed to be making light work of it all; he’d been out in front by a long way since we left our snorkelling spot and he rowed over to check the guys were OK. Laura and I were some way behind; Laura coping admirably with a passenger who was whinging and complaining about silly ideas and bloody weather. Martin and Jonathon were fine and had already climbed back into their kayak unperturbed and in high spirits. What they didn’t realise was that they’d taken on a hell of a lot of water in their ‘dry’ compartments and from now on, capsizing would come all too easily. And capsize they did; a second, a third, and a fourth time. By the fifth time they had so much water onboard that when they sat in their kayak it was underwater; only half a wave was needed to tip them once more.

It was five o’clock, the sun was now low in the sky and we were at least five kilometres from home, around one kilometre from the island and in possession of one semi submerged kayak, a double kayak desperately trying to avoid capsizing and Post bobbing like a duck on a pond; in his element. Laura and I couldn’t stop, we’d come stomach-churningly close to capsizing several times already and the waves really were getting bigger. Laura made the call to head for the island, that was the nearest land to us and if we needed to we could always rough camp there and move off at first light. Laura began stroke counting as we focused solely on making dry land. As we got closer we saw a gap in the huge boulders that made up the shoreline. In it lay a small beach with a substantial hut stood between the rocks and we knew that it could only be one of the camps we’d read about. As we landed we met the two guys who were running the camp and we told them that the other two boats were still stranded in the lake. They emptied our kayak of water and pushed it back out, struggling against the surf, and rowed to rescue the others. The final ‘beach landing’ configuration involved Post, solo and unaided making his way to shore followed by Jonathon aboard the semi submerged double kayak with the rescuers rowing alongside a life jacketed and swimming Martin.

We sat on the rocks of our ‘desert island’ watching one of the single most stunning sunsets any of us had ever seen whilst our rescuers radioed for a boat to come and retrieve five wet and wilted mazungus.

The boat arrived in the dark and we clambered aboard, exhausted and damp and wondering if the Gecko Lounge might be able to serve us pizza at the fourth time of asking. The boat pulled up in the shallows of the lake outside our eatery of choice and we stepped in to find that pizzas were on the menu! We placed our order and ran back home to get changed whilst they were cooking.

Posted by ibeamish 06:07 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 145 – Doing Nothing

14th February 2012

We spent the day relaxing; starting with double rum and cokes at ten o’clock. We tried bartering for some paintings with a chap named ‘Gift’ but he didn’t seem overly happy at our low starting price versus his hugely inflated one. It seems that if you start with a price as ridiculous as theirs then your trader has every right to dislike you.

His friend however was far more reasonable and Laura bought some earrings whilst Post filled his boots with a pen holder and enough bracelets for all his friends with some spare; three or four then. That was pretty much all we did.

Posted by ibeamish 06:05 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 144 – Cruising the Lake

13th February 2012

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We’d met a group of medical students whilst we were at Fat Monkeys as well as a guy called Sheldon whom we’d first encountered in Jollyboys back in Livingstone, Zambia. He’s riding around the world on his BMW bike (rideforsmiles.com) and since we’d seen him last, he’d been back to Australia to visit his children before flying back out to continue his journey. The medics had organised a boat trip across to the nearest island, Thumbi, where we could go snorkelling whilst Captain Simon and his crew cooked lunch on the rocks. At fewer than five dollars per person it was a steal.

As we crossed Post and I set our lines into the lake hoping to supplement our lunch with a big catch. I’d legged it down the beach earlier to find the market where I bought some bait fish but I needn’t have bothered. Not only did the guys on the boat have some bait fish already but we weren’t going to catch anything anyway.

We snorkeled for an hour or so; looking at the pretty fishies before relaxing in the shallows and discussing the world’s finest medical mishaps and the current state of the Malawian medical system. Lunch was a huge grilled fish shared between us and served with rice and sauce and it tasted divine. A monitor lizard came down to join us briefly but fifteen clicking and beeping cameras ensured he didn’t hang around for long.

After lunch we went back out into the lake to feed the fish eagles. The guide would toss out a small bait fish and watch as the eagles swooped majestically from their perches and cruised their huge wing spanned air frame just feet above the surface before plucking their lunch from the lake with an ease unfathomed. The remainder of the afternoon was spent learning to somersault from a rock into the lake two or three metres below. We fell somewhere in the middle of the guy doing one and a half forward rolls with a tuck and half twist, and the other guy who just couldn’t quite convince himself to forward roll when jumping. Face flops, back flops and belly flops gave rise to gasps and cries of laughter as one by one the brave fell.

Back on the mainland we set off for a pizza only to find that they had no cheese. Our alternative was to head out to a local eatery where we were joined by our fellow boaters for a brilliant fish curry and several ‘greens’.

Posted by ibeamish 06:04 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 143 – Happy Pants

12th February 2012

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With the hectic schedule we’d been on it was a pleasure to wake up and spend the first hours of daylight sat in the grass, reading and looking out on to the stunning vista provided by the fresh waters of Lake Malawi.

As always the local ladies had beaten us to the daylight and were already crouched at the waters’ edge; cleaning their pans from the night before and starting the washing. Children’s screams of laughter filled the air as they began what seemed like a twelve hour session of playing in the water, never tiring of the excitement that it brought. One child would always be stood, playing with some item or messing about with friends oblivious to the fact that he was sporting a white afro of soap suds that he hadn’t yet washed from his head. There were smiles everywhere in the morning sun.

Our accommodation had been very nice but we were looking for something slightly busier, or slightly more vibrant, or, well, we couldn’t quite be sure. As always we’d pulled into the new destination with a slight twinge of the unknown gently needling the backs of our minds. Parking Redvers behind a ramshackle four feet high bamboo fence hadn’t given us a huge amount of confidence, especially since that confidence had been knocked by the half-attempt at a break-in on the Zomba Plateau. We knew of a place further along the beach called Fat Monkeys that could offer camping, secure parking and all the other essential frills to the modern adventurers wish list; internet, banana pancakes, music and electricty.

Due to the closed season they were offering extremely reasonable rates for their rooms which, when Post told them there would be three people in the room instead of one, the owner suggested that she could reduce the price of the room by a third; we didn’t understand her method, but we liked the outcome.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing; and with Doc Martin’s Malawi shirt still in my mind we were sized up for some ‘Happy Pants’ (pyjama bottoms made from cotton in a spectacular array of patterns.) Post wasn’t keen but Laura and I ordered two pairs each and it was with some degree of sadness that the order was returned and we had four pairs of pants in four different sizes only one of which fitted. The comedy was that Laura’s appeared to be somewhat akin to the circus clown, she could have been catching comedy sponges in them, and mine turned me into some sort of skinny-jeaned fop with far too much on display and a hairily-low waistline. But all this was no problem for the manufacturers of ‘Happy Pants’ and we were promised refitted pants by the following morning.

Posted by ibeamish 06:01 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 142 – Night Monkeys

11th February 2012

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The quiet squeaking of stretching elastic played understudy to the screeching of the monkeys coming from the trees above our luxury tents. “Phwoosh... crack,” the slingshot snapped towards the inky canopy as another stone was unleashed at the sentinels of hell that had been going like crazies for the past hour. It was half past three in the morning. I was stood, in my pyjama bottoms, being munched by mosquitoes trying desperately to find a true aim in the dim light of an overcast night. “Scrrreeeaaaarrrrrr, ragh, ragh, eeerggh, eergh.” Those little.... nature my arse I thought as the slingshot tightened further, my extra effort born out of desire to inflict reality upon these little beggars; the elastic snapped, I'd broken our only chance of sleep. I retired to my luxury bed, on my luxury pillows, under my luxury sheet, in my luxury tent, next to my luxury fiance whilst somewhere in those bloody trees the monkeys continued talking excessively loudly given their presence in a luxury bloody camp.

At five o’clock we were woken by a man who told us that tea and coffee would be served shortly at the restaurant we rubbed our eyes, jumped in the shower and made for the caffeine.

Our morning walk was to be with the residents of the Mvuu Safari Lodge; the lodge was the next tier of luxury from our Mvuu Safari Camp. The walk wasn’t great, in fact it was a bit rubbish, we learned little and saw less but at least we’d partly stretched our legs. We returned to camp, ate breakfast and set out on a boat safari up the river. This was much better; hundreds of hungry hippos, close up crocodiles and goshawks, fish eagles, kingfishers, weavers, bishops and more. An exciting morning brought us back to camp to back our things and head back to Redvers. Twenty four hours had seemed like three days and it had definitely been worth it. We enjoyed another scenic one hour boat transfer, stopping briefly to watch some elephants taking lunch in the reeds.

We set compass for Cape Maclear and drove. It would have been entirely uneventful except for two things: firstly Police Encounter #’s 24 and 25: twenty four was routine, twenty five involved the kind of slow swagger performed only by arrogant young men with ulterior motives and a chip on their shoulder. As our young, male, plain clothed police officer rose from beneath his tree and rolled his walk towards us, he first tapped the bull bars and then the bonnet, before knuckling the front fender all whilst looking the car up and down and then turning his sights to us. From ‘hello’ his eyes never stopped wandering, the radio and the sat nav, Laura, the fridge, the hippo, Laura, Post and back to me. He settled on an achievable target, my flip flops, endorsed with the flag of Mozambique. “So you are from Zimbabwe?” he suggested. “No, the UK,” we replied. “Then why do you have the flag on your shoes?” “That’s the flag of Mozambique, that’s where we travelled before here.” “They’re nice shoes,” he continued. “Yes thanks, comfortable too.” He looked back at Laura, and around Redvers’ insides. “Where are you going?” “Chikupita ku Cape Maclear,” we replied in our newly learned phrase, thanks to Anthony our racing mountain guide at Mulanje. Our use of the officers mother tongue lightened his sinister expression a little and soon his wandering eyes were wandering back to the boom to raise it and let us on our way. What a complete dick; we all agreed.

The second event took place ten kilometres away from Cape Maclear. We were driving along a section of newly surfaced and still very loose gravelled road when a beer bottle holding young man driving a car filled with other beer bottle holding young men attempted to overtake us. The cacophony bursting from a sound system worth more than his engine met into the screeching qand skidding of bald tyres on gravel road as he put the back end of his Toyota Corolla into the ditch twice, each time bouncing out and narrowly avoiding ruining Redvers paintwork. Somehow the drunkard completed the manoeuvre without damage to us. I’d have shouted at him but the fear of the angry mob took my voice away.

We settled into Cape Maclears’ Mgoza Lodge for the evening, looking out over a beautiful fresh water lake we changed some more dollars into bonus Kwacha and ordered burgers and chips and beers.

Posted by ibeamish 02:22 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 141 – River Boats and Fancy Camps

10th February 2012

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Our morning drive led us across the bridge we’d been told not to cross and on to have a fleeting glimpse of a small herd of elephants which was especially nice as we were really keen for Post to see some whilst with us. The road literally ended at a washed out concrete bridge that, had our suspension not been broken again, we’d have loved to have had a go at crossing.

With restricted driving territory and limited wildlife we had soon realised that we had to find another way of seeing the park. What would be more natural than to ask those in charge of our accommodation? Sylvia told us that there was only one boat company offering cruises up and down the River Shire; a company we had already heard of and knew about their overnight cruise. We called and were told that they were leaving on an overnighter that day and we could join them if we liked. You can imagine our confusion when we called back ten minutes later and were told that they had left an hour ago and were halfway up the bloody river. With that Somers was roused from her late morning nap and sprang into action mode.

Half an hour later we were a touch panicked and racing across rutted and potholed dirt tracks in an attempt to get into Liwonde town. It was there that we could meet a boat that would transfer us to Mvuu Camp, 20 kilometres up river. Somers had cracked a green-season deal for ninety dollars per head, (sixty five dollars when our black market money was taken into account,) for a full-board, luxury tented affair, with a game drive and boat outing included.

We made it and were greeted by an ox of a man appropriately named ‘Bison.’ We signed our lives away on the hotel indemnity forms and told the security guard we’d tip him well if Redvers was untouched on our return. We hopped into the boat and met an English paediatrician named Dr Martin Brookes, who it turned out was friends with the writer of the television series, ‘Doc Martin’ and with its’ star Martin Clunes also. The programme had in fact been based on this very ‘Doc Martin’ sat in front of us. Anyway he was a splendid chap and conversation came easily though the topic of his market crafted, short sleeved ‘Malawi’ shirt was never broached: (The local tailor-work had been noted.)

It was a pleasant affair being driven around the park and being served our evening meals all whilst supping ‘greens.’ We added an optional ‘game walk’ for five the following morning and hit the hay.

Posted by ibeamish 02:20 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 140 – Safari Liwonde

9th February 2012

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Breakfast was served on the lawn. Filter coffee and Mulanje tea, fresh fruits and fresher juices, fruity jams, yummy muesli, hot toast, English pork sausages, crisp bacon, runny eggs and baked beans; it was difficult to leave. But leave we did.

Roland had mentioned that he knew an auto-electrician in town and we took his number. We split up in town with Somers and Post going into the market to do some food shopping whilst I went to contact the sparkie to see what could be done about our diminishing headlamp saga. Since we didn’t have a phone I borrowed one from a local guy in the Pep store in exchange for the remaining credit from my voucher. I’d soon met the electrician and he was quick to get under the bonnet with a wire connected to a bulb as his single tool.

At the same time Laura and Post were buying food like it was going out of fashion. All the vegetables and chillies we’d need for a few days came in at three dollars. Another eight dollars was spent on the best part of a kilogram of fillet steak and half a kilo of beef mince.

Before long our ‘one wire and a bulb’ electrician had discovered a faulty relay and was off to find a replacement. He duly did find a second hand relay from somewhere and we had four headlights again. Whether they’d still fade in and out was a question we couldn’t answer for a while.

Back on the road and it was time for some safari action. Liwonde National Park was the destination, via our accommodation for the evening in Liwonde Safari Camp. We’d heard a lot of good things about the camp due to its two owners being experts in local knowledge and great entertainers. So it was with some dismay that we found they were both away and had left Sylvia, a Dutch chick and her Norwegian boyfriend, in charge. What knowledge the pair lacked they supplemented with made up fact.

The gates of Liwonde National Park were guarded by small black man in military uniform, gold epaulettes included, who was adamant that there were only ten kilometres of usable track in the whole of the national park. We let him judge Redvers’ weight at under two tonnes which meant we saved a bit of cash and we paid him six dollars each for our entry and then underwent ten excruciating minutes of being told and then retold which roads (one and a half of them) where accessible, what time the gates closed (6 sharp) and that it was now ten past five so we’d better hurry up. As we passed him he saluted and stamped his right foot to attention. It was like an African Dad’s Army.

The park had been in decline and is now slowly reintroducing lost species and expanding its game viewing potential. Only one marauding Mozambican lion inhabited the park, mistakenly looking for female company, and somewhere far to the north of where we were. Leopards were around but few and far between and rhinos were absent except for a pen at Mvuu Camp (luxury lodge.) The main mammal of note was the elephant, but our little guard had told us that even they had gone north.

This wasn’t a major issue, we were out of season and in a game park famed not for a big five but for its birds. There were plenty of warthog, impala, kudu and especially waterbuck and birds enough to keep us fanning through Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa.

We ignored ‘Captain Mainwaring’ and drove the river loop that was ‘inaccessible.’ In hindsight it had probably been closed to prevent further damage to the track rather than it being entirely inaccessible; the ruts we left behind probably didn’t help. Back at camp the rains came, we braai’d the fillet, Somers fried the vegetable including the aubergines and we polished off a bottle of rum and had a good go at the bottle of gin. We spent a few hours in the candle lit and very empty ‘honesty’ bar playing ‘drinking darts’ and then went to bed; Somers and I to our luxury roof top terrace (tent on car) and Post to his ten bed suite (empty dorm.)

Posted by ibeamish 02:17 Archived in Malawi Comments (1)

Day 139 – The First Attempted Break-In

8th February 2012

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We’d been even more tired than we’d realised and stopping had been essential. The road quality improved a little and we made easy driving of the remaining distance to the town of Zomba and the plateau which rose above it.

We drove through Zomba town and up the very steep road to the top of the Plateau. The top was largely forested with several businesses offering accommodation, several stalls offering tat and several guides offering their services. The tar ran from the bottom, up to the top, past the dam and on to the big hotel; a dirt road ran around the perimeter offering access to waterfalls and the summit. After three days of being nannied up a mountain, (“You must ask me before you touch anything,” Anthony had told us; I’d wondered if that included my scratching my arse,) we now wanted the pleasure of only our own company. We tried to tell the potential guide that but he insisted on running around with us trying to earn some business. We eventually settled on a picnic spot down by the dam. We’d bought some fresh raspberries and passion fruit and still had melon, camembert and mangoes. There was a boom preventing access to Redvers and so we parked next to it with the intention of investigating further. As we did, two young men approached and suggested that for one hundred kwacha each they would raise the boom and allow us down. We told them that we’d rather walk down for free and with that they marched off.

After our two nights on the mountain and the hard driving immediately after Post was quite keen to spend the night in a swish lodge; the Zomba Forest Lodge ticked all of the boxes and came under the sub-heading of ‘Exclusive Lodges’ in the Bradt guide; this was one up from the ‘Upmarket’ section. Furthermore, Post had decided that it would be his treat to us both which was incredibly generous. At the dam we wound up the sat phone and made contact with a man named Roland who was the proprietor of the Zomba Forest Lodge and confirmed a booking for that evening.

Amidst our decadent lunch and satellite phone calls to luxury lodges the two men who had asked us for a hundred kwacha each had returned stating that there was a hundred kwacha fee per person for picnicking at the dam. We smiled and said it would be no problem, they just had to bring us a receipt for three hundred kwacha and we would. Unsurprisingly the ‘boss’ was in town until five o’clock and he had the keys to the office. They protested and we protested back, once again it was principles and a overwhelming desire not to be conned that ruled our actions, the money was less than two dollars in government terms and about one in real terms. But getting conned feels horrible and one dollar or one thousand dollars we weren’t handing over money without at least a receipt. They disappeared off for an hour before returning to restart the argument. We gave them the address of our lodge that evening just in case the ‘boss’ should return from ‘town’ and still require payment. They insisted on us handing over the money and, by this point we were tiring of the game, we retorted more sternly that they were spoiling our camembert and they should actually stop harassing us and get out of our sight as we’d done all we could to live by the rules. They skulked away and we turned back to our books reiterating that it’s the principle not the money.

Another half hour passed and we decided that our afternoon would be better spent in our fancy lodge; we packed up and headed back to Redvers. As I walked up the hill I noticed that one of the rear windows was ajar and a white plastic bag was protruding from it. Getting closer, we discovered that the rear window had been forced open two inches and something had been half way through pulling out a bag of wet clothes that needed washing after the mountain climbing. Another window on the left hand side was open an inch, there were no fingerprints or footprints on the car or the window that would indicate monkeys or baboons and the bag wasn’t shredded in good baboon style. Whoever had been getting inside, we’d interrupted them and they hadn’t managed to get anything. We looked around and saw one of the two ‘the boss is in town’ guys wandering down the road. I shouted to him hoping he’d seen something; the idea that he may have been the culprit did cross my mind. He wandered back up to see what was going on but we were in rude form. We didn’t want to hang around and so the doors were closed and we drove away.

It had been a lesson for us. It was our fault that someone had been able to open the windows and we’d been lucky. Around the corner we secured the windows, one catch needed changing but we had spares, and took some pictures of the incredible views out over southern Malawi. We turned off onto a narrow, grassy, forest path with a very steep drop to our left and meandered our way to the lodge daydreaming about three course meals and nice wines. Roland had told us he wouldn’t be around until five or six o’clock but we were greeted by his staff firstly and then the dog, ‘Patch’ a sketchy cross between a Great Dane and a Labrador by parents who weren’t so pure bred themselves. Laura’s bag, my ramshackle pile of clothes and Post’s entire life were taken to our rooms and ‘greens’ were served to the boys and a ‘G and T’ served to the lady. We sat in a garden bound on one side by the small lodge and on three sides by forest, with all the noises you’d expect from a tropical forest; monkeys and cicadas combined with a symphony of bird calls from tweets to caws and from the melodious to the alarming.

The lodge wasn’t what you’d imagine for an ‘exclusive’ affair, rather than minimalist clean lined surroundings with polished wood, marble and granite, it was a converted forest warden’s abode whose forte was a homely, comfortable and cosy feeling that left us feeling relaxed and loose gulleted as far as the drink was concerned.

Roland arrived after we’d had a few beers and the smells coming from the old warden’s lodge were making our bellies groan and taste buds tingle. Roland was a seasoned traveller, originally from Cape Town who had lived in Malawi for nine years. He was a superb host and the evening raced with great conversation, brilliant food and superb wine. The latter of which he gifted us a fine bottle on discovering our recent engagement; what a gentleman. The conversation turned to the day’s events and it turned out that our tight fistedness had been entirely appropriate. It was true that a 100 Kwacha fee did exist for using the dam-side facilities (a thatched hut) but there have been multiple issues with the administration. No one official seems to be able to oversee the affair and the guys we’d met would have pocketed the money for themselves. The ‘boss in town’ excuse was a regular one and the horse riding school that used to use the dam wall have since changed their route due to short sighted demands from the officials in charge. Roland himself had been taken to court when his dog had jumped the lead and gone for a swim thus presenting a ‘risk to public health.’ This satisfaction only encouraged our drinking and we eventually retired to bed having all but drawn up a solution to the world’s problems.

Posted by ibeamish 02:15 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

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