A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

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)

Day 138 – Mulanje Mountain Rescue

7th February 2012

sunny

We were walking by half past five even though Anthony and his ‘mind clock’ insisted that it was gone six. Our early start involved watching our guide streak away from us as if to prove that he was fitter and better at mountain climbing than we were. We periodically reined him in with comments that lacked any subtlety only for him to accelerate off again when he felt like it. Our Catch-22 was that when he was close it felt like we were on a school field trip. I’d already been reprimanded for picking up a centipede without permission on our first day and whenever he suggested a route across difficult rocks that had a clearly easier alternative, we were berated for not doing as we were told.

Anyway, shouting to him and ignoring his mountain goat directions became a game that would ultimately aid no one. We summitted at around ten o’clock in bright sunshine and picture book fluffy clouds suspended high in a sky of blue. The three of us climbed onto the trig point for some posing and we sat atop our stone palace surveying the Africa that lay beneath us. Before long we were heading back down the precariously steep and smooth faced rocks that we’d had minor issues getting up in the first place. About five hundred metres from our camp, three climbing, helmeted, fluorescent jacketed, mountain rescue types rounded the corner to see Post drop to the ground with an ear splitting scream whilst clutching his leg. Post explained to the three guys, between whimpers, and drifting from pained to casual conversation and back again, that he’d suffered an open fracture of his right femur and was bleeding quite badly. He added that we’d need to stop at the hut for half an hour as we hadn’t had breakfast.

The chaps explained they would perform a ‘two man lift’ and as they hoisted him he let out another piercing and pained squeal that was so shocking the two poor guys nearly dropped him. We fell about laughing.

Back at the hut we discovered that there was another larger group that were still on their way to the rescue but they had been slow as they were badly out of shape. The three guys that met us had run up the mountain in four and a half hours which is near on super human considering they were carrying full kit bags and rope recovery kits. We left the guys at the hut whilst Post’s newly but temporarily repaired leg walked him off for a swim.

We waited at the hut for the remainder of the crew for an hour before we finally left. It was midday and we had five hours walking just to get back to the bottom; now we also had to find a beleaguered Mountain Rescue team so that they could rescue us.

Half an hour further along the track we found the remainder of the rescue team looking very tired being berated by Patrick for being so unfit. Once more Post fell, in cries of pain, clutching his freshly re-broken right thigh. Patrick was good and had clearly undergone first aid training. He took control of the situation and talked his guys through first aid treatment of the patient. In hindsight it was a little bit mean that Post had a ‘broken and bleeding femur,’ a sprained ankle may have been a more appropriate first outing for a team that showed a lot of promise given their limited resources.

Regardless, the team bandaged and splinted Posts leg (using his rather beautifully carved cedar walking stick [available in a choice of lengths for just two to six US dollars]), whilst talking to him to maintain his consciousness, before lifting him and carrying him down rocks that were precarious enough alone, never mind encumbered by an eighty kilogram dead weight. In fact, some sections were too narrow for the two men to continue side by side with Post in the middle and so the ‘two man carry’ became two men taking it in turns to piggy back Post up and down hills. This was difficult to comprehend; on the flat or downhill, these guys were moving faster than your average Joe could walk; with a man on their back. Laura and I couldn’t keep up without jogging. It was only the steep sections that slowed these man machines down. Eventually we reached a flatter section where the guys built makeshift stretchers and we offered thoughts on first aid, splints and stretchers whilst I took photos for their publicity shots. The stretchers ended up being less than ideal and we called it a day at around three o’clock knowing we still had a fair way to go. It was a shame we had to call an end to it there, it felt like it had been a great experience for all of us, the team sharing their experience between the stronger and more experienced, and the new green horns. We’d also managed to offer what first-aid, bandaging and splinting advice we could. We left content with an enormously worthwhile experience; a couple of river crossings and a couple of hours later we arrived at Redvers, exhausted. It had been a hell of a day, we’d gone up, come down, been partly rescued and now had a three hour drive to the Zomba plateau.

The daylight was going, the road wasn’t ideal, our lights were playing up and dimming intermittently, (water in the system,) and two of the four headlights had given up completely. Add to that our left rear shock was now broken and rattling; though nothing quite as spectacular as our incident in Namibia. We were tired and the call was made to stop in the next town, Phalombe. We pulled into a local and comfortable hotel and ordered some chicken and rice for dinner. Tomorrow we could tackle the drive in daylight.

Posted by ibeamish 10:08 Archived in Malawi Comments (1)

Day 137 – Maybe Tomorrow

6th February 2012

overcast

Day 137 – Maybe Tomorrow - 6th February 2012
At sunrise we set off. We wanted to attempt the summit that afternoon and sleep at the hut beneath the summit the same evening. It was around this time that we started to discover that Anthony was bit of a useless guide in the fact that he had a timetable and he was sticking to it even if that meant his clients were left behind working out where he’d gone.

We made Chitepo hut at Sapitwa in good time, by ten o’clock in fact, but the peak was cloud covered and wet. Both of these factors meant that it was too dangerous to attempt the climb. From his expression I couldn’t help but think that Anthony wasn’t actually very keen on going up at all. He agreed when we suggested an early morning attempt if the weather didn’t clear before maybe I was just too set on reaching the top.

The consolation prize for the day was that we could visit a waterfall and we could arrange ‘Operation Broken Leg’ for the afternoon. We discussed who would be rescued and agreed that the level of acting required meant that only ‘Enrique’ or Post as he’s sometimes called would be capable of such theatrics. With the mission renamed ‘Operation I Can Be Your Hero,’ Post nipped off to call in mountain rescue to come and save him in his broken legged state. He finally got through to Patrick only to be told that ‘it’s getting a bit late... we can’t rescue you today... maybe we can rescue you tomorrow.’ The blog indeed was writing itself.

The afternoon was spent in a cold waterfall jumping in and out, taking photos, posing, avoiding skin cancer and playfully asking Anthony why we couldn’t climb the mountain that was now draped only in blue sky.

Back at the hut we were given some Black Jack, an edible leaf, some nsima, some kumquat berries, and some beans and potatoes. In return we gave the hut guy half a kilo of sugar and a kilo of rice as well as lollipops all round; our porters were starting to look a little tired anyway.

Outside, and in the dark, we put the camera on super slow shutter speed whilst we took it in turns to run around using torchlight to draw out three feet high letters; oh what fun. We played cards and ate amazing grub, prepared once more by Somers, and I accidentally burnt the back off one my hiking shoes by leaving it too close to the fire; at least it was dry.

Posted by ibeamish 10:02 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 136 – Mis-Guided Plans

5th February 2012

all seasons in one day

Cured of our hangovers we had bigger things on our minds. The Mulanje Massif is a ‘spectacular 650 square kilometre granite inselberg rising in dramatic isolation above the Phalombe plains southeast of Blantyre.’ It has twenty something peaks at over 2,500 metres, and we wanted to summit the highest, Sapitwa Peak, which sat at 3,002 metres and is the ‘highest point in central Africa’ wherever central Africa’s boundaries may lie.

As we pulled off the main tar road we still had around eight kilometres to get to the parks offices. Six kilometres along we met the first group of potential guides, Teve and Lawrence. They asked could they jump on Redvers for a lift. We suggested that they could run the remaining two kilometres, uphill; Redvers was already suffering from chronic overloading and this would be a fine test for potential mountain guides.

At the entrance gate to the park was a craft stall and around that were almost twenty purveyors of ornately carved cedar walking sticks. At this point a tangent is required. Malawian craft sales people have been the most difficult dealers we’ve come across so far. They berate you for bartering and get incredibly annoyed if you haggle with them claiming that you’re doing them out of a living in doing so. This is despite the fact that they’ll happily start at an asking price of one hundred US for a small piece of wood. They insist on telling us how they had to ‘buy’ the wood from the national parks, (we’re told that this is largely a lie, wood poaching in national parks is on the up,) they have to pay tax on said wood (I’ve never met anyone who pays tax on stolen goods), and then they must transport this wood (a legitimate cost but I doubt they’re sourcing their materials from more than twenty kilometres away) all before crafting it with expensive tools and underpaid skills. They then have to sit at their stall day in day out trying to sell their goods, ‘just to make a living.’ The latter is a particularly bitter pill to swallow from our part as that’s surely part of the shop keepers job description. To make matters worse, whilst they’re prattling on about tight margins and the ‘white’s’ that are forcing them to sell their products at a loss, their market stall neighbour comes up and offers you his piece of wood for half the price.

At least part of this anger is not without reason. In a country whose currency should be valued at the black market rate rather than the current rate, the cost of living is rising sharply. Bread prices and nsima prices are rising whilst the current President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika has expelled the British consulate for suggesting, albeit weakly, that Dr Bingu was displaying ‘dictator like tendencies’, indeed he has attempted to change the constitution to extend his term in power, he is currently trying to have his brother elected as his successor and he has told the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that he can run his own country’s finances until the end of his term without their input. The latter is not always a bad idea but in a country like Malawi whose budget relies heavily on world aid, in particular from the IMF and the World Bank and from individual countries, previously including the UK, it would seem unwise to start telling them that you do not want their advice, only their money. Nothing is free in this world and IMF money I’m sure comes with hoops to jump through, conditions of repayment and powerful individuals who quite like their back being scratched. The papers are free to criticise and criticise they do. They read of judiciaries on strike awaiting payment, corruption at the higher levels and Bingu, Bingu, Bingu. From our experiences the Malawian people know that Bingu must go, they know that his brother must not come in and they know that what they want is change. Dr Bingu wa Mutharika’s term ends in 2014, what will come of it has many people watching.

So back at the park gates, there we were, trying to pay a park entrance fee whilst twenty guys simultaneously attempted to sell us walking sticks and offer us their services as guides and porters. We hadn’t even opened our mouths and they’d undercut each other from six dollars to two dollars per stick.

Once in the grounds the purveyors of sticks followed us through and told us we had to go to the office at the top of the hill. We took their guidance and on reaching the office found that all twenty men had run up the hill with us and were waiting to sell us some walking sticks. After a pow-wow with Laura, Post and I presiding over a gang of would be Sherpa’s we made our plan for the summit attempt based on their sketchy advice, and amidst pouring rain, and we booked the only mountain hut that was offered by our current office. We suggested that we needed to go and book our other hut at the main office; a plan that was greeted with some consternation by the Sherpa group who said they could run down and organise it for us. That smelt fishy; the catch is that no-one organises something for you unless there’s something in it for them and if they’re going to gain someone is going to lose. And so we found ourselves driving back down the slippery mud slope to the main office with around a dozen individuals still in the running for the stick sales.

After reverse parking into a shelter and dislodging it from its supporting wall I corrected the car and avoided assessing the damage. We found the office and a nice man who actually had some honest and unbiased advice for our ascent. It turned out that all our followers were stick salesmen and had no actual guiding certificates or official registration. It also appeared that our now booked Church Mountain Hut was more than a little out of the way. Our plan was reinvented, we booked an official guide for $6.50 per day and two porters at $5 each per day, the latter being a decision based on providing extra employment rather than a colonial desire for the easy way of life. We booked one nights’ accommodation in each of two separate lodges and agreed that we would start our hike at 2pm that afternoon. We would first need to get a refund on our church hut and then our guide would take us somewhere in the village for lunch.

To add further confusion we spent fifteen minutes at the church hut being told that their hut was more useful for our walk. After protracted discussion, we decided that it wasn’t and they gave us a full refund without complaint. Our souls did feel a little sour as it was a church based hut so we left them a small donation, receipt supplied, as compensation for our misdemeanours. Back outside it was walking stick time and by now, after the dismay of the truth being discovered in the official office, we had only three salesmen that had run up the hill for a second time. We chose our sticks and, true to form, where told they cost six dollars each. We told them that they were offered to us for two dollars each an hour ago and so they could decide whether they were going to make a sale. Again they looked unhappy as they took our money but we forced a handshake and the smiles came. Well, the smile came to two of the three men. Laura didn’t want a stick and so one guy lost out.

We parked Redvers in Likubula village and followed our guide, Anthony, to the local restaurant. Sweet tea, fried chicken, rice and xima and we were ready for action. As we got back to the car Post was gently accosted by a gentle man; Laura and I continued getting into the car whilst Post had chat. After a while Post leaned back inside Redvers, “This guy says he runs the mountain rescue team and he wants to rescue us off the mountain. I asked him what if he’s shit and can’t find us but he says he’s not. What do you think?” “The blog writes itself mate,” I replied.

Some further negotiations took place and Post declined the offer of Patrick paying for our accommodation on the mountain, we borrowed his mobile phone so that we could call him when one of us ‘broke a leg’ and he’d be able to complete the first training expedition of the New Year. We’d go up the mountain and one of us would be carried back down.

With full bellies and minds railing with thoughts of mountain rescue we made for our start point, secured Redvers, met our porters and set off. Three hours of muddy and slippery climbing in heavy rain ensued before we arrived at Chambe Hut. The hut keeper started a fire for us and we made tea and began the drying out process for all of our clothing. We cooked rice and sauce and took photos of the nearby mountain face in the bright light of an almost full moon. We slept on mats in front of the fire with our food hung from hooks in the wall to avoid ‘theft by rodent.’

Posted by ibeamish 09:59 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

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