13th December 2013 Friday Yesterday drove to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. It is a very busy, bustling place with people milling everywhere, bazars, stalls and all manner of shops painted in garish colours. Many with exaggerated signage such as “Shopping Complex” above a one-room shop.
As we left Lilongwe I was caught in a radar trap and a resulting fine of 5000 Kwachas was imposed. How outrageous, until I calculated that this to about AUD $11.00. As the policeman was handing me the receipt he was very nearly sideswiped by a speeding passing truck. He had to run and dive to the front of our car to avoid a fatal contact. The truck was not booked.
The countryside is picturesque and there are always people, many riding bicycles, many, many bicycles, riding in 37 degree heat and carrying impossible loads such as five, two metre long bags of charcoal. I did see one with six.
Arriving at Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi we checked into The Fat Monkey Camping Ground, having selected a waterfront position. Parking the troopy under a shade tree we discovered it was a mango tree that, thoughtfully, had left about a dozen samples for us. All was well until the wind picked up and a rain of mangos descended upon us to the point where we had to take shelter in the car and hope they didn’t put too many dings in the Duco.
Prices are very reasonable here as we can have a meal here for AUD $4.00. and camping is $3.00 each per night for an unpowered site, $6.oo powered.
14th December 2013 A dugout canoe excursion to an island two kilometres away was on offer. The deal was for myself and Jude to be paddled out there, (one of us had to help paddle), do some snorkelling and then be fed a lunch of braai, bbq of local fish, rice and a sauce of capsicum, potato and a pap of corn flour which you roll into a ball and then dip into the sauce. Delicious. Total price 15,000.00 kwachas or about AUD$30.00. The day started at 8am, although we didn’t actually push off until 10am, and ended at 4pm and the tropical fish we saw were the equal of what you would see at the barrier reef with clear underwater visibility of about ten meters.
Judy thought an amusing sight was myself, a Norwegian and a villager having a political discussion on the beach as a boatload of, twenty or more, gospel singers rounded our bay, standing in their boat and harmonising. It could have been Polynesia.
The dugout canoes are interesting in that they a very labour intensive, slow, top heavy, unstable and leaking. Perfect.
Being a slow journey gave our captain the opportunity to tell us of his life, a bit sad I’m afraid. He is twenty two years of age and his entire family has died from AIDS which means he has had to stop his schooling to do this paddling to earn a few kwachas. He doesn’t consider himself to be young, as many of his people die prematurely by our standards, his uncle at thirty five years. The villagers live from hand to mouth with their only concern being to get some food for the day. They sometimes raid the camp mango tree. At least the weather and scenery here is good for them and in themselves they are cheerful and friendly.
The secondary camera that we took with us got wet and wouldn’t operate, so no pictures.
Later; Became completely lost, missed Otter Point and Eagle Nest and ended up at Cool Runnings Camping at Senga near Salima. A pleasant oasis again on Lake Malawi, the beach being a little overused over the last few centuries. Travelled north and detected an ever increasing depth of poverty. I saw a three year old with the bloated belly of malnutrition. At a roadblock I was, by routine, questioned as to my destination by the smartest young police man yet, and, as he was about to let me proceed, mentioned that there was a lot of famine in the area and “Could we spare some food?” We gave him two bread rolls but he stated that there were three policemen in total so we gave him the third. He turned to face his colleagues and we knew he had a big grin on his face and that the colleagues approved. Thumbs up all round. It pointed out to us, though, how desperate these people are, not for money but food.
Obverseley or perversely we have made our way for the night to the opulent Chintheche Inn Camp Site. A beautiful resort on Lake Malawi with a pristine beach, perfect temperature, the place all to ourselves, and yes our old friends, the fireflies. Just had our braai.
We notice often, uniformed and ununiformed bands of men or sometimes women carrying machine guns. Yesterday there were three men in black uniforms sitting in the back of a Ute all carrying arms.
20th December 2013 Has it been five days later? Yes. We have lazed around on the beach, reading, a little guitar plunking and that’s about it. Paradise here, a little more expensive than the usual camping area but still very reasonable. This resort is gearing up for the Christmas rush and not quite ready for business, however, last night they set up a table and chairs in the middle of the lawn, overlooking the bay and served us a candlelit dinner of roast chicken as we watched the lights of the fishing canoes.
One of the few locals allowed on the premises came to us the first day that we were here, selling catfish and paintings. The next day he came offering to buy groceries at the village for us. We placed an order of fruit and vegetables. On his return he told us that his daughter had fallen into a drainage pit the previous day and could not walk. He could not get her to hospital as there is no ambulance and he could not afford to hire someone with a car to take her there. He said that the other camper here had given him a thousand kwachas to help out so I donated the same amount. He was very grateful. A thousand kwachas are about two dollars.
Whenever we get talking at any length to a Malawian a sad story will eventually emerge.
22nd December 2013 Yesterday we drove inland just 20k or so into the mountains to stay at Lukwe Gardens Eco Camp 4k short of Livingstonia. The drive up to here was a hair-raising experience as it is a very steep rough dirt road with twenty or so tight hairpin bends. I mostly had to use 1st gear in low range 4wd to get up here. It was worth the trip. The camp is perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking Lake Malawi and it is a permaculture garden built from scratch by a Belgium couple some fifteen years ago. A small restaurant is at the cliffs edge and you just sit on the deck taking it all in, just making out the distant shore of Mozambique.
Judy was very happy to make a reacquaintance with her old friend the “salad”, which we haven’t had for a while now, as vegetables in general are hard to get in Malawi.
In the afternoon we drove to Livingstonia and let me just say that so far, driving the length of Malawi, we have passed a myriad small, poor villages and only a couple of large, poor towns. Well! Livingstonia, in these remote mountains boasts a large university, technical and further education college, a well-reputed hospital, cathedralesque church, museum and a small poor village. I am gobsmacked.
This morning it is raining with dense fog, perfect for the drive back down the luge. Let me change “raining” to teeming rain, thunder, lightning, an even more denser fog and the dogs got the only dry spot in our shelter. I think we’ll stay.
The rain has stopped and we have decided to go, after checking with the owner of the camping area as to whether the road was safe to use. I use the term “road” loosely. Again it was a hell ride probably worse than going up but we made it unscathed.
We ended up staying overnight at the FloJa campsite, right on Lake Malawi. The interesting thing about this place is that it is run by a Dutch couple whom have set up a day care centre for eighty local, needy children and any profit derived from the campsite and lodges goes toward the foundation. www.FloJaMalawi.nl All donations gratefully accepted.
They have also just adopted a baby who was found abandoned, wrapped in plastic, in the bush near Mzuzu. It had been there for two days. They should call him Lucky.
As I was strumming my guit at our campsite by the beach three small children appeared and sat in front watching. I tried to discourage them by playing “Pub with no beer” but to no avail as they seemed to like it. I played on and after a while they were dancing, each on their own rather large boulder that were on the beach. Rock music.