April 14, 2010

Malawi

I headed from the border towards Blantyre. The roads in Malawi seem much better maintained and there are fewer pot holes. On the way to Blantyre I got stopped three times by policemen at informal road blocks. These police road blocks appear throughout Africa and I must have been stopped about ten times to date. There never seems to be any reason for the police stopping the traffic – most of the time they just want to know where I am coming from or where I am going to. Not one of the policemen has tried to get any bribe (yet).

At the last road block that I was stopped at, a very polite policeman asked my for my drivers license (which was the first time it had been asked for). He apologized for stopping me, but what made me laugh was that he kept calling me “my dear”. “I am sorry for delaying you, my dear”. “Please drive safely, my dear.” He must have heard it in some old colonial movie that he had been watching. Oh well,ha ha, at least he was trying to be polite.

I stayed the night at Doogles in Blantyre. Doogles is quite a loud little place with a huge bar where all the locals and contractors gather after work. The rooms were quite costly ($AUD 17.00 per night), but dirty and not particularly well maintained. Had a great Steak Burger and chips (and a few beers) for dinner whilst listening to doof-doof music, which seems to have taken over in Africa L. My initial intention was to stay here for two days, but I decided to head out the next day to Mulanje.

The trip to Mulanje was exceptionally beautiful. Mount Mulanje is absolutely massive!! It stands at 3000m high and looks more like a mountain range than a single mountain (it is actually an inselberg or ‘massive granite/bauxite rock’). It is also the highest peak in Malawi and is apparently a very difficult climb – not because of the height but rather because of the abrupt weather changes the mountain creates – a few hikers died recently trying to reach the summit. The mountain creates its own weather patterns in the area which makes the valleys ideal for tea plantations. The whole area looks really beautiful with the bright green tea plantations leading up to the mountain. For the most part during the day, the mountain is covered in clouds but in the early morning and late evenings there are some spectacular views of the mountain. Waterfalls seem to come out of nowhere and fall hundreds of metres to the ground. Truly amazing and something I will never forget.

That afternoon I took a ride out to the Lanjeri Tea plantations and sat in the old colonial tea gardens enjoying the local tea and doing my best Lord Ponsomby-Downs impression. Malawian tea is world renowned for its excellent quality and is sold mainly to the UK and Europe. Later that afternoon I found this quaint little pizza place which sold the most awesome Italian pizza’s! – quite a treat to enjoy good food in this part of the world! Had a few beers and watched the sun go down over the mountain – quite an amazing day!!


At Mulanje I stayed in the Mulanje View Motel which was very cheap ($AUD 3.70 / night). The place was rather run down but the staff made do with what little they had and tried to keep the place exceptionally clean - which made a good change to some of the ‘dumps’ I have stayed in.

The next day 24/3 I headed for a small town called Zomba. Until 1975, Zomba had been the capital of Malawi. It was originally set up as a mission station (in the 1870’s). The missionaries settled here because of the abundance of water and wildlife in the area. It is a really small town, but still has some good shopping / banking facilities. It also has the KAR (Kings African Rifles) Memorial for all those people that lost their lives in the World War I. (A lot of people do not realize that Africa played a large role in both World Wars – the first battle between the Germans and the British was at Karonga in the northern side of Lake Malawi).



Zomba is situated on the foothills of the Liphonde plateau and for lunch I took a 7km ride up to Sunbird Ku Chawe, which is an old colonial mansion that has been converted into a restaurant. The restaurant is situated right on the edge of the plateau and has some truly spectacular views over the plateau with Mount Mulanje in the distance. Absolutely stunning views with Zomba in the foreground!

After lunch at the restaurant I headed back down the plateau and then on to a town called Liwonde. Liwonde is situated on the Shire River (pronounced Shi-ree) which is the only river that drains Lake Malawi. In Dr. David Livingston’s writing’s in the 1850’s, he described this area as the area with the densest population of wildlife he had ever seen in Africa. By the end of the 19th century almost all of the wildlife had been killed off by colonial hunters who flocked to Africa to hunt. Today the area has been revived and there are growing populations of elephants, hippo’s and rhino.

I decided to stay at the Hippoview Lodge which is beautifully located on the Shire River, with the Liwonde National Park on the opposite bank. The river is quite large and has a large population of resident hippo’s that can be viewed from the restaurant deck. I spent the afternoon fishing off the jetty and managed to catch some Chombe (the local fish) which I gave to the locals. I also gave some of my fishing gear (fishing line, hooks, sinkers, swivels etc) to some of the locals who were truly appreciative – apparently fishing gear is very hard to get and the locals have to make their own equipment out of nails (hooks), stones (sinkers), bamboo (fishing rods) and cotton (fishing line) – considering that these people fished for a living I felt rather ashamed that I had a larger collection of fishing equipment and I only do it as a hobby. Anyway, lets hope it helps them to feed their families.

Later that afternoon I had a few sundowners on the deck watching the hippo’s in the river. This is Africa!

Unfortunately Hippoview Lodge was extremely expensive and had exceptionally poor facilities (no electricity the day I arrived / cold showers) and poor service. When I asked for a red appletiser I got a bottle of red wine – when I told the waiter that I had asked for red appletiser he got all grumpy with me because he had already opened the bottle of red wine. I then asked for a double burger and got a single burger – the waiter told me the top and bottom of the bun meant that it was a double burger – I explained a double burger meant it had two burger patties in it – I then asked to see the manager who came about 45 min later! – by then I had had enough and in no uncertain terms told her what to do with the burger. The manager said that she had to charge me for the burger because I had already put tomato sauce on the chips and because of this, she could not serve it to other customers! What a joke. This is Africa I suppose. Anyway, I decided to leave that afternoon for Monkey Bay.

Monkey Bay was only about 150km from Liwonde. On the way I managed to ride through a swarm of bees which I can tell you is not fun – stop laughing! Got stung in the neck and on the arm which is not too bad considering it was quite a huge swarm. I also had to stop to clear the dead bees that had been splattered all over my visor. I suppose that is what you get if you decide to travel on a motorbike.

Monkey Bay is situated on the southern shores of Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is the seventh largest lake in the world and is one of the deepest. It also offers absolutely crystal clear waters and with over 500 fish species is one of the most favored freshwater diving /snorkeling sites in the world. The lake was originally named Lake Nyasa – legend has it that David Livingston asked the locals what the lake was called and they said it was Nyasa (which means “lake” in Chichewa, the local language) – so it is actually called Lake Lake.

Lake Malawi is absolutely spectacular – the water is a deep blue colour and there is also the largest population of fish eagles in the world here. Sunsets are amazing!

I met this Israeli guy called Daniel. Daniel is riding his bicycle up from South Africa to Cairo!! Yup, his bicycle!! His trip makes mine look ridiculously simple. What a legend guy though. I have never heard a guy who can talk so much – maybe its because he doesn’t get anyone to talk to for the hours and hours that he is on his bicycle each day! I walked with him into town for dinner – we had rice, beans and beef. We ended up having a couple of beers with the restaurant owner Joseph and I think we managed to solve all the political problems of Malawi and the Middle East that evening. Great evening with good company.

I decided that I need to get rid of some of the bike load. Seeing that I will probably not require my fishing equipment further up on the trip I decided to give it away to a local fisherman. I met up with a local fisherman who still fished with a fishing rod (bamboo) and line (as opposed to using a net which most of the locals seem to do . On the day I met him he had caught 7 rather big Chombe and I was quite impressed with his commitment – he had been fishing since 4am that morning. When I saw him later that day, I showed him my fishing equipment and showed him how to use it - he had never seen a proper fishing rod and reel before! When I told him that he could have it all, at first he thought I was joking and then he dropped to his knees and said thank-you! I think he was on the verge of tears! He couldn’t have been more thankful. He later came back with his wife and son to say thank-you again. The next day I found him on the beach practicing his casting on the beach and showing off his new fishing equipment to his friends. He had already caught three fish with it – more than I have ever caught with it. Good to see it being put to good use!


The next day I headed to Cape Maclear about 30kms from Monkey Bay. Cape Maclear is absolutely stunning and is one of only a few fresh water world heritage sites. Cape Maclear was the site of the very first mission station in Malawi, but was abandoned after 15 years (1870 – 1885) as too many of the people where dying of malaria. At the time, they thought that malaria was caused by the “Fever tree’s” and so the mission station was moved to Livingstonia which is higher up on the Nyika Plateau (As it turns out both mosquito’s and Fever trees do not live in higher area’s – it was only decades later that malaria was found to be spread by mosquito’s and not the innocent Fever trees.)

At Cape Maclear, I stayed at Mgoza Lodge which was absolutely fantastic. The lodge is situated under these huge tree’s and, since I had a week to spare before Kobles and Bonky arrived on their motorbikes, I spent quite a few hours lying in the shade on the hammocks. Alan and Janet run the lodge and Alan was kind enough to let me stay in one of the lodge suite’s for a much discounted rate. Thanks again Alan!

On the first day at Cape Maclear, I took a walk up to the Missionary Graveyard where the graves of five missionaries still exists (Dr. William Black, Captain G. Benzie, John Gunn, Shadrek Ngunana, Shadrek Mackey). Dr. Black died at the age of only 31 (1846 – 1877) from malaria!

I later headed up the Cape Maclear mountain to take some photos. What a climb – it was soooo hot - but the view from the top was well worth it. I got some really great photos overlooking Lake Malawi, the islands, and Cape Maclear.




The next day Mel, Olly (aka “Doos” – private joke), Huon and Jonny arrived (the mates that I had met in Vilunculos). They are great guys and are great to be around. Evenings were spent playing ridiculous drinking / card games and generally having a laugh.

The one day we decided to take kayaks out to the island, which was about 1.2km off-shore. There were only two (2-seater) kayaks and five of us, so one of us would have to swim. Olly offered to do the swim but after only about 30m he decided that he would rather be in the kayak – it probably didn’t help that I was telling him about the crocodiles that had recently been caught in the area. Anyway, I ended up having to do the swim – well, it was more like being pulled by Olly and Mel in the kayak across the water – although I like to think that I was pushing the kayak. Anyway, we eventually got there – the fish life around the island was truly spectacular! There were millions of little colourful fish swimming around and it was like swimming in an aquarium! Amazing day!

On 3/4 I said cheers to Jonny, Olly, Huon and Mel and headed down to Club Makakola (only 50km away) to meet up with Bonky’s family (Mr Kitchen Curtain, Old Queen, Doug, Mandy, Jason and Sarah-Jane) who were on holiday there. It was really good to see them again. I spent the day dragging / throwing Jason and Sarah-Jane (Bonky’s nephew and niece) around the swimming pool. I stayed the Nkopola Lodge campsite which was a nightmare – as it was Easter they had employed a DJ to entertain the guests. The DJ started his music at 10am and only finished the next morning at 2am – he was also intent on playing his music as loud as the speakers could handle!! So much for relaxing over the Easter weekend – to top it all off, he was playing to a crowd of three on the dance-floor. What a noise! There is only so much African / doof-doof music I can take. I don’t think I was too popular the next day when I put a complaint in to the lodge management.

The next day Kobles and Bonky arrived after a hectic three day ride from South Africa to meet up with me. Kobles and Bonky are legends!!! Great to see such good mates in the middle of Africa.
I need to give a special mention here to Bonky. The day before his departure from Durban to come up and join me he had failed his motorbike license. Undeterred, he still rode his motorbike up to Malawi (and back) to visit me. He was not once asked for his license! A sterling piece of work from a great friend!!! Needless to say, the first evening was spent enjoying a few beers. The next day was spent at the pool and having dinner with Mrs. King(Old Queen) at Club Makokola who will shortly be celebrating her 60th birthday! Happy Birthday Mrs. King.


On 5/4 we headed up to Lilongwe to spend the night at Doug and Mandy’s mansion. The ride to Lilongwe turned out to be quite eventful. On the way there I was riding behind Kobles when a bird decided to try and see if it could fit through the spokes of his front wheel whilst he was travelling at about 120km/h. As you can imagine, the bird came off second best and exploded into a puff of feathers. Quite a spectacle. The road to Lilongwe is due west and as the sun began to set, there were stages when the glare created meant that I could not see the road. At one stage whilst on an uphill, I had to slow down because I could not see a thing. The taxi driver behind me thought it was his cue to overtake (on a blind rise). When the taxi was halfway past, another car came over the hill from the opposite direction. The taxi driver swerved into my lane, which meant that I had to career off into the grass next to the road. A few minutes later I caught up to the taxi again, and as I overtook him I spent a good 20 seconds screaming at him through his window, while backing up my mutterings with the only single-fingered sign language I know – I think he got the message.
Doug and Mandy have this huge home (with massive gardens) in Lilongwe. The house is maintained by a team of staff (a cook, a maid, two gardeners and three security guards) – good old colonial Africa at its best! It was great to sleep in a comfortable bed again and get some washing done. Thanks Doug and Mandy for everything – very, very, very much appreciated.



Kobles, Bonky and I then headed up to Nkhata Bay. The ride to Nkhata Bay was great! The roads were good, hilly and windy which made for some good riding.

At Nkhata Bay we stayed at Njaya Lodge which was truly spectacular. The room that they gave us was literally on the lake and the views over the lake were amazing. That evening we had dinner and a few beers at the Papaya and then headed to Myorka Lodge for a few more beers. At Myorka Lodge we met the coolest bloke ever – he was a very old man (almost extinct) who sold chocolates in his cowboy outfit?? We decided to call him the ‘Chocolate Cowboy’ which he did not enjoy seeing that he was the chief (or family of the chief or something) of the village. We also met up with a guy called Happy Coconut - ha ha - I think I am going to call my son that!

The next day we had breakfast at Njaya Lodge whilst watching this huge rainstorm forming over the far end of the lake. We managed to take some great pictures.



In the afternoon we took a boat cruise on the lake. First we went to take some photos of the fish eagles. The captain of the boat threw fish out into the lake and the eagles come in to feed. Truly amazing. We managed to take some great photos of the huge fish eagles swooping down over the water to get their fish.



We then spent a few hours snorkeling which was great. The fish here are really colourful!! Underwater there were some amazing little caves and tunnels which we were daring each other to swim through ha ha. We also hooked up with Melody again who was on another boat cruise. Melody joined up with us and we went out to dinner in town and ended up playing pool and provoking the Chocolate Cowboy at Myorka Lodge.

Woke up early the next morning as we had to part our separate ways – Bonky and Kobles start their long trek home through Mozambique (the way that I had come) and I needed to start heading up north. It was sad to see Kobles and Bonky go – we had a really great time and they are such good mates. Thanks for joining me guys!!! Legends!!!

That day I headed up to Karonga which is on the northern shores of Lake Malawi. The road to Karonga climbed high up into the mountains and I managed to take some amazing photos of the lake from the road. Travelling was slow as I was stopping every 20 minutes to take photos – the views around every corner seemed to get better and better. Along the way I saw a black snake (about 2m long – black mamba??) crossing the road – when the snake realized that he would probably not be able to make it across the road in time it went into a defensive position and took a strike at the motorbike – luckily it missed as I had already sped past! Scary.

On the way to Karonga, I decided to take a detour to the town of Livingstonia which is where the second missionary station was set up in the 1890’s – it had been moved from Cape Maclear as too many people where dying of malaria. The map that I have shows the road to be a ‘main road’. As you can see from the photograph it is not what I would call a ‘main’ road. The road winds up the mountain and climbs over 1000m in 15km. The road is also in a tremendously poor state and disintegrates to nothing more than a rocky path. In hindsight I should never have taken that road. Not a very pleasant ride and the bike took a hammering. From Livingstonia, the view is absolutely amazing though. Livingstonia still has the old mission church which is still operational. I spent some time there taking photos. The original stained glass windows depict a scene of David Livingston meeting the locals – quite beautiful.



Livingstonia also has a museum that shows the early missionary days. There are some great photos of the early missionaries as well as writings and sermons of the original missionaries. To top it all off, it also houses copies of some of the letters from David Livingston to his family back in Scotland.

The view from Livingtonia over Lake Malawi is truly spectacular!


Somewhere in Livingstonia, I lost my riding gloves which is quite annoying – I will have to buy another pair somewhere.

That night I stayed at the Safari Lodge Annex in Karonga. Very basic. Not great and quite expensive.

I had been thinking of taking a ferry up Lake Tanganyika and heading from there through Rwanda, Uganda and then in to Kenya. I found out from other backpackers that for some reason the ferry was running a few days late due to maintenance (I didn’t know they did that in Africa). As I was already behind schedule I decided to continue along my planned route i.e. to Dar-es-Salaam / Arusha / Nairobi and then possibly in to Uganda (depending on how the visa applications go in Nairobi).

The next day I headed off towards the Tanzanian border. The border crossing went pretty quickly. The Tanzanian visa cost me US$ 50.00 and the third-party insurance cost me US$100 but apparently covers all the rest of the countries up to Egypt.

Jaag maar aan.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

All I can Say is WOW!!! That burger story sure made me laugh...so funny!!! Thank you Bok for sharing your experiences with us, what an amazing adventure!!! Thru your words and photos i really feel like i am taking this journey with you!!! Take care. much love, Tam xxx

Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna said...

The bee story is HILARIOUS! I can picture it - haha! Otherwise, Malawi looks beautiful! Enjoying following your stories... keep safe!

Anonymous said...

Nice 1 Gogs. Sounds amazing! Love the 'randomness' about the adventure! the unexpected brilliance about exploring unknown!! Look after yourself! Nick D

Anonymous said...

Delightful story and wonderful pics - keep them flowing. Pity, though, about the flippin hamburgers scene - can happen anywhere! Mt Mulanje also grabbed our attention - really is beautiful. Know that we are all thinking of you.
John & Teens

Anonymous said...

Hi Son,A very happy Malawian Easter, your trip so far sounds awesome.A Malawian Guy on our farm called Akim came from Mt Mulanje, a real character.Great that you have met up with Rich and Andrew and hope you guys have a great adventure.Thinking of you all the time.
Dad.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bok,
Sounds like you are having quite the adventure. Nice to be able to follow what you are up to. Take care, Ang

Anonymous said...

A bicycle is the way to do it... I thought that your motorbike was humble enough! How does anyone up that? That's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a Lilo. The diving on Lake Malawi must be unreal! Enjoy! Stuyv & girls

Mandy Meisel said...

We had a lovely easter weekend with Bokkie, Richard, Andrew (my brother), my mom & dad & my family at Club Makokola on the southern shores of Lake Malawi this weekend. The boys stayed with us in Lilongwe on Sunday night before heading off to Nkhata Bay on the northern shores of the Lake. Andrew and Richard are planning to leave Bokkie today to start their return to South Africa as they need to be back on Sunday night.

Wesley said...

Hello bokkieradoo
Hope you are having an awesome trip. When do you expect you and your bike to arrive in India? Wesso

PAN said...

HEY MAN,HOWS IT GOING,COOL PICS,LOOKS AWESOME,HOPE YOU KEEPING SAFE,CANDS AND THE KIDS SAY HI,ENJOY MY BOK,WE ALL MISS YOU,ALL OUR LOVE

Anonymous said...

Paul
Hey Boks
Awesome trip you are having. Swing past my boet for a few beers if you keen.

Parag said...

Great blog and good pictures. Specially the picture of fish eagle catching fish on Lake malawi africa is a beautiful. What timing!!!!

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