Malawian leg

Dusk over Lake Malawi at Nanchengwa; Baobabs silhouetted against dusk skyline; Nanchengwa Sunday church service.

The contrast between Zambia and Malawi is akin to that between day and night. The tarred roads seemed in far better condition in this part of the country at least. Potholes were, for the time being anyway, non-existent. The neat little brick houses with thatched roofs and tidy little windows and doors, were indeed quaint. In some cases an attempt was made to create the occasional garden, hedge or patch of grass around the house. The railway line ran in the same direction as the road we were taking in the direction of Lilongwe, which we reached in the late afternoon. At the main square where the curios were being sold, a limited amount of money was exchanged on the black market. Although this was not generally encouraged, the two guys were known to WhichWay from previous trips. $20 had provided me with 300 kwacha, although I was still owed another 20 kwacha. The campsite was located at the golf club, with a reputation for being a somewhat elitist establishment. Tents were offloaded and camp set up near the ablution block. With the customary washing chore having been dispensed with, it was time to visit the golf club pub for a wee yin before dinner.

Hot showers at the clubhouse seemed a far more inviting prospect. The weather was extremely humid as most of us headed off into the centre of town. Lilongwe gave the appearance of a neat town, though hardly spectacular. Huge trees lined the broad avenues. A few modern buildings, mostly shops and banks, were located on Kamuzu Procession. The banks were exchanging 14.89 kwacha for $1. We ended up having an ice cream at the Summer Park. I purchased two silk prints and a couple of small watercolour paintings. A number of strolled into the older part of town. Tailors, utilising their old sewing machines, sat mending trousers and other garments on the front porches of their clothing stores. A number of the girls, eager to stay in touch with the dress code of Malawian women, purchased material suitable for use as sarongs. Jo and I continued and located the market. Here anything from clothes to food to music cassettes was obtainable. Opportunities for photographs were numerous. I ended up with a tape of Zimbabwean kwela music, which I'd heard blaring from the ghetto blasters and taken a liking to.

Dawn over Lake Malawi at Nanchengwa. SCENES OF MALAWI

Feeling somewhat peckish, we headed back across the Lilongwe River and the town centre, indulging in a delicious lunch at the Korean Restaurant, frequented mostly, it seemed, by academics from the University, businessmen and government officials. A quick detour to purchase some beer and then it was back to the club for a quick swim.

Some of our group had actually had a round of golf earlier that morning and were now trying their hand at some tennis. Rumours of a dance at the clubhouse circulated after our braai dinner but this in fact did not materialise. Werner took one of the golf-club committee members to task over some remarks made regarding overlanders. Whatever the motivating factor for this altercation had been, our group had not behaved in any manner which might be construed as an embarrassment.

Cold shower at the ablution block. At the Town Square, I exchanged $10 and acquired three small mahogany bowls. The first section of the road was tarred but this soon became severely pot-holed. At some point we turned off onto a gravel road which meandered through a mountainous landscape region. Sometimes Werner had to negotiate some astonishingly sharp curves, as the road almost doubled back on itself. The landscape was rural and extremely beautiful. Kids often ran alongside the truck as fast as their tiny legs could carry them, yelling out their requests for "money" and "wallet". As if some overlander was about to turf his crocodile-skin wallet filled with Greenbacks out of the window! It was on this leg of the journey that I witnessed the most astonishing work of sheer ingenuity and creativity, on a level I would not have expected in a region so remote. Some local village kid had taken to creating replicas of vehicles, hand-carved out of soft wood-trucks, motor bikes, forklifts, complete with movable parts, and was selling these on the roadside.

We arrived at Lake Malawi in the late afternoon after having taken a wrong turn. We unpacked and pitched our tents on the lawns or white beach sand. Werner and Marcelle had elected to remain here for 3 nights, primarily owing to the fact that far more was offered here in the way of excursions - microlighting, hobiecatting, sunset cruising, diving, canoeing, fishing, to name a few. The bar of Nanchengwa Lodge was situated under one of several rotunda-style thatched roofs. Being illuminated at night served only to enhance its appeal as an epicentre of social activity. And so we succumbed to its charm and warmth, as well as the "easy terms" of the bar tab arrangement.


Malawi at work: Kande Bay - producing flour from the cassava root & manufacturing bricks; Aviette goes Rasta.

Day 23 of the tour, the first day of spring, though the thought had not crossed my mind at the time, would present us with a few surprises. We were collected at 8h00 to attend a local church service, after having been invited the previous afternoon. Our escort led us through the local village on foot for what seemed like half an hour, until we eventually arrived at fairly large white-washed oval-shaped construction with thatched roof. It was a truly moving, spiritual experience which almost reduced me to tears. Garlands of bougainvillaea that hung from the rafters adorned the interior. The locals arrived. There were no seats. Women gathered on the left-hand side, separated from men on the right, as they knelt or sat on the hard surface. Kids were located in front, while we remained at the rear. The pastor commenced the service by welcoming us as the guests of the congregation. Passages were read from the Bible. An assistant presented the sermon in the local Chichewa tongue, interspersed with songs delivered by the choir, with the congregation joining in, led by the women. Then we were requested to introduce ourselves, each single introduction followed by loud, spontaneous applause. After the service, en route to our camp, kids introduced themselves and seemed willing to strike up conversations. Everyone wanted to be your pen pal. It was extraordinary. It is easy for one to assume a rather cynical stance by thinking that their motive for this was often based on the hope that a friendship would blossom into opportunity in terms of providing a means or a way out of their limiting and meagre existence. One could somehow not doubt the humility or sincerity of these people. After having what was left of lunch, most relaxed on the beach. Mark injured his knee badly while playing volleyball on the beach and Jo applied her training as a nurse in stitching up the wound. The sunset cruise on the placid waters of Lake Malawi to view the hippo was a truly magical experience.

Hiring of Hobiecats cost 100 kwacha an hour. Rich-kid Bryan, who had been following some of the girls around like a dog on heat, had his own back home and acted as navigator on a few stints. The wind was up, making it ideal for sailing. It was great fun! A bit of washing was followed by some more beach volleyball after lunch. At about 15h30 a number of us left in a Halbinger on a dangerous, near suicide ride to the airfield by a budding young Mika Hakkinan hopeful, as he charged through village after village like a bull in a china shop. The reckless driving which nearly decapitated those bouncing around in the back as we negotiated the dongas and whizzed beneath the thick, solid branches of the baobab trees, annoyed Werner intensely. One by on we set off in the Microlight - Aviette, Chris, Troy, myself and last but not least, Werner. By the time I went up, the sun had just set over the horizon, so decent photographs, my prime motivation for doing the ride in the first place, were totally out of the question. I would add that the pilot handled the Microlight with great skill and safety. He had done much work with the Nature Conservation authorities and had flown the craft all the way from Namibia to Malawi. The ride of 20 minutes set me back 500 kwacha. With Werner still simmering after our dice with death, I thought it wiser not to make an issue of it. The return journey took on a longer but far more conventional route at a more respectable speed. After a few drinks at the bar, we sat down to a meal at the Lodge itself.

My bar tab of 641 kwacha was settled after the early morning shower and breakfast and some beautiful sunrise photos were taken across the lake. The bus was packed and we headed for Senga Bay on the pot-holed road. Arriving in the late morning, the route to the campsite from Salima took us past the local curio market, where we were to engage in some hard bargaining later. A huge thatched rotunda construction that housed the bar occupied an area between the more than adequate campsite facilities and its particularly splendid beach. We swam and tanned for an hour or so and then headed off to the market place. The rule of thumb we were given was to offer half the going price and then find a happy medium. A beautifully carved fold-up mahogany table and fruit bowl took my fancy. The cost of these items came to 500 and 150 kwacha respectively, plus T-shirt, which often proves popular with the locals. As an added service, packers wrapped the items into three separate parcels using cardboard and string, with great skill. At 17h00 the WhichWay truck came by to pick up everyone and their curios. Curios there certainly were - tables, chairs, bowls and so on, bound for Australia and the like! A quick shower and it was off to Tophill Restaurant for dinner. The meal, typically Malawian, consisted of beans, fish, chips and rice with banana pancakes for dessert. The evening culminated in a highly entertaining performance by a local percussion and vocal dance group.

Arising a bit later than usual, we packed up and headed for Salima Bay, to post the curios. This took quite a while, as many of us had to exchange money first. I posted a couple of watercolour prints, for fear of damaging them on the rest of the trip. My curios were to remain on board for me to pick them up by the time the truck completed the return journey back to Cape Town. We picked up two English backpackers for the journey to Kande Bay. The weather was extremely hot and humid. Consequently, after arriving there, much of the time was spent relaxing on the beach, playing volleyball or swimming.

A local named Dora was on hand to offer her services as a washerwoman for a negotiated fee. This allowed us more free time on the beach. After lunch some of us decided to undertake a guided tour of the area with Savimbi, the local chief's son. The chief owned the land as far as the eye could see. We toured the cassava fields, the field where the bricks were being manufactured, the school and hospital. The latter proved an eye-opener for Jo, a trained nurse, and we were particularly struck by the limited resources by which these folk were expected to provide an adequate health service. We chatted to some teachers as well as an assistant at the hospital, in order to gain some insight into the most pressing health issues they were being confronted with and whether a serious Aids problem existed. Three women had just given birth to children. On the roadside, while walking back, we encountered a madman who demanded money from me. After a quick sunset dip upon our return, an evening celebration was planned, as it was Markus's birthday. We all contributed to the kitty and a cheese and biscuit snack was prepared, along with Marcelle's potent fruit punch brew. The evening meal followed, consisting of grilled steak, pumpkin, potato, with a superb fridge tart for dessert! And this was a camping trip? Markus and Werner continued the celebrations in the bar, which resulted in them agreeing to have their heads shaved, which they probably would not have done, had they been in a more sober state of mind. Happy hour for those who partook of the weed became a regular occurrence.

Up at the usual time of 6h00, I washed in the lake. Sparkey, a monkey who frequented the campsite, had followed me down to the water's edge and got hold of my toiletry bag. His child-like antics, initially an amusement to all and sundry, soon became an irritation as one's belongings were tampered with or one's tent would be entered out of curiosity.

Sparkey getting into Elsa at Kande Bay; a close shave for the terrible twins

Upon leaving the campsite, Chris ventured a bet with Werner that he wouldn't get his truck through the sandy entrance without being pushed. Werner lost out by a whisker. We stopped in Mzuzu for an hour, where I bought a copy of Newsweek, to find out what had been happening in the "civilised" world out there, and posted some cards. To place matters in perspective, that edition carried reports of the deaths of two Belgian girls at the hands of Marc Dutroux, convicted child sex offender. Snacks were bought at the local supermarket, as we waited for the truck to pick us up. We stopped for lunch near Livingstonia, which afforded us a magnificent view of the lake from the Pass. Claus and I wandered off to take some photographs, a keen interest that we both shared. We arrived at Karongo Beach Chamber Motel just before sunset and pitched tents on the lawn, showered, ate dinner and sat around in the gardens. Locals watched a South African television channel via satellite. We turned in early, as we had a long day ahead of us the next day. Mosquitoes were in greater evidence and the Tabard lotion was applied religiously.

We proceeded towards the Tanzanian border soon after having arisen at 5h00, our packing duties still being adhered to with a usual sense of organised gusto.


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