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After a great few days of relaxation in Zanzibar, we were off headed to Malawi and excited to get another new stamp in our passport.
We left Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast and had two and half days of driving to get into Malawi, which involved two nights of bush camping. Driving days consists of lots of reading, sleeping and staring out at the lovely countryside and people. Our first bush camp, we set up our tents and just as we were finishing, a jeep with two locals came up and told us it was government property and we would have to leave. Urgh! So we had to take down our tents, drive a ways down the road and then set up again in the dark! The next day, we drove through Mikumi National Park in southern Tanzania, where the road goes right through the National Park. We got to see some wildlife, like zebras, elephants, giraffe, gazelles, and warthogs. When we first planned this trip, I think I was a bit naive in thinking that these animals were found everywhere in Africa, when in reality they are mostly contained to the national parks
now a days. We had another bush camp and the next day we entered Malawi. Malawi is a free visa – yeah, although I was a bit diappointed because my stamp didn’t really show up?
Malawi is the poorest country we will be visiting and it is best known for its huge freshwater lake, Lake Malawi and is often called the “Heart of Africa”. As we crossed the border, we immediately noticed a difference as the road became simply a narrow, rough road and our clocks went back and hour.
Malawi is the poorest country we will visit and you can tell that many of the people here are very poor with an average yearly income of $200 US. The infastructure is very poor and most people live in small villages with a very poor standard of living. Whereas in Tanzania and Kenya, we had always been able to find Western products, even buying food for dinner could be quite challenging. When we are driving, we often pull over to the side of the road and set up for lunch and we are always surrounded by children and adults that will watch us set up and
watch us eat. We give them our leftovers and we try to spread the food out amongst the children. When we stop, the children always want our empty plastic bottles and at one stop, they rooted through our garbage can. It is sad to see that what is garbage to us, is very valuable to them. The people of Malawi are extremely friendly (something we have found throughout all of Africa) and we are always welcomed and greeted wherever we go.
Our first stop was at Chitimba Beach and as we wound our way into the campsite, we had hords of children running after the truck and hopping on the back. No wonder African nations do so well in marathons – these kids get lots of training! The lake is beautiful and we set up camp on the beach. We have really noticed that it is the wet season this past week, as it has rained daily and although we see the sun at times, it is often wet. It rained when we arrived, throughout the night and was still raining in the morning and as a result we had a few puddles in our tent. A
small group were doing an 8 hour walk to Livingstonia, leaving at 5:30 that morning, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to hike in the rain that early in the morning. Malawi is known for the skill of their wood carvers and we finally broke down and bought this beautifully carved teak end table and now we just have to worry about how to ship it home. Paul was on cook group and his group had to shop for their supplies in the markets of this tiny town and it was quite an experience bartering for every piece of veggie. But they made a great chicken curry that night.
After two nights at Chitimba, we headed down the lake to Kande Beach. This campsite was a little larger and had a cafe that served chocolate cake (the best ever) and filtered coffee (Paul was very excited about that). On the way we stopped at a town, Mizuzu to buy supplies and also to buy silly dress up clothing for our punch night that evening. As we entered the local market stalls that sell second hand clothing, we found it quite ironic that we were now going to buy
clothes that we had probably donated here. It was like a Value Village type experience, African style. We were met at the market, my tons of men shoving dressed from the 80s, lingerie and other hideous pieces of clothing at us. “Sister, sister, look here…good price”. We had drawn names and had to buy for that person. At first it was overwhelming because they utterly surround you, but eventually we found some good finds.
The punch night was fun and you can see the lovely outfits Paul and I got to wear. The next morning, we woke up and went for a swim in the lake. It kind of reminded us of swimming in the lakes at home. The only thing you have to worry about is that Lake Malawi has bilharzia, a disease caused by the snails in the lake. But we decided the lake was just to beautiful to pass up and all we have to do is get a blood test when we get home to see if we got bilharzia. We walked down along the beach and there are many little villages set up directly on the beach. Fishing is primitive dugout canoes is how
many locals make their living. We just happened to walk down the beach at what must have been the bathing hour because all the locals were out bathing and we would have naked children run up to us, waving and shouting hello. That evening, we had a pig roast for dinner. We spent some time on the beach (when it wasn’t raining) and a group of us swam out to the island off the beach (45 min return trip) and it was nice to get some exercise. Although we had heard that there had been a crocodile sighting that morning (there is a river beside the campsite that feeds into the lake) and as I swam, I was terrified of running into the croc! Paul went diving in the afternoon and he said it was like diving in a large aquarium. He saw lots of colourful cichilds, which are the fish we used to have in our aquarium.
I went on a village walk with two other girls and we learned a lot about the village life. We had three lads who paired up with each of us and it was interesting to hear about my parter, Aaron’s life.
The homes are basic mud/brick with thatch roofs and of course, no electricity or plumbing – just very basic huts. The village has 4,000 people and we were able to visit the medical clinic and primary school. At the medical clinic (very basic), we met with the director and saw the hospital ward where we saw a baby born the day before. After as we walked through the village, every one would ask if we had seen the new baby. At the primary school, which services 1,300 children and has 8 teachers, we met with the head teacher. Primary education is free, but not compulsory and I can’t imagine trying to teach 150 students at once. There are a number of orphans in the village (from AIDS) and the village works to provide for the orphans. As we walk through the village, we have small barefoot children run up and grab our hands and will walk with us for miles.
We had a village dinner that evening and as we sat on mats beside the huts, watching the small children dance and sing for us, I realized how lucky we were to be in this tiny village experiencing this.
Malawi is not a popular tourist and haunt and I realized how few other people get to experience this small Malawian village life.
We headed to Blantyre, the largest city in Malawi. We are here for two nights to get our visas for Mozambique. As we drove into the city, we started seeing cars and I realized that throughout the north, we never saw cars. We had shared the road with only trucks since very, very few Malawians could afford a car. We only spend two days in Mozambique as we are only cutting across the top to get to Zimbabwe, where we spend almost two weeks.
As we were preparing for our trip, we enjoyed reading other people’s blogs. There is a blogger, Cumberland Sausage that takes amazing photos and did a similar African truck trip as ours. Have a look at his photos of Tanzania and you can also see his other blogs. Let’s off road.