Published: July 18th 2012
July 18th 2012
At 10:00 a.m. Lizzie and Matt arrive to pick us up at Sally's gate driving her boyfriend's 4x4, which is amazing because it cuts our travel time almost in half rather than being forced to take a 6 hr. minibus excursion. Not that I didn't enjoy my first experience :p. We stop at a grocery store in Old Town to stock up on food and drink before hitting route M1, which takes us all the way down to the Cape. I ask Lizzie and Matt, who are both roommates and co-workers for the organization, Grassroots Soccer, all about the work they do and the places they've visited thus far in Malawi. Grassroots Soccer, for those interested, conducts outreach programs for children and teens born with HIV/AIDS. They specialize in delivering the HIV test kits and social/psychological counseling using soccer as an intermediary with the youth. We chat all the while listening to the only 28 songs Lizzie has on her phone which consist of either Christmas or Country.
Winding down the most incredible mountainside, I borrow Alex's camera to capture all of what I'm seeing as we approach the valley ahead. Small stands on the cliffside made of bamboo and reed house lone village men extending their amrs to us holding well crafted toys for sale. We pass 3 little boys with their faces painted white dancing on a small plateau next to the road in which we're the only car as far as the eye can see. The vast landscape is how I imagined Africa to be...only better. Random baobob trees sit in fields of tall pale yellow grass that the herds of cows and goats sift through. The final bumpy "road" to Cape Maclear looks more like a hidden dirt path whose end is unknown and that gives me my first taste of what safari would be like.
I am confused at first when a sign reads with an arrow pointing "Cape Macler 1km" because all I can see is another desolate village covered in a blanket of dirt and dust with roosters walking aimlessly around. We pull up to an unmarked bamboo gate and drive into a whole other world. Suddenly I'm in the middle of a small carribean-like paradise called Gecko Lounge, which is situated on a stretch of beach that directly faces a mountainous island in Lake Malawi's distance. Lizzie, Alex and I drop off our bags in our quaint beach cottage while Matt tries to secure some camping accommodation since he tagged onto the trip last minute. We all meet for lunch under the bamboo pavilion and cheers to a successful destination. Cutting through the waves ahead is a speed boat that looks severely out of place against the hand made canoes floating in the water. Lizzie half joking points out that the driver of the boat is well known to locals here as "racist Mike," as a random fun fact of the day.
While we wait for our food we play a game called Superlatives and then try to guess each other's "spirit animal." Ironically, on this day of my mom's passing, the group concludes that mine is the dolphin! So a pause to say, "I love you mom" and to let all my family back home know that I'm thinking of you today by the water.
After showering up, I plop my butt in the sand to watch the BEST sunset I've EVER seen in my life (I think Alex posted some pics on my Facebook wall so you can see). The sun is almost completely tucked behind the island. There is a 'band' of 5 young village boys playing to the guests at Gecko Lounge with makeshift wooden drums and guitar-like instruments beneathe the pier of the lounge. We decide to make our way to dinner at Hiccups Pub. At this time (7p.m.), like everywhere in Malawi, all of the villagers are sleeping in their huts since none of them have power. As it turns out (since power shortages are VERY common), Hiccups lost power in their generator tonight so the whole place is lit only by candlelight, and even then, the light is sparse. Definitely one of the cooler experiences of the day...having an entire Cape pub to ourselves, sitting at the bar aside the spiral staircase exchanging travel stories with the owner.
By this time, everyone who is staying at Cape Macler slowly makes their way to Gecko as this is the main bar for late night dancing. Before that begins though, backpackers and expats congregate on the outdoor deck. I'm surrounded by Lizzie, Matt and Alex when some guy with a South African accent wearing a bright orange bucket hat sits arm to arm beside me asking what brings me to Cape Macler. Suddenly on the shore a boat pulls up and I excitedly point outloud, "Hey it's racist Mike!" Just then, Lizzie gets up abruptly and says she has to use the bathroom. I was wondering if she was okay while the visibly drunken man, unphased by my comment, continued to chat along for another few minutes.
Just as he walks away, Lizzie comes back laughing so hard she can hardly breathe. "Well I'm glad you're obviously OKAY. Why did you leave in such a hurry?" I asked. Lizzie, clearly not able to keep her composure any longer bursts out, "That was racist Mike sitting next to you the ENTIRE time!" Apparently she ran away in a hurry because she had to spit out her drink from laughing so hard the moment I said it. Wanting to feel embarrassed all I could do is cry with laughter and chalk it up to another prime 'Lindsay Miracle' moment. The group of us make it to about 1:30 a.m. before we succumb to exhaustion. The dance floor is packed as we chat from afar with a group of Irish med students but we decide to throw in the towel and set off for a hike in the early morn.
We take our time waking up enjoying the fresh mild breeze off of the lake. After breakfast, we move our bags over to Mgoza Lodge since it's the weekend of Malawi's 48th Independence holiday and nearly everything was booked. We quickly change into some kicks and start our trek through the village to the national park.
Just at the beginning of the path marked with big boulders we inherit 4 local boys aged 7 to 14 who help us navigate the way being careful to point out where the black mambas are...only the most poisonous snake in the world--no biggie. One of them takes my hand as we leap from one rock to the next. I let them tease me about American Football vs. "real" football (aka soccer) that seems to be a bit of an esape to daily life in Malawi. I learn that all 4 boys are brothers. They lost both of their parents some time ago and the youngest tells me he refers to his older brother as his father. Being born in Cape Maclear all of them have survived as fisherman. One of the boys points out their boat to me on the other side of the cliff. It was a strange feeling to suddenly have a sense of connection, however brief the moment, to these boys that have lived and learned more about life under the age of 15 than most, including myself, will know in our lifetime.
Alex and Matt continue to climb up with the boys while I'm happy to stay with Lizzie who's recovering from a torn meniscus injury. We grab the full attention of the sun as we sit on a wide open rock plateau that overlooks all of Cape Maclear. "WOW"...is all I can muster up to say. I feel like I'm staring at the biggest paradox in life. An awe-inspiring paradise set in the middle of one of the world's poorest areas. Rescinding my cynicism, I watch below as a beautiful baptism is taking place in the clear water between an older man and woman. They look like newly weds holding each other surrounded by their friends and family.
Realizing that our other half will not be returing anytime soon, Lizzie and I start to walk back along the beach side to the lodge. While it was only maybe 2 miles, I'm not kidding, it felt like the longest walk of my life. Only 5 minutes along, the beach with the more upscale accommodations ended as if to signify the dividing line between 2 worlds. We crossed into a large swamp-like field that reaked so bad of feces Lizzie and I gagged to the point we thought we were gonna get sick. Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore we land back on the beach touring now through the village fisheries. Hundreds of long tables lay in a row while thousands of tiny silver fish dry out on top. We pass by all the village women washing their clothes and dishes at the water's edge. I can feel their eyes fixed on us well after we cross their path. We dodge the number of naked children scattering about. Three such boys ran alongside me purposely trying to touch the open wound on my leg. I felt bad doing so but had to smack one of their hands away. Our pace slowed drastically as the beating sun clenched our faces. The stares kept mounting and I could feel the villagers' energy almost exude the weight of their daily plight upon me as my shoulders and back tightened. Coupled with the emotion I've kept inside of being in this new place, it was the first time on the trip that I missed home.
I was relieved to say the least when we stepped foot in our lodge and cooled off with a TaMalawian. Not long after, Alex and Matt stumbled in looking defeated from the heat but came back with some awesome pictures of the top. They jumped straight in the lake to cool off themselves while I sipped some tea under a thatched roof, admiring the reflection of the sun on the the lake but afraid to have my leg anywhere near the water, which is plagued but the very common Schistosomiasis. After a good 2 hours of decompression, I decide it's a great time to shower up and get ready for dinner. The lodge consists of one amazing outdoor shower. Made of bamboo well positioned in a way that only you can see outside or in, there is a cut out in the structure from shoulder height on up. My view? The mountainous island on Lake Malawi at sunset. And within that moment, I'm back at homeostasis.
We try to place our dinner orders for some more delicious chombo, the fish of Malawi, but we're reminded of the research Alex and I did before leaving on this trip. Due to climate change, the increasing erratic winds on Lake Malawi have kept the fisherman from being able to go out and catch the fish. We experience first-hand how food security and the many livelihoods in the country are easily threatened by this slight change in the environment.
We settle on some pasta carbonera and I invite our 5 hilarious Irish friends to join, who give us great insight on Victoria Falls and the rest of Zambia using just about every exploitive in the book. My stomach hurt from laughing so hard.
We're finally ready to seek the night with avengence! Stopping at Hiccups first, the DJ is spinning but dance floor is empty so we all do our best Zoolander "walk off" then head to Gecko, which is now full of every traveler in the Cape this weekend. DANCE PARTY! Alex and I feel a tap on our shoulder. It's Jam!...holding drinks for our whole crew. And so it begins...the point of the night when everyone thinks they transform into the best dancer in the world. Lizzie tells me this is the best time she's had in her whole 9 months of being in Malawi. Great success!
........And then morning came. Lizzie is no where to be found. Matt literally takes 10 minutes to climb down from his bunk, caught in his own mosquito net. Alex tries to recount at what point of the night she changed into her bathing suit and minus the tiger in the bathroom, I'm laughing at how this reminds me of the scene straight from The Hangover. Holding our heads, we all reclaim our dignity, grab breakfast and I catch a nap in the beach hammock before departing the Cape. On the way home I snap a picture in front of a sign that reads, "<--- MOZAMBIQUE" before making a stop in Dedza, the famous pottery village in Malawi. All in all, a weekend I will never forget with some AWE-some people. High five!