Lilongwe, Malawi, 15 August 2012

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September 14th 2012
Published: September 14th 2012
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Lilongwe, Malawi, 15 August

We arrived at the Mabuya Camp at 5.00pm which was well appointed with pool (too cold today), bar, WiFi, plenty of showers and toilets and shade trees. The camp was 5 minutes out of Lilongwe city CBD. In the city we went to the ATM which ‘ate’ Tom’s card. Fortunately the bank was opened so we could retrieve it. We stocked up on snacks and drinks. We went to 4 shops and all the shelves where wine was, were empty. We didn’t find out what has happened. We have, however, read in the newspapers that there is a real shortage of Kwacha notes, the local money so banks are offering 36% interest for investers and charge 40% interest for loans. Some economists are saying that businesses are suffering badly and the whole macro and micro economic structure should be changes, starting with the drastic lowering of interest rates by the Central Bank. Major meetings are taking place in the country.

The capital of Malawi, Lilongwe has a population of about 1 million. It's usually a very green city, to the extent that sometimes you wonder if there is a city centre at all as buildings in the new town at least are divided by patches of grassy land and trees. We saw the results of the drought years though.

Lilongwe is divided into the Old Town (to the South) and the New Town (to the North) with the Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary between the two. The Old Town is built around the former village of Lilongwe, while the New Town (also called City Centre or Capital City) sprung up after first president Dr. Hastings Banda moved the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe. The quality of the roads was excellent compared to countries like Kenya and traffic didn't tend to be too much of a problem at all.

The city started life as a small village on the banks of the Lilongwe River, and became a British Colonial Administration centre at the beginning of the 20th century. Due to its location on the main north-south route through the country and the road to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Lilongwe became the second largest city in Malawi after Blantyre. In 1975, the capital of the country was formally moved from Zomba to Lilongwe. Lilongwe has grown immensely since then and since 2008 has been the largest city in Malawi. All parliament members are required to spend time in the capital. Although Lilongwe is the political centre of Malawi, in some respects Blantyre remains the economic capital.

In Lilongwe, as opposed to rural Malawi, one can live, work, or vacation in a manner that most westerners would consider typical, if not luxurious.

However, most of Lilongwe's Malawian citizens live on just a few dollars a day and many are unemployed. The population of Lilongwe has grown as villagers, including young orphaned children, from the surrounding rural areas have relocated to the capital in search of jobs and the unattainable quality of life enjoyed by government officials, NGO and other international workers, and expatriates. Despite the highly visible class differences, most of the city's residents go about their lives in relative harmony. On the outskirts of the city, we saw a lot of tall brick fences which eventually will be the fences of housing developments. We also saw a lot of fences with glass on the top - so that tells another story – but the more we travel, the more we ensure we do not guess the reasons for what we see as we see things through a developed country eyes rather than the eyes of the locals. What we think is suspicious or bad may not be seen that way by locals.

During the rainy season, between November and April, Lilongwe is muddy, humid, and hot. June and July are relatively cool and windy months. During the other months of the year, when we were there, Lilongwe is dry and dusty.

Lilongwe is a hot-spot for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malawi. It is estimated that up to 20% of the urban population is HIV positive. The Malawi National AIDS Commission reports that professionals, especially teachers and agricultural extension agents - many of whom travel between urban centres and rural villages, are dying faster than they can be replaced. Also, the central region of Malawi is experiencing extreme deforestation. It is feared that rural citizens will have no access to wood for cooking fires, heating fires, and building materials by 2015. Problems with HIV/AIDS and deforestation are interrelated to the rapid population growth the city is currently experiencing.

The night was really cold – good for sleeping- and after a fantastic dinner (Hake fish done over the coals using South African and Zambian spices and cheese) and roasted butternut with South African salsa, coleslaw, followed by blueberry ice-cream, we did some emails (with on and off availability to WiFi), chatted sharing stories and went to bed. Man, it was definitely a good night for sleeping. We are really comfortable in our tent now, using 2 mattresses, cosy sleeping bag with our silk sheets and experts at putting up and pulling down our tent (2-5 minutes). It is working well. Tom & I are healthy – plus a bit of post-horse riding stiffness in our legs, although Tom feels good. I am missing running. This is the very 1st time I have gone on holidays and not taken my running shoes because I was trying to cut down on ‘stuff’. Mental note: don’t do this again.

Malawi has an inflation rate of 20%! (MISSING)Their imports are essentials – fuel, fertiliser etc.

Thursday 16 August:

The day was cool-ish but warmed up by 9.0am. Hazy sky. WE left at 8.00am.

Being on the same bus all the time, we have a lot of extra storage room, including our own lockers. We can store our big trekking boots and day back packs in the bus also. Our big bags are stored under the truck.

We are all divided onto small groups so that we are allocated small tasks to do. I initially thought, “I don’t think so..” but we have a lot of fun in our group. During this leg of our journey, I have Andrew and English guy and Metta from Switzerland in my group. We have called ourselves the E-Team. The task are very minor (group tasks are divided into 5 days: help with meals, check camp site, look after ice for our esky, camp packing, day off) so it takes about 5-10 minutes and we get to know the guys even more. It’s great.

At 12MD we arrived at the Malawi-Zambia border crossing. Again it was a 2-stage process, paying $US50 again on entry to Zambia. There was no delay, particularly as we pushed in front of another bus group who were still filling in their paperwork while in the line!!!

We had another 20 minutes to drive before arriving at Chipata, Mama Rula’s Bead & Breakfast. This was an excellent spot with lots of trees, clean, working toilets, warm showers, and an ambivalent Dutch-South African owner. The house they lived in was spacious and western in style. We didn’t need the truck chairs as there was a circular sitting area around a fire place and the seats had long cushions. It was really comfortable.

Tom and I walked 5 kms into the town (1 hour) as I still can’t do this sitting around thing for too long. We had arrived at our camp by 2.30pm. It was hot and dusty and when we were about 2 kms from the town centre, a taxi stopped and asked if we wanted a ride – we did K10,000 (5000 Kwecha to $1US). We walked through the Saturday Markets (they are called that every day!), went back to the Shop Rite store to buy a cold drink (we had a nice coffee there on the way through in the truck). We also saw where we changed our Malawi Kwacha into Zambia Kwacha (K16 Z to K17 M).

We also saw the St Pauls Church and the Moslem Mosque. We also saw posters advertising houses for sale and ‘Maids Available’. We then caught a taxi back – K 30,000 – but he wanted 40,000 so when we arrived back at the accommodation we gave him 35000 – that made his day.

Formerly Fort Jameson, Chipata was the capital of North-Eastern Rhodesia until 1911, when Northern Rhodesia — later to become Zambia — was created. Now it's the capital of Zambia's Eastern Province and a fairly busy town with about 320,000 residents and more coming in daily.

Chipata is rather low on tourist attractions.

Central Mosque, Mosque Rd. Probably the prettiest building in Chipata, no entry for unbelievers but just down the road from the Down Shops, so we didn’t go in. Muslims only make up a relatively small minority of the population, however.

Kanjala Hill, on the northeast corner of town (nearly 2km east of Shoprite). Nice views of Chipata apparently but the taxi didn’t drive up the top.

Chipata is a good place to stock up before heading out into the bush. There is a large Shoprite supermarket, a number of petrol stations and a few places to change money, all of which we accessed.

If you are interested in taking a look around a "real Zambian town," head to the Indian shops (so-called because they are almost exclusively Indian-owned). Also known as the Down Shops, among these shops you will find thousands of Chipatans wandering around, meeting friends, or doing business.

Friday 17 August 2012:

Up at 5.00am and left by 6.00am. Road was bumpy!! We travelled through rural areas with villages spotted all the way. We saw many small round and square grass and brick houses. All transport is bikes and cattle pulled carts – no cars in the rural areas. All subsistent farming plus lots of cotton – Chipata had a large ginnery. The villages got their water from wells which they pumped water out of, very rarely did we see power lines. We did however see 3 or 4 small solar panels.

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