Lazy Times in Malawi

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February 7th 2013
Published: February 17th 2013
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Once Mum had left Malawi, we spent a couple of days in Lilongwe working hard. We cleaned the whole house, sweeping, mopping, washing bedding, killing insects, wiping shelves, cleaning dishes. I also cooked some very yummy dinners, including polenta and beans, and vegetable curry and rice. Then we washed a whole heap of clothes, hoping they wouldn't get rained on. And after all this we were very tired and grumpy.

So we went to Blantyre to stay with Gabbie's family, where we wouldn't have to do any cleaning, cooking or washing.

I wanted to take one of the new double decker buses to Blantyre, but they weren't running on the day we wanted to go. But amazingly, the bus we took wasn't even full and got to Blantyre quickly! I was shocked! No chickens on the bus, no stops every 10km, no getting squashed by too many people...

Blantyre was a very uneventful, lazy, relaxing time. We stayed with Gabbie's family for about 5 days and didn't do much. But after being so busy, it was sort of nice to not have to do anything. We were very spoilt - we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and when I started washing my clothes I wasn't allowed to do it myself!

Nearly every evening was taken up with watching lots of soccer games, which was heaven for Gabbie but put me to sleep pretty quickly. The African Cup of Nations soccer tournament was being held in South Africa for a couple of weeks and there were matches on tv nearly every night. Malawi didn't take part because their soccer team is very bad (lack of money and resources) but the Malawians were really cheering for Zambia. However, even though Zambia won the tournament last year they were knocked out before the finals this year.

We also spent a lot of time looking after Gabbie's nephew Praise while we were in Blantyre. Babies in Malawi are treated so differently to babies in Western countries! They're left to do whatever they want a lot of the time, and when they're not doing that, they're being passed between many different people. There were so many times when some random child or woman would just take Praise somewhere and then return him a little while later. No one knew where he was but they knew that he'd be back.

Gabbie and I both loved looking after Praise, although Gabbie did get tired of him getting into everything, naming him the 'troublesome guy'. Praise totally adored Gabbie, and once he'd worked out that he could get funny faces, thrown into the air, fingers to suck and time on my shoulders to touch avocadoes (see the photo) from me, he decided that he quite liked me too. (Lucky!)

The day we wanted to leave Blantyre and go to Cape Maclear, it poured with rain all day. It literally rained without stopping for over 24 hours. So our trip was delayed 😞

The next day I was determined to get to Cape Maclear, so we set off in slight drizzle to find a bus to take us to the lake. Getting to Cape Maclear is a notoriously long and difficult journey, so we were very pleased when it only took us 2 buses to get there and we arrived while it was still light!

We stayed in a small reed hut in a cheap backpackers place, which we had all to ourself for the first few nights we were there. We could see Lake Malawi from our hut, with frangipanis and palms around the hut.

Cape Maclear is a small village (also called Chembe) on the shores of Lake Malawi. It's also in the Lake Malawi National Park, which was the world's first freshwater national park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and the third deepest lake in the world. It's home to between 500 and 1000 species of fish and about 90% of these fish are endemic to Lake Malawi, meaning that they don't exist anywhere else in the world. Some of the most famous fish in the lake are the cichlids, which are different types of very colourful fish that can be orange, yellow, silver, white, bright blue, stripy black...

However, it is also home to the bilharzia parasite, which lives in snails and humans. The beach at Cape Maclear is particularly bad so there was no swimming at the beach for us. However, there are a few islands off the coast which are safe for swimming so we were still able to swim. There's also hippos in the area but we were assured they don't go to the areas where people swim. Not sure how true that is, but we didn't get eaten..

We had two separate trips out to an island called Thumbe Island, first time in a kayak and second time in a motor boat. We're definitely not the best kayakers, but we made it there and back without falling out or going backwards/sideways. Our trip out there on the motor boat took us to a rocky area where lunch was prepared for us over an open fire.

It was also the place where Gabbie swam for the first time ever! He can't swim but I had told him that if he just got in with the life jacket, he could just float around and look at the fish. Normally he refuses to get in the water, but this time, without me saying anything at all, I looked up from my lunch and there he was getting into the water with his life jacket and snorkelling gear, all ready to go swimming! By the end of our time at the island, he was happily snorkelling up to 40 metres by himself. I was so proud! 😊

Cape Maclear was such a nice, relaxing place to go for my last trip in Malawi. Our time there consisted of snorkelling, walking along the beach, cooking food, watching soccer, eating at nice restaurants and playing lots of games of bawo.

Unfortunately there were lots of things to do back in Lilongwe and people to meet before I went back to Australia, so after 4 days at the lake, we headed back to Lilongwe.

My last few days in Lilongwe were packed full of cleaning, washing, buying things and meeting friends. By that time, Gabbie and I had come up with a plan for when we needed to buy anything. He would go to the market stall/taxi rank/etc, find what he wanted and negotiate the price, while I stayed somewhere else out of sight until he got a price he was happy with. That way we weren't being given the 'mzungu' (white person) price.

Although, I became pretty good at getting good prices myself - in Cape Maclear I was given the title of Bargaining Master by one of the guys selling souvenirs. While having to bargain for almost everything got pretty tiring, I was always determined to get a price that I knew was fair for both me and the seller. Not the price the seller was trying to get, which was always at least twice as much as it should have been.

I frantically packed lots of meetings with friends into my last few days - friends I hadn't seen yet, friends I wanted to see more of, visits to friends' houses. We went to the wildlife centre and made lunch for all the animal carers one day. Both Gabbie and Chico weren't working that day, so they decided to take 5 litres of local maize beer with them to drink at lunch time. The trip home afterwards was very amusing for everyone on our minibus!

My time in Malawi, and Lilongwe, ran out so quickly and the day for me to go back to Australia came around a bit faster than I was ready for. I was ready to go back to living in the relative luxury of a big house with carpet, electricity, running hot water and no insects. But I wasn't ready to leave Gabbie and all of my friends behind.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to go back to Malawi again, but I'm sure I'll make it back there again soon. Apparently just after my plane left Lilongwe, it started pouring with rain, just like last time I left Malawi...

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