Week 2 - Malawi
Our first night camping Chitimba on Lake Malawi was....well....an experience. I was just getting settled into the tent, ground mat laid out, sleeping bag ready for its first night camping in Africa too, and pillow ready for head to hit......when all of a sudden Meg and I saw a flash of light...followed by an extremely loud thunder clap (Lindsey, Catherine and Meredith, as thunder storm specialists, you can envisage what was going through my mind.) It was coming to the end of rainy season in Malawi, so this was to be expected. But it rained and rained and rained for at least a couple of hours, with the odd sprinkling of more thunder and lightening. On one hand, it felt nice to be out in the open, listening to the rain, next to the lake - this was serious camping!! On the other hand, thoughts of being struck by lightening and killed on my first night also ensued! However, I wasn't killed. Phew. But I didn't get the best sleep of my life. The next morning, I woke early to the sounds of the birds and monkeys (I was back to positive thinking by this point).
I decided to take a walk to explore the shore of the lake. It was beautiful. There were waves on the shore, so it is almost like a mini sea. Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Niassa in Mozambique and Lake Nyasa in Tanzania, just to confuse things) is located between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Its length is 560kms and width is 75kms. It is the 5th largest lake in the world by volume, and the 3rd largest in Africa. At 6am, there wasn't a lot going on, just a group of women with loads on their heads walking towards the other end of the beach. In the distance, fishermen could be seen. Lake Malawi is also sometimes called 'Lake of the Stars' after Dr David Livingstone (explorer who I mentioned before) observed lights from the fisherman on their boats which resembled stars in the sky. I wandered back to camp and still, there was nothing going on and nobody was getting up. What was going on? We were told by Masumi, our trip leader, the night before that we had to be up and out of the campsite by 7.30am for our next journey, and it was nearly 7am??
Then Ronald, our chef, who was now cooking up some delights in the kitchen, told me the clocks had gone back when we crossed the border from Tanzania. I had forgotten to reset my clock. So it was in fact 6am.
We had a delightful breakfast of scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast, cereals and yoghurt, tea and coffee and were back on the road to our next destination: Kande Beach also on lake Malawi. This was only a few hours drive, further down the west coast of the lake. The roads in Malawi are very quiet - few people have cars - they either walk or cycle. There are tens of hundreds of people that walk along the roads. All the women wear a traditional wrap with beautiful colours and patterns, with a t-shirt. They carry incredible loads balanced on their heads (not even using their hands to help them) such as huge baskets of fruit, vegetables and buckets of water. On their back, they are usually carrying a baby also. There are children everywhere, and they all smile and wave as you drive past. The scenery during the drive was beautiful. It was incredibly lush and green, with
casava growing everywhere. Casava is a woody shrub that is a major source of carbohydrates and is a staple food in Malawi. We passed through Nyika National Park which is famous for its zebra and leopards. We didn't see any, though.
We stopped at Mzuzu, a big town, on the way to pick up groceries. It was Easter Monday, and I hadn't had any chocolate all weekend, so I was desperate. Meghan and I decided to go on an Easter Egg hunt. We couldn't find any actual Easter Eggs, but we did find these white eggs which were sort of candied on the outside with chocolate on the inside. Sort of like a mini egg, except hollow in the middle. I mean, they don't sound great, but actually they were quite tasty. Hannah then made the miraculous discovery of 'The Dairy Milk Section' at the other end of the supermarket which Meghan and I hadn't discovered, so I hastily stocked up. They had all weird and wonderful flavours such as cashew and coconut and minted nut. I took 2 of each as well as a few plain bars, just in case 😊
at our campsite on Kande Beach, Nkhata Bay in the early afternoon. We set up tents and the kitchen area and I decided to do a spot of laundry. It turns out, laundry is pretty challenging out here so at time like this, I miss Mum! I hand washed a bundle of clothes in a bucket and hung them out to dry (or I thought they would dry anyway) on a line next to our camp. It took them 2 days to incompletely dry.....its pretty humid in Malawi, especially coming to the end of the rainy season. Anyway, laundry aside, we checked out the bar which was overlooking the beautiful lake. We even played pool (Meghan and I beat some German guys 2-1).
The next morning, we were up early for a village walk to Mbamba. A local guide called Daniel showed us around. As soon as we left our campsite, we were pounced on by local tradesmen trying to sell their arts and crafts. I was approached by a couple of guys whose names were 'Baby Giraffe' and 'Captain Morgan'. They claimed these were their real names. We continued our walk into the village, whilst Baby
Giraffe and Captain Morgan were asking me endless questions such as 'Where are you from?' 'What is your name?' (I was tempted to tell them my name was Penelope Pitstop or something) 'How long are you here for?' 'How many siblings do you have?' etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile, Daniel showed us a typical village house. The houses are made from clay brick, the windows are made from local wood and the roof is made of iron, the most expensive part of the house. Some people in the village save for up to ten years to be able to afford to pay for the roof. We also saw the village water pump, which pumps water from the lake itself. We saw the local school and library which was relatively well equipped e.g. with books and writing materials. In Malawi, school is strictly free, however students have to pay for their writing materials. The next part of the village was the clinic/hospital which, naturally, interested me the most. It was a very basic building with just a few consultation rooms. On one end of the building was the maternity unit which was midwifery-led. There was an ante-natal/post-natal ward with 8 beds. There
was also a labour ward which was a room of around 5 metres by 3 metres with three beds inside. The beds were almost touching eachother. The one and only midwife/nurse of the village explained that only low risk pregnancies could labour here; all others had to be transferred to the nearest town around 80kms away. It was an interesting insight into the village health care. After the hospital visit we started to head back towards camp, with Baby Giraffe and Captain Morgan still tagging along. When we finally did reach camp, both of the guys whose stalls were just by the camp entrance showed me their crafts which were, in fact, lovely. They even make chairs - in the shape of cool African Animals. An elephant-shaped one took my fancy....and I even managed to convince myself that I might be able to carry a chair in my backpack for the next 10 weeks or so......then I told myself to cop on.
We got back to camp and Ronald had a nice lunch of rice salad and sandwiches ready for us. In the afternoon, we went horse riding! My pony was called Jessie. She was a bit
of a fatty 😊 The walk was really beautiful - it took us through all the lush vegetation and mountains surrounding the lake. The walk ended by talking the horses into the actual lake....this is supposed to be fantastic physio for them. Jessie seemed to love it. She didn't want to get out! Afterwards, the horses all rolled around in the sand. Except Jessie. Well, I mean, she did try to roll. But her big belly made it difficult for her. So she just flung her legs in the air and did a few half-rolls. It was nearly sunset by the time we got back and Daniel, our guide from the morning, was preparing a typical Malawi dinner for us. Spit roasted goat, rice, beans and spinach. I stuck with the rice and beans 😊
The next day we were up early to prepare for our next journey to Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. I woke up early due to monkeys chattering away, about 5.45am. I decided to go for early morning swim (checked for crocs beforehand) which was very peaceful and refreshing! We packed up camp and were gone out of Kande by 7am. It was a fairly
long drive of about 8 hours. Joe, from Dublin, had developed a swelling on his lip. He thought it was a reaction to a bite. However as the journey went on, so his lip grew......anti-histamines were't working so we had to go to the pharmacy to get him some medication (you can easily get steroids over the counter here...) which seemed to do the trick. We spent a brief night in Lilongwe, just enough time to see the local craft markets (the elephant chair appeared again.....) and the next day we were headed for Zambia!
A brief but lovely trip through the north and central part of Malawi....but I would soon be visiting the country again so, please, read on....
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