I realise our trip is long over, but we thought we would make an effort to finish our blog entries.
After 2.5 months of non-stop travel, we thought we deserved a break and checked into a campground, luckily situated on the edge of Lake Malawi and unluckily situated on top of a giant anthill. Of course not before suffering through yet another day of African public transport madness, this time involving a bus trip to a small town in the middle of nowhere with no guarantee of an onward bus to our final destination. We had arrived around 5 in the afternoon. With rumours among other travellers of the next bus arriving around 9pm, we knocked back offers of exorbitant private taxi service and invitations to hop on the back of a ute (pick-up truck) for what we knew would be another 4-5 hour trip. So we waited by the side of the main road for close to 7 hours, passing the time by filling our bellies with fat-soaked French fries, cooked roadside by young enterprising businessmen all over Malawi. Half asleep against our backpacks outside of a convenience store the bus finally arrived close to midnight, the crowds inside it
only matched by the crowd outside fighting to get aboard. For once we didn’t even bother to join the crush and instead found ourselves a single dirty smelly bed in the cheapest room of the closest hotel to the bus stop. The next morning, after a surprisingly restful sleep and a breakfast of a couple of boiled eggs, also purchased roadside along with a small piece of folded-up newspaper containing some salt, we once again set about waiting for a ride. Afraid of potentially having to wait another 7 hours for a bus we took the ute after all. Oh well, after a mere 4 hours frying in the hot sun, squeezed between sweaty bodies, wooden furniture and baskets of tomatoes, we arrived in Nkhata Bay and with it the giant anthill mentioned earlier.
So we spent a week relaxing by the lake, swimming, eating, reading and snorkelling in the tranquil waters of Lake Malawi, which is teeming with little colourful fish, called cichlids. Kamini, still recovering from the hippo incident, took back to the water only slowly. The lovely owners of our backpacker’s took us in like family, as they did all new arrivals, upgrading us from a campsite
to a nice room for a couple of nights and shouting us drinks. In fact, free drinks would become a regular occurrence whenever the owner got drunk. We dined on beautiful food, finally getting to enjoy some vegetables other than tomatoes and onions, as the backpacker’s grew their own veggies. We met some interesting characters, including a guy halfway through an around the world bicycle trip. This quiet Swedish fella had cycled the length of Asia and Australia and was now halfway down Africa. Somewhere along the way he broke his back and had to take a year off only to get back on his bike and continue his trip. Talk about dedication. Now he had stopped for a month because of sore knees and was trying to recover at our hostel, which apart from being inhabited by billions of ants was also located on a steep river bank, making the trek between the tent, the shower blocks and the common area a bit of a struggle for him. Kam was able to sympathise as her knee was also still sore from our previous hike.
Lake Malawi is known for spreading bilharzia, parasites carried by snails, which penetrate the skin
to lay their eggs in the human host. Symptoms include feeling ill, fever, blood in the urine and even liver failure. One of the early signs is itchy skin. Sure enough after a few days of arriving at the lake, I woke up with an intense itch on my leg. “Wait no, it’s on my back, now it’s on my arm.” No bite marks, no rash, the itch keeps moving around. Doesn’t sound like bilharzia. But what was it? The ever-present ants that are everywhere? I was going insane, and taking Kamini with me. After a few days the itch was gone, just like that. Without rhyme or reason. Gone. Meanwhile Kam was struggling with a cold, so our r&r wasn't going quite as smoothly as we had hoped. We did leave on a high though, when on our last day at the camp we went on a boat ride with a group of backpackers to a nearby beach to play a game of soccer with some local boys. Running around barefoot on a rocky beach, dust being thrown up with every step, these kids taught us a lesson, leaving us all exhausted and sore.
Enough lazing around and so
after a week we decided to hit the road again and along with a lovely Welsh couple, Louise and Conor, head for the hills, namely the Nyika plateau, where we hoped to do some more hiking. We were surprised to find that walking through Nyika at times felt like a trip to the Welsh countryside. Once again we were amazed by our guide’s diet, which consisted of a small serve each evening of pap, dried fish and tomatoes. During the day the guy’s lugging around a machine gun and an old-style canvas tent, reminding us once again how soft we are. Meanwhile the four of us were rationing out our peanut butter and honey sandwiches, wishing we had hamburgers, chips and beers for lunch. Alright so that was just me. It didn’t take long for Conor to dub me the greedy Australian. After a few days we arrived at Livingstonia, a hilltop mission, where Louise and Conor were going to be volunteering their services as a teacher and a doctor respectively. What Kam and I could never get our heads around though was, what the hell is the only hospital in the vicinity doing on top of a hill with
only one barely drivable road going up it, in an area where noone can afford their own car? As it turns out, the missionaries had previously started a mission down at the lake, but couldn’t handle the heat and the mosquitoes and after a few of them had died off from malaria, they moved the mission to higher grounds near Nyika. So now if you’re living in Northern Malawi and you’re pregnant and need some prenatal care, you’re only option is hiking up the hill to the mission. Better than no hospital at all we suppose.
As it happened we arrived on a Sunday and the path up to the mission ended right behind the church, so we were treated to some beautiful gospel music as a nice welcome. We shared some drinks with our new-found Welsh friends and then said our farewells. Unfortunately our farewells were marred by my getting upset over the guesthouse owner trying to charge Conor for using the toilet, when he hadn’t eaten anything but only had a few drinks. Some of the oddities of African hospitality were slowly starting to get under my skin. In the end the owner listened to reason and let
us off. After checking out Livingstonia the next morning we spent our last two days in Malawi hiking back down to the lake, where we squeezed into a minibus headed for the Tanzanian border.
(By the way, both Kam and I tested negative for bilharzia on our return to Australia.)
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