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Published: January 12th 2010
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Pangani, just in time for the last ferry
Happy New Year!!
I’m sitting watching turquoise Lake Malawi from the Gecko Lounge in Cape Maclear. I arrived five days ago expecting to stay one night and am now waiting for the office so that I can add yet another… It’s beautiful. The sunsets, the people, the local kids who are pinching cashew nuts from under the tree… I can cope with sitting around here a bit longer. Plus Malawi’s victory over Algeria yesterday has put all of us in a good mood. Since getting to Malawi, things have turned around a bit. There’s lots more other travellers here for one thing, but also Malawians are genuinely friendly, helpful and almost all speak excellent English. The climate is warm and sunny with some awesome storms (a couple of which I experienced whilst sleeping on the top deck of Ilala Ferry for two nights). And the land is fertile and the lake serene. The only slight drawback was how out of date all the guidebooks are due to Malawi’s recent increased tourism. A few people seem to put this down to Madonna’s adoption of Mercy… hmm, it’s definitely not why I came here.
Anyway, I’m in danger of getting all
upside down here. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since my last confession - er, update. I had to go back and look at my pics and logbook to remind me of the journey since the last one. Since Billy’s departure and a regroup in Arusha, I’ve covered a bit of ground and I think pictures will tell a lot of the story themselves. But I must at least tell some of the stories from the way…
I called Tunzo from Arusha and we decided to drive to Pangani on the East coast starting from Moshi. Once I’d found a place to stay I went for a walk to the market and found a couple of new friends. First Kefi, who took me around the local food market (not the tourist ‘curio’ one for a change). It was full of huge bags of grain, and spices and dried fish and live chickens. Then ‘Rasta’… A Rastafarian. They must have been two of the first strangers I’ve met not to do a hard sell on me for anything. So we where sitting with a beer, when Tunzo called and came to join us. Turned out they all knew eachother and we
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Tanzania is full of beautiful butterflies. Unfortunately, this is the only time they are still enough for a photo...
went out on the town. Yay. The next day, we drove to Pangani in a tomb raider style jeep opened up, heavy steering… I even took a turn in driving with Kilimanjaro’s snowy peak only just popping out through the clouds behind us. Tunzo took the wheel back when we needed to get to the last ferry at Pangani in 30 minutes from 45 minutes away… on a BAD road and strewn with livestock and small children. Bloomin well made it though.
On arrival in Pangani, we saw that I would again be the only person staying here and when Tunzo left to head back, I was well and truly alone. The next Tazara train from Dar Es Salaam was fully booked, so I plumped for the option of booking for Christmas Day and stayed at Mkoma Bay in Pangani a bit longer. Although the lodge was quiet, it’s also stunning and with plenty to do. Soon the owners Lisa and Ulrick were back too: an American and Dane who had been travelling around Africa with various NGO’s for decades and decided to completely turn this previously quite neglected plot of land around. I had a brilliant four days
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The place to myself - Mkoma Bay, Pangani
and left only enough time to get to Dar for the train.
I met a man on the bus to Dar Es Salaam - Glen, a scientist. He had been working all over the world since the early nineties or so setting up people to make their prawns ‘king’… Cobblers? I don’t know, but he was certainly a character. We went for dinner and by the time I got to the hotel I had booked they said that the room was taken. It was not the nicest part of the town, and at some point between or at various hotel receptions I took my eye off the ball - or bag. Phone and cash were gone, so the hotel took my passport for deposit. The next day I trawled the city for an ATM that took Mastercard - finally I did but the card did not work. I was stuck on Christmas Eve - exactly where I didn’t want to be, Dar Es Salaam. I hated that city, and Christmas, and the bank and thieves and liars! I had enough cash to get a bowl of chips and an hour of Wi-Fi at the hotel around the corner where I
met a taxi driver who was willing to bet that I could get cash from a bank he knew on the outskirts of town… hmm. If it wasn’t for my situation I would not have gone, but it worked. Phew, I was back in the game and could get the ‘Christmas Train’. I bought myself the oldest Nokia in the world and a SIM card I apparently could use in Malawi (this was cobblers). Then I spoke to home and everything seemed better. Even on Christmas Day when I got on the train to find myself sharing a cabin with an enormous family with babies and nappies and arguments and piles and piles of stuff, I was feeling fine. Mum had managed to hide a little present and card in my pack and I missed home and the cold and Christmas dinner terribly, but every time I looked out of the window the view was different and at all the villages kids ran out and shouted and adults came to meet the train offering anything from eggs to coal. In the morning, we were in a completely different kind of place. The vegetation was rich with maize and banana crop
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The massive old Tazara train station on Christmas Day
and the landscape was huge forested hills and valleys. There was a patchy mist lazing around the hills under their cover from the rising sun and the train was rocking slowly over rickety bridges and through tunnels. In fact, the train was running about half a day late, and when it arrived in Mbeya it was too late to arrange any further transport, so I went to the bus station to buy a ticket for the next day. I was sold a ticket to get me all the way to Nkhata Bay in Malawi where I had decided head for New Year. This bus, in fact, was also cobblers. I got on the bus, yeah, and it kicked me out at some dust bowl ‘near’ the border (about one quarter of the full journey). I was immediately surrounded by 20-30 kids who told me (all at the same time) that I needed to get on the back of their bikes to get to the border, it’s a long way, I must change money with them as there was nowhere else, and that people in Mbeya are liars… I could no longer distinguish between all the cobblers. So, only after a
backie on a bike, a walk, two border posts, a shared taxi, and a bus, I arrived in Mzuzu, Malawi. It was Boxing Day and everything was closed, but the few people I came across were honest and helpful. I had almost no currency, and was told to go to the church. I stayed at their guesthouse for KW500 (about £2) and they gave me food and water. The next day, the town was open for business and I had nothing but good advice from anyone I came across. After some shopping and saying goodbye to the ladies at the guesthouse, I was in Nkhata Bay for lunchtime. Faith was returning.
In Nkhata Bay, I had a riot for a week. Accommodation was fully booked, and the people and places were gearing up for New Year. I was among iTunes and pool tables and disco lights, even the moon made an effort and came out full and shiny on New Year’s Eve over the lake. Awesome. Some South Africans convinced me that ‘you haven’t visited Malawi if you haven’t tried it’, and I laid the cobb(lers) to rest. I saw two Witch Doctors whilst in the north. One a
‘Traditional African Doctor’, but the other a proper Witch Doctor… I walked with a guide and his mate, two good new friends Isaac and Davie, 10km to her home (where she has both patients and witches in remand). We ate traditional Malawian lunch and had a ‘diagnostic ceremony’ with drumming and chanting and all that. So, anyway, you’ll be glad to hear - everything’s fine :o). That may be a bit of a joke, but she did in fact pick something out which doctors have never been able to diagnose or cure, so I am now carrying around some tree roots to make tea with. Isaac and Davie, if you are reading this, I miss you both - thank you so much for looking after me! Isaac and Dave put me on the ferry on Monday night, and I stayed there on the ‘first class’ open upper deck until Wednesday afternoon. It was one long trip with storms and great views in both Malawi and Mozambique. It was worth it and as the boat is an old Glaswegian falling apart from over 50 years of hard and continuous labour it may be taken out of service one of these days.
It will have to start actually breaking down a few times first though!
So now I’m here, in Cape Maclear - still. As soon as I’ve told my tales I’ve got to head south. I was hoping to get to Mount Mulanje, but as it’s raining there anyway and so difficult to trek, I’ve decided to only go as far south as Liwonde National Park. Not only does it sound like one of the last NP’s in Africa you can go to without spending a fortune, it was also home for some time to Tolkien whose father worked there. I can’t miss that (still a geek!). So, I’m going on a bit, but there are still things I have missed, like the group of three Entomology professors I met (one Arian looking, an Orthodox Jew and a South Korean), and the four South African bikers doing a road trip Jo’burg to Dar and back. These guys took me for dinner after a lake dive and were super cool. Given that Heather and Owen may not be in Barbados by the time I’m headed there, these guys (and my love for road trips) has inspired me to consider a USA
road trip late next summer. Convoy anyone?
I want to hear about all your Christmases and what’s been going on. I’ve recently subscribed to the world service podcasts, but it takes an age to download anything here. If you ‘comment’ here it goes on the website, if you ‘message’ it comes to my email. I love hearing from you.
All my love x x
Looks like some pics may have uploaded twice and or maybe in the wrong order - oops.
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