Anticipating Malawi

Trip Start May 05, 2010
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Lukwa Eco Lodge

Flag of Malawi  , Northern Region,
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

8th June 2011

As some of you may have noticed I have stopped beginning my posts with a summary of the weather and the number of days on the road. Like Queensland, consider every day to be 30C and sunny until further notice.

After crippling the Tanzanian Government by refusing to pay any more of their ridiculously over priced Park fees, we find ourselves heading in a southerly direction towards the Tanzania/Malawi border crossing. We are filled with anticipation as to whether we will have a new nominee for "chaotic border crossing" of 2011.

Last evening we spent the night at a community run campsite called Bongo Camp about fifty kilometers north of the Malawi border in southern Tanzania. It was set amongst banana and tea plantations in a very mountainous region. Gael had been whining about her lack of contact with the locals so this was an attempt at solving this cultural dearth. No sooner had I parked the truck than Gael was off in search of any unfortunate local who happened to wander past down the path to the local market. As it appeared that all the adults were singing their lungs out in the church next door, Gael set about entertaining a group of local kids with her collapsible umbrella tricks. The contact was enjoyed by all who participated. So much so that one little girl would not stop waiting for Gael to re-emerge from the truck until her grandmother came and dragged her away. A beautifully peaceful night even though surrounded by local village dwellings.

At the moment we are camped at Crocodile Camp on the northern shore of Lake Malawi although still in Tanzania. The seventy kilometer trip down from the two and a half thousand meter top of the mountain range at Bongo Camp took us three and a half hours. We are now at four hundred and fifty meters and the weather is very tropical and hence very humid. There is a haze hanging over the mountains that drop nearly vertically in to the lake. Of the three lodges on this part of the lake this is the only one that is licensed, therefore they were a dead certainty to win our business. The camp is run by a German named Thomas (how come not Hanns or Gunter) and his I think Indian wife. An excellent host who has big plans that I hope come off. The absolutely arse thumping road in here will be his biggest problem.

I was also reminded by Thomas that although there is a Church on every other plot of land in Africa the locals are still heavily into witchcraft when they enter the front door at home. If something in their lives goes to shit at home or at work it's off to the local Doctor (Witch doctor that is) to put things right and not the local minister. Only in the South of America do you see as many places of worship. African's love their Sunday's. It’s an opportunity to dress up in your best for one day of the week. And do they dress up!

Lying here on my custom made innerspring mattress, in the back of the camper after dinner, and reading Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, I feel I could be anywhere. Anywhere that is where the humidity is crippling, the stray dogs howl, and a bug with large flapping wings lands on your face as you try to read.  But this is indeed Crocodile Camp on Lake Malawi. Thomas our German host and his sweet Tanzanian/Indian wife have just cooked us the toughest and stringiest beef stroganoff that you would find anywhere. Lunch was of locally caught fish. A fish that had so many bones, it was amazing that it could coordinate all their individual movements to promote movement through water. The previous meals, well one of the previous meals was delicious, a German pasta with cheese sauce if I remember correctly. But their enthusiasm is such that one doesn’t mind going to bed with a partially empty stomach. Although a hamburger with chips would be nice!

As I look out the camper window across Lake Malawi on a night of a waning moon, I can see the lamps of the fishermen floating, spirit like on the horizon. They will be out there all night trying to catch more of those swimming bags of bones that the locals call fish They will be for sale from the boats in the morning at the local market.

Tomorrow an early start will see us ready to do battle at the next border. However, this time we go armed with some prior knowledge, courtesy of our host Thomas. We have been given the name of the local customs top dog and directions to a stall owner capable of giving us a reasonable rate on the black market money exchange. Any information that can grease our pathway through customs and keep the scavenging pack of money changers of our backs is a real bonus. The money touts at the borders really prey on a poor simple looking bastard like me. Gael is getting better at the game, but with everything else that goes on at these crossings, the last thing you need is to have a few of these arseholes further muddying the already murky water.

Well I’ll be buggered, through the Tanzanian/Malawi border post in forty minutes and at a cost of only US$50 for vehicle insurance. The only grumpy bum was the broad arsed bird who had a firm grip on the rubber stamp for the passports. When she enquired as to where we would be domicile for our first night in Malawi (I still fail to understand why every entry point in every country needs to know where you intend to stay for the night) and Gael and I both went to answer at the same time, she told Gael to shoosh and indicated that I was the only one of the two of us that she wished to have further discussions with. Personally I think she had the hots for me!

Thomas back at the top of lake Malawi, had suggested that Lukwa Eco Camp would be a good place to stay for our first night in Malawi. So seeing the sign pointing of to the right of the main arterial we proceeded up the road/track/path/rough path towards Livingstonia and the camping ground. Well we will never fail to read up about a site in our guidebook again!
I have found myself in this situation before. You have a brief period where you believe that no road could be this bad and still be marked on a map of Africa and by the time the full reality of the situation dawns on you, you have passed the first switchback and the track is so steep and narrow that you can’t turn around or back down without losing control. So for the next anus flexing hour we negotiated ten of the tightest switchbacks on one of the roughest, steepest tracks I have driven on in a long time. All the while I was expecting to meet another vehicle coming down the mountain, a situation that would have created a series of life threatening events that I tried not to think too deeply about at the time. Focusing on maintaining bowel control was the most I could hope for under the circumstances.  

Well Lukwa Camp was great. Magnificent views over Lake Malawi, lush food producing permaculture gardens, and great meals. Also found out an alternative root down from the escarpment that we hope will be a safer alternative when we leave after our two nights here.
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