Malawi and Zambia

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
Trip End Apr 13, 2011

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Monday, July 26, 2010

After leaving Zanzibar, we entered the most arduous part of the trip; nine days travelling south through rural Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia before arriving at Livingstone. Most of these days were spent on the truck, listening to my ipod, staring out of the window at the mud hut villages, scrubland and dry hilly landscape speeding by. Occasionally we would drive past the odd baboon sitting idly by the roadside as if waiting for a bus.

There were two welcome days off from the rigours of travel. The first was at Kande Beach camp site on the shores of the lake Malawi, a huge freshwater inland sea extending over the horizon, with a long sandy beach. This site is a stop for every other overland truck so was extremely busy, with  almost every available patch of ground having a tent on it. Some of the other trucks have a booze-bus mentality, so the site was noisy and rowdy after dark until well into the small hours.

Our second day off was a visit to Donija Nkhoma, a typical Malawian village. Mud huts, subsistence farming and no electricity or running water are the order of the day. Even though it was only founded in the 1950's, we could have been looking out on a scene from any time since the Bronze Age. The village is dirt poor, shoeless kids in their tattered clothing, noses running all down their faces, play with inner tubes and home-made wooden skateboard contraptions.  Older kids were carrying pails of water on their heads, babies on their backs, axes or machetes.

The only inkling that we were in the modern age was the replica Manchester United football shirts worn by some of the women tending to small fields with scythes and hoes, carrying babies on their backs as they work. The women also have the task of fetching water from the well half a mile away and carrying it back on their heads. Of the few men we saw, one was building a mud hut and the rest just sat and watched.

The level of poverty here seemed more extreme than I had seen in Tanzania. The clothing was so torn and tattered it was barely functional, and there weren’t as many smiling, friendly faces. We were made to feel very welcome though – we had lunch with the village 'head man’, Vincent, who was 72 and who had lost his sight 30 years earlier to German Measles.   This consisted of ‘Ugali’, a white, maize based staple food. It is tasteless and has the look and consistency of a flabby white buttock. I had to eat this, along with chicken thighs, spinach and beans, with my hands in traditional African style. The meal therefore tasted of hand sanitiser.

Ritual humiliation was up next. The villagers put on a dancing show for us, the women of the village  danced in a circle, some with babies on their back, others breastfeeding as they danced and sang. A male dancer  emerged, dressed like an owl and wearing a jangling grass skirt. He vibrated up and down whilst gyrating his hips and waving his arms. I was prompted to get up and join him, along with two of the other blokes on the tour, and had to try to repeat his actions whilst holding a bread basket and a spear. Oh how the village laughed.

The tiresome travel days proved to be well worth it on arrival at our campsite in Livingstone, where I upgraded to a hotel room for three nights. The main attraction here is Victoria Falls, which is utterly spectacular, a roaring curtain of white water, churning up drenching mist as it cascades into the gorge below. This mist creates a mini rainforest environment amongst the surrounding dry scrubland, and drenches the tourists at the viewing points.  

The entire falls, almost a kilometre long are only visible from the Zimbabwe side of the falls, so I braved a visit across the border into Mugabe-land, which was surprisingly easy, if expensive to do. Unfortunately my camera stopped working, probably due to getting water in it, so I wasnt able to get any photos of the breathtaking views.

There is a small national park on the Zambian side of the falls, where I went on a ‘Rhino Walk’, as I hadn’t seen any rhinos on this trip as yet.  After a short game drive where we saw a herd of elephants, giraffes, and a hippo, we got out of the jeep and walked into the bush. Tim our guide, and an armed ranger led us over a small hill and there facing us were four huge rhinos. Tim piled on the drama, telling us how dangerous they were, charging at up to 40mph if provoked. He told us we were to freeze on his command if they got near to us. We took cover behind a log as the rhinos headed towards us, getting within 10 feet of us. Tim instructed us to remain deathly still, so I couldn’t even swat away the mosquito buzzing around my ear.  These were fully wild rhino, four of only 5,500 left in the world, and didn’t seem interested in us in the slightest as they plodded on by, grazing and snorting as they went.

Hopefully the next few entries are a bit more interesting, as I head down to Botswana and Namibia for what promises to be the best part of the trip.
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