Making it to Malawi

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Flag of Malawi  , Northern Region,
Sunday, October 7, 2012

After spending another night in Dar es Salaam, we left camp at 5am in order to beat the traffic to get out of the city. Our destination was Iringa, a place fairly high in the mountains of Tanzania.  So climbing the elevation in a 8 ton truck was as you can imagine a slow process.   Although we traveled through Mikumi National Park(Tanzania's third largest national park) situated at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains, the scenery of this day's drive was not particular exciting.  It was very desolate and dry with all the trees having no leaves and very little green to be seen anywhere.  It was common to see brush fires being set deliberately to prepare the little bit of fertile land for planting. The park is home to large herds of elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, lions and leopards, but we saw nothing but a couple of elephants.  The highlights of the day was stopping at a gas station to completely fill up the truck, the reserve tank and about 10 containers of diesel fuel (300L in all) to get through Malawi as there is a diesel fuel shortage in the country, going through the various weigh stations and passing through small villages and waving at the children (something I don’t think I could ever get tired of doing).  We got to camp in the highland town of Iringa about 7pm, set up tents, had a drink at the bar while waiting for dinner, ate and went to slept to get ready for another long day of driving.

The next day’s drive was about as long but a little more interesting as we were descending down the other side of the mountains and the landscape was changing back to being more fertile so saw lots of tea plantations as well as plots of various vegetables growing and the return of the banana trees.  For lunch we stopped at a school near the town of Kyela.  No sooner had we pulled up and parked the kids came running over to the truck and lined up in rows waiting for us to come out.  I went over with a few others to say hi. They were polite but shy.  But then our leader brought out the football.  We played a modified version of rugby/football, in that we were just passing the ball up and down the field and trying to get it over the line. It was the girls against the boys and I’m not sure which team really won but it doesn’t matter as it was great fun to interact and play with the kids. They really enjoyed it as well.  You could tell as they couldn’t stop laughing and smiling.

Continuing on landscape got more and more lush and we started seeing a plethora of mango trees along the road loaded with mangos. There were other fruit trees as well but the mango trees where so massive and numerous it was hard to see anything else as we drove by.  We stopped in a town called Tukuyu so the cook could buy some fresh fruit for us. And we had an opportunity to buy some as well.  It was a bit insane as there were about 20 women crowding our truck on both sides trying to sell their fruit.  The prices were even more insane. For example, the price for 8 avocados was 2,000 Tsh which is about one dollar!

Very soon after this stop we got to the boarder of Tanzania and Malawi. To exit Tanzania, our leader as able to take our passports in and get them stamped. Then we drove a couple of kms to get to the Malawi side and while we don’t need a visa had to go in and fill out some paper work.  While that was a quick process for the truck itself to clear and the 20 of us, finding the "boss" who was in charge of allowing the gate to be lifted proved a little more time consuming.  He was apparently at lunch but was coming in 5 min. After 20 mins, our driver, having experience, he got someone to take him to the boss.  Apparently the problem was the truck in front of us wasn’t cleared to go, so we couldn’t go.   Not sure how but our driver convinced the “boss” to let us go and use the other gate.

A short drive of 3 hrs and we arrived at Chitimba to camp on the north shores of Lake Malawi.  We arrived in time to be able to but our tents up while still light and enjoy a quick view of the lake and beach before the sunset.   Malawi is dominated by its lake, which covers almost a fifth of the country and provides a livelihood for many Malawian people. Fishermen, canoe and net makers, and fish traders all ply their trade on Lake Malawi. A common sight is of a fisherman in his bwato (a dugout canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk) fishing on the still lake at the break of day.

The next day we continued on to Kande beach on the south shores of Lake Malawi but still about a 6 hrs drive. On our way we stopped in a fairly large town of Mzuzu to get food supplies and gas for our cookers.  As we were walking around the shopping complex we were consistently approached by guys trying to sell us bracelets and paintings. I was impressed again with the level of English and was told by one guy that there is actually a lot of Canadian’s in Malawi and particularly in Mzuzu, studying or teaching at the university.  Up till now I’ve been told by the locals I’ve met that they have met very few Canadians.  For some reason in Malawi the locals trying to sell you stuff have really fun names (I think nicknames) such as chicken and chips, sponge bob, or Mr. Chocolate. It is a clever ice breaker.

The campsite at Kande Beach was very much party central for Lake Malawi and we arrived to 6 other trucks .  Tent space was at a premium and it was more of a pitch it where you can scenario.  We arrived on Saturday afternoon to find that the bar was out of the local brew and a small quantity of Carlsburg. Apparently in addition to the diesel shortage there is also a beer shortage in Malawi.  By dinner time the beer was gone and people were moving on to spirits.  I’ll just say it was a bit of a gong show as there were seven trucks of travelers trying to relieve some steam from traveling the long roads of Africa. Sunday was a quiet one as you can imagine but nice just the same.  I went for a long walk on the beach with another traveller and we were escorted the whole way by the camp dog.  Then lounged in the shade (way too hot to be in the sun) and had a swim in Lake Malawi which was lovely.  The lake is so enormous(covers 1/5 of the country) that after just coming from the Indian Ocean you have to constantly remind yourself that you are on/in a lake and not the ocean.  The water was so clear and the bottom clean and sandy; surprising since we saw many locals bathing and doing laundry in the lake.

Malawi is the poorest of the African countries but I didn’t really see the poverty has I have in Kenya and Tanzania. Aside from being land locked, they also don’t really have any natural resources to export or any developed industries.  Nevertheless, the people seem better dressed, the houses were in better shape and you could tell they took pride in what they had; potted plants and flowers in front of the houses as an example.  However talking to the locals (names such as Cheese on Toast, Chicken Sandwich and Wiseman)  around Kande you can get a better understanding.  They are desperate to trade clothing for souvenirs and will tell you almost any story to get you to feel pity for them.  Not that their stories aren’t true to some degree but you can’t get sucked in.  I did have a sweet 14 year old boy (named Bright) walking with us for a while on the beach (trying to get us to do a boat trip to the Island) and he told us his story.  He has a brother and sister, his mom has run off , dad is around but he has to do the cooking and cleaning for his siblings.  He is going to school but doesn’t have a uniform.  He was sweet because he was obviously trying to get some money but didn’t get upset when we said no.  I think it’s because I asked him so many question about him and encouraged him to stay in school; again so desperate for some attention.

I enjoyed my time at Lake Malawi as it was nice break from being on the truck for two solid days.  But the tour must continue.  Next stop is Zimbabwe, via 2 nights in Zambia.
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JoJo on

Am I seeing an island?

JoJo on

and beautiful lake view!

eddim on

Indeed an Island. I wanted to swim out to it and started to. But then realized it was a bit far and I'm not tri training anymore ;-)

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