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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Malawi - Lilongwe, Scuba Diving in Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Chitimba, hit and run in Mzuzu

Well, for a change, this entry will be pretty damn short as I think the total nights in Malawi was 5, but hopefully the photos will add to the story a little bit more...

After crossing the border into Malawi, we drove until quite late to reach the hostel we would be staying at for a night in the town of Lilongwe. Driving in the dark was a scary experience as all the locals walk home along the motorway or cycle down the path, none with any lights at all. You don’t even see them until it’s almost too late. Marjane did his best to just keep beeping the horn as he drove to warn of our approach. We also almost crashed into the back of the truck in front of us when it was hailed over by a police stop. Again there were no lights to give the traffic any warning of the impending stop. Mark gave the policemen a piece of his mind and we continued into the darkness after a flourish of apologies from the policemen.

Jen and Jules trying to keep warm during the freezing cold night drive
All the sleeping bags eventually had to come out

We stayed at a little place called Mabuya Camp where the beers were cheap and the company was fellow overlanders passing through. There was going to be another pre-6 am start the next morning so it was an early night for most. The rest of the crew left the next morning, but AK and I decided to stay an extra day in Lilongwe to have a proper look around the biggest town in Malawi. We would catch up with them at Kande Beach along the shores of Lake Malawi in a couple of days. So once again, we waved goodbye to the truck hopefully to see them again sooner then in Cape Town!!

The only way for AK and I to get up to the Lake was to take one of the local buses. We went along to the station after looking round town only to find out that the only bus leaving for Kande Beach departed at 6am every day so of course we had missed it. So back we went to Mabuya Camp to spend the night and got up at a ridiculously early 5am the next morning to jump on the bus on time. To begin with the bus was pretty empty and we thought it would be a comfortable, quiet journey. Well we obviously forgot that we were in Africa.....and within the next half and hour probably another 200 people boarded! There were so many people being let on that about 30 of them had to stand up down the aisle for the 7 hour ride. 1 lady had brought a cooler box on board and put it by my seat, this became the perfect extra chair for a father and daugher who, let’s face it, may as well have been sitting on my lap! After much blatant staring and pointing (mainly by the kids) at the white ‘Muzungus’ behind them, we were on our way. At almost every small village or town along the way we would stop and let 1 off, and another 4 on. The bus gradually got so full that people were standing in front of other people’s seats leaning over into someone else’s chair. Luckily for us we have no major quarms about the invasion of personal space otherwise we might not have made it!! I loved the luggage that the villagers brought on with them. Most of them were hauling 50kg bags of rice or flour. And I saw at least 3 people bring on baskets with live chickens flapping around inside. The highlight of the day was when we went through a police checkpoint and every single passenger had to get off and the bus searched. AK and I were sitting right in the back row and I reckon it took us 20 minutes to even get off the bus!! Great can’t say you’ve been travelling in Africa until you’ve experienced the local transport up close and personal.

On the road to Kande Beach - stunning Lake Malawi

Kande Beach from the mountain road

The road leading down to the camp site

We got to Kande Beach in the afternoon with enough time to spare to go for a much needed dip in Lake Malawi. It’s amazing when you look at the expanse of the Lake, that it isn’t a sea. You can’t see any land even in the far distance, except for a tiny tropical desert island in front of Kande. The water is cool and clear and it’s such a satisfying feeling to swim in fresh water. I didn’t even bother to take my clothes off and just dived straight in.

All around the beach in a village of about 4500 people, and the lads in the village have definitely latched onto the tourist trade in recent years. As soon as you set foot outside the camp grounds you are surrounded by these dudes trying to sell you anything from Chibuku to Malawi chairs.

AK enjoying a box of delicious non-refridgerated Chibuku
 They are all interesting characters who have coined each other the strangest and most unlikely nicknames you can imagine. We met Cheese on Toast (who incidentally AK and I bought some Malawian souvenirs from later on that day!), Mel Gibson, Sugar and Spice and Julius Caesar. The night we arrived was the last night at Kande, and so we were went out into the village for a traditional dinner and entertainment. The food was delicious – there was cassava, sweet potato soup, spinach and bean dishes and local banana beer called Gongo for those who fancied it. After dinner loads of young children and our hosts sang and danced for us which was also amazing. The highlight (and also possibly the disturbing part...) was watching the under 9 year old boys and girls shake their asses and grind up against each other. When we were invited up to dance with them, the girls felt more then a few roaming hands from their 9 year old partners!!

Sitting waiting for dinner in our host, Banjo Patterson's yard

Jen and Jules getting down
Kerry and Ish having their turn shaking their hips
Kay giving the boys a run for their money

The boys could seriously shake their asses!

Yoichi and Pat - Yoich is liking the blatant violation a little too much?!

Ish and Sonya had decided to do their 3 day PADI Open Water dive course while they were at the lake so they were staying an extra day in Kande. So AK decided he’d like to get a dive in there too so stayed an extra day with them as we drove on to another beach this time on the North on the lake called Chitimba Beach. We had a stunning drive up the coast with the water always on our right and arrived at Chitimba mid-afternoon.

A herd of cows grazing on the beach in front of the bar at Chitimba camp site

We made our presence known straight away by firstly taking out a huge branch of a tree which we had to cut off to free the truck, and then proceeded to get stuck well and truly in the soft sand. Poor old Ruby hadn’t been stuck for such a long time she was reluctant to shift herself forward, but eventually Marjane coaxed her out and we pitched up for the night.

Jules with a tree right in there in her face
Matt with the saw freeing Ruby by cutting a big of tree down - oops!

The spades and mud mats came out for the first time in ages...

AK, Sonya and Ish arrived after we had all gone to bed. They had taken a cab through the same mountain pass we had which was really bendy and narrow, and passed through many villages on route. Sadly as they had driven past a place called Mzuzu, the driver had hit a local man that was walking in the road. The guys were pretty shaken up by it, of course just from experiencing it, but also the moral dilemma in deciding whether to get out the car and help or not. In the end, the driver didn’t let them leave the vehicle which was probably a god send as who knows what would happen to a bunch of Muzungus in the middle of the night in a random village. Although they’ll never know what happened to the man, the other villagers they saw behind them helping the guy would have been better equipped to assist then they could have been. But all in all a horrible thing for anyone to have to go through.

That was our last night in Malawi and we reached the border into Tanzania that morning.

Driving through a busy market town

Drying out thousands of tiny fish in the sun - Yoichi (being Japanese...) was the only person to try them

One of our first sightings, of many to follow on the East coast, of a fellow overland truck

Our time in Malawi was short and sweet but the lake was definitely worth a visit and I would recommend it to any other travellers.

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