mbeya, tanzania to lilongwe, malawi.
“Thanks for your help” – driver
“That’s no problem” – a puffed me
Conversation between myself and a driver after I helped to push start the car due to running out of fuel. Something that’s bound to happen in a country that’s only available fuel is currently illegally smuggled in from neighboring countries.
The final parts of Tanzania seemed to blur into our 6th country, Malawi as a good introduction. It ensured that we didn’t cross a drawn line and enter a seemingly new world. It offered continual rolling hills with all covered in green whether from the tea plantations or the vegetation that continued onto the background of mountains whilst in the distance Lake Malawi guided our direction. Kids lined the road the entire way to the border like it was an organized parade only they probably left a bit disappointed at the sight of 4 western cyclists flying past only offering simply passing hellos as we enjoyed the descents and the lake of showbags.
With a hassle free crossing in Malawi first impressions were that a ‘occupy the streets’ movement was taking place as evident by the masses of cyclists, pedestrians (in their Sunday best for church) and people simply socializing on the road. It was soon learnt as mentioned above that this was due to the petrol shortage bought on by the fact that the government doesn’t have any foreign money. For cyclists (us and the many others) it was great as the roads were ours… it makes it a bit easier to engage in conversation between ourselves when we can all ride side by side, it’s much cuter as well!
Along with the quiet roads you soon noticed the lack of older generations whilst riding along i.e. no grey haired citizens coupled with the concerning site of coffins workshops in each town. This I assuming relates to the life expectancy of less than 54 years of age. An interesting and obviously concerning site to notice.
Learning more about the current government situation from locals and newspapers it seems the country is on the verge of an uprising along held back by the obedience of the locals towards their courts. With aid recently dramatically reduced it’s turned the country into one of the poorest in the world, something you wouldn’t know by the smiling and hospitable locals. For us the difference has been prices with it being the most expensive country we have entered which I am told relates to the fuel situation. With recent protests it’s certainly a country to keep abreast of – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/21/malawi-protesters-killed-anti-regime-riots
For us the country has been really beautiful and certainly offset the scenery of others with its continual shades of green framed on either side by the lake or the long mountain ranges.
We managed to stay on the lake for two nights, our first opportunity to immerse ourselves (and clothes) in a body of water since the red sea. Despite the continual warnings of various parasites (bilharzia) I couldn’t help myself and went for a quick dip, just so I can say I have. We also managed to head up into the hills on an excursion to check out Livingstonia, a mission station that was the third base for missionaries coming into the country. Certainly a rough road up that is for 4WD’s only, so as a challenge we were driven up in a hatchback. Despite running out of fuel as previously mentioned and having my hand on the door handle just in case a quick exit was required we made it being meet with views across the lake. ‘Interesting’ learning about the missionaries and their original work to ‘pass’ their own beliefs onto the locals… enough said!
The stretch over several days to the capital was hills and more hills which normally are fairly hard but adding to this was sweating humidity at 8am, rain and cokes that weren’t that cold. Going through one down pour which was that heavy it actually hurt your face we arrived at a small village where due to our soaking states were quickly taken into a restaurants kitchen to warm up. Picture the 3 of us in a tiny town’s ‘restaurant’ wood fire kitchen whilst the lady owner walks around us to prepare our rice and beans. Certainly one of the more memorable lunches especially when she packed us some take away hot chips.
At the end of this day still soaking wet we ended up taking our chances down a 10km logging track to reach the Luagwawa forest lodge… a risk well worth taking as proved by the huge dinner, amazing views, outdoor sauna, full English breakfast and finally scotches in front of the fireplace whilst clad in dressing gowns! Yes in the middle of Malawi whilst in the grips of an economic crisis, just a tad surreal.
Several times throughout these days whilst stopping on the side of the ride for a snack or in most instances to fix Shane’s bike (named princess) its allowed moments of reflection…. whether this be the fact we have cycled over 7000km, experienced all that we have or simply the fact that your currently fortunate enough to be sitting under a beautiful tree in the middle of Africa. Certainly nice every now and then to take note of all that has been accomplished so far, knowing so much more is yet to come.
So now we are in a Lilongwe, the capital but more resembling a smaller city that offers administration reasoning rather then a central hub – think Canberra. It’s certainly nice to be in a city that you formally knew little about but once here it not only surprises you but offers a little more information i.e. they have great thickshakes, the thickshakes are really expensive etc… For now I must go not to see the museums which apparently they don’t have but to hit the greens. Shane, Gavan and I are hitting the golf course this afternoon for a leisurely round of 9 followed by some viewing of the 19th hole. Prior to this I need to find a collar, first stop the market to see what I can find that is ‘appropriate’.
Tomorrow we will be entering Zambia a country that was once called North Rhodesia, has a lot of copper and who just won unexpectedly the African football cup. It’s also where we collect our friend Shaun who is joining us for the proceeding country, Botswana. Although only having spent several times with Shaun this has led to a guarantee that it will be a joy having him along even of it’s just for his humor and the fact that he is bringing me some lollies (natural confectionary snakes.)
Thanks for people’s interest in my Africa photos along with the other images on the site.