Thursday, May 20, 2010

Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe Travels May 2010.

Malawi , Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

This a casual journal of a 16 day break that includes 3 days on the ferry Ilala sailing from Monkey Bay on Lake Milawi and 12 days travelling with my second cousin Hugo Bovill and Isabella Wemyess (their full trip blog) on their 6 month pan African journey to Cape Town. My part of the journey starts in Malawi and goes to Zimbawe via the Mozambiquean Tete corridor and back again to Malawi.
Day 1. Thursday 29th April. 2010
Lilangwe airport is probably the prettiest I have seen, interms of flower beds, lawns, tidyness and buildings of an approachable scale.
Sadly the immigration queue held less delight. And 45 mins later I was through.
My taxi driver was called Wilson. He helped me get some black market kwacha 7% better rate than a bank. Stopped for liver, trip and chips half way to Cap Maclear at a town called Salima. His father was there by chance selling his tomato crop. They live 150 km from the market so it is not a frequent visit. Wilson had not seen him this year.
Thinking I have been a bit rash bringing all cash and not travellers cheques.....
Arrived at Cape Mac Lodge
after 5 hour taxi ride with the very fast and casual Wilson. I had dropped off a couple of times on the trip only to be woken by screaching tyres as we missed goats, bikes, trucks and kids.
Enjoyed a good dinner of kk kampango, a delicious cat fish, and got very excited with the new little shortwave radio. Managed to find BBC WS and hear some election news, no more biggot gaffs sadly.

Day 2. Friday 30th April.

Overslept.... 1/2 hour to get up pack, breakfast and get the only bus of the morning to get the only ferry of the week. Ran out with 5 mins to spare to try and get a piece of toast only to be told kitchen did not open for another half hour. I had set the clocks and watches wrong (would have sworn that Malawi was on the same longatude as Kenya) and now had half hour to write up these notes. And to be chatted to by some local lads, one of who was in London and staying along Battersea Bridge Road. Was not tempted by their keyrings, hats or paintings.
21 adults and 5 kids on a mazda 4x4. I am told by my fellow passenger, a splendid lady in the front seat with her little boy, that it is the most efficient / cost effective way to travel around here. Anyway as I got more and more anxious the nearer and then after 10 am, the time of the ferry leaving, the driver refused to hurry and at quarter past when we arrived having been absolutely assure I would make the ferry he turned out to be right.
We left at 10.30...for a 3 day voyage zizagging across Lake Malawi and ending up near the top of the lake at Chitimba.
In my 'Owners Cabin' aboard Ilala, a 50+ year old ferry. This cabin enjoys such luxuries as a
bath tub, a/c, a fridge.
It feels like going back in time, the whole lake trip.
I am now on nodding terms with some of the 15ish backpackers aboard. Most are sleeping on the deck, which given the quite strong winds and choppy seas has given rise to some lake-sickness.
Had dinner with some charming kiwis. William, Caroline, Charlotte and Hannah who were on a 3-4 month travel up through Africa. Had a few beers and then an early-ish night. Very rocky night, woken halfway through the night by the tipping seas and coming into Chilinda port at 1am.

Day 3 1st May

Had breakfast with 2 Immigration officers, enjoying a very relaxed crossing to Mozambique.
Perfectly cooked boiled 4 minute egg. On deck all morning chatting to my kiwi friends and a couple of gap year fellas, Jamie and Eddie.
At 4ish we docked off shore from Likoma Island. Chris Thirsk had told me all about the wonders of the Island so was very keen to get ashore. The captain assured us that we would have time to get off and look around for an hour or so. Waiting inline with all the islanders
we (my lively ziwi pals & I) eventually managed to clamberdown in to the small supply boats along with vast bags of produce, and buckets of fish etc.
In fact there were 35 adults in a boat that states that the limit is 22, they sure work their kit fully here. Right off it has a great feel and I think we all felt it would have been a great place to have spent more time. We visited St Peters Church which is as large as Westminster Cathedral in terms of floor space, but not quite the height.
Sadly it was locked up but it is still an extraordinary achievement for the Scottish missionaries to have built in 3 years.
We wondered about the relaxed village that seemed to have fitted in with the trees rather than the other way round. Made it very natural and shaded.
Grabbed a boat back to Ilala, again huge numbers of locals boarding the ship, wild and fun and great to have been part of.
Back on board the mission was celebrated with a bottle of gin and fanta. Early and wobbly to bed.
Day 4. 2nd May

Nearly 10 hrs kip. The deck travellers had had an eventful and difficult night that included a shitting dog, a thief and rain. Felt rather spoilt in my iron box.
Had the chance to go and look round the engine room, which was interesting. It was so noisy and the temp furious, that it was difficult to have a chat with the engineer.
The coast line, which we have been running a mile off all morning just north of Nkhata, has been stunning. Quite steep hills running down to the waters edge. And every cove has a small village or hamlet that look like they have been there for all time.

Heard from Hugo and they are all set to meet the boat at Chitimba. Have done some clothes washing much to my surprise.
The Ilala docked at 8pm and after nearly 2 hours of fannying about with cab negotiations etc the five of us were whisked, Malawi style - all revs and loud speakers- to Sangillo Sanctary to find Hugo. An hour or so of tale swapping exhausted the day.

Day 5. 3rd May. 16975 miles on the clock.

Everyone slept well, my Landcruiser top tent gives loads of space and air. A final breakfast with Team Kiwi, exchanged what currency and sim cards and we were set to go. Fond and sad farewell to TK, it had been great spending the Ilala days with them, individually fun and clever, collectively fun and clever.

Hugo behind the wheel, off we powered down the road to Mzuzu for lunch, which was in a local Tandori, a Rogan Josh has a new meaning to me now and goat is really very tasty.
Queued up for some diesel, they run the car on a fill up when you can basis, which makes a lot of sense.
We camped a beautiful place called Nkhwazi Lodge, near Chintheche. Right on the lake shore. Isabella cooked a fine supper on the open fire and we were all in bed by 9.

Day 6 4th May

Bought some fish for breakfast which were cooked on the rekindled fire.
Hugo is quite a fire mechanic and gets anything going very quickly. A useful skill for the trip.

A long drive via. Nkhotakota and an a beautiful dirty road through Ntchisi.
We camped high up in the Ntchisi forest away from anyone in a spot that had the most beautiful view south over towards Lilongwe. Another early night, fell asleep listening to the radio. I am loosing my skill at finding the BBC world service.

Day 7 5th May

All up at 6am and after a quick bite, broke camp and were on the road by 8. We hit the M1 and drove hard for Blantyre, where we need to get visas for crossing Mozambique into Zim. Just missed the Consulate, but were able to change money (black market) at the improved rate of 170 kwatcha to dollar. I then heard I can get 185, oh well.
We are staying with a supplier of Hugo's about 40 mins away at Namadze on the Zomba road. Beautiful farm and entertained royaly by Chris Yiannakis. He is 3rd generation Greek and have farmed here since 1946. Tobacco, coffee, teetree, geraniums.
He sat us down to a delicious roast chicken which we near finished. His cousin Basil and wife Amy came round and we heard how life is here and how they are not encouraging their kids to take on the farm, very sad but a fact as they see it.

Day 8 May 6th

Election Day in UK. Chris has salilte tv so we should be able to see the news pretty well.
Some trouble with the landcruiser so we are lunching in Balantyre at the much recommend Hostaria Restaurant. We went to see the National Museum in Blantyre, which if you enjoy steam machines could be interesting, but does not hold a great deal of delights.
Back to the farm and dinner with Chris's cousins' Amy and Basil, delicous and so welcoming. These ex-pat Greeks have been truely warm and hospitable, sharing many thoughts and experiences in open and enthusiastic way.
Watched the election till about 2 am and got the impression that the Tories were doing Ok.

Day 9 May 7th

Up early and see that the Tories have done well but not enough to have a clear majority. Oliver Colvile has got elected, which is great.

We visited Chinawalle village near Zoma to see some houses that a pal of Isabella had helped build 20 years ago.

Heading for Zimbabwe via the Mozambique Tete corridor.
This is a wreck at the border. I don't know anymore about it, but it was a rather dramatic sight in a dramatic place.
Arrived at Tete for a late lunch of delicious fried chicken and chips. The bridge spans the Zambezi, it only carries one lorry at a time, whist it is strengthened. There are queues of lorries on either side for 5km. We camped on the east side of the bridge in a better than expected site where they agreed to wash all our clothes for $5, which we thought a bargain.
We met an interesting fellow called Salim, an Ismali Kenyan/Canadian who had been living in his tent for 2 months because his life had been threatened by some local semi precious stone dealers that he had some dealings with. He kindly changed some money and gave us some low down on the local expansion of the city and the explosion of Western and Chinese companies pouring into country for the minerals, including the 500 years supply of coal.

Day 10 May 8th

Early start (with damp laundry) to be sure that we are not too slow getting across the bridge, which we did a bit after 8.
The road to the Zimbabwe border at Nyamapanda is almost deserted and we make fantastic time hitting the border at 10am. Through in 40 mins, which we thought amazing.
Very quick run through to Harare for lunch. Have been greatly taken with the seeming well being of the economy, the happiness and health of the people. It is just the same as when I was last here 15 years ago. The difference now is that many of the cars are brand new, the advertising is for mobiles, broadband, shops etc. Very different from the reports we get in the UK. Everything is in US dollars as of the last year, which may be why?

We went on to stay with Stuart and Jules Tippett on their farm Glenisla near Marondera, 80k south east of Harare. They are essential oil producers for Treatt Plc. A very warm welcome and fascinating to spend time with one of the 12 of 300 local farmers who are still on their land. They gave away 2/3rds of their land to the Vets and have been left alone so far. That said they live in a state of acceptance that the rest could go any minute and it makes new investment a difficult call. It is interesting that it was generally accepted that the distribution of the land was previously wrong, but there are a lot of people out of a living and desperate as a result of the occupations.
We were treated to a very fine dinner that started with delicious wilderbeast biltong, followed by sushi, mixed grills and garden grown kiwi fruit. Delicious and fun. We were joined by neighbouring farmers called Philip and Margo and Stuart's mother Sue and her husband John, who we stayed the night with them in their lovely home in a beautiful spot in front of a lake.

Day 11, 9th May.

Had a morning tour of the farm before breakfast. Hugo and Stu did some welding on the spare wheel holding and then we set off with Stu, Jules, Jack and baby Camilla to see some local cave/rock paintings. Amazingly large elephant scenes and white painted rhinos, which is rare.
Then onto Tsindy ruins, another 'must see' local monument to the Tippett's farm. It is a hill top out crop of rock several hundred feet up with great views all around and very sophisticated bur now delapidated brick work from an estimated 2000 years ago.
We left an hour later than intended and soon realising we were not going to make the Great Zimbabwe campsite so found Denise's lodge and kitchens, which was ok for a bed and a steak. We were all on bed and asleep by 8 and all slept for the best part of 11 hours.

Day 12, 10th May.

Arrived at the Great Zimbabwe at 10ish, recruited a guide called Champion who for the next 3 hours walked and talked us around what we all thought on of the most special sites. We had the whole place to ourselves and it was as if we were Royalty. I can say nothing that a guide book can't say better, so all I would say is the if the opportunity in life ever comes along you will love it for the incredable history, extraordinary human achievement in terms of construction finess and sheer scale and not least the beauty of the place and it's surround. It is worthy of it's World Heritage status and some.
After an 'ok' lunch at the hotel there we rejoined Champion who took us to the local Meira dancers and musicians. They were great and worthy of WOMAD.

We camped at the local site which was of a high standard, with hot water showers.

Day 13, 11th May.

Rather pleased with myself and managed to take my roof tent down alone. We were joined for breakfast by a troupe of vervet monkeys, who particularly enjoyed Hugo's bananas.
We set off with plans to reach Tete via Mutare this evening.... A v long drive. The road was stunning as we went via Siya Dam and the Birchenough Bridge to Mutare, across the border back into Mozambique.
A great road but we did end up breaking one of the rules of the trip, which is not to drive after sun set. By slowing right down and keeping behind a huge lorry that cleared the way we got in to Tete at 6.30pm. Isabella had been behind the wheel for a legendary 11 hours. We stayed at the Tete Motel and dined at Hotel Zambezi in a rather ordinary way.

Day 14. 12th May.

Early start across the Zambezi suspension bridge at Tete. At the border crossings back into Milawi we whistled though in half an hour. Achieved an exchange rate of 250 kwatcha to the US Dollar which is a huge amount more than the official 150. Hugo then topped it with 280.... He was very pleased with him self. Sadly I then realized I had been done by a factor of 50% and over $50 out of pocket. Aaaargh.
Arrived for our planned 2 day static camp back on the Lake at Semba Bay and just next door to the 5**** Livingstonia Hotel, which is where we had a good lunch.
A lazyish afternoon, but did manage to buy 3 fish for dinner (kepanga I think) and some charcoal. Very delicious.

Day 15. 13th May.
Eaten alive overnight and have a swollen eye worthy of a boxer. That will teach me not to sleep under a proper net. So this morning I have set up mozy net properly.
Left at 11 to visit the Mua Mission, which is a Catholic mission about an hour away that educates and trains locals. There is a first class exhibition on the Chewa and Ngoni tribe. Their customs and beliefs, one could have spent hours studying it. They are doing great things there, although there is the muddling contradiction with Catholism, condoms and HIV that is not challenged.
On the way back we stopped in on the Tropical Fish Farm, thousands of tanks, holding thousands of fish all scooped up from the lake, to be sold into the fish tanks around the world.

We had a fine supper of barbiqued sausages, green beans and smash.

Day 16. 14th May.

Lazy day of reading, massages, swimming and long lunches. The campsite is alive with overland trucks and weekenders from Lilongwe. The music loud and fun. There has been a strong on shore wind all day, so not as idilic as could be. I am having a dinner party tonight and have invited Isabella and Hugo to join me at the Livinstonian Hotel. Well it was probably blowing force 6 on the terrace, the 3 bottles of wine we tried were all off, and the menu was the same as at lunch so it did not have all the ingredients to start with, that said the company was great and was a fine way to end my 2 weeks aboard the epic.
Day 17. 15th May.

Broke camp early and left site at 8 to catch the flight. We are quite a team when it comes to packing up and it takes half the time of the first morning. I will miss my roof top tent, it is comfy, airy and feels secure. That said we heard of one group traveling the whole way down Africa that had 4 in the roof top tent, including one mating couple, as Hugo put it. That would have been another story.

The clock was on 16975 miles and was at 19420 when I jumped out at the airport, making my part of the journey 2,445 happy, interesting, comfortable and above all fun miles. So far Hugo and Isabella have done about 16000 miles with at least 5-6 more to do.