‘The Warm Heart of Africa”
(Friday 19th October, 2018)
There’s a 1 hour time difference between Tanzania and Malawi so when we woke up at 5:30 there was already daylight and we woke up to the Lake Malawi beach view, which was nice. As we drove off, we learned that they grow a lot of cassava in Malawi, seeing the little patches of farms on the side of the road; we also drove up a mountain to a very scenic drive and view over the valley and the lake.
The fishermen villages we saw on the coast looked very shabby and we were told it’s because they are just temporary, seasonal villages. The fishermen live there some months and then go back to their families who live elsewhere, probably to do farming for the rest of the season.
Our next stop after a pretty drive through a mountainous area was the town of Mzuzu. Mzuzu is one of the largest cities in Malawi and they even have a Shoprite supermarket there! We had a stop here to restock on drinks etc., and I bought a baobab juice. It was very sweet and sour and iron-y at the same time, and it wasn’t very good. I couldn’t finish it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, but I had to give it a try.
After another little while we made a short stop at a souvenir market by the road. They were mainly doing wood and stone carvings, a lot of them figures of The Big Five. As it turns out, a lot of these types of souvenirs that can be bought throughout Africa are made in Malawi and Zimbabwe (probably they have the best sort of wood for it?) and they export their goods elsewhere, like South Africa, where they are sold more expensively. They were carving their figures and bowls and everything else while we were there, so it was very nice to see. There were lots of beautiful things on offer.
Malawi is called “The Warm Heart of Africa”, and it is very hot and humid here; but also the locals are known to be very open and welcoming, and they did bid us welcome whenever we went with big smiles on their faces. Everyone was waving, yelling greeatings and overall being very excited to see the truck and there were especially a lot of children. We’re told that they are some of the most open people that we will meet on our little adventure through East and Southern Africa.
Next up was our lunch stop, which we made by a rubber plantation. I was one of the people ‘hired’ to help our cook prepare lunch today, chopping up veggies for the food. After eating our lunch, Godfree took us up to a rubber tree and showed us how they harvest the rubber and how they ‘bleed’ into the collection baskets that are fastened on the tree trunks. There were some boys trying to sell us balls made from the rubber. No one bought anything and they seemed a little sad about it, which made me feel a little bad because they are so poor and have to do anything to earn some money.
Driving on along the lake and rivers, I observed that people here tend to bathe completely naked. Elsewhere, and especially on Zanzibar, had been wearing clothes when swimming on the beach/in the rivers. Maybe it’s a cultural or religious thing but it was a fun difference to notice.
We arrived at our camp site at about 16:45. It was a very nice, well-kept camp site with a nice garden, a small pool and direct access down to the beach on the shore of Lake Malawi. In fact, we pitched our tents right on the border between grass and the beach sand. While it was nice, it definitely also didn’t look like pictures of Lake Malawi as seen on google. The water is muddy as opposed to clear, is sort of brown in colour as opposed to blue/green and it just doesn’t look like a nice place to swim. Had a dip of my foot in the water, but there were rocks and sea weed. The lake is so big, though, that you can’t see an end to it and it resembles an ocean with waves crashing in much more than it does a lake.
There were activities available for the coming days, although they were so expensive that upon discussing it after dinner in the bar, it seemed most people would not be doing anything. Snorkelling was something I had wanted to do in the lake, but the price they went with from this location was 80 USD per person for half a day. Horseback riding was available but was priced at 200 USD for 1 hour, which is very expensive even for Danish standards. It seems we’ll have 3 nights, 2 days here where we won’t be doing anything special.
I was looking forward to Malawi and seeing the lake but as of right now I’m a bit disappointed that this is the place that the tour company chose to have us camp for 3 nights, as I am sure after some research that there are places that are a bit more attractive and reasonably priced. I guess I’ll see in the next few days how I feel about it. I’m sure the country is wonderful and the local people, too. I’m just not good at doing ‘nothing’ while I’m away on holiday.
The People of Ngala
(Saturday 20th October, 2018)
Before noon today we had a walk in the local village of Ngala on the schedule. Our local guide showed up at the lodge and picked us up. He lives in the village himself and therefore is perfect for showing us around.
At first we walked up to where the local market is taking place. Basically, it is an installation of some wooden tables under an intermittent roof made up of a mix of straw and plastic bags. There were a lot of empty tables at the market today, although there were some women selling tomatoes and dried fish which seem similar to sardines.
As we were walking around we attracted the attention of the children in the village, who tended to come running at us full speed to then grab onto our hands and walk with us. Those who knew English would try some light conversation. Some of them were almost begging to have their picture taken (to which of course the group obliged). The guide had told us before the walk that he’d give us his e-mail address so that we could send him any pictures we took of the people in the village so he could print them and hand them out to the right people. Therefore, most of the villagers were happy to be in our photographic shots.
Next stop was at the local school, situated a bit further from the shore. Close to the school they had also placed the village water pump which had been installed there by volunteers. A lot of children were hanging around the area even though there is no school on Saturdays. Every place we walked by, a new group of children would show up and ask for our attention and grab our hands, and near the school we really got flocked. We were definitely the ones on display, feeling rather like the observed than the observers – which is a lovely thing! Although observed and observers sounds too passive, because we were all up close and personal with those kids and we were welcomed without any hesitation.
The school consisted of a few different, separate buildings with very basic classrooms and a headmaster’s house + a room functioning as the headmaster’s office. The headmaster talked to us about the school while we were sitting on hard wooden benches in one of the small, hot class rooms. The village is home to about 5000 people and the school has around 500 students. Out of those, a staggering 300-something are in the same class – and they only have 1 teacher for this class! In total, the school has 6 teachers, including the headmaster. While it is not compulsory for children to go to school in Malawi, most parents want their child to be able to read and write and thus send them to school.
After 8th grade there’s an examination and if the student does well there, they may be selected for secondary school. However, only primary school is free so parents would have to pay for the 4 years of secondary school, which is not always an option for them. If after those 4 years you do well at the next examination, you may get selected to go to college or university.
While the school had previously lacked space for all their students (teaching some of them outside in the shade of a huge mango tree), they now had enough buildings but were lacking writing materials. At the end of the tour of the school we got taken to the headmaster’s office where he explained a bit about the subjects they taught before he put a collection jar on the table.
After the school we went to the local hospital. This was a very small place, basically consisting of one building for everything, and then one other building which was intended for pregnant women. They could only do very basic things at this hospital, like minor surgeries, helping women give birth as long as there were no complications, vaccinations and treatment for malaria and HIV. Anything more serious and the patient would have to be sent to the ‘mother’ hospital 90 kilometres away. However, there was only one ambulance to serve all the local hospitals in the area so it was really unreliable. Unfortunately, they had lost a fair number of women to child birth because of this. The things we take for granted.. We were told that they bring between 2 and 4 children into the world every day here, which seems crazy for a population of 5000. That’s the case in Malawi, though, most people get a lot of children.
The hospital is free and government owned, but the building was filled to the brim with patients waiting to be looked after and they only had 2 doctors and 2 nurses. It was a little shocking to see with your own eyes.
The last official stop on this tour was by the shore of the lake, at the small fisherman’s village. Here we saw close up how they dry the fish they catch on the lake, using mosquito nets to dry them on. A lot of people have malaria in Malawi and that is partly because they find alternative uses to the free mosquito nets given to them by the government, case in point with the fish drying on the nets.
Fishing is very important to a lot of Malawi people, and during the off-season for fishing (rainy season) the fisherman go home to their family to farm (f.ex. maize, which grows nicely during the rainy season). Our local guide said that most fishermen work at night, then when they go back to shore they go to the local bar for drinks, catch a few hours of sleep in the afternoon before going back out on the lake. It seems a tough life.
Electricity comes and goes sporadically in Malawi. Apparently, there’s only one source of power, a hydroelectric power plant located where Lake Malawi runs into a river, which has to supply electricity to the whole country. Therefore, they have a rotation where any region has 6 hours of power at a time, with changing times from day to day. It’s a very different life from what we’re used to. The lodge does have their own generator which they turn on for a few hours if power is out during the evening, but otherwise you’re just out of luck.
Malawi is one of the poorer countries because during slavery a huge amount of the country’s labour force was taken away to be sold (same with Zambia). This laid the foundation for a country that needed workers but didn’t have enough, while simultaneously also not having the fortune of having any minerals or precious materials as many other African countries. This is also a contributing factor to the country being poorer than neighbouring countries.
Hastings Banda was one of the country’s leaders in 1964 and up to 1994, and while he banned family planning methods which might have contributed to the high birth rate in the country, he also encouraged more farming such as tobacco and cotton, which really helped the country economically, seeing that most regions in the country did not use to farm. Now, Malawi even produces enough produce to export to neighbouring countries when these have had a bad farming season.
The rest of the day and night was free time where we relaxed by the pool and by the shore of the lake. In the evening we were sitting in the bar, having a drink, when the cat suddenly pawed at something by the couch. Then one of the girls from our group jumped up and out and we saw that the cat had been playing with a little black and yellow snake (a sand snake, not dangerous). That ended the night for us as it slithered back behind the couches and disappeared.
A Windy Day by the Lake
(Sunday 21st October, 2018)
We had a little bit of rain during the night, and we had the rain cover on and the window/door flaps closed. It felt a little claustrophobic in the heat but it was necessary to avoid wet things inside the tent. We woke up sort of early to quite a lot of wind. The lake was foaming, frothing and looking angry, trees were dropping their leaves and even branches like no one’s business, and our tents were bending severely inwards. Some of us were pretty concerned that our tents would simply blow away.
No one had booked any activities and the weather was pretty bad. The Japanese man had wanted to go fishing on the lake but it was cancelled because it would be too dangerous due to the weather conditions. It was cloudy and so windy that the sand was flying all over the place, couldn’t enjoy the beach or even really sit outside pleasantly. Our guide’s tent even fell over from the wind and we had to go and rescue it and secure it. If you hadn’t closed the flaps on your tent, you were going to find your belongings covered in sand.
We also had no electricity during the day today so most of us sat around indoors by the bar/couch area, reading books or looking through photos or having a nap. After lunch, rain clouds were pulling up on the horizon, making the day look even more drab. It was a short rain but it was there, and after it was gone we had some electricity back here and there, spottily. It started raining again later, though, and we also heard the rumbling of thunder in the distance. A free day on the beach and the weather is like this; lovely, isn’t it?
I had thought the country was very pretty when driving through it. The lake is quite impressive, although not as expected. It is one of Africa’s 3 great lakes and is home to more than 1000 species of fish, also being the only place in the world where you can find a lot of the fresh water cichlids. The part of the lake we were by wasn’t all that great, though, and even though you could swim in the water, there are crocodiles and hippos out there sometimes. The owners of the lodge told us that as little as 1-2 weeks ago they had observed a mother and calf hippo walking along the shore. There aren’t many activities on offer in this area and as I mentioned, they are extremely expensive even for Westerners. The lodge is pretty, the surroundings too, and the local people are all smiles and friendly, but I didn’t enjoy having this much free time in this place and this day was pretty boring, honestly.
I think the country seems great and inviting and I would maybe come back and visit the more southern parts of Malawi and the lake, but I think things could have been organised better on this tour so that we didn’t see two places in the country which are quite so similar. Not that it has been bad being here, at all, I’m just not a ‘sitting still’ and ‘relaxing by the pool’ sort of person.
From Lake Malawi to Luangwa River
(Monday 22nd October, 2018)
Today was the day that we left Malawi behind and instead got greeted by Zambia. We got up early to enjoy the last sunrise at Lake Malawi (more like, in order to get to the next camp in time but hey – this sounds more poetic!), at 4:30. It had gotten really windy again during the night and the sunrise was not really anything special because it was also very cloudy. At about 5:30 we left the lodge to drive on.
We drove through Nkhotakota town on our way, a town which used to be a central spot for slave traders. Slaves collected from the country and surrounding countries were gathered here before they were forced to walk all the way to Tanzania. Most slave traders in this part were Arabs, and therefore most people in this town are Muslims to this day.
Some other things that I noticed: In Tanzania, the villages are often right on the road side, stretching along it in a single line. The houses also seem more often to be made out of clay. In Malawi, the villages will have some houses along the road, but the villages reach in and away from the road more so, and a good deal of houses are made of brick put together with some mud-mix and completed with either a straw or tin roof, depending on the amount of money the owner has available. We also started to see some of the houses having decorative plants in the front areas, and that they are able to find time and energy to keep nice, decorative plants is sort of impressive with the amount of hard labour most people have to do here.
As I was seeing the country pass by I started to feel a surge of affection for it and I realised I really do like it here quite a lot from what I have observed.
We made it to the small border post and ‘checked out’ of Malawi easily enough. We had to fill in, in hand writing, details about our yellowfever certificate before getting our VISAs for Zambia. It was a little bit slow though not as slow as getting into Malawi to begin with had been. While waiting, it was quite cool as it had been all day and would remain so at our destination; chilly and cloudy.
Entering Zambia, Evans told us that the living standard here is higher than in Malawi and that there are a lot less people living in this country. You could see the difference only a few kilometres from the border, as the houses looked a lot nicer, bigger and with enclosed gardens. It was pretty weird to observe the difference.
Our first stop in this country was at a shopping area in Chipata to refuel and get some snacks and water for the next few days. Chipata has an estimated 1.5 million citizens (mostly living on the outskirts) and is sort of the capitol of the Eastern part of Zambia. They grow a lot of tobacco and cotton here, though it is not yet season for tobacco and you’d see the empty half-shelters above the farms. The city looked very neat, even had paved and marked footpaths and bicycle paths on the roadside. Haven’t seen something so advanced in a while. Less women wearing sarongs here, though, rather they wore more Western European clothes. Driving through Zambia there was also a whole lot more personal vehicles and a good amount of large shops.
Evans told us that in Zambia most people are farmers although the country also has mineral deposits, namely copper. The government privatized the industry, however, so the country does not optimally benefit from the minerals being mined. Thabani-talk later informed that Zambia has significant debt to China and that as a result, some people joke that the country is the first Chinese colony.
We arrived at the The Wildlife Camp at the edge of South Luangwa National Park before sunset as promised. It was, however, also very cloudy here, so though the beauty of the place made it nice, it wasn’t super spectacular. The camp is located on the river bank which marks the border of the national park. However, because the amount of water is currently so shallow, many animals come to this side – and of course they don’t care about borders anyway. There is, therefore, wildlife at the campsite and you have to take precautions: don’t keep food in the tent, always leave the tent closed at all times because monkeys and baboons are cheeky, and if you have to pee at night, sweep the area with your torch; if eyes shine back at you, stay put until they are gone.
When we first drove into the camp site, we saw baboons just chilling everywhere. I also did see/hear (from the yelling of a man) a baboon steal something from out of a truck and then climb into a tall tree with it. The man tried to hit the baboon with a slingshot but to no avail. On the river bank, ducks, warthogs and some impalas were going about their business. A hippo emerged from the water. It was all pretty beautiful, right on the edge of wilderness.
When we were sitting in the bar and enjoying the view, we suddenly noticed that the rock on the shore moved and was, in fact, a hippo. It was just grazing peacefully, gradually coming closer and closer. I think it walked within 10 metres of us! It was amazing. Then it walked up the bank and into the camp, where next to the tents you could really see how big it is. It then disappeared into the darkening dusk but I’ve since heard the grunting noises around.
The top image shows a local house in Ngala, Malawi and children running towards us.
Last updated 3rd January, 2019.