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Afficher l'image d'origine

Afficher l'image d'origine

MALAWI

What We Know:
LAKE NYASA. (LAKE MALAWI) POOR. AIDS.

Sixty clicks from the border we arrive in Blantyre. Named after a village in Scotland where Dr David Livingstone was born. To us it does not matter if it had been named after Joe Soap. After a long boring day of dust; heat, mixed with the anxieties of the ‘Gun Run’ our only interest is in getting our heads down. According to Fanny the bible says that every hotel in the place is a rip off. “Guess what?” Horror of horrors the very book itself was once banned for making nit-picking remarks by Malawi dictator Bandaw. He taking umbrage with its printed words

After nine hours driving it is this far and no further for us. We book into the nearest hotel. It turns out to be one of those hotels where one feels safer sleeping in ones own sleeping bag than between the sheets. A Dump, Don’t let the fleas bite’ joint. Every time I venture out of our room I get propositioned by one of the many lurking house guests.

Taking into account a three session visit to the bank to get some Kwacha we eventually leave Blantyre with a great deal of relief.   (Top TIP: If you can avoid Banks do so. Asian owned shops are a good bet for a better deal. ) Knowing sweet Fanny Adams about Malawi we set off in the direction of Africa’s third largest lake. All we have to do is to find the right road out-of-town. According to the Bible everyone heads for the lake. Cape McLear eighteen kilometres north of Monkey Bay is the recommended spot for some R and R.Afficher l'image d'origine

Passing shed after roadside shed selling beautiful carved chairs which thanks to be god are all too big to post or carry we make that fatal African error. Stop for directions. It’s a known fact in Africa if you point in a direction everyone will agree that you are pointing in the right direction.

You won’t be surprised when I say that vast parts of Africa have escaped the pollution of traffic and the need for sign posts. (Top TIP: GPS takes the fun out of it. Bring a compass.)

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the continent. Around 835 kilometres long it is only 80 to 160 kilometres wide with over a quarter of its land mass under water thanks to Lake Malawi 500 kilometres long and up to 48 kilometres wide the lake marks most of Malawi eastern border with Tanzanian and Mozambique. We never the less end up going up-country on the wrong road.

Malawi Lake is also the point where the Great Rift Valley (formed 200 million years ago the rift is 4830 kilometres long) splits in two.   Depending on which way you look at the Rift it starts at Beira on the Mozambique Indian Ocean coast and ends all the way up in the Danakil Depression north of Ethiopia.   Danakil or dalanki?

The Eastern part of the Rift makes its way through Tanzania to Lake Turkana in Kenya.   While the Western Rift passes under Lake Tanganyika (Congo- Tanzania – Buruni- Zambia) Lake Kivu (Congo- Rwanda) Lake Edward (Congo-Uganda) Lake Albert (Congo-Uganda)

Anyway, after a whole day’s driving with no sign of a lake it is kind of hard to explain how we managed to miss it. But miss it we do.  Instead of heading north up the middle of the country we somehow veer to the west ending up outside Dedza. The lake is hidden some sixty kilometres to our right over a very rough and difficult track.Afficher l'image d'origine

Wild Pitch No 95 attracts as usual out of nowhere a bunch of kids all with wood carving skills.   Before our very eyes one of them sculpted a model of Williwaw with every addition I made to her is included in detail.

The next day with firm directions as to how to get to the lake and an assurance that “With a strong vehicle like yours, there is no problem,” we end up buying the model. The allure of a swim has us on the road early. We’ve not gone far when we meet another carved land rover. This one being held up by a small youth. Not quite as good as last nights model but on the narrow track there is no getting past. A brisk trade session secures our second model.   We continue on up the mountain track to be eventually rewarded with our first spectacular view of the shimmering water of Lake Malawi.

For the next half hour we gingerly crawl down our eroded track, every bend has a traffic jam of Land Rover models. Word of our presence must have got out last night resulting in half the mountainside staying up all night to assembly them. The disappointment of no sale on some of the faces as we pass by is hard to bear.

One hour later we down at Lakeside level and are soon turning off for Cape McLear. Right on the turn we find a small shop, some last-minute supplies. In the time it takes us to do our shopping two back packers have materialised on the other side of the road. “Any chance of a lift? “   We indicate the roof. “Great.” Out pop two more from the nearest tin hut.   For the next two hours we lumber in and out of potholes across a small river following a track that sometimes disappears completely.

Eventually upon spotting a hut with a beer sign we get to meet our roof passengers: Two English chicks with land Rover features. Two Aussies obviously attracted by the girl’s large shock absorbers, rather than any other finer features. They all down their beers in the firm belief that backpackers are not required to pick up the tab.

By my reckoning the ride rather than having to hump over sized life support units and backpacks in the blazing sun for sixty kilometres to Cape McLear is worth the cost of a dozen beers.

We arrive too late to set up camp so we decide to rest up for the night in one of the many rondavels in Matabwo’s place – a rip off but clean. Next morning we pitch near beach. Pitch No 96. It is rather strange to be on a beach after months in the bush. Luckily it’s not high traveller season. Cape McLear is a magnet to backpackers. We soon discover that we have the place almost to ourselves.   There is not much to explore other than the rows and rows of fish drying benches that stretch along the beach shore. It does not stop us from lapping up the tranquillity of the place.

Fanny takes the opportunity to bring Florence up to speed on some missed schooling.   A few extra classes on painting are thrown in by one of our only other visitors. Long evening lakeshore walks punctuated by the arrival of a pirogue back from fishing or a few woman busy with laundry gives the camera some classical African challenges for the photo album.

As you can imagine the lake has a hefty impact on where one goes in Malawi.

David Livingstone who spent fifteen years in Africa rediscovered Lake Malawi in 1858. Thereafter he went from one lake to the next. It was on his second outing in Africa that he came up the Shire River from Mozambique into the Lake Malawi. Lake Nyasa as it was called then. On he went to Lake Mwerv in the Congo and Lake Bangweulu in the Zambia.

Not satisfied with those he then had a look at Lake Tanganyika. Richard Burton the explorer with an ideal young army guy named John Speke whom Burton took along for the trip had seen it first in 1858.   Livingston then disappeared until an American newspaper flushed him out in 1871.   At Ujiji on the Tanganyika lakeshore Henry Morton Stanley re discovered Livingstone. Both of them teamed up and popped over to Lake Victoria. Once again John Hanning Speke piped them to the post. He had left Richard suffering from maladies at Lake Tanganyika. He wandered over to the second largest lake in the world, where he rightly guessed that it was the source of the White Nile. For the next six years until he shot himself in 1864, Burton and Speke brawled openly over whether he was right or not.

Sir Samuel White Baker had sighted Lake Albert in 1864; he bumped into Speke and Grant while going up the Nile from Cairo looking for its source. They told him of a Lake named Luta Ngize, which the Nile crossed. On he went for another three years until he arrived at Lake Luta Ngize which he renamed Lake Albert.

Our man Livingstone was still wandering around discovering Lake Chilwa in 1861, Lake Mweru in 1869 and Lake Bangweulu 1869.   He ended up in Chitambo in Zambia where he snuffed it in 1873 from hemorrhoids infections.   As to how he ended up there is somewhat of a mystery.  His body was carried back to Zanzibar to be finally transported and buried in Westminster Abbey – London.

You would think that all the lakes had been discovered, but Lake Rukwa was discovered by Joseph Thomson another Scot in 1879 and Lake Edward formerly known as Lake Edward Nyanda by Sir Henry Morton Stanley in 1889.

Lake George or Lake Dweru and lake Kyoga on and on it goes – it is therefore beyond doubt that in this part of the world one cannot help but to end up in a lake.

A late evening downpour gets sand in every place you can think of. It kick starts our departure. We retrace our steps back to the main drag. Heading north on an excellent smooth road we follow the lakeshore up to Sanga Bay.   Pitch No 97 is in the grounds or if you like on the beach section allocated by a Dutch run hotel. After a windy night in the grounds we pack up and move on.   Sanga has little to offer in the way of any interest.

Along came our trusty newspaper reporter Henry Morton Stanley in 1875. He circumnavigated Lake Victoria confirming that Speke had guessed correctly.

Sir Samuel White Baker had sighted Lake Albert in 1864; he bumped into Speke and Grant while going up the Nile from Cairo looking for its source. They told him of a Lake named Luta Ngize, which the Nile crossed. On he went for another three years until he arrived at Lake Luta Ngize which he renamed Lake Albert.

Our man Livingstone was still wandering around discovering Lake Chilwa in 1861, Lake Mweru in 1869 and Lake Bangweulu 1869.   He ended up in Chitambo in Zambia where he snuffed it in 1873 from hemorrhoids infections.   As to how he ended up there is somewhat of a mystery.   His body was carried back to Zanzibar to be finally transported and buried in Westminster Abbey – London.

You would think that all the lakes had been discovered, but Lake Rukwa was discovered by Joseph Thomson another Scot in 1879 and Lake Edward formerly known as Lake Edward Nyanda by Sir Henry Morton Stanley in 1889.

Lake George or Lake Dweru and lake Kyoga on and on it goes – it is therefore beyond doubt that in this part of the world one cannot help but to end up in a lake.

A late evening downpour gets sand in every place you can think of. It kick starts our departure. We retrace our steps back to the main drag. Heading north on an excellent smooth road we follow the lakeshore up to Sanga Bay.   Pitch No 97 is in the grounds or if you like on the beach section allocated by a Dutch run hotel. After a windy night in the grounds we pack up and move on.   Sanga has little to offer in the way of any interest.

Our day passes over too many streams and rivers to mention. Transport us half way up the lake to Nkhala Bay. It is beyond belief that this country once suffered an appalling drought causing thousands of deaths.Afficher l'image d'origine

We stay in a backpacker’s hostel or in one of their chattel houses, classified as luxury.   Fanny orders some food, which takes forever to arrive. Waiting over a beer we hear two familiar voices. We’ve seen it all. The Germans from Mana Pools are engrossed in conversation “Did you see?” “Did you see?” We saw Mobi Dick and the loch Ness Monster. They did not see us. That’s what we call luxury.

Morning glistens on the lake. We hear of a little beach over the back of the bay. The hostel owner advises against walking over to it. “You could be mugged.” The thought of being mugged by our ‘Jah’ friends is more terrifying. We set forth armed with a picnic. The track is narrow and steep but well trodden. Dense vegetation on both sides makes each encounter with approaching traffic a startling experience. Ladies on their way to market descend sure-footed balancing their produce on rolled up scarves on their heads. They are all dressed in splashes of vivid colours that would give a painter’s pallet a full work out.

We pass through one village after another > our arrival in each announced by the ever-present dogs. After two hours we emerge onto a beach of some considerable Robinson Crusoe beauty.   A small stream struggling to reach the lake waters cuts the beach in half. Another stream cuts a deep pool against the one of rocky headlands that forms the little sheltered bay. The sand is soft, golden and footprint free – deserted.

A wonderful day is spent snorkelling. Florence is becoming more and more confident with every kick of the flipper.   A small boat arrives at noon to sell what it has caught. I do a deal with the boat owner to call back later and save us the long hike home.   Florence is joined by a group of village kids. They spend their time playing a game that involves planting a stick in the sand. Then in turn each child scoops some sand away from the stick.   The one to make it fall suffers a splashing, accompanied by yelping that could be heard on the other side of the lake.   As promised the boat returns we arrive back not mugged not robbed but embraced by a day of African gentleness.

Next morning the skies open, turning the track back from the hostel to the main road into a treacherous torrent. We wait until after lunch but there is no let up. It’s not all that far to the main road. We set off before it gets to the point of being trapped for the night.   Williwaw slips and slides her ways down the track inch-by-inch with mud up to her axles.   Arriving at a small wooden bridge, brown gun grey water hides the bridge from view. The girls bail out and wade across, whilst I take a long look. The bridge is narrow and not in great repair. It’s risky. Although the water is only a half wheel deep it is the unknown state of the bridge that worries me. On the other hand the water is visibly rising. Wait any longer and there will be no hope of crossing. With a steady hand on the helm I commit Williwaw slowly. Steady as she goes. She crosses with little bother with me feeling a little nerve racked.

After the negotiated bridge we stop at Salima for a spot of bargain hunting.   The morning downpour has added a keenness on the part of the stall owners to make a sale. Fanny wrangles a deal on a small wooden table that has one of the most enchanting smiles one would see carved into the wood.

Livingstonia is a mere four hundred kilometres up the lake. Set high on an escarpment it commands fantastic views over the lake. The Free Church of Scotland founded here it in 1894. Somehow or other we miss the turn off and end up in the mountains of the Nyika National park. Pitch No 97 is down a track in amongst eucalyptus trees. It’s cold and damp and as is the case more often than not, when you camp in the wild you have company. This time it is a forester’s family. They watch from a distance afraid to approach.   We pay a morning visit to our neighbours. They are obviously very poor. A pair of shoes for the young one brings a moment of unadulterated gratitude. We break camp and back track in the direction of Mzuzu. Descending we pass many men making their way up with long saws over their shoulders. The plank makers cut felled trees by hand and then sawing them into planks, back-breaking work for a pittance.

This time we take the correct turn and start our ascendance up into the clouds. The track has a right angle bend every few hundred meters. The pedestrian backpackers path takes the short cut straight up from one bend to the next. To hoofing a rucksack up we reckon would take most of a day. With Williwaw it takes us all of two hours to reach the top. Pitch No 98 is on the lawn right in front of the youth hostel called the Stone House. Our tent door opens out on to panoramic views across the lake to Mozambique on the far shore with the border running down the middle of the lake with the odd disputed Island.Afficher l'image d'origineAfficher l'image d'origine

We have just settled in when out of the grasses exterior the German binoculars materialize.  They are in such a sweat that their sunglasses are fogged up. They don’t recognise us. Looking totally wrecked they enquire, “Have you seen the Stone House?” We point in the direction of the other youth hostel.   Happily on they plod.

Opening our tent we are greeted by one of those rare overcast mornings. Eating hot bread for breakfast the lutetium grey lake waters peppered with shafts of sunlight present a show of illumination that is spell binding.

Lake Malawi is home to the world’s largest collection of a diminutive fresh water fish called Ciclids.(cyclids?)   Apparently the females are so impressed with colour that they have driven the males to change colour if they are to have any chance of sex. Some females like green some like yellow and so on. It is a rare ambiguity in natural selection not known in other animals.   Its human draw back is that they are a prized aquarium fish.

Two volunteer guides from the night before re-appear. A short tour of Livingstonia includes its famous hospital, school and its coffee plantations. All of which gives us a feeling of its past glory colonial days. Our guides lead us down the escarpment by way of a narrow track for about four or five kilometres. We emerge eventually at a wooden hut called the Lower Nest. It is a small bar set on the side of a deep densely vegetated narrow valley. Teaming with bird life the bar is well named. Its nesting spot however represents the first ominous signs that cuckoo man is about to give our feathered friends the bums rush.

After a few cold beers that go down a treat, we continue our stunning walk along the valley’s side to the Manchewe Falls.Afficher l'image d'origine

Small yellow butterflies flutter in front of our every step.   They colour the track with vivid patches of yellow that give the impression of being pour out of our glimmering green surroundings.   All of a sudden in a breathtaking jungle setting the falls come into view. Nestled in amongst the dense canopy of vines and trees a pillar of water sixty meters high surges onwards from the very trees tops themselves.   It’s a perfect wedding of nature with a cacophony of sound.

With some pride our guides inform us that the caves behind the falls were once used as a hiding place. The Phoka tribe’s people when hunted by Nogoni slavers took refuge in them. It is no wonder. The falls are spell binding casting a web of spray with each droplet of water reflecting its surroundings in the sunlight. There is no doubt that it is difficult to enhance the beauty of light. Our camera struggles to capture this gem of natural sculpture.

Our return journey back up the hill is by way of many a house backyard. The odd sweet brings toddlers of all sizes and ages running. Back at the Rest House over a few puffs of Malawi gold the day draws to a close with one of those African Sunsets that needs no help from a joint.Afficher l'image d'origine

Over breakfast and our pending departure we make an offer to buy the place, it is flatly turned down. Williwaw winds her way back down to the lakeshore. (Top Tip One of the benefits of Lake Malawi is that one can acquire a diving licence very much cheaper than in other parts of the world.)  

We spend the day on yet another little beach near Chilumba; an old-world hotel long abandoned overlooking the beach. As always it not long before we are spotted by a passing boat. It’s young skipper offering his services to bring us around to a rock outcrop where he assures us that we will see the famous Ciclids in massive shoals.   Florence with her new-found snorkelling skills and I have a swim around the rocks without much success. Fanny convinced that she is ripe for a dose of Bilharzia (even though Lake Malawi is for the most part free compared to the other large lakes of the beastly little snails) ops for the suntan bottle.

Late afternoon finds us we pushing on up the last of the Malawi lakeshore to Karonga our last port of call before leaving and crossing over into Tanzania.Afficher l'image d'origineAfficher l'image d'origine

Here we camp pitch No 99 in the car park of the Government Rest House.

 

 

 

(To be Continued)

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Robert Dillon. Account no 62259180. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2

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