Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chitimba Beach to Likoma Island, Malawi . . . "Happy Birthday Phil"

After speeding through Zambia, the plan was to spend 3 to 4 weeks in Malawi, starting with the Lake. When Livingstone first saw the huge expanse of water in Malawi in 1859 he asked his local guides what they call it. They replied "nyasa". Livingstone promptly declared it "Lake Nyasa", presumably not knowing that "nyasa" meant "lake". Now it is simply known as Lake Malawi.

Lake Malawi is a huge expanse of crystal clear fresh water lined with amazing beaches. We arrived at a place called Chitimba beach and quickly realized that we should spend at least a few weeks on the Lake. We made a quick stop at Livingstonia, a picturesque old mission village on the top of a mountain plateau, and decided to head straight for the tiny island of Chizimulu.

Just about the only way to get to Chizimulu is on the Ilala – an ancient ferry that carries passengers and cargo slowly up and down the Lake. So we jumped on board with hundreds of others at midnight on a Sunday night. About 24 hours later the Ilala cruised towards Chizimulu, passed the bay where it was supposed to stop and crashed into the shore. Almost simultaneously it started to pour with rain. Rumours abound as to exactly what the captain was doing when the ferry ran aground. I am not one to spread malicious gossip, but I can say that it is generally believed he was below deck engaged in non-nautical activities.

I was slightly panicked that the ferry would sink until Phil reminded me that as it had run aground we could probably jump onto land from deck. However, as the ferry had crashed on part of the island that was nowhere near our accommodation, we decided to accept the offer of some local fishermen to paddle us around to the backpackers’ place where we planned to stay. Along with some fellow backpackers, we abandoned ship, piled into the small, wobbly row boat and proceeded to bail out water as the fishermen paddled. It was about 2am by that time and as the now lopsided ferry’s lights faded into the distance we found ourselves in complete darkness. Luckily our rescuers somehow knew where they were heading and we were having a drink with the owner of the backpackers’ place by 3am. Very happy to be on dry land again.

Our stay in Chizimulu was much less dramatic that our arrival and we kept ourselves busy doing nothing: reading, playing cards, diving (Phil) and snorkeling (me). After a few days we decided to visit Chizimulu’s neighbouring island, Likoma. We wanted to take a local sail boat or ‘dhow’ (not ‘dahl’ as I thought they were called before being corrected by Phil) across to Likoma, in preference to a 30 minute ride in a speed boat. Perhaps not a great decision, we were crammed into the dhow with the Chizimulu football team and, in the absence of wind, three men started to valiantly paddle across the Lake. Six hours later we arrived at Likoma, a mere 11kms away.

We got to Likoma a few days before Phil’s birthday and after spending a couple of nights at a backpackers’ place, we upgraded to Kaya Mawa’s luxurious but ‘eco friendly’ cabins on the beach to celebrate Phil's birthday. The owner of Kaya Mawa (which means “maybe tomorrow”) kindly gave us the ‘honey moon’ cabin which is on its own islet. Very beautiful.

Phil didn’t really experience the 40th he would have in Australia or London but we did celebrate with appropriate quantities of good food and wine. Celebrations were helped along after dinner when we joined the owner and a friend who were also celebrating a birthday. Who knew that one could play so many drinking games with flaming zambucca? Who knew that one would still be interested in drinking games after the age of 30? Anyway, a lot of fun was had by all. I have a burn mark to prove it.

Phil is now 40 but he still looks ten years younger and seems the same to me. I should note that there has been some evidence of occasional hearing loss . . .

(eg. Tomato seller: Hello. How are you sir?
Phil: Fine thanks.
Tomato seller: And how is home?
Phil: How is Rome?)

. . . and some clumsiness (he dropped both our mobile phone and my digital camera into the Lake on separate occasions) . . . but I am sure many would argue that he displayed both these traits prior to his 40th.

After a few days on Likoma Island, more diving and some canoeing, we sadly said goodbye to Kaya Mawa and made our way back to the Malawian mainland. This time we took a speed boat.

So we are half way through Malawi and about half way through our African trip. We have zigzagged our way through southern Africa travelling close to 15,000 km so far.

More on the rest of Malawi next. Hopefully I will be able to post the next entry in a week but internet access continues to be problematic so it could be longer.

PS- We bought a cheap mobile phone to replace the one that Phil drowned and can be contacted on Phil’s UK mobile number if anyone wants to reach us. Text messages are probably the best option.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Victoria Falls to Lundazi, Zambia . . . "Mulibwanji"

First stop in Zambia was Livingstone, a small town close to Victoria Falls. David Livingstone 'discovered' the Falls in 1855 when locals (who had no doubt discovered the Falls quite a bit earlier) took him to a place they called 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' (the smoke that thunders). It seems that Livingstone thought the less dramatic 'Victoria Falls' would be more appropriate.

As a city-girl at heart I am generally underwhelmed by the wonders of nature. While Phil can happily gaze at the beauty of the jungle during sunset, I can't help but wonder whether our enjoyment couldn't perhaps be improved by a coffee shop near the water and a cocktail bar in the baobab tree. So, I must admit that while I was looking forward to seeing Victoria Falls, I was also thinking . . . water . . . falling . . . seen it before.

What can I say? Seeing the Falls was an amazing experience. Better than New York on a Friday night and an English pub on a Sunday afternoon (apologies to my NY and London drinking buddies). You can spot the Falls from more than 10 kilometres away - a huge cloud of spray on the horizon. Arriving at the Falls we could see part of the 1.7 km wide curtain of water with (what I was told was) 9 million litres spilling over the edge every second. It was a very wet wet season. Walking on the cliffs 50 metres opposite the Falls the spray from the water hitting the ground and bouncing up about 100 metres soaked us and everything we were carrying. "Free shower" the locals commented as we left, by which time I was seriously rethinking my city-girl status.

After the Falls we went back to Jolly Boys backpackers (I don't know who names these places) to rest and competitively swap travel stories with other backpackers.

Me: Botswana was fantastic, especially the elephants, in Chobe we saw a baby elephant! So cute.

American: Yeah. We saw baby elephants in Kenya too and a pack of lions with some lion cubs. That was definitely the highlight.

Norwegian: Wait until you get to Tanzania. We saw a pack of lions kill a baby elephant. Amazing.

And so on . . . until we moved onto minibus (combi) horror stories.

Me: It was pouring with rain. The driver was speeding while talking on his mobile phone, shelling and eating peanuts.

German: Pouring with rain. Surrounded by mist. No windscreen wipers. Zero visibility.

Brit: Pouring with rain. Night time. No brakes. The driver used the handbrake to take corners. Driver was wearing a crash helmet and you could see the road through the floor.

The next morning we happily avoided the minibuses and got on a 'luxury' bus (you get a whole seat to yourself) to Lusaka. Six hours later we had arrived and, after the long drive, did we stop for the night? "No", says Phil, "there is another bus in 30 minutes".

"But that means 8 more hours on a bus today."

"Yep. Let's hurry before we miss it."

There is no stopping Phil once he gets his travel momentum going so it looked like we were fast-tracking it out of Zambia. We managed to get to the border town of Lundazi a day and a half after leaving Livingstone which was a minor miracle given the roads. The poor roads were generally blamed on "the rains" which didn't make much sense to me unless it rains bowling balls.

Anyway, avoiding the most popular and easiest border crossing (Phil mentioned something about the "road less travelled") we made it to Lundazi and - stopped for the night?

"No need", says Phil, "we can get across the border and into Malawi tonight."

With help from an American, who was in Malawi with the Peace Corps and who spoke a little of the local language, we found out that the cost to get from Lundazi (in Zambia) to Jenda (in Malawi) was 30,000 Zambian Kwacha per person (about USD $10). We managed to find a taxi almost immediately to take us both to Jenda for ZK60,000. No bargaining necessary. Another minor miracle.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Our driver informed us a few minutes into the journey that he was going to take the ZK60,000 but was only going to take us to the border - a few kilometres away.

"How", we asked, "are we going to get to Jenda then?"

"Perhaps one of the small boys with a bicycle?"

As our bags were the size of the small boys who 'drive' these 'bicycle taxis' this was not a viable option. So paying ZK60,000 to take us 5km to the border instead of 50km to Jenda just did not seem like a good idea and we insisted he take us back to Lundazi. We soon found a truck driver willing to take us to Jenda for ZK60,000. We peppered him with questions: All the way to Jenda? For ZK60,000? Not just to the border? All the way? We leave now? For ZK60,000 total cost? All the questions were answered in the affirmative so we relaxed and went to buy some drinks for the trip.

When we got back we found there had been a price hike. "Just give me ZK140,000 and we go" he said. We were not happy. In fact, Phil was so unimpressed that he suggested we stop travelling (!) and stay overnight in Lundazi so we could cross the border with some locals the next morning.

But it seemed that Phil's travel bug was not to be thwarted, as we were walking to the guest house the truck driver, who had a change of heart, picked us up and took us all the way to Jenda, across the border, for ZK60,000.

Finally in Malawi - did we stop in Jenda for the night? Of course not. By this time I was swept up with Phil's enthusiasm for forward motion and we eagerly got on another bus. But we did stop eventually.

Next entry Malawi- hopefully in a week but internet access has been a bit sketchy so it could be longer. Phil assures me he will have a few more photos up this week.