Saturday, 2 July 2016

Malawi 3

Mzuzu immigration was an experience in itself, having been told multiple stories of waiting times, the overall thought was it wouldn't take too long but we arrived to huge queues. There were at least 100 people all standing in a vague line along the corridor, which seemed to lead to the 'immigration office'. Joining the queue we waited about for a while, people obviously (as I have ranted about before), just joining in front of us unaware we were British and liked a nice orderly queue. However it was all a wasted exercise as an official looking man came towards us and asked the fairly obvious question of whether we were tourists. Once we had confirmed his suspicions we were told we were in the wrong queue (thankfully as it seemed to have doubled in size with us still at the end of it), and sent us to room 4, obviously.. Another great example of making things simple and easy, didn't think to put a sign up! Once we were in 'room 4', all was fairly straight forward.. Forms were filled in, money was handed over, and despite them not finding a Zambia stamp in Charles' passport (due to the dubious switch over), all was happy and we got out in a record time of 45 minutes, including wasted queueing time! 

It was a quick, and hungry dash to shoprite, both of us get quite grumpy when hungry, where the card machine actually worked, well it took the money out twice but they were fairly adept at putting it back on.. Must happen a lot! Backtracking on ourselves we headed back to the lake and onto Fish Eagles Bay campsite which was a long drive, having not really driven more than 200km a day for the past couple of months a long drive took it out of as and we arrived hungry and tired.. A great time for the pan handle to break just as I was draining the pasta, pasta all over the sand, a few harsh words said by both parties and bolognaise sauce burning. Twelve minutes later (with Charles the expert on draining duty) and we were eating. For $10 per person per night the camp site was a bit pricey, and after a cold shower (what is with expensive campsites and cold showers!?), we had only a short distance to go to get to Senga Bay.

Cool Runnings was a fairly well established camp site on the outskirts of Senga Bay, and backed onto the lake. The owner Sam was a fairly prominent pillar of the local community, and in her years of being there has built schools, libraries and is now working on a project to clean up the area - a project which has taken years to seep into daily life through education, locals seeing the results and working on the infrastructure needed (bins, signs and a 'bin man'). She was also the local doctor and by 7am every morning there was a queue waiting to see her for advice and medication - we felt it was a good time to offload most of the bandages etc from our rather extensive medical kit, which were being used the next day on a tiny lad who had been badly burnt. For us the days were not so eventful, swimming in the lake, using their gym and sitting reading (whilst not getting burnt, a serious achievement for me!). The campsite was very quiet so by day 3 a move was on the cards! 

Fat Monkeys, a stunning campsite right on the lake in Cape Maclear, for once gave campers the best view. We were right on the lake next to deck chairs and sun loungers! Well had arrived just in time to watch the end of the England v Australia match, followed by a store box dinner which happens when we haven't found or bothered to find any food (the local 'shop' sold mainly cleaning products), and we haven't much cash.. Again the cash points were all out in the local town! These dinners are often amusing, this one consisted of peanut butter rice (healthy), corn on the cob and a fried egg.. Pretty much all the main food groups, as well as a burnt arm! Charles and I got our wires/communication mixed when he was pouring the boiling water into the pan I was holding and it went over my arm! I was unimpressed but rather happy I had finally got to use my 'burn kit' I had lovingly put together back in October... Silver linings! The kit worked well and it now just looks like my arm has been sunburnt, so no change there! Whilst in Cape Maclear we wanted to test our our new diving skills and try and book a couple of dives so on the Sunday we headed down the beach, accosted every 20m by artists, and arrived at Cape Maclear Scuba which was shut (we didn't quite register it was Sunday), however a local guided us to HEEED Malawi, run from Cape Maclear Eco Lodge which was open (, we chatted to David the instructor who said he would take us out the next day for two dives (at a better price than Cape Malcear Scuba). Going out with him the next day, the water was calm and we headed first to Catfish Cove on the north side of the island. Sadly we didn't see any of the catfish but we did see hundreds of cichlids all different colours and shapes. In between the dives we got off the boat at Thumbi Island and had coffee whilst we warmed up before heading down again. The second dive we in a spot by some rocks called the aquarium.. We saw hundreds of cichlids the first time and many more the second dive, yellows, oranges, blues.. Loads of colours along with some crabs and other fish (I have no idea what they were called!). My buoyancy issue was only a slight problem this time, maybe I am getting better..!!

Leaving there on a bit of a high we stopped of for lunch at the Funky Cichlid (a rather trendy camp site), and walked back to Fat Monkeys to find we had new camp mates. They were a British and South African couple now running a private lodge in the Lower Zambezi region of Zambia. It was great to chat to them, and the night quickly went past in a haze of beer and jeiger! 

(Giant kingfisher living around the campsite)

(Sunset at Cape Maclear)

(Walking down the beach with the camera and children desperate for you to take their photo)

Due to the lack of money and now food we really had to move on, driving to Zomba all was well until the dreaded white smoke poured out the exhaust, which was at an acceptable level until the next police check where it was so bad we had to stop. The police were great, providing us with assistance and water, informing us we wouldn't be stopped again. Luckily I had a number of a mechanic which we headed to quickly, trying not to kill anyone along the way! The mechanic, Alan, and Charles promptly decided what was wrong and in half an hour the turbo was out. Over the next two days many things were tried to sort it out, including welding the manifold bolts off and re-sealing the turbo (true African style), until it was decided it wouldn't work - it was worth a try I suppose! Within this time I had been trying to find a new one, even involving Andi who was trying to pick one up in Zimbabwe. Alan called a few mates and by the next day a new one had arrived! Initially he wanted 400000 kwatcha (£400) but we managed to barter him down to 360000 kwatcha.. Once a deal was struck we headed to a bank to use 3 cards to withdraw on each 3 times (total of 9 transactions at 40000kwatcha as this is the maximum), with our fingers crossed our cards wouldn't be frozen for fraudulent activity or that the bank would run out of money! 

(360000 kwatcha - only £350!)

Car happy and our fingers firmly crossed, we trundled up Zomba mountain, windows closed and jackets on due to the decreasing temperature. On the way up there were loads of fruit stalls, strawberries, raspberries, passion fruit and goose berries. It was the first time we had seen berries since leaving the UK so we did buy a few and they tasted amazing! Up the mountain we kept going till we got to Ku Chuwe Trout Farm which I don't think had seen any trout for a long time. The place was very run down, but only 1000 kwatcha so would do for the night! As we walked further up the mountain to keep ourselves warm, the amount of illegal logging was saddening, a beautiful place full of pine trees accompanied by the sounds of a chain saw. We also walked past the Sunbird Hotel, a Malawian chain hotel with rooms costing upwards of £150 per night. It was a real comparison to the surrounding area; children in rags with no shoes, men desperate for you to look at their stalls and families huddling around fires to keep warm. We didn't go in, I am sure we would have looked out of place, even before being shocked at the drinks prices.. As we were walking down it began to rain and it didn't stop, the clouds moved in around us giving the trout farm an eary feel. We still managed to braai but were huddled up in the tent early looking forward to getting back to Cape Maclear and the sun! 

Back in Cape Maclear the sun was shining, and as we got back Kate and Phil, the Ldoge owners we had met previously invited us over for a poetji which was fantastic, a long drive and then to have a surprise meal was luxury! A few beers/wine and the rugby made for a good night, we also met a biker, Zoe, who also had some interesting tales. As I often say, whilst Charles and I get along very well there is only so much to talk about when you are doing the same thing every day so it was nice to spend a night with other people! 

(Evening dinner with the sun set!)

After a few days back at Fat Monkeys we moved further down the bay to Funky Cichlid, where we had eaten previously! The camp site itself was basic but the view from the bar definitely made up for it! It was a younger crowd of guests so we managed to spend more nights chatting to others before climbing into bed! On Saturday we had a message from Andi (Wheelie Adventurous - find on Facebook) that he was headed towards Cape Maclear and our camp site. The night started off well and ended up in many beers and jeiger! It was great to catch up with him, stories, banter and insults were trade, along with a lot of laughing and some dancing on the tables! 

We had booked to go kayaking and snorkelling on Saturday, so once Andi dragged his hungover back side out of bed we wondered back to HEEED to sort out the hiring. We went back to aquarium within the lake and saw so many fish - the visibility was amazing and the fish not at all timid! Moving onto Thumbi island we snorkolled again seeing shoals of bigger fish! It got cold and as the sun began to got back, warmed up and got back on the beers! It was great spending time with Andi and Inge, before he heads back up the East coast. Hopefully our paths will cross again! 

We have loved Malawi.. The people are so friendly, helpful and always interested. The north was full of unspoilt views, adventure and activity, there aren't many tourists up there so there is less hassle and more opportunity to interact on a personal level with locals. The south was full of tourists and travellers. It gave us a chance to chat and meet others, however the negatives with being some where popular were always present. I would recommend this place to everyone, there is so much to do and see.. Even if you just came here for the lake it would be a trip well spent!

(Last sunset from Lake Malawi!)

The plan from now is to drive back to Lilongwe to stock up before the long track through Zambia and Botswana to Pretoria to change the roof tent cover. We have decided to give Mozambique a miss from this end as having spoken to lots of people, and had messages from the Drivemoz face book site, the road we want to take relies on convoys and lots of police force. I don't want to have to deal with that!

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #malawi #scuba #capemaclear #wheelieadventurous #funkycichlid