Friday, 31 May 2013

Simambwe village

Pat and Tom invited me over to the village where they are working as Peace Corps volunteers. We took a dala dala or minibus taxi. It was one of the medium sized ones. About numerous stops to fill it up with passengers and about an hour later, we arrived on top of a hill where we had to get out. Simambwe is located on the main road between Songwe border (from where I came crossing over from Malawi) and Mbeya.

They live in a small house with a central living room and two bedrooms. The house is part of a small compound with two other houses where the family of the VEO (village executive officer) and his family lives. They are nice people who were eager to meet the guest mzungu, so they invited us for supper the same evening. With Pat and Tom we went to the local market to buy rice and a couple of other things to bring to them for the meal. Usually Pat & Tom are invited over for supper. They also told me that they are not let to wash their clothes or cook if Mama Happy or Editha see them do it. They say they don't do it properly and proceed with helping them.

The Shire
Michael, being the village executive officer, which is an appointed and paid position, has lots of duties in and around the village and ten sub-villages. There is also a chairman for the village, which is an elected position. He also is Tom's local counterpart for the Peace Corps projects. He comes over to the house quite often, and has now begun a course on how to use a computer with me. It is difficult, because I have never taught anything before, and thus have no structure at all. But I try to keep it varied in folder and file manipulation, creating word processing and spreadsheet documents and so on. We presently don't go much further than that. If he is able to use a computer (not because of ability but because of availability), he will use it to prepare his committee meetings, budget plans for projects and so on.

Modi & Happy
I don't know about the altitude here, but it's quite elevated and the temperature is mostly low. Although the sun hits hard, and warms you up quite a bit. But as soon as the cold wind blows or you find yourself out of the sun, you get cold again.

The well where we take our water from has been dug out by Michael and his brother a couple of years back. They needed three days to dig it. A bucket attached to a rope is thrown in and then retrieved full of water. If your not careful about your water consumption you end up carrying a lot of water buckets out of there.

Mariam, who is Pat's local counterpart lives in a tiny mud house with mud floor. She cooks inside her house on a small fire. When she wants to cook (or make pop-corn) she uses one of the sticks to make a suitable spot for the pan which might otherwise fall in between the stones. We sat there for a while one afternoon because she invited us over. She's been a widow for a few years now, and is raising her four children alone. She's also representing her sub-village of Simambwe in the council. She guided us on one of our hikes around the hills close to the village. Walking with her through the village allowed me to get a few good shots of village life.

As Peace Corps counterparts Mariam and Michael both went to Dar-es-Salaam with Tom and Pat and other volunteers. There they participated in training that would help the American volunteers to cope with daily life in the field (literally). Washing clothes, making coals for the fire with cow dung, killing a chicken, etc. all is part of their training.

I'm quite happy being able to visit the village over these few days. I see it all from a different perspective than when I stay at hostels or backpackers. Everything is more difficult and takes more time to do. For example, washing clothes by hand. You have to soak them first in soap-water, then wash the clothes, then rinse them off. It's only the second time I wash my own clothes since I've left Switzerland last year. I usually pay a small price for letting someone else having the honor of doing it.

It is quite difficult to learn the language, but you have to know a few things when you come here. Otherwise you'll never get by. People don't usually speak English as they would in other countries I've visited. But then, they don't have English as an official language as do South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Here the official language is Kiswahili. But they also have local languages, which makes it even harder to get by. Even the greeting forms vary. When you encounter an elder person you would usually say “Shikamo” and the elder would reply with “Marahaba”, which is a form of showing respect. Doing that, kids would sometimes touch the head of the elder. Otherwise a standard greeting form is “Habari” which means “How are you?”. It's usually answered by a “Salama” (not salami) or “Nzuri” to say “I'm fine”. In local language they use another form where both actors simply use the same word for the greeting. The rest of the language is spoken like Master Yoda would speak. Put the noun before the verb and then the rest of the sentence. But careful, when you think you understand something, well you probably only have a small fraction of the language. For example, the pronouns change if you use it without anything, or with a verb. Words have different prefixes according to what the sentence is. It is a quite complicated language to learn. When I hear Pat & Tom struggle with the language, I am quite impressed because they seem to understand quite a lot and they can make themselves understood in return. They have been here for about half a year now.

One day Tom made some cornbread. He made one for Michael's family and one for us. In the evening Mariam came to the house with another lady from the village. They had planned to be here around noon for the English lesson, but their town meeting took a lot longer than scheduled. Tom gave the two ladies some cornbread and Mariam loved it and was excited about it.

Going back home will be weird because I can get everything easily. Here I get really excited about treats when I can get some.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Welcome to East Africa (Tanzania)

I asked Elious from Ecolodge if he could organize my motorcycle trip back to Monkey Bay. He later told me it was organized, so I didn't give too much thought about it, although I knew I had to be in Monkey Bay at latest at six. For security I took the driver's phone number. The next morning I woke up at 4.30 and was ready at quarter to five. At that time I called the driver to see if he was up and running, but got the operator's standard message which says the correspondent isn't available. So I waited and called again around five. He then answered and said he was on his way, but arrived only about 20 minutes later. When asked why he was late, he answered he was fixing the tyre up to 8 the previous night. At 5.30 we finally left for Monkey Bay. I wanted to leave at five in order to be comfortable on time and not to have to rush as the road wasn't all good and full of potholes. But that went to the monkeys. We sped along on the tar road and I was even more scared than on the way in. We got to Monkey Bay in one piece just in time for me to catch the bus. I only lost my bottle of water on the way. Small price to pay.

Multiple entry visa for 3 months
The bus ride to Salima, close to Senga Bay on Lake Malawi, was quite uneventful and quick. From there I took a smaller bus up to Mzuzu. The operator wanted MWK 4'000 but offered me 3'500. I was squeezed on the back bench which wasn't even bolted to the frame. At every major bump which the driver failed to avoid, we hurt on the backseat. Luckily, at first I was sitting there with one adult and three teens who weren't grown up yet. After that I was on my own for a while, until I got squeezed in again by some ladies and their band of small kids. We probably were ten on that back bench. Well the whole ride lasted for about 7 seven long hours and was horrendous.

I finally got to Mzuzu and went to a church guesthouse that cost me MWK 1'000 for a dorm (about CHF 3). I ate supper there and afterward chatted with my fellow dorm mates. One of them was Mark, a New-Yorker who is volunteering for Peace Corps in Chitapa, in northern Malawi. At around nine we all went to sleep. My day had been tiresome enough for that.

The next morning we woke up at six and took the bus at 6.30 with Mark. He went back to Chitapa and I went to Karonga, the closest town to the Tanzanian border. The scenery on the road there is amazingly beautiful, and at some point after passing a long lush-green valley, went down the escarpment towards the lake. From there we were on the lake's shore most of the time. The bus ride had been easy and quick. It was not even half full.

As we got to Karonga around eleven, I decided to cross the border the same day. Walking towards the bus station, a minibus hailed me and I got in. We drove around the bus station a few times before finally heading off towards the border. It took us about an hour to get there. On the way we took on a guy with his pig. It squealed loudly every time they loaded or unloaded it.

This border crossing was one of the worst crossings ever for me. When I got to the border I was approached by several people wanting to offer their services or change money. One guy told me the other side was far and that I would need a taxi to get there. He was a bicycle taxi. He took charge of my big bag and led me to the immigration office of Malawi for my exit stamp. Once I got it he took my bag again and started loading it onto the back of his bicycle. Another guy came by and said there was a car here ready to take me over to the other side. I tried to ask how far it was to the other side, but the cycle man could get a straight answer, and the car man definitely wouldn't say it's not far. So I chose the car. Thirty seconds later I was in Tanzania's immigration office where I got a visa for 90 days multiple entry (at least if I go out to Kenya) for USD 50. From there the guy who made me take the car ride took charge of me and my bags again and took me to another driver. There he said it would cost me TSH 5'000 (about CHF 3) to go to Mbeya. What he meant was the bus station where I could catch a bus ride to Mbeya.

So I took the ride, went to the bus station and paid the driver (it was difficult to know whom to pay as there always were several people talking to me and trying to get me to go with them and wanting payment for this or that). I gave him my TSH 10'000 note I had bought from Tim in Lusaka. I didn't get the 5'000 change back from him, but he swapped his note with some other guy saying I should get it from this other guy. This other guy (in a green shirt) took my bag and took it to a bus in which I went in. He tried to stay in the bus for whatever reason with other guys as well. But the operator finally threw them all out. Then I said I didn't get my change back and we drove back. I had to leave the bus as well and tried to sort it out with the green shirt man. But this one now said something about a commission and about 200 for him for whatever reason. I said he could sort it out with the taxi driver (as he thought he had kept my change) if he wanted any money. I didn't see why I should pay this guy for confusing me. Maybe that's the way in Tanzania. I got a little disheartened. I had changed MWK 2'000 to get TSH 7'500 on the black market just so I would have enough for my bus ride to Mbeya. But with my 5'000 change never coming back, I was short of 2'500. The bus took me on again after I finished fighting with the green shirt and another guy. He finally surrendered my bag and I got into the bus before getting hassled by other bus operators. All the time, at least four people tried to get my attention by shouting stuff at me for change, taxi, bus or whatever. And I got properly screwed. Fortunately the bus operator accepted my fate and took the 7'500 instead of the 10'000.
The scenery up to Mbeya was still amazingly beautiful.

In Mbeya things went smoother although I got screwed again. But then, that's the way when you get to a new place. I paid a lot of money for a short taxi ride. But then I met this great elder American couple, Pat and Tom, working for Peace Corps in a village a little south of Mbeya. They showed me where to get accommodation and we even had supper together at the best restaurant in town. It was a bit expensive, it cost me about CHF 12 for a steak with chips and veggies and three beers. But then I have a single room with hot shower for less than that.

They invited me to their village, as they have a spare bedroom. But that will be a story for another day.
So after two long days full of hassle, I finally got to Tanzania. I don't have a guide anymore, as my Southern Africa guide expired when I crossed the border to East Africa. Here in Tanzania is the first country I've visited where the people don't try to speak to the mzungu in English, but starts straightaway in Swahili. And when you don't understand, they just go on anyway. Kiswahili is a complex language where the noun comes before the verb and where prefixes change according to what comes next in the sentence.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Kayaking Lake Malawi

First pic-nic spot
After two days of sitting here like a duck on a stone, I decided it was time for me to do something again. The loose stool having lasted less than two days, I remain only with the great fatigue and the weird skin feeling. The fatigue isn't better if I do nothing and sleep. Actually, doing something sparks my brain and I feel less tired while I'm at it.

First things first, I organized my lift to Monkey Bay for the next morning. A motorbike taxi should pick me up at five in the morning. Although this remains to be confirmed. From Monkey Bay I will take the bus to Lilongwe, but only up to Salima, where I probably will have to change and take another one for Mzuzu (pronounced Moozoozoo).

funny bird on rock fishing?
Next thing was to get some things for the lunch on the island. I asked where I could get some avocados, as I simply love avocados and I could just munch them up one after the other without anything else but some salt. I hadn't seen them at the stalls close by, and Watson told me there usually are some at the market. He would have sent one of the staff members, but I wanted to have a look of the market myself, so I was allowed to get the bicycle. I cycled there, quickly found some avos and wanted to buy bread. That was only sold at the “bakery” where there was no one. So I cycled back, stopping on the way to get water, eggs and cookies. I knew I could have bread at the last shop before the lodge, and I did.

beautiful lagoon
When I was ready, I took the kayak that had been put on the beach for me and headed for the closest island. When I got there, I saw a boat and people looming and lunching on the rocks next to the Aquarium dive site. So I went further and around the corner to another outcrop of rocks. I quickly sat in the water with my mask and snorkel and saw plenty of fishes swimming close by around me. It was amazing. Then one of the fishes began nibbling me, so I went out and had lunch. I discovered quite a few hidden and beautiful lagoons on the other side of the island. I stopped at a few. A lot of fish eagles seem to dwell on the trees of this island, and there are tons of other birds like kingfishers as well. They are not disturbed too much by the presence of my kayak quietly sliding by.

In a lagoon with amazingly blue-green water I marooned my kayak to the rocks and went out for snorkeling. I just had to sit on a rock, with the top of my head and the snorkel out of the water to see hundreds of colorful fishes swimming with me. They actually seemed to be following me. As I didn't know if there were crocodiles or hippos nearby, I didn't stay in too long. On the big slab of almost flat rock next to the lagoon, there was a bird which I approached without seeing it until I was only about three or 4 meters away. It just went on doing whatever it was doing (I don't know what that was really, probably fishing).

As it was risky to turn around to take my camera out of the “dry” space, I didn't take too many pictures from the water. I probably would have capsized if I tried too much. But at some point I held myself on some rocks and took it out anyway, because there was this beautiful baobab tree. It's not coming out so well on the pictures, but hey, who cares, I saw it.

When I paddled my way along the northern shore, the lake got somewhat rougher (not rough at all, but bad enough to worry me about the camera). After a few hours of this blissful paddling, I finished the circle around the island and headed back to the mainland.

It was an amazing day, and like Marc said “better than diving”. Those people who are responsible for me not getting a gopro or other underwater camera should blame themselves for the missing underwater pictures. As you know it just was my birthday, and it would have made perfect sense.

Anyway, just kidding (or not).

When I got showered and picked up a last souvenir craft from one of the craftsmen who actually makes them in front of you if you would stay there and watch him, I went to my last sunset from this part of Lake Malawi. The view is going to change a lot from other vantage points.

See you soon.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


About five days after arriving in Mufasa Rustic Backpackers in Monkey Bay I left it for Cape McLear. Marc, the Spanish guy who travels from Alexandria to Cape Town on a Yamaha Ténéré 600, went there a day before and came back to say he got a good deal with a place there with diving and kayaking included. So I decided to join him there for the dives the next day.

Going out for a dive in Lake Malawi
QB the current manager at Mufasa and José the night guard helped me out to get a transport to Cape McLear. They told me the best was to take one of the motorbike taxis. I showed them my big bags and told them it will probably be too much luggage, but they said no it's going to be fine, they have space to pack the bags upon. When the bike came, I saw the small space, and wondered how the driver, me, my big Travel Trekker, my backpack and my camera bag were going to fit onto it. Unfortunately nobody took a picture, because it was a sight. The helmet obviously didn't fit me and I would probably be better off without it in case of an accident.

Thus I arrived in Eco Lodge in Cape McLear before nine in the morning. I got the same deal as Marc, namely 2 dives for USD 35 each including free accommodation and kayaking for USD 10 which makes a total of USD 80 for 3 days, 2 nights, 2 dives and a half day of kayak renting. It's still mzungu prices, but it's one of the cheaper you could get.

Diviiiiiiiing, it's been a while!
At ten we went out on the small boat for Marc's second dive and my first. We didn't drive far, just next to the closest island to a dive site called English Voices because some Englishmen had discovered it. The lake offers a multitude of small sized fishes. Some are very colorful in blue and yellow. Others less, and some are just dull grey. The bottom of the lake is strewn with large boulders which are covered with fish shit. Lacford, our Divemaster, didn't brief us in any way, and he probably wouldn't have bothered asking my diving credentials if I hadn't showed him my expired temporary Rescue Diver license. He didn't ask Marc if he had ever dived before. But Watson, the front man at reception had previously asked me about it. I wouldn't recommend this particular place to any diver lacking in confidence. As long as you have your Advanced Open Water or equivalent, and know how to do a pre-dive safety check on your own you should be fine though. The diving is easy without current whatsoever.

On the way back Marc bought for MWK 800 (about CHF 2) of fish that we shared with the staff members. They provided us with nsima and veggies and grilled the fish for us and we paid for the fish. It was a perfect lunch taken on the shores of Lake Malawi.

In the afternoon, after going to town buy some food for the next day, I went out again just with Lacford and the skipper. The water was much clearer at this other dive site named Aquarium. Otherwise the fishes are the same. I spent some time going under rock passages, cutting off floaters from old fishing nets and getting a few other items out of the lake's floor.

Marc the Chef
In the evening we organized a kitchen outside of our rooms. These rooms are a bit further away from the main lodge area where the other kitchen is. The stove there doesn't work though, so we used Marc's gas stove and prepared a good hearty meal consisting of some weird sausages, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes all thrown together in a frying pan. We started off with a few eggs and carrots before the main course was ready. Once it was, I ate a bit and was already full. I wasn't feeling very hungry anyway, and thought it was a tad weird.

My skin was feeling unusual, somewhat like when you have a sunburn but everywhere including in the palms of the hands and under the feet. It was going on for a few days and getting a bit worse every day. I didn't sleep well and was extremely tired, more than my usual tiredness. I just wanted to sleep all the time, but it didn't help feeling rested at all. The next day I started having loose stools.

We visited the Billy Riordan Clinic here in Cape McLear which is a Irish funded trust clinic with young volunteer doctors. For a mzungu it costs either € 60, USD 80 or MWK 31'500 to get treated. So I decided I wasn't sick enough. I ate almost nothing the rest of the day except for a chocolate bar which I thought would help me get some sugar in me. Alice, the owner of the lodge advised me to drink at least two liters of water a day and rest and avoid the sun.

The Cake
On my first day here, I asked the staff if I could get a cake for my birthday on the following day. They said yes, but that it would cost MWK 3'500 instead of their usual price of MWK 4'000. I said it was too much and during the negotiation we came to a smaller cake, but still for about the same price. Very frustrating. The cook told me to wait for the boss, M. Fabiano, who was to come in later. I talked again with him and the cook and some other staff members without coming to an agreement. I said I was ready to pay MWK 1'500 for a cake. They wouldn't do it and M. Fabiano said we would talk again the next day. The next evening, Watson came to see me and told me the cake was ready. As we didn't agree on a price, I wondered what it would finally be. Watson said it would be for MWK 1'500.

Staff members (first on the left turned 20)
That day we had planned to go out kayaking with Marc, and to have lunch on the closest island. As I wasn't supposed to go into the sun too much, and rest anyway, I told Marc he should go alone. When he came back, he said it was better than diving and that he had spent an awesome day. In the evening he prepared himself some dinner. I didn't want anything as I knew I wasn't really hungry and that if I ate too much I wouldn't feel well. Mom and Dad called me on my local Malawian number and we had a little chat. After that Watson came back and told me the cake was ready. He told me another girl from the staff had her birthday today, so I told him to bring everyone over. They came in singing “Happy birthday” a few minutes later. Watson had asked me my name and age a little bit earlier, but I had misunderstood the “age” part as he didn't use that word. Or maybe I just didn't get it. Anyway, I said 23 as I thought he wanted to know the date (although that was weird, but I didn't question him). That's why, on the cake, I was 23 years old. Someone fetched some beers and cold drinks and we had ourselves a party. Later we decided to go out shortly, to a local bar in the village. I wasn't feeling good, so we went back home after not even an hour.

I slept really badly with the beers messing with my already bad in state belly. So the next morning I decided to finally go see a doctor at that clinic. The Irish doctor lady, whose name I forgot because it's Irish, told me that I had traveler's diarrhea. I got tested for Malaria and it turned out to be negative. I was relieved and at the same time a bit annoyed at myself. I can handle a diarrhea. But the skin effect didn't reassure me too much. Anyway, sometimes it's good to see a doctor... So I came back with antibiotics, painkillers (in case I feel pain) and pills against bilharzia. The latter I would have to take three months after leaving the lake area. As they are much easier and cheaper to get here, I agreed to take them now.

After that, Marc left for his adventures in Mozambique.

I will be resting a few days in this calm and beautiful place.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Pour Zinet

Africa is beautiful. There are many black people here. They are nice. But they want money.

C'est assez court comme ça mon Zinet chou ?

Cape McLear, Malawi

Friday, 17 May 2013

Lilongwe to Monkey Bay

I woke up early, around 5 am. I tried to sleep some more until my wake-up call at 5.40 but I couldn't. So I finally got up around 5.20. It didn't take long to prepare myself and my stuff. A quick brushing of my teeth, closing my bags and taking everything out of the dorm. The taxi driver was already waiting outside and we promptly left for the bus station. At some point I realized I had forgotten my toasting bread in the reception area of the backpackers while leaving. Too late.

At the bus station, the taxi driver told me to take either National Bus or Axa. As I walked in, an Axa guy took control of me and walked me past the other guys trying to get passengers. A guy from National Bus tried to win me over, but he was yelling quite loudly, so I just ignored him. When I asked for the price I was a bit perplexed as it was less than half what I had expected. At Mabuya the guy at reception had told me it would cost me MK 5000 for a direct bus. Here I now got a transport for MK 2250 (about CHF 8). I wondered why the price difference. I could have gotten the wrong bus? At 6 the bus drove into the station and I stepped into it. It was a long waiting, but finally, after almost 3 hours, the bus drove off. But as usual, we didn't get far. We stopped at the next petrol station to check tyre pressure or something. After another 10-15 minutes we left for good.

The bus was driving really slowly, so I thought we might just never get there. I was really tired and I tried not to sleep because my head would always tilt to one side and my neck would hurt. I dozed anyway. I tried to find a better position. At some point we stopped in Salima where the bus left out a few passengers and loaded 20 new ones. There were people standing packed like sardines in the walkway. After what seemed several eternities, we finally arrived to the turn off junction which leads to Monkey Bay and Cape Mclear. At each stop I tried to determine if we had arrived. But it was always not there yet. Finally it was and I wrangled myself and my bags out of the packed bus.

From there I was led to Mufasa Rustic Backpackers by two people who work as tour operators around Monkey Bay. They even convinced me to go for a hike on the nearby mountain, walk down the other side to the fishermen village and then to the harbor. But I will tell that story after I have done it.

After a short walk, we arrived in Mufasa's private bay on Lake Malawi. It looks like paradise and its people are totally friendly and relaxed. The sole source of electricity at the Eco-lodge backpackers is a car battery recharged daily by solar energy. They serve cold beer (when the ice is still cooling the contents of the cooler box) and cook meals if you ask for it.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Chipata to Lilongwe

The confusion was total when I wanted to organize a taxi for the taxi rank or the border in the morning. But first things first. The “planning the next day” way of traveling has its downsides when you forget to think ahead in case some buses only drive on certain days. So it happened that I got back from South Luangwa on a Wednesday with the bus running on Wednesday. No need to say it was gone when I got there to check for the next day. The next bus would only be on Sunday. So I would have to travel by shared taxis and minibus combis.

So the same evening I called a taxi I had used on first arrival in Chipata, and I fixed a lift for KR 15 to the shared taxi rank. The following morning one of the staff members at Dean's Hill View Lodge told me he could organize a taxi to the border for KR 60. It struck me as very low, considering all the prices had just adjusted upwards due to a 20% raise in the fuel price. I asked the staff member if he was sure it was still 60 and he said yes. So I called my taxi again and told him about it. He wouldn't want to go lower than KR 80 so I canceled his call. Things almost always end up nicely, because when I went back to this staff member, he told me that Dean was about to leave for town and that he could take me with him. So I finally got a ride to the taxi rank for free.

Malawi visa
At the taxi rank I changed my remaining Zambian Kwachas for some Malawi Kwachas. I booked a taxi for KR 20 (about CHF 4) and had to wait a while until the driver found 3 more people to join the ride. When we finally started, I quickly realized that his car, like a lot of other cars, had no suspensions left at all. It was creaking from everywhere and its doorhandles were all missing. We got to the border after a short police stop with no consequences for us not wearing seat belts that were not present anyway.

At the border post of Mwami I went to stamp my passport out of Zambia (and filled in a exit form) and crossed over to Malawi where I quickly filled in another entry form before getting a new stamp from a new country. It goes without saying that people wanting me to change money were everywhere from the moment I put foot near the place where the taxi to the border left and until I had managed to cross over completely.

From the border post of Mchingi (Malawi side) I took another shared taxi which filled itself up in a matter of minutes. I had a choice of two taxis and as both were empty I chose the one who didn't try to rip me off USD 100 for a 12km ride. It finally cost me MK 500 (CHF 1.40) to go to Mchinga. From there I took a minibus taxi for MK 1700. The prices had just been raised from MK 1500 because of the fuel price. We had to wait a while for it to fill up, because another one had just left so ours was empty. But it finally took off. I talked a bit with my front seat neighbor before dozing off. I woke up a few times when we stopped, and the last time fully when we stopped somewhere in Lilongwe. The minibus couldn't start on its own, so had to be pushed every time. In Lilongwe, the driver had to break hard a few times so as not to run over people he had wanted to pass really closely to, and the minibus' engine stopped. After a few times, and just in front of the taxi rank, I left the minibus (as one of the last passengers left, the others having been smart enough before) and took a cab to a backpackers I had chosen. Mufasa Backpackers was unfortunately closed as they hadn't paid rent for a while. So I asked to be driven over to Mabuya. It's a cool place where I met the cycling guy from Wales again. Quite funny.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

South Luangwa

Video by Marc Viaplana

Marula Camp & Lodges is held by Mike and his wife, a couple of white Zimbabweans. It's located on the river, in walking range of the gate of the national park. It is strongly recommended NOT to walk because of the wild animals roaming freely around the different camps. The river is infested with crocodiles and hippos, and it is thus strongly advised to stay clear of it.

The tents are located in line with the pool along the river bank, which is on higher ground than the actual river, especially with the water seeming quite low. From the tent I can view the river and its inhabitants.

Leopard on hunt mode
During daylight, Vervet monkeys, or commonly called Blue-balled monkeys, occupy the camp grounds. But at night, when everything seems quiet and peaceful, the hippos settle in and graze on the lush green grass. On the first night, the guards had seen a lion occupy one of the open spaces for quite a while, and a herd of bush bucks raced through at some point. Elephants might also come through camp.
Africa seems not to be a continent where it's easy to travel as a backpacker or generally to be on a budget and still do activities. If you plan to go out into the bush, be ready to pay some money for transport, or to wait horrendously long for a lift, that might, or might not come. Although the accommodation here at Marula Camp only costs USD 10 for a basic safari tent with two beds, a single Castle Lager costs more than USD 4. To go to the nearby village, as it is strongly advised not to walk, I would have to wait for a lift or order a taxi for about USD 4. The distance is less than one kilometer. I was actively considering buying my beers from the lodge before getting here, but now it seems, my beer consumption will simply drop if my delivery doesn't come in in time.

Who wants to play "chase the baboons"
But even this remote part, which is located about 130 kms north west of Chipata, will become more touristic in a few years. Earlier the modus operandi had been to fly in customers and to get them at the nearby airfield and bring them to the lodges. Now that backpackers, self-drivers and other travelers want to come in, the road is being tarred bit by bit.

From our vantage point, we can easily monitor the water inhabitant's activities. So I was able to glimpse a fight between crocodiles, and another short struggle between hippos. The camera should be on standby at all times, ready to be used for action.

We'd rather play "chase the leopard"
South Luangwa National Park consists of two natural boundaries which are the Luangwa river to the east, and a mountain range to the west. That's how they found that the giraffe living in the area is a specific species of giraffes which can only be found here in Luangwa. It's named after the man who found it: Thornicroft, an Englishman who was here during early Northern Rhodesia times. When Europeans first discovered the giraffe, the first asked if it was a camel. The second one told him no, look it has spots, it must be a leopard. They thought it must be a crossbreeding between the two species. Hence its Latin name Giraffa Camelopardalis.

Elephants have been hunted and poached for tusks over long periods of time. Always the biggest animals with the biggest tusks have been taken out. Now there are only the smaller animals remaining. Even after generations, the size of the elephants stays pretty small in comparison to other places. David, our guide told us about a story of a herd of elephants which had faced killings. Nineteen members of the herd had been killed by poachers and the remaining fled. Exactly a year later, the remaining elephants came back to the spot and made a circle around the killing place. Then they slowly went out into the bush in a single mournful file. The memory of elephants is of long term, it never forgets anything.

Dangerous hippo at lodge
The morning drive was quite uneventful. The scenery is beautiful and we had a good time spotting impalas, pukus, giraffes, various birds and of course, dazzles of zebras. After lunch, rest at the pool and some pancakes we left for our afternoon/night drive. The pukus and impalas and so on were naturally still around, as they were in great numbers anyway. We quickly found the elephant which were out and on their way to the river. They usually cross it in late afternoon to go out of the national park (although they probably don't know they are crossing some imaginary human boundary). At the river, David stopped the car so we could all take a picture of the sun's reflection. That's when he heard the barking of a troop of baboons. He said we should check it out, as it probably was a leopard on the prowl. So he rushed us off in direction of the sounds. As we got there we easily spotted the young leopard, as it was on the road, and not in hiding. So the baboons made alarms cries while never losing sight of the leopard, and a nearby rank of impalas also watched the proceedings with great interests. Losing sight of the leopard would mean great danger to either baboons or impalas, as it would then draw closer and attack them by surprise. Usually a leopard would hide and wait and get closer to its prey staying hidden all the time. But this particular one was quite young and inexperienced. So it stayed in the open, for everyone to see. The troop of baboons encircled the leopard whenever it could, trying to keep it away from the younger and weaker members. The leopard advanced nonetheless, not completely without fear of being attacked by the baboons. At some point it went hiding into tall grass and the baboons stopped barking because they lost sight of it. It came out again though and the barking started again. After about fifteen minutes of this game, the leopard started loping forward and took up speed. It raced towards a tree where there was a young baboon. It probably caught the baby baboon, but then the whole troop got enraged. The troop of baboons quickly turned into a mob and chased the leopard. The bravest and strongest of the troop less than a meter behind the fleeing leopard. The rank of impalas, not exactly knowing what was happening, fled in the same general direction. Later we spotted a hyena coming to see if there was some meal to be taken from the leopard. Other leopards joined the party as well.

Later we spotted some night animals, including a rabbit, genets, civets and white tailed mongooses.

When we came back to camp, we had supper. We watched our pictures and videos of the day and specially the ones of the chase. With Marc, we decided to stay up to see the hippos come out of the river. Everyone went to their rooms or beds before ten, so we had to wait quite a while before they came out. Around midnight the guards told us there was a hippo around. It was grazing on the compound, not too far from us. Although in the night it was quite difficult to see it and especially to take its picture. But the guards told us to be patient because it would probably come closer. After 2 or three hours of watching the hippos, one being joined by two others and a baby, we finally got our chance to take good shots. One came right to the edge of the restaurant area where we were being patient. We took advantage of its presence there and started playing at being paparazzi’s. We flashed it remorselessly for about 30 seconds or so. Suddenly, this huge mass of a hippo, turned its head towards us with an angry glare. It scared us to shit and we jumped away hiding behind the closest pillar. Our action must have startled it because it then turned away and sauntered off towards greener pastures. Although the greener pastures were only a few meters further away. We stopped making that hippo angry, and went off to bed a little later.

For Andrea: a dazzle of zebras
Two days later, I came back from my morning game drive with Croc Valley. I went with this other lodge because neither Marula nor Croc Valley had more than one guest who wanted to do a game drive, so they combined us into one. A group of English ladies were waiting to be picked up to go to another lodge, Flatdog Camp. They had most of their luggage ready as well. I stopped to talk to them a minute, as when they left I would be the sole guest staying at the lodge for two days. At some point I noticed a Vervet monkey sitting on the nearby game drive car. I went close to the car and tried to chase it away. But instead of being chased away, it came right above me on the car, and made as it was going to jump on me. I got scared I would end up with blue balls in my face, so I backed off. One of the English girls tried as well when it was on the hood of the car, thinking she was imposing more. Again, the monkey won. It then got braver and cheekier and went to their luggage. It picked out a bag of balloons, thinking it must be food. When it saw it wasn't food, it let it go again. Every time one of us tried to chase it away, it retaliated with an scary face and a hiss. Finally a staff member came running and chased it away. Later Mike, the owner, told me I shouldn't have let myself be intimidated by the monkey. Backing off makes them see we can be scared and they then get cheekier and braver.

Relaxing isn't it?

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Dean's Hill View Lodge
Chipata, with its small town atmosphere and its strong Muslim and Indian influences, looks and feels like an old African town from the last century. Most shops are owned by Arabs or Indians and close early around five. If you turn off the Great East Road before arriving to the shopping malls, you will find the modern world only after looking well. Well, you will still see mobile phones and other electronics for sale, but the town itself doesn't look modern at all. There is no ATM or supermarket in Down Town Chipata.

At some point, its market is divided by a running creek which has been connected by a series of planks to form a bridge on which stalls are installed.

View from Dean's Hill View Lodge
Dean's Hill View Lodge, a cheap and nice place for backpackers, is located ahead of town coming from Lusaka, and behind amaize buyer and a brick fabric and next to a compound where locals reside. Walking by, children and people in general will wave and greet the Muzungu.

In town you will find a lot of taxi bicycles, which have a seat built upon for passengers. A ride back from town which should have cost me 3 pin, actually cost me 5.

Back at Dean's, someone hailed me, and it was this guy from Wales cycling from Cape Town to Cairo through a very indirect route whom I had met previously at Kalulu Backpackers in Lusaka.

Later Dean himself came in with a young German Shepherd called Mocca which is only about 4 months old. Dean's a nice English chap who is quite knowledgeable about the area and South Luangwa. We had a couple of beers with him.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Wall-E and Eve in Kafue National Park

That Friday morning I finally checked out of Kalulu again and said goodbye to Mark and Tina and others. Tim would be leaving for Ethiopia and then Vietnam where he is teaching English the same day. Tina is a girl working at the backpackers doing all sorts of cleaning tasks. She is really nice and always wears a smile on her face. I had arranged a taxi to take me to Leopards Hill Road when I arrived in Lusaka two days earlier, but the taxi driver's phone was offline for the last day and I couldn't contact him. He didn't show up either, so I eventually checked outside the doors of the backpackers to see if there was a taxi. As there are always some customers needing a taxi, there is mostly one waiting outside. He said he would drive me to Crossroads for KR 50. I told him it was further and offered to pay him KR 80, as much as I had negotiated with the first taxi driver. It's the first time I actually put a price up and not down.

Loading the car at home
Eve had told me that I would need to ask the taxi driver to go to Crossroads and then further on Leopards Hill Road, past the cemetery and the BMW concession which I supposed were really close together. But they weren't. I then had to look out for the yellow OG Gym. I called her on the way there to make sure I didn't get too far, and finally saw the BMW concession. After that we quickly found OG and the next gate was theirs. As we were let in, Eve came out of Anna's house gate and Daniel, the taxi driver asked me in no uncertain terms, if I had spent time with her privately. Sometimes the people here can be quite outspoken. So there we met again. Inside I met Whiskey and Tequila, the two Labradors; Luna and Luno the two cats; Dorothy, the maid and finally Andrea. Anna was out at work and would pop in later for lunch, Sabina was at school and Sebastian was on another camping trip.

Setting up camp at Mayukuyuku
Eve and Andrea were busy preparing camping gear and packing their bags while Dorothy was making crack muffins and lentils. Eve told me I would be required as a driver to go to the Indian market so Andrea could buy some chitengas. Chitengas are the local fabrics of which every dress, skirt, short, shirt are made. So with the availability of two cars, one automatic Toyota and one manual Nissan that was being loaded by Master, the gardener, only the first remained a valid choice. Both are 4x4 in any case. Here in Africa to buy a 4x4 is a sound choice. Even in the city, the road sometimes turn to bad dirt or half tar, half dirt roads with potholes. But in any case, as soon as you drive out of where there are proper roads, which happens rather quickly, you are much better off with a 4x4.

A snake in the ladie's shower
We jumped into the car with me as driver and drove on the left side of the road towards town. Eve was my navigator with a hand-drawn map which depicted an area not detailed in the printed map of the city. We were all in a jolly mood from meeting again and in anticipation of our camping trip to Kafue. Eve tried to make me turn on a road that wasn't planned. So I told her she should stick to the plan as I had a vague idea of the said plan. The other route would probably lead to us getting lost somewhere. This and other remarks pushed Andrea to say we sounded like an old married couple. That's when I started calling her “Kiddo”, which she conveniently ignored.

Puku on our afternoon game drive
We found our way quite easily and Eve recognized the place as she had been there before. We were directed to a parking space, and asked Christopher in the green shirt to look after the car while we were shopping. When I saw this might be taking some time, I wandered off to have a look at the rest of the place, looking for flip flops that could suit me. I walked around the block and found a big open market place where everybody sold second hand clothes. I bought some doughnuts from a street seller and walked back towards where I had last seen the two girls. They were already waiting for me. Andrea was quite quick in her choice of Chitenga. We walked back towards the car and I found some different kind of worms. They look slightly different than Mopani worms and taste different as well. As I lost my remaining Mopani worms, ya'll will have to try those. Then we went to Pick'n'Pay to shop for our groceries and get some things for Anna as well.

Elephant with baby elephant
When we got back to the house, we put the groceries inside and started separating what was going to be needed for the trip from the rest. At some point 9 year old Sabina arrived and soon the tickle wars started. She started with Andrea as Eve is only ticklish in some particular spots which I won't give away. But then Andrea told little Sabina that I was also very ticklish. Not so good, because then I got attacked fiercely. As I had to prepare stuff for the trip, she had to leave me alone. Lucky me. But she really wanted to get to me. Anna prepared some quick eggs and cereals for her and Sabina and told us we could make something more elaborate for ourselves as she really wasn't in the mood for cooking. After that, Sabina was soon sent to bed. We cut some vegetables in the garden and Eve cooked the nicely with garlic.

After that we all went to the couches and had some massage sessions and cuddle sessions. Anna soon went to bed and we were going on with the massages and cuddling.

The following morning I woke up around five, and I couldn't sleep anymore. I was itching from some mosquito bites. I didn't hear or see any mosquitoes, which was quite annoying, because otherwise I could just have dropped the overhanging mosquito net. The others woke up around five forty-five and we started packing the last minute stuff like the cooler box with ice and the snack bag for the road. Around seven thirty we left and drove out towards Kafue. We passed through Soweto market and after that were out of the city. Anna put on music from Mamma Mia's musical from her iPod, but it died after a few songs. I then put on some of my music. I started with a Swiss band called Hillbilly Moon Explosion but quickly switched to some Texan Country music.

Not too long before getting to Kafue National Park, we stopped in a town called Mumbwa to fill up our tank. The diesel had run out at the petrol station, but some guys were willing to sell us diesel from some plastic containers. If we wanted to have a full tank, we didn't really have a choice as it was the only station in miles. The price seemed very high, but as no negotiation had been performed, and the containers hadn't been checked, we could only give them and leave them the money. We wouldn't have gotten anything back anyway. After that we drove on to Kafue NP and Mayukuyuku Camp.

Sunset in Kafue
Arriving there, we announced ourselves at the office where they told us they expected us the previous day. But as Anna had to work longer on Friday, we couldn't leave around noon as planned, and the whole trip was rescheduled for Saturday early. She had announced it to them by e-mail, and had even received a confirmation to say it was alright. Once we got to the camp site itself, we were welcomed by the attendant whose name I unfortunately have forgotten. He let us go to the river to have a look, and then helped us building up our tent and settling in. We had two camping chairs, a camping cot, a big mattress and so on to make our stay comfortable. After that we had a beer, muffins and biltong. Checking out the bathroom, the ladies found a snake in the shower. We don't know what kind of snake it is and if it is dangerous. We then chatted while resting a while in the tent. Sabina couldn't rest and wanted to tickle us all. We then convinced her to play on her Android pad for a while.

Anna saluting Sunset
After the rest, we drove off on a game drive. We saw quite a lot of pukus and a herd or two of elephants with a tiny little one with them. At some point we decided to go to our chosen spot on the river for our sundowner. Sabina had to pee, and actually poo too and she did it just next to the car. To cover our tracks and to prevent it from smelling up to us too much, Anna asked her to put some elephant poo on top of her own. She wasn't keen on the task, but eventually did it anyway.

We got our drinks out, Ginger beer for Andrea and Eve, and Castle Lager for Anna and me. With that we consumed some biltong, nuts and crack muffins. Anna saluted Lady Sunset and we had a grand time playing top model (especially Sabina) on the hood of the car. When the sun had finally set, we drove back, stopping at the big sausage tree to grab one of the big sausages. It even produced a nice profile picture for me.

Pausing on the hood
When we got back to camp, our fire was already alight and a roast was on the fire. We just had to put on our lentils and water for tea. Once we had finished dinner, we started roasting marshmallows, like any True American. But unlike some, I just had mine fried a little outside, and soft inside. But it's really not a favorite dessert of mine. Sabina was sent to bed for reading and sleeping, and Anna followed an hour later. We then talked about Vervet monkeys, also called Blue Balled monkeys, which caused quite a commotion to my Texas Lady friends. In American English, blue balls means that you couldn't relieve some pressure caused by some stirrings. Well I won't go into further details...

My new profile picture
The night was pretty cold, and I had to pull my sleeping bag over my head and hold it closed with my head lying on the opening so the warmth would stay inside. The coldest part is always around 3 or 4 in the morning. We planned to wake up at five thirty the following morning, but unfortunately slept in until twenty past six (at least for me) and so kind of missed the sunrise. We still saw it rising, but we didn't have time to select a good spot from which to view it, and so just drove on to our morning game drive session. The ladies seemed in a good mood, but I was still trying not to wake up, and even took my sleeping bag into the car. At least I was warm. We didn't see much apart from some nice birds and a lot of pukus.

When we had enough, especially Sabina, we returned to camp and ate some breakfast. Then it was time to go back to Lusaka as we had a long drive ahead of us. So we accepted the camp attendant's help to dismount the tent and packed everything back onto and into the car. The knots I made for the roof packing held until we got back.

Arriving in Lusaka we unloaded the car and left most of the gear in the living room so that Dorothy could pack it away the following morning.

Kingfisher in the morning game drive
This evening, Anna cooked a nice pasta meal and we had some wine. I was even invited to open a bottle of red wine, which I did. I couldn't resist. Some Merlot out of South Africa (Nederburg if I remember well). Later we had our last cuddling session and went off to bed. Not to mention that Sabina and Anna preceded us with that.

At six the following day, I woke up and found Andrea and Eve almost ready to Rock 'n roll. We said goodbye when the taxi arrived, and they went off to some other adventures in London. As they had 13 hours of interval between the flights, they had planned to meet a friend in Paddington, where the Heathrow Express would drop them off. I was allowed to stay at the house as long as I wanted, so when Anna and Sabina took off, I stayed a while, wrote some blog articles and used some internet connection. At noon Dorothy kindly offered me some shima with vegetables and stirred eggs, which I kindly accepted. When I started eating with my fingers, she asked in astonishment “Do you know how to eat with your hands?”. It was really good. After that I called Daniel the taxi driver, and returned to Kalulu backpackers.

Heavily loaded bicycle

Street market in Lusaka