Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A big heart in Africa

Malawi is bliss.  A relaxing tourist friendy fun lively place.  This is where the name “Africa for Beginners” came from.   A very honest statement;
  • People are friendly / lovely
  • Locals treat you as a person rather than a white muzungu (this is because there are so many tourists/ expats / charity workers who live there)
  • Everyone speaks english to the best level I have heard in Africa yet

Even for cyclists
  • Relatively flat only two memorable climbs
  • Minimal traffic
  • Traffic leaves space for cyclists
  • Well made smooth tarmacked roads
  • Bore holes placed everywhere great fresh free water supply 

On my first day of cycling I reached the beautiful Lake Malawi known as the Lake of Stars (named by famous explorer David Livingstone) as the sun sparkles on the surface.  This Lake is s 360 miles long and 25 miles wide (half the length of the UK).
North Malawi was exciting Rnb Raga African clubbing music blared out on the streets and there were people cycling everywhere.  In the first 50km I counted 10 vehicles and numerous amounts of bicycles (too many to count).  I sped along the flat passing perfect sandy beaches all along the Lake. 

Dappled light spreading beaming out onto waters
Almost sea so far a misty horizon
Hilly vegetation tears the shadows to frame the sides
My side a sandy shore crashing waves soothing sounds
What more for relaxation
A sanction closed in
The wooden canoe carved from tree a mere plant pot
As one struggles in the same tree cut on the lake
But no mistake
He can read the clouds and understands the temperatures knowing the route
Happily paddles right to left as trickles ring roses on waters on tent
No extra current or storm or stress
Malawi will be whats brought, here
Although no people all thoughts do appear
Fall asleep catchup on that lost dream
Wake up to

We gave ourselves many half days on the bike cycling approximately 60km a day.  It was time to appreciate the country; learn and enjoy the culture!!  We stayed in touristy camping spots with quiet beaches (out of season)  Apparently the wet season was just ending although I specifically recall being woken to heavy noisy rain and water seeping through the tent 3 nights in a row at the beginning of the Malawi experience – it is hard to forget these occasions. 
I have appreciated the clear skies in the morning though.

Mzuzu was a big town, a stop where we made our triangle - bed, restaurant, internet.  We met some lovely people Dave and Kate who we then met again at the next campsite.

We had some fun including fishing with some local guys, swimming, sunbathing and Church (as it was Easter).  Church is much more fun in Africa and we were all tempted by the poster in the main street in town “Find your miracle”!! There was loud speakers sending gospel singing drums and chanting across the bay. 
I soon realised Malawi is like a small town.  Everyone travels down the main route next to the Lake and stops at the same campsites all with the best reputation. The locals also travel to the Lake for their holiday it was bank holiday easter weekend.  Nkata Bay was lively and packed with music events.  The clubs had african drums and singing in the outdoor areas I once again danced the night away.  I had to walk to the local markets and local cheap places for food on the beach to make sure I was still taking in some culture!  I suppose I can't help it if the Malawi style African culture involves a lot of drinking.  

Friendly faces smiling secretly wondering how why
But in questions and answers you ease the sense of scale and explain the routine managed
Well relaxed into the system see more than you'd hope for
Meet so many you forget half more
Always moving to places the journeys kind greetings shocked faces
Another thought same lake
Never stop contemplating never search for the end
Live for now

Very sociable people;  we watched a local football match between the prisoners and the policeman!!  The atmosphere, community spirit and the binding of people was really good fun to get involved with.  These two groups of people playing football in the UK would be a real effort with far too much hassle and security for any positive payback. 

Back on the bike you can sweat a few days hangover out in no time, following the Lake was stunning.  Mountains in the distance bordered the natural bush as I rode over numerous river crossings gushing fresh water from the wet season feeding Lake Malawi.  We had to cut off the main Lake road halfway down Malawi and headed West across to the capital Lilongwe which followed to our next country Zambia. 

As Malawi is a very populated country when we stopped cycling at sundown we often found ourselves asking the village where there was a good safe spot to sleep.  These random places were interesting and brought some funny and shocking facts I must share;
Slept at the primary school in a local village – 1000 pupils, 7 teachers
Slept at a police station – A guy from the village stole a cow and was being arrested and jailed for 3 years.
Didn't sleep at the bank but very ridiculous fact;
NBS bank in Nkata Bay was robbed by people who just tied up the security guard then helped themselves to the bank.

So 2/3's down the line I am still surprising myself as to how little time I am finding for myself.  While cycling the days are easily filled.  I take photos.  Think. Eat.  Listen to music.  Eat.   Elaborate thinking.  I have read 6 books and kept up to date with my diary.  I draw and play music when I can although 6 months on the road my ukele string has finally snapped.
Onwards to Zambia.  My hair is growing slowly.  I don't look like a sociopath anymore ( the skinhead has gone).  I have bought a chitenga – african colourful sarong.  It was very hard to walk past so many beautiful patterns in the market and not buy one due to the weight on the bike.  This item is definitely my best buy although we have bought 25 bananas for 200 Kwatcha (10p)  but food goes very quickly so as cheap as it is it cannot be the best buy as they lasted 1 day!!
My chitenga on the other hand can be used as a towel, sarong, changing room, dress, top or skirt.  

I continue finding strange species
I continue my adventure
Onwards to Zambia...


Below men wait... delay
Hacking away into the minds of tourists
Hoping the opportunist himself will capture and release the need to spend
Alleys fill as pressures mark the ways of interchange
Languages, buildings, markets
The religious sounds separate the boundaries
Absorb the people into sanction
Time passes the splendour is disturbed and advanced
Shouting words
Always going to be white in this nest of wealth, health
Treasures not shared
Emotions rejected unprepared
Barriers so hard to cross as corruption costs
Pulls people further
Lives cry
Above governments high flying lives
A commonplace for all tourists to see and spend
All luxuries owned by them
Betrayed what can the people do but wait
Hope in God hope that they
The citizens still sit waiting
Tourists buy an item
To get by secure their life
The rooftops alter slated to corrogated
Putting people in their class
Slowly things will turn into the past
Laid back people seem
The palm trees a signature of peace
In the vast array shaped and aligned with the blue horizon
Is Heaven

Sun Shores and Spinning Spinning Spinning...

The journey continues and I have found out that Tanzania breeds horrible Lorries... Not only do they drive very fast alongside of you but they don’t slow down or drive ultra slow so you can jump on the back and they certainly don’t offer you a lift with waving actions from the drivers seat.  How selfish!  After many speedy annoying Lorries I later found out Tanzania have a law against heavy truck loads.  There are regular weighing bridges for the weight of the lorry to be checked before they are given permission to carry on with their journey.  So they drive fast as they are not all overloaded I presume this is to make sure they can climb the hills that Tanzania offer. 
Speaking of Lorries I made some fun and games on the bicycle.  It has got to this stage!!  I entertain myself while cycling through the countries of Africa and see how many responses honks waves toots I can accomplish by smiling, enticing and waving at Lorries.  They are on the road for a long time too which is why I have come to understand most wave back to fill their seconds into minutes making minutes into hours and so fourth.
Waving at Lorries has become such a natural habit.  While being told to hold Steves load on top of his bike as he was adjusting his panniers at mid stance a lorry drove past.  Not only did I let go of the load but I wacked Steves eye with my finger tips.

Often speaking to locals I try and explain what we do and why we are on the trip.  When we have a big stop we like to find our comfort zone; our triangle.  This triangle has a bed (rest), a restaurant (food) and the internet (communication).  After explaining the triangle to a local he came up with a great response “I guess that matches your nature”.  It made me smile his triangle is probably very different.

The Maasai tribal people are back.  I noticed the draped clothing and wrist and necklace accessories straight away.  Some still have the machete to kill any lions they happen to cross paths with.  Now I understand why the Maasai have the role of security in many establishments.  However skinny these guys look people know they have lived in the bush and fought for their lives on many occasions while hunting wild animals.  These semi-nomadic people are located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. 

While on route the reoccurring question that people have often asked is What are the differences between Africa and England.  I try and explain about the need for time punctuality and how being late is never good.  African time has another concept altogether.
I explain that people do not work hard in fields and in manual labour but most jobs are dependant and organised on computers.  The technical skills and fixing opportunities people create here in Africa is unbelievable.  Nothing is waste everything can be reused and recycled it is very interesting watching the hand craftwork delivered on the street.
Finally instead of ibis birds flying over in circles we have geese that are fly in triangular patterns on a mission south to much warmer climates as England is freezing.

They often look back at me in bewilderment.   I don’t mention the sun is bigger, the trees are bigger and the creatures are definitely double the size this would be even more confusing.
Yes I have reached central Africa.  It is a different world which I have relaxed into, continuing to learn and of course exercise.  Africa has definitely taken me back to basics in life - What a journey.
This is a nasty thought that I take it back already but hills are so much easier to climb when someone ahead is struggling with a fully loaded up the same route.  The local Chinese bikes that are imported look heavy and have no gears.  The native people carry everything / allsorts on their bicycles to sell at the local market.  This could be up to 30km away for some unfortunate guys that live in the bush.  I wish I had pictures of all of the objects I have seen transported by bicycle here are a few:

I thought I had got too relaxed; the wet seeping sides of my tent and the uncertainty of rain made us decide to sleep in a guest house.  Even with a working stove and sun burning skies at the end of the day, we were still paying pennies so there was no real decision to be made although Bear Grills would probably look down on us.  This is no survival, this is comfort.  The thing is Steve and I have struggled to predict the weather although the locals usually know (sixth sense).  A beautiful clear sunset in the sky does not mean it won’t rain.
Some say the rainy season was just ending others say it was starting whether miscommunication had anything to do with it I will never know.  What I do know is when rain falls in the tropics it heaves its way to the ground and I also know I bought my tent in Cairo which sees little rainfall.  I was not very well equipped.  My mobile home was not doing me justice.
We were very lucky on the cycling front; most occasions the rain came down heavily at night and the fresh mornings were a dream.  The mist filled my pathway; the cool temperature and mysterious outset was stunning.

Some days the rain trickled while the sun still shone.  This was a beautiful cool shower on the bikes but the pot of gold never appeared!

There was one particular storm on the bikes which I will never forget.  Bad times always bring better ones.  The rain was twisting in all directions I couldn’t see anything ahead.  It was a very lucky escapade as a german construction worker building the roads decided to pick me up and dropped me into this 5* bungalow village (like center parcs in Europe).  Determined as ever Steve cycled on but I think he appreciated me giving in to the lift when he arrived at the compound with a swimming pool.  Free food and drink, any wash please hand it to the cleaning lady.  This was all in the middle of the bush; a route we had been cycling through West from the Rwandan border to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania.  This conveniently broke up our 10 day epic cycling mission – I think I would have been ok but at the same time this was the longest time I would have cycled (everyday for 10 days does not sound fun.)
The terrains were relatively flat and our fitness and natural speed had picked up from the Rwandan winding hills.  We arrived in Dodoma a day early.

April Fools

My way of life at the moment is making me more adaptable and laid back.  I find this is the easiest option to deal with everything that gets thrown at me.  On the 1April Steve decided to trick me in the traditional way and told me we had an extra 40km to cycle after Dodoma to reach the couch surfers apartment next to Dodoma airport.  After 5 days of straight cycling I often find myself getting very excited when reaching the destination even if it is a dirty street filled with traffic, shops, markets and people.
My comment was “Oh ok we can stay in Dodoma central tonight and finish off our cycle tomorrow morning” A very relaxed response Steve couldn’t keep up with it and shouted April Fools!!

Having cycled 9000km from Cairo looping around Uganda and Rwanda then East to Dodoma, Tanzania it was time Steve and I departed to make sure we appreciated each others company on return.  What a perfect time to do so, I took a bus straight to Dar Es Salaam and relaxed and read my book on the white beaches of Kigamboni.  The weather was overcast for one of the days so I ended up playing netball, painting and teaching English with kids at the local community centre.  This was another charity experience I walked across.  There are many small enterprises going on to help support and stabalise African communities and it is always fun to join in and see the smiles of thanks in return.
I then got a Ferry to Zanzibar / Heaven for a bit of rest and recouperation.  After months of non-stop travelling, adventure and cycling I can assure you it is still very easy and possible to relax on a beach, sunbathe and swim all day.  I was not restless as Steve suggested I might be; I enjoyed and appreciated every minute of it.

Yes it is a separate country from Tanzania like England is a separate country from Ireland and yes you do need your Yellow Fever certificate.  This is the beauty of travelling on my own as a female I managed to blag my way through the immigration office.
My couchsurfing experiences and the pure hospitality I found in Tanzania and Zanzibar made some really great memories.  I was spoilt, Thank you.

My final day in Tanzania heading to the Malawi border was astounding.  The morning was painfull – uphill and offroad so we deserved everything else to come. On the right stood miles of mountains, the green beamed off the hills and the shadows created the thick dimensions of the vegetation.  On the left I could see the infamous Lake Malawi and a horizon filled by flat plateau – our destination.  Singing and smiling to myself, scenes were stunning, cycling was perfect.  Yes you guessed it I was flying downhill for 50km all the way to the border.

On the road every day is different.  I carry on and I love it.