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...

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