Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Storms, Stars and the Pinny Competition….

A lake of a million stars

So we came into Malawi and stopped the first night at a place owned and despotically run by a Geordie ex pat ex overlander’s lodge (we won’t name it as we have decided he may be having an off month). It was a very lovely place, all Waitrose hippy shjush, you know overcomplicated wooden doors on the loos, luxurious plants trailing out of dug- out canoes on the sun-downer decking, that type of thing. Should have been bliss but our Geordie friend is suffering from double burn out. First of all he was burnt out from overlanding (he drove a truck like James but stopped when the he couldn’t cope (he was 8 years in). It is easy to recognise when someone has reached this stage because they complain…like a lot…and they shout at their staff…in front of you.
The fact that he chewed our ears off was set of by the fact that later that evening it  was also the place where we experienced the biggest thunder and lightning storm the world has ever known. It started as a ‘light show’ a few miles from across the lake that went on for about 2 hours ..then the light show ‘moved along the bus’ to us. It is easy for you to replicate the experience by doing the following, imagine the loudest sound you have ever heard in your whole life and put that in a big metal box around your head, then imagine the brightest light you have ever seen and put that in the box so that the light doesn’t just show the blood inside your eye lids but also lights up the back of your cranium like a lampshade. Now put them both one second apart from each other and add torrential stair rod rain and winds strong enough to lean into. Hey presto you have one mutha of a storm like the one we had in our tiny tent held up with a metal frame. I enjoy thunder and lightning but even this was a bit scary, it went on for hours too. The next morning our stuff was somewhat damp but other than that everything was pretty sweet.
We moved on from here to a permaculture lodge and campsite up in LIvingstonia (named after Dr. David Livingstone of course), this place also had shjush but it was done in a way that complemented the forest and the guys who run it were also nice to their staff.  It was on the drive up to here that we met Ron. Ron is an American, he works for the Peace Corps as a maths teacher in the teacher training college at Domasi. He has been here for about 8 months and goes home soon to his family in Philadelphia. He was hiking up the rough track to Livingstonia, the humidity and temperatures are high even after the storm so we stop and ask him did he need a lift. Yes.  As you know we only have two seats and we think the distance isn’t too far so we take his pack and tell him to stand on the foot sill on my side of the car and hang on to the big handles inside the car. Well he thought this was great, he was a ‘whooping and a hollering’ like only Americans can. He is 68 years old by the way. I have tried to upload a small film I have of the Ronster hanging on to our car but the software for the blog keeps crashing, I will stick it up on you tube when bandwidth permits. So instead here is a pic of the Ronster with James, we had just been walking up to the hiding place the local tribes people used to use (from slavery) which are at the caves behind the waterfall in Livingstonia

 Well we had been going for about 10 mins and I got a little concerned that he might fly over the edge of the cliff as we drove along a pretty rough track, I would have to explain that to his Irish/Welsh descent wife Glynnis so to avoid death and calamity I stopped my filming and offered to once again sit squashed on top of the fuel cans so he could have my seat. Ron is a really nice man, exuberant, chatty, full of life. We had a laugh with Ron in the camp and I ended up perched on top of the fuel tanks the next day for 4 and a half hours so we could give him a lift out of Livingstonia to Muzusu, in return he invited us down to Domasi to see the college he is working in and visit the local school he is helping. The school was set up by Joyce Banda (Malawi’s vice president) to help level the educational and opportunity playing field for orphans, these are ‘aids orphans’ who ordinarily would not be able to go to school as they would not have money for school fees. Hey we all knock the UK but here no education past the age of 8 is provided by the state and class sizes are often 100 plus. The school has been running for about 12 years, has no support from the government so relies totally on outside aid. Ron being an all-round good guy has donated a chunk of his Peace Corps salary, got money from his own church to pay for beds in the girls dormitories and for bookshelves in the new library. 
But hey the visit to Domasi comes later we are getting ahead of ourselves. The three of us ended up in Mazuzu for the night (due to adverse weather conditions) and we ended up in a dorm at the CCAP Presbyterian church hostel. Wow.  What a place. Very basic and a bit run down with a telly in the dining room that permanently ran religious programmes full of evangelical singing and miracle proclamations. Did you know that a full English breakfast consists of ‘ cold chips, eggs, toast and half a tomato’? It does in Malawi. The hostel was busy, it had teachers living there in rented rooms ( I got chatting to a lovely lady who told me her class sizes are 129, 110 and 98) and had a group of ministers wives who were meeting there to discuss a conference that would address the challenges of being a ministers wife. Aw they were so lovely, when they said hello they did a little curtsey, they were big and round and their clothes made them look like colourful pepper pots.  
While in Mzusu James and Ron had ‘man’ fun changing money on the black market, the national currency is Kwotcha and the bank rate for exchange is 160 to the dollar, on the black market you get between 250 and 295. So deals are made by haggling with guys on the street, or in the backs of shops. Apparently the discrepancy in exchange rate is what happened in Zimbabwe, was a precursor to total devaluation of the Zimbabwian dollar and contributed to the economic problems the country is facing. Malawi also has fuel shortages and during our trip there was no fuel at all in the whole of the country. This meant we had to fill the tank and the jerry cans before we left. Apart from the folk in the hostel I found the people the people in Mzuzu miserable, there were the usual hustlers around but often in towns or even villages you feel an undercurrent of ‘feel-good’ but for me this place didn’t have it. James thought the general mood as good as the last time he was here. After a night in Mzuzu we parted company with Ron for a while and headed off down the coast to Kande beach.  It took us nearly 3 hours to get to Kande but in all that time we were still skirting the lake, it is absolutely massive  so big you can’t see the other side or either end and there are waves….yes I kid you not and they are quite big too. We went swimming in the lake while at Kande, the waves were about 4 feet high which of course make you think you are at the ocean but the water is fresh so your brain gets kind of get confused. The water is warm too (about 28 degrees), unfortunately because the weather had been so stormy there was no point in going diving or even snorkelling (apparently with good visibility it is like swimming in a tropical fish tank) so we had to make do with swimming and playing about. Well I was playing James doesn’t do jump the waves. The storm blew up again that afternoon and the rain bounced down, even needed my umbrella to go to the loo…

But then the storm would blow over or through or whatever it is they do 

and the sky was full of stars so much so it looked like indigo blue frosted glass.  Wow. That is such a nice feeling when you look up and there are so many stars and they look so close that you imagine you could just fall into them. Aw I am turning into a little big hippy.
Our next stop was  a place called Mua mission, some 350 k away in a place called Mua of course, we decided to stop off here in order to visit the Kungoni centre, the whole place is pretty interesting not least because the mission was established by Roman Catholic ‘White Fathers’ (so named  because of the white robes they wore). The centre relays the history of the region and how the left footers gave the locals a pretty rough time of it trying to force them to become RC’s (often by gunpoint);  it also tells of the tribal history of the region and how ultimately the indigenous religions/culture now live side by side with the RC faith. It was worth the stop off but the visit guide rushes you through and although we couldn’t swear to it he also help himself to a chunk of the entrance fee too.  Suitably now enriched with local knowledge we carried on south to a place called Liwonde National Park and stayed at the very beautiful Baobab Bushman Lodge and Campsite.
Here is a pic of the humumgus baobab tree that we camped near.

There were hippo footprints all around the site and that night for the first time I heard the resonant “Hum Hum Hum” sound that hippos make. Being as we are the adventurous sort the next morning we went off on a water safari…….in a dodgy canoe that had sufficient holes in it to allow plenty of water in…..but hey the water safari paddling dude just laughed when this was pointed out and demonstrated excellent bailing skills with a cut up water bottle. He was pretty damned good at getting us through the reeds and waterways used by the hippos, we spotted some local fishermen too..

James was chuffed to bits as we paddled off into the crocodile and hippo infested waters, let’s just say I was a little bit scared.

Tell you what it was bollocking hot, luckily I had my sunhat (Cancer Research charity shop 6 pounds) and James was provided with a lovely number that I thought made him look like Katherine Hepburn in the classic film The African Queen…

 Anyhow we paddled and poled around the very calm river and lake and we saw lots of hippos splashing about and generally enjoying themselves, I mentioned to the guide Pious (great name eh?) that I was a little bit scared and he told us the hippos were very calm, ‘they don’t mind us being here as they are not afraid, they are not hunted’.  Then James asked whether he had ever eaten hippo, ‘Oh yes, they are very tasty they are like pig’. ‘Really?’ I said ‘And how do you catch hippo to eat them?’ ‘ Oh we shoot them with guns’. I didn’t like to point out that that might be considered by some as hunting. I actually took a photo of my face at this point ‘cos I wanted to see what I look like when I am scared but I have decided not to share this with you as I realised I don’t look my best. We didn’t directly see any crocodiles, I say directly because the lake was high due to the rainy season. I asked our guide were there many in the lake and rivers at this time ‘oh yes but you don’t always see them’, When we got back to dry land (a bum knotting 2 hours later) I asked him about all the bubbles we had seen along the bank and the side of the canoe, ‘Oh that was crocodiles madam, they like to stay near to the water’s edge in case anything comes down for a drink’. Anyhow you can’t let a little thing like crocodiles by your canoe put you off your adventure especially when there are lots of other things to think about, things like these…….

There are often problems for women worldwide in having equal access to education and the opportunities that may bring for personal freedom, in the African countries at the beginning of our trip we observed that the prevailing Islamic religion shapes what is appropriate for females to engage with, as we have travelled further south tribal culture causes some problems for females and these came to the fore during our time here in Malawi. Young girls who are able to access education post 12 years of age enter a stage in their lives that coincides with tribal customs relating to becoming a woman. This begins with menarche for which the young girl is accepted as a woman and according to custom has her head shaved to mark the occasion; unfortunately for the ‘woman’ who is still in school this identifies her as having periods and singles her out for a form of bullying from male students and male teachers (90% of teachers are male in Malawi). Many young ‘women’ are ill prepared for the practicalities of menarche and come from families who cannot afford to provide any sanitary wear and many schools have neither toilets or water, this puts the young ‘woman’ in a position where she will give up her education because she cannot bear the humiliation associated with having her periods and being at school. Having lost the opportunity to carry on with her education and perhaps find work outside of that normally allotted to her the young ‘woman’ is now in a position where she is seen as capable of bearing children only and so enters into marriage at a very young age and begins to have babies. This is one contributing factor to Malawi’s very young population (half the population are under the age of 15). The larger part of Malawi is poor and lives in rural areas, for young women part of the African culture requires that at menarche her father builds her a small hut away from the family home, some families cannot afford this and so to avoid the shame of having to stay in the same house as their fathers young ‘women’ opt for marriage and with that also stop going to school. Problems such as these take time, knowledge and money, the latter of which pours into Malawi in the form of various ‘projects’ (70% of income is from external aid.)  In my experience successful and sustainable ‘projects’ begin and end with those closest to the problems, as the Ronster had invited us to visit the one that he was involved in down at Domasi we left Lilongwe and scootled south to see how this was being run. Finding the Ronster was easy enough as everyone knows him, within minutes of arriving he took us up to the college where he taught maths and met the principal and some students and then on to the Joyce Banda orphanage school. The orphanage school was opened and is patronised by the vice president Joyce Banda (one of Ron’s prized possessions is a photo of him kneeling before her…..mmmmmm). We met with Chris the headmaster and Frederick the Manager/coordinator of the school. They are lovely men, hard-working and seemingly dedicated to keeping the place going and developing. The school is for orphans (mostly from HIV parents) for 12 – 16 year olds, it is a charity and relies totally on outside aid. We asked lots of questions about the running of the place and how things are planned in advance…well I did.
I came away with even more questions that I wanted answers to, I daresay Chris and Frederick were glad to see the back of me. We spent this and the next night at the Ronster’s house, we actually camped in his front room so as to avoid the mosquitos and the variety of large bugs (these ran across the tent during the night as we didn’t use the fly sheet you could see the blighters). We attempted a walk up at the Zumba plateau (no Hilary nothing to do with wild dancing) but once again stormy weather stopped us from getting to the top.
We left the lovely Ronster behind in Domasi and began our journey in a north westerly direction to Zambia. The drive took us through the most fantastic scenery which dare I say it was even more dramatic because of the rain.  The drive was pitted with storms full of thunder and lightning and stair rod rain that stopped and started about every hour. The mountains were wrapped in mist and the roads and villages turned to waterways in a matter of minutes.

 Just so you know that not all of our camping was as salubrious as Baobab, the last place we stayed at in Malawi before we crossed the border we christened ‘Dog Poo Camp’, this was due to the fact the camp has two great big ‘SA ridgeback’ dogs who used the tented camp spot as their toilet.

Zambia Zambia Zambia Zambia Zambia Zambia Zambia Zambia ZAMBIA!

Ok now I know we have raved about lots of places we have been to and I personally fell in love with Ethiopia and Uganda but I tells ya what….Zambia is the most lovely friendly lovely and yes friendly place we have been to so far. While Malawi has the lake of a million stars Zambia is enthralled and enthralling due to stars of a different kind, these stars are those that are involved in ‘the beautiful game’. Did you know that the whole African continent is totally mad about football? No? Yes? Well then did you know that Zambia won the African Cup against all the odds and even their own expectations? Welcome to Zambia the most football maddest and friendliest country in Africa! Wooooo Hoooooo! Where even at the bank on the border crossing the first thing the guys say to you is ’Did you know we are the greatest’  followed by big laughs from everyone in there.
Have a look at this story so you understand the impact of winning has had on the country http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/feb/09/africa-cup-of-nations-zambia

The countryside is stunning, lush and well er tidy, and the gardens are full of sunflowers…

At police check points we were waved through all of them as there is a policy of not hassling tourists, now that is bliss. The Zambians are wonderfully and genuinely pleased to see you, there is no hassle, no begging, all of which made the whole experience one where for the first time in a long time we just relaxed. The first place we stayed at was Deans Place in Chipata which is just over the border from Malawi. The dogs here a small fat friendly Jack Russell’s and there is no dog poo on the campsite. We only stayed one night though as we were heading up to the South Luangwa National Park, the last time James drove up here remembered a ‘mutha of a road’ so to avail ourselves of local knowledge James asked Ernest the who was manning the campsite that night ‘how is the road to South Luangwa NP’? ‘Ah now some of the road is good’ (big smile), ‘ah so some of the road is bad?’ ‘Yes but some of the road is good! (bigger smile). Pretty soon we are smiling right back at him, and he was right some of the road was good and some of it well you get the picture…We stayed at the appropriately named Croc Lodge (the place used to be a crocodile farm) about 2K from the SLNP for a couple of nights and camped just back (10metres) from the Luangwa river. Once again there were hippo footprints all over the campsite and just about tea time I met these two dudes….White Banda (on the right) and Edward they are the hippo and croc escari that do the night shift at the lodge. 

They are both lovely, they tell me they scare away hippos from the tourists by shining a torch on and off into the hippo’s eyes then chucking stones at them, the hippos are really skittish so they run off.  I don’t find out what they do to scare away the crocs. Once again we hear the hippos “Hum Hum Humming” all night but no sign of them. Our bar manager is Herbert (never met a Herbert before) who is a lovely gentle soul but who doesn’t have torch behind the bar when the electricity goes off (there are national scheduled blackouts throughout Zambia) so we lend him ours so he can do his totting up. Check out the baby praying mantis…..

The next day at SLNP we had a tip top day wild animal spotting; luckily we saw lots of my favourites (elephants including teeny tiny baby ones) but to add to the growing list of stuff we had seen were hyena, kudu and a crocodile! I also saw for the first time the sausage tree, I kid you not….The biggest eye popper though was later that night…..well we were asleep in the tent when I heard this noise that sounded like someone washing a big heavy blanket ‘sklunch, sklunch, skunch’ (ok I am old so I can remember as a child a life before washing machines…hey what am I saying that sounds like the last 6 months of my life). So I crawled out of the tent camera in hand and filmed a little big beauty that was only about a metre away from the tent….Of course the software won’t let me upload that either but again I will try you tube. We had to leave Croc campsite early next morning (6 am slot) in order to meet up with Elton (a  friend of James  from back in the day) in Lusaka (about 650 odd k away), fortunately due to the early departure we saw what we believe to be the same hippo chomping away near to where we had camped……

I have decided I like hippos a lot, they look like giant sausages on legs…mmmmm sausages….The road to Lusaka was pretty interesting, I particularly liked driving the off roading bit and we met some super people. For instance here is Samson the tetsi fly catcher..

I swear if he had of been scouse he would have done a high pitched ‘no way’ response to our answer of ‘England’ when he asked where we had come from, instead we got the lovely high pitched ‘ar aiii’ sound that Zambians make when they are excited. We made it to Lusaka in time to catch up with Elton, a top Zimbabwian guy who to James’ surprise was now married with a 2 year old. ‘Everything changes when you have kids’. ‘Yes’ said James ‘  ‘I share Kate with Dee now and you’re right everything changes’. (ah bless aren’t men wonderful?)
We stayed at the Eureka lodge/campsite in Lusaka. Lusaka is a very busy city, so I was expecting to find the place we were planning to stay at to be a bit like dog poo camp but to our delight it turned out to be a top spot. The place was enhanced by the cheeky football mad staff who were delighted as I watched when Liverpool lost to Arsenal on their home turf recently ‘I bet you could cry for that goal couldn’t you madam?’ Said with a huge grin and followed by raucous laughter and ‘Did you know we won the Africa cup Madam?....more laughter ‘yes yes yes…I know’.
So enough of this lollygagging with the locals it was once again time to be on the road and this time to Livingstone (again named after Dr. David Livingstone who seemed to get about a bit) and the rather fantastic Mosi-Oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). Now when you read about the national park here you are told of the ‘hair-raising’ walk across the footbridge and the sheer buttress known as the knife edge’ so you think mmmmmmm this sounds like a laugh, what you are not prepared for is how wet you are going to get……..This was one of the funniest things we have done, we were soaked through in a matter of minutes as the trail takes you close enough to the waterfall (one of the seven wonders of the world no less) so that you are inside the water and the rainbows. It is truly terrific. And very very funny.
Check out the before and after shots here....

Well this instalment of the blog is almost at an end, and as you have gotten this far and enjoyed or endured the blog to date we thought we would reward one lucky person with a super duper prize. So without further delay here is the pinny competition! Hopefully you will have noticed that on occasion in some of the blog photos I have been wearing this delectable item of clothing modelled here by the gorgeous Keith from Kent.

We have been doing this for two reasons, firstly I wanted to wear it in honour of our lovely daughter Kate who bought it for me as a going on a daft adventure present and secondly so that we could have a ‘Where’s pinny?’ competition. All you have to do is find the photos of me wearing the pinny and identify the appropriate country, the winner will be the person who gets all/most answers right. If more than one person gets it right we will run tie breaker knock out questions at our house over many alcoholic beverages. As we know you are a lazy bunch we fully expect to keep the luscious prize for ourselves but in the spirit of adventure travel we wish you all jolly good luck. Oh and just one last thing some of our friends have had birthdays recently so to

                                    hope you had a fabulous exciting magical day                

and to
                                    hope that boil on your bits has gotten better ;-)

Till next time folks when we will tell you about getting locked in the lav in Namibia…much love Dee and James xxxxxxxxx

1 comment:

  1. I think Dog Poo camp must be part of an international chain!! Another great read folks...thanks Richard x