Driving towards Malawi

Driving towards Malawi

I last left you on my return journey from Zanzibar. Getting back to the campsite in Dar was a little arduous, leaving at 5am taking a bus, then immigration control, then a ferry, then immigration control (bear in mind Zanzibar is the same country, Tanzania, as Dar), a 15 minute walk in steaming heat carrying our bags, another short ferry with so many people one felt like chickens packed into a crate, and finally a tuktuk ride in torrential rain. Having the afternoon to rest before our next 2 very early starts was quite welcome and passed almost entirely without incident – unless you count a guy called Moses who plonked himself next to me on the beach and professed his love for me and asked me to marry him and take him to America within his first three sentences. When I laughed and ignored his advances he literally begged me “just talk to me for five minutes, ok?” – to which I suggested that in the future, he might wanna open with the latter of his two propositions.

Riding on the "Beach" area in front of the truck

Riding on the “Beach” area in front of the truck

Our journey was taking us to Malawi, and we faced two very long, very hot days on the truck driving, each of them beginning at 4am. Yes, you read that right. That first day was a 14 hour drive and we thankfully spent the night at some altitude at a Farmhouse called Irina near the Malawi border with Tanzania. The farmhouse runs almost entirely on solar power, and was spotlessly clean and a refreshing respite from the road. Their bar was a reed made structure that is lit entirely by candles in the evening, and since it was one of our group’s birthday, we enjoyed homemade brownies and hot chocolate after dinner. I also forced myself to do an hour’s worth of exercise on arrival with another one of the passengers who is a huge crossfit enthusiast. We ran sprints, did pushups, squats, burpees and improvised steps using picnic tables until I was exhausted. I can’t believe how out of shape I’ve become after only two weeks of very limited cardio activity.

Sleeping with a cool breeze was so welcome after all the heat we had endured.

The following day, our drive took us through some beautiful lush green scenery and the landscape became more and more hilly the closer we got to Malawi. As a country, Malawi is about the size of Pennsylvania, but with a population of over 14 million people, it is the 4th most densely populated African country. Average life expectancy is 52 years and more than half of the population is malnourished. GDP is less than 250USD annually per citizen, so I was prepared to see some very impoverished communities during our stay here. Our destination inside Malawi was the lake formed by the Great Rift Valley – Lake Malawi, its size so immense you would swear you were staying by the ocean.

Our campsite in Chitimba

Our campsite in Chitimba

By now, I’d say that I’ve almost completely accepted the loss of my computer and phone and am quite settled (though not yet content) into our group’s day to day routine. There has been some friction between certain members of the group, but for the most part, we are getting along ok. I am left still feeling quite alone and lonely despite being with these people every single day – and I find myself wistfully imagining just how different of an experience I’d be having if Giovanna, Tanya, Jerri, Nolan, or Eve were here with me…or better yet – all five of them! While I am now convinced that I will experience some incredible things during this sojourn of Africa, I am equally convinced that those experiences will not carry the same meaning since they won’t be shared with a friend in arms or even a fellow traveler of my choosing.

Our four lads aged 18 and 19 have formed a very tight-knit group and are rarely without each other for more than a few minutes in any given day – and I find myself glad for them that they have each other, but sad that I can’t enjoy a similar experience. For instance, staying here in Kande on the southern lake, I chose to upgrade my room, but none of the other passengers wanted to share with me, especially since there is only one single woman on my trip and she keeps almost entirely to herself, opening her mouth from time to time only to share her latest set of complaints about how the trip is organized. We are picking up an additional passenger in Lilongwe, so we shall see how that affects the dynamic of the group and whether she might end up being a kindred spirit.

I will end this entry with my latest set of smaller observations about our journey:

  • I have just gone three days without any coffee whatsoever. Due to our early morning departures, we leave without breakfast and then grab cereal alongside the highway, literally, a few hours into our drive. I think I’m in caffeine withdrawal.
  • Pricing for things makes absolutely no sense here. Our 13 hour day hike with a guide in Chitimba cost only 3 USD despite the fact that it’s the same price as a glass of wine and entrance to the museum that we visited for only an hour was 4 USD. Missing our local transport on our descent (story for this will be my next post) we were told that a car could be sent to pick us up saving us from walking for the last 5 kms or so, but that it would cost 80USD. Strange, right?
  • From my observations thus far, the Malawi people are much friendlier than Tanzanians and there’s a far lesser sense of their approaching you for ulterior motives other than wanting to converse.
  • Much like South America, people trying to sell you their crafts and wares from the roadside just need to learn to stop hassling you and incessantly telling you what they have for sale when your own eyes can quite easily discern the same. I swear I might actually buy something from a vendor that just let me browse without assuring me that I’m his bosom friend, that he’ll give me a good price, and insisting I’m his “sister”.
  • I don’t understand travelers who don’t carry a Ziploc bag with hand sanitizer, soap, toilet roll and wet wipes with them at all times. I cannot count each day how many times I pull that item out of my bag and put it away.
  • My hatred of plastic bottles of water and the people that continually buy them instead of investing in a longer term\more sustainable water purification system hasn’t waned one bit, and though Malawi is a lot cleaner than Tanzania – the GLUT of plastic everywhere is staggering. I LOVE my steripen and I don’t understand why every traveler doesn’t have one of these.
  • We have procured the pill which kills the parasite that one can apparently contract from snails in Lake Malawi. They can cause kidney failure and enter your bloodstream through the skin. Lovely. Again though, our guide Tabitha instructed us to purchase the medicine with the same amount of concern or anxiety that she would assign to the purchase of cheddar.

No biggie. This is Africa. Lots of things can kill you here.