Traveller Home Malawi


11th November 1992, Cape MacLear, Malawi -

Here's the text from the Christmas postcards which are being mailed out: "Nov 18, 92. Dear ------, MERRY CHRISTMAS! We've made it to Malawi for the two weeks we had to kill before our safari. This place is heaven. We're staying in one of the few modern buildings in a village made of thatched huts at Cape MacLear, Lake Malawi. The lake has over 650 species of fish to snorkel after. When you get in the water for a swim the fish come to you and surround you while you're swimming. We eat fresh fish and rice for dinner; mangos, eggs and coconut for breakfast - if I didn't have to catch the safari truck on the 20th I'd stay here. It was a hellish bus ride getting here but well worth it. We're getting a local to take us in his boat (carved out of a tree) over to one of the islands to do diving and eat fresh fish for the day. (That'll cost $3.00). our room opens up onto the beach and it's got our own bathroom for $2.50 each. All we do is lounge on the beach and swim all day. Remember, I'm south of the equator and it's summer down here! Have a great Christmas! We'll be in Nairobi on the 3rd or the 4th before we go to India to sit on more beaches.. Take Care. All the best. Love, Brad"

Yesterday we sat on the beach, went swimming, sat on the beach, went swimming, sat on the beach . . . That's how difficult the day was.

13th November 1992, Cape MacLear, Malawi -

We met these two British girls (who turned out to be medical students) at breakfast named Cathy and Karine. Wednesday night they'd organized a local to cook a barbecue on the beach and they invited us along. Went down with them to the beach Thursday night and had a good dinner of BBQ fish, rice & tomato sauce (what's new). After getting thoroughly wrecked it was off to the bed. Thursday (November 12th) we woke up and met a group of people here at Mr. Stevens to go down to the beach, for we'd arranged a boat to take us over to one of the islands to go snorkeling for the day.

Here's the cast - 1 Brit, 2 Aussies, 1 Kiwi and us. We met our captain who rowed us across the lake over to the island. We found our spot to sit, the everyone was off into the water to start some snorkeling. While we were swimming Queua (our captain) started the BBQ and began to cook the huge catfish he'd brought along for our lunch. We had an incredible fish lunch, after more swimming (and everyone else had made a very poor attempt to row the boat around) we all piled back into the boat for our return journey.

We arrived back in the early afternoon, just in time to meet our BBQ chef, Patrick, from the evening before. In addition to doing evening BBQ's Patrick can cook some of the best local banana cake around. The locals make "special" banana cake for K5.00, and boy do they do the trick. If you eat too much special cake it just does your head in.

This would be the perfect time to explain to the reader what we've figured out about the Malawian people. Every male you meet almost always can offer two or more of the following services: the first one is usually "Take a boat?" [there's a tie for numbers two and three], 2./3. - laundry, BBQing, 4. Making you a "special" banana cake, and 5. Is whether or not you need a cob. When you can show up in a country and hire virtually any local to do the cooking, cleaning, smoking and transportation, that's a place you'll want to spend some time.

Wednesday Rich and I walked down the beach towards "The Gap" [INSERT HAND DRAWN MAP HERE} but we got lost and ended up climbing over tons of hug boulders in our thongs. This local climbed with us showing us the way and when we finally reached the beach near The Gap we asked the local if he'd go back and get his boat to we could get a ride back to shore. We didn't even know he had a boat, but we asked anyway and he went and found a boat. It's yet another example of how everyone's available for hire - and they can almost always do a few of the basic services.

Back to Patrick. Patrick had whipped up one of his banana cakes, so Rich and I went and got Cathy and Karine (the British meds) and promptly sat down and ate the cake as our hors d'overture before dinner.

15th November 1992, Cape MacLear, Malawi -

I looked at a calendar today and realized our flight doesn't leave until Wednesday, so we've got another day here. We've become markedly less active in the last few days.

Let's finish the BBQ story first. After our pre-dinner snack we had a few beers, then headed to the beach. After a spectacular sunset of the most brilliant reds and oranges we laid back to look at the stars. Cape MacLear is so far removed from everything that you can see all the stars clearly. We sat there and looked at the stars but didn't know any of the constellations because we were all from the Northern Hemisphere. We have as of yet to find anyone who can point out the Southern Cross to us. Because it's so dark here you can see tons of shooting stars. The best one I saw was huge and it went streaming across the sky, leaving a brilliant white trail that looked like a 4th of July firework. Amazing. Patrick, the local we've contracted out to BBQ for us, served up the fish and rice and we had a relaxing meal.

Wasted any lying on the beach looking at the stars Karine started talking about chocolate, which eventually led to Hob Nobs. She and Cathy had been travelling for two months and absolutely wanted Hob Nobs. Karine was saying how nice they were and how nice it would be to have a Hob Nob or two. I made an exit to our room, and when I got back both the girls were laying on their backs and Rich and I sitting above them on the beach. Upon my return Rich asked me for something but my reply was "Not unless it's made in England." I then held out a half a package of Hob Nobs that I'd put in my backpack in London five weeks earlier and said, "These are made in England."

Both Karine and Cathy looked at what I was holding, but because they were looking at me upside down they couldn't see what it was. "What are those?" asked Karine. "Hob Nobs from England," was my reply using my game show announcer voice. Upon hearing my response Karine quickly rolled over and after taking a second look at my hand she asked me with eyes the size of plates, "Can I touch them? Are they real?" They were truly amazed that we were sitting in one of the remotes places in the center of East Africa craving Hob Nobs and they suddenly appeared. Cathy reached out and touched the packet upon hearing Karine's question as Karine couldn't believe it. "This package of Hob Nobs left England five weeks ago and has since been to Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Let's enjoy them," I explained. And on that note we munched on some chocolate covered oat cookies that had been through hell but tasted so nice.

We didn't see Karine or Cathy the next day because they'd gone, but I've got their address and will give them a ring in England to recollect what we'll call the Hob Nob story.

Woke up this morning and lounged around. Rich and I thought we should go haggle with the sellers to get some stone carvings, so we rummaged through our backpacks looking for anything else we didn't want. You see, no one tells you this, but when you cross over the border into Malawi, everything in you pack all of a sudden is worth something. The Malawians don't have a lot of stuff, so you can get good deals for clothing, etc to trade. In order of importance one should bring: shoes, towels, baseball hats, and t-shirts. Socks, watch batteries and extra backpacks are helpful. The only thing is there's a trick to trading. Malawians are very relaxed businessmen. They take their time, so haggling can take you well over an hour for one session. (3-4 sessions are usually required) You sit there and haggle over the price, then when it's a decent price you pull out the goods to trade. We didn't know this was the best way to go about it, so we've been showing the sellers the trading goods first and instead of getting a straight trade it usually knocks 50% off the price. Then you've really got to work to haggle the price down. For a pair of river shoes and $3 I got a chair and a statue for my grandmother. For a pair of socks, a nylon mesh laundry bag and $2.50 I got two figurines and a carved boat for my parents. The only thing is that after 2-3 days and 3-4 bargaining rounds later you get really tired and just pay the twenty five or fifty cents you were arguing over.

We've also figured out that virtually all the locals can provide at least two of the following services for hire: cooking, cleaning, selling ganja or transport. The local we've befriended - Patrick - cooks our dinner and banana cakes, can do laundry, can get us cobs and can arrange to have a boat take us to the other islands. The Malawian people are all really friendly and accommodating, the only thing is that some travellers abuse their position. We've met some South Africans who treat the blacks like second class citizens. Worse than any active/pledge fraternity relationship ever was. They just order them around and scream at them. When Patrick wanted to talk to me one of the S.Africans came over and said "That black wants to talk to you." It was like "black was a noun, not a person. It is disconcerting, so we just don't hang around S.Africans much. The S.African women are all fine, just the men who are obnoxious.

I mentioned that Patrick was gesturing to talk to me. Mr. Stevens (where we're staying) has its own stretch of beach where the locals aren't allowed to go. The locals would constantly come over and try to sell the backpackers their services, so to keep them away Mr. Stevens hires someone to chase after the sellers with a large stick. Corporal punishment - I guess it's effective. The locals all stand outside invisible boundaries like children playing a game of tag who can's cross a certain line in the sand.

Patrick's cooked for us for a few nights, so yesterday ha and I had to go to the village to talk to a fisherman about hiring him to take us across the lake. The fisherman wanted too many Kwacha, but on the way back Patrick took me through the village. He showed me the church, then we went to his hut. It's made of bricks, coated in mud, with a thick straw thatched roof. The area is surrounded by a bamboo fence, enclosing a few papaya trees in the process. Met his sister and her new baby before heading to the grain grinding building

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