Traveller Home Malawi


18th November 1992, On the plane over Mozambique headed to Harare, Zimbabwe -

We left Cape MacLear two days ago on a bus to Blantyre. The bus ride wasn't nearly as unpleasant as the one to Monkey bay, and we got to go through some beautiful countryside. Blantyre is the industrial center of Malawi, with not a lot to offer the backpacker. We stayed in this Christian youth hostel for the outrageous sum of K50.00 (Us$10) for the dorm. Rich was less than thrilled with our side trip to Blantyre (he wanted to stay on the lake another day).

We slept there the night then woke up the morning of the 17th in order to catch our bus to Lilongwe. Got on the bus and each had a seat to ourselves during the five hour ride. The road we took to Lilongwe is the frontier road with Mozambique, so I was excited at the prospect of being so close to a country where it's not a good idea to visit at the moment. The MNZ breakaway group in Mozambique was been shooting at trucks and buses in the Tete corridor, but nothing happens on the road we were travelling. After a while we came upon a brick building on the left hand side of the bus It was the Mozambique immigration post, and for the next 77 kilometers the bus rarely stopped as we sped past the country in the throes of a civil war. Looking at what we saw it looked peaceful and beautiful like Malawi, but I knew there were other things happening there. The bus made it to Lilongwe where we found a room in the local rest house. Riding buses in these third world countries is a real experience. The people can bring whatever they want on the buses (the woman in front of us had a guinea fowl in her lap on the way to Monkey bay), and there doesn't seem to be any maximum capacity of people. If there's room, then more people will get on. When you're on these extensive bus rides if you forget to bring food you're going to get really hungry. Don't fret - there's usually at least ten Malawian children at all major bus stops, adorned with baskets full of food for sale to ravenous passengers. First you haggle for the price of the . . . (samosa, fruit, bread) whatever. The kids raise the baskets over their head and you take what you want and leave the money in the basket. No problem. You can get food and drink virtually everywhere. We could eat without ever leaving the bus. Drinks are a bit harder to come by - it gets complicated with the bottle deposits, trading an empty for a full - things like that.

24th November 1992, Maun, Botswana -

Writing on the truck doesn't work, so the writing will just have to be done when it's possible. That's the only really frustrating thing about being on the truck - you sit there for six hours at a time and are unable to write, unable to read, unable to do anything but drink and look outside as the truck bounces around on the Third World roads too much. Before we get too far behind (or ahead of ourselves depending on how you look at it) we need to do some housecleaning and write about some of the countries we've already left. Let's start with Malawi some more.

I can't seem to say enough good things about Malawi, which suits me just fine. Great memories abound. Just take note that my carved Malawian table cost K18.00 (US$3.25). little did we know when we arrived but Malawians eat goat here. One of the S.African guys we met was having a birthday BBQ on the beach, and the guest of honor was Mr. Goat of the nearby village. I guess the S.Africans have these types of BBQ's all the time. These guys had purchased a live goat that morning, killed it, drained the blood, skinned it and put it on a spit for the locals to cook over an open-pit fire on the beach. Amazing - the goat turned out OK; it definitely tasted like wild game of sorts. Salty and definitely different.

Now you'll recall we travelled to Blantyre, then Lilongwe before our return flight to Harare. That last night in Lilongwe, Rich and I stayed in the rest house near the bus station. We were both worn down from our bus rides and Rich wasn't feeling too well, so we decided to be mellow in our hotel room. We had a bit of a cob left over, which we had to dispose of before leaving the country, so we disposed. We then proceeded to pull out my travel radio and tune to Malawi's sole radio station.

It was so surreal - we were sitting on a bed playing cards, watching the African mothers walk by with their babies tied to their backs in a sarong, and the orange African sunset in the background. Amazing. We started to play cards when these really bizarre radio ads/programmes came on, only adding to the surreal experience. Rich commented that this would be the perfect intro to an episode of the Twilight Zone.

[Opening Credits.]
[Twilight Zone Intro]

Voice Over: Two men, sitting in a balmy hotel room in the middle of East Africa, playing cards and relaxing listening to the radio. They've just begun their African holiday, but it won't be a holiday for much longer.

[Wide shot of hotel room, zoom in to close crop shot of actors on bed.]

Voice Over: Their only source of information from the Western World, their link to this isolated world in one of the darkest places on the African continent, the hand held FM radio tuned to the sole station in the country - Radio Malawi.

[Actors playing cards, listening to radio. Radio announcer interrupts programming with bulletin.]

Announcer: The News. Radio Malawi. The continental United States has just experiences a major earthquake on an undiscovered fault running from the east to west coast. The quake has been classified as a 10.2 on the Richter scale, but this reading is not accurate as the quake was greater than any ever experienced on the planet. As a result the continental shelves have separated and the continent is sinking at a rate of five meters an hour into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Millions of people are estimated dead from the initial shock with an infinite number in danger of drowning as the continent sinks. The earthquake has caused tidal waves in all directions heading for Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and aid is unable to reach the survivors on North America. All U.S. citizens are urgently required to contact their closest embassy or consulate so the U.S. Government can tally the number of survivors and establish a new government.

How about an episode that went something along those lines, eh? Notes to continue: Denver, capital city. New world power emerges. Expats to form new government.

Alright - that winds up everything I wanted to write - I think.

We flew back to Harare and went right back to the Sable Lodge. When we arrived it was like we were back home. The reception dudes all welcomed us back and come of the people we'd met before we left were still hanging around the Sable. I've met some really interesting people - one of them who had the most amazing story was this Russian guy named Serg.

He was about my age, 23, and he had fled from Moscow when Russia was still very communist and they weren't letting people travel yet. Serg had had his passport taken from him so he decided he needed to get out of Russia. He bought his friend's Russian passport, went to the airport and got on the first flight out. The only flight leaving the country was to Lusaka, capital of the nearby country of Zambia. Serg got on the plane and he said he had no idea where Lusaka was. He thought it was in Latin America somewhere - he wasn't expecting Africa at all. He said he got to Lusaka, knew barely any English and just had to figure out how to survive. He said he bought another passport on the black market and came to Zimbabwe because he didn't need a visa to get in the country. He had lived in Harare for a while and during that time he asked the Russian embassy to issue him a passport (this was before the coup) but the embassy declined his request. Immediately after the attempted coup in 1991 he asked for a passport again and got one issued that would allow him to travel only back to Moscow and no where else. He thought staying in Zimbabwe a bit longer sounded like a good idea. It's wild - the stories you hear from the travellers who cross your path. They've done a lot, but so have we so we can always reciprocate a story.

Upon our return to Harare Rich and I desperately needed to mail home the five to six kilos of wood carvings, tables, etc we'd picked up in Malawi. Hit the post office, which was so efficient. For Z$7.00 (US$1.15) you can ship anything that's two kilos or under. Amazing! Plus, the packages sent from Zim usually make it home. After our post office escapade (that took us two hours to package and send, etc.) we dropped by the Air India office to set our date leaving Nairobi. That done it was back to the Sable Lodge where we met the other three guys who we'd be on safari with us. Earlier that morning (the 19th) we'd attended our pre-departure meeting for our six and a half week safari from Harare to Nairobi where we'd met these guys. After an evening of talking to these guys it was off to bed.

Maybe it's a good idea to introduce a few of these guys since they'll be features prominently over the course of the next six weeks. There are two Aussie guys - Jim and Tom. Jim used to work at a bank - Citicorp, and he's off to London to work for a year on their two year work visa thing. Tom is taller and not as bright, his last vocation being a plumber, but he was en route to London as well.

25th November 1992, Okavango Delta, Botswana -

Jim is really good natured, able to talk to anyone and seems intelligent. Tom doesn't appear to be that educated at all. He says things like, "If you eat a bulb of garlic you'll be really healthy. I haven't tried this myself, but . . ." Things like that. Throughout the course of this trip I'll jot down some of the classic quotes as I remember them.

We are also going to be travelling with a British guy we met at the Sable, who signed up at the pre-departure meeting. His name's Mike, but he told us his nickname is Gully - for gullible. This guy is so British and so vain. Without offending anyone if I could choose some Chi Phis to compare to this guy I'd choose myself, Nils, pat Devlin, Alex Miller & Derek. Take the general characteristics of these guys and roll them up into a vain guy who didn't know what he was getting himself into when he signed up for the safari. I'm vain, but I knew what I was getting myself into - it'll be interesting to see what Gully's reaction (or mine for that matter) will be when we have to push the truck out of the thigh-high deep mud in Zaire. These are the only other guys on the trip - there's eleven of us on a truck build for eighteen. The girls are all Gamma Phi beta caliber; four New Zealanders, one Aussie and surprisingly one American. Two of the Kiwis are names Raewyn and Judy - really cool girls, main un peut laide. Tina is wholesome - the homely type. Then there's Jenny. Jenny is friends with the American girl Stephanie, both of whom lived in Amsterdam together. They're definitely liberal and free spirited. Jenny's the graphic designer, creative one where Stephanie's more the Berkeley nature type. Both are really cool. Finally there's Brenda the Aussie girl, a little older, maybe a mature 29 or 31. She's really cool, a mellow woman with a crew cut and quite a few earrings. She works at a cemetery doing the paperwork for coffins, plots, etc. It's bizarre when she tells us stuff like, "If you're cremated and buried in the ground you don't have any legal rights to the land." Bizarre. That's just one of the useful bits of info we've picked up. The whole group appears to work pretty well together.

And there we go. The morning of the 20th we woke up, packed our bags and went over to the hotel to meet our truck driver and trip coordinator (don't let those titles fool you). Boz is our "trip coordinator" who is just another Kiwi dude having a good time. The only problem is that he hasn't been on many of the optional excursion trips so he can never tell us anything about them. Steve is our Aussie driver who's so mellow. We befriended him because he's the man to get some cobs from. It appears that our pot is just included in the price of the trip - it's been fun. Steve's a funny guy - he's rugged, like he's experienced in driving a truck through East Africa, but he doesn't look the part. He's got my wiry build only shorter. Too funny.

O.K. let's move on. The truck finally arrived (it hadn't been completely fixed before we were to leave) so we piled all our gear on and started our journey out of Harare. Rich and I were relieved, we were finally starting some of the more rugged travelling. It'll be good; we were relaxed in Malawi after tearing around Egypt, and then we'll relax again in India after our rugged safari. Our huge German M.A.N. truck with the sides rolled up headed out of Harare to the sound of Brad's Eric Clapton tape.

The truck is really large - it's got two rows of seats sitting up on a raised stage area, then there are twelve airplane type seats all the way back. Plus there's a semi-decent stereo to we can blare our music for everyone to hear. We were heading south west to Masovingo where we'd get to see the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. The ruins consist of some towers and walls from an old city that used to sit up on these hills. Now I wasn't too psyched on these things at all. After living in Great Britain for over a year I have seen so many ruins of old castles and forts I wasn't too interested in this one.

We were cruising along when out left rear tire had a blowout. We couldn't believe it, it was our first day out! We pulled over and had lunch while we changed the tire, so it didn't seem that bad. Back in the truck to drive through the scrub dry land onward to Masovingo. Arrived at the campsite in the early evening and pitched our tents. After our dinner (cooked over an open fire) we began the quest for the elusive Southern Cross. Rich and I mentioned our trouble in finding it to everyone else, but no one seems to know where it is, and these people are from the Southern hemisphere. Haven't asked Jim or Tom yet, so there's still a glimmer of hope.

Got up in the morning of the 21st and drove to the Ruins themselves.

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