Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas on Lake Malawi

After the delays in Dar es Salaam, broken spring and our quest for fuel we did not know whether we were going to make it to a good spot in Malawi for Christmas;. In Mzuzu we stocked up on cash, after queueing at the ATM for one hour, diesel and we bought the elusive frozen (semi frozen) chicken for Christmas day. We then made it to our intended destination of Chinteche Beach and it was lovely.

During the night Santa seemed to have located us and filled our sleeping bag bags we had left attached to the fly sheet. Gavin received a new pair of flip-flops. I am so pleased that Santa correctly guessed his shoe size and I received a couple of very interesting books which Santa must have found in an obscure bookshop in Mzuzu.

Christmas morning we attended the local Bandwe Presbyterian Mission Church. I had been told that the service was from 8-9. When we eventually found it, at 10 past 8, I realised that the start was at some time between 8 and 9 so we were not late at all. All during the service more parishioners drifted in and the congregation increased in size at least 10 fold from when the service first started. Although we had been told that the service was in English it was still quite difficult to follow as the pastor often became quite excited and kept lapsing into Chichewa and shouting. Luckily the gentleman next to us would attempt to interpret for us. My concentration was also interrupted by the very noisy baby in the next pew breast feeding and burping, the dog which took great interest in the altar and in the pastor’s leg and the numerous cell phones ringing at regular intervals. The service was held in a large new church, very close to the old church. The Pastor informed us that old church had been built in the honour of Mrs Somebody’s (yes he did say Mrs Somebody) memory, he also explained that Mrs Somebody was the wife of the Missionary and had died soon after giving birth to her son who also died.

Initially the singing had been rather weak but as the numbers of singers swelled and everyone got into the swing of things it was magnificent and during the final hymn (I did my best to keep up with the Chichewa not having a clue what I was singing) drums were taken up from underneath the pews. At the end of the service Gavin was slightly taken aback when we were asked to come to the front to introduce ourselves, but we were made to feel very welcome and were asked to sign the visitors book.

There was anther white lady at the service, from Scotland, who gave us some background information on Mrs Somebody, whose name was Mrs Martin. She was friends with one of Mrs Martin’s daughters, now 80 years old living in Scotland, and they had set up a foundation to provide funds for the girls schools in the area. The original idea had been Mrs Martin’s in the twenties. She also explained how her friend had returned to Bandwe when she was 60 and learned for the first time that she had a baby brother who was stillborn, no one had thought to tell her. Apparently Mrs Martin died soon afterwards of black water fever.

Back at the campsite we set about roasting our chicken. Gavin did the manly thing and looked after the fire while I tended to the chicken. After the usual problems of fires not starting etc we sat down to Christmas lunch in true Bowley fashion, rather late. I had been a bit worried about how the chicken had been stored so ensured that it was well and truly cooked- it certainly was, it was falling off the bone, but still very succulent. This was quite good because we did not really have a good knife to carve it with. The potje performed fantastically- the spuds were roasted, the carrots sweet and soft and onions juicy. But we noticed a massive change to our appetites. Normally the two of us would polish off a bird with stacks of potatoes and vegetables. This time we were full and there was still half a chicken left.

Boxing Day was spent lazing around, catching up on laundry, baking bread in the potje and swimming in Lake Malawi.

In the campsite were some more overlanders in a 4 wheel drive truck. It has taken them 14 months to get this far from Austria, and they took a ferry from Genoa to Tunis. It is quite funny, now when we talk to other overlanders, we all know the same people up and down the continent. The other thing is that overlanders seem to have a very different view of the countries they visit, compared to backpackers, people who are working for NGO’s or other tourists. We often have to keep some of our opinions to ourselves but with other overlanders we can freely discuss the problems and frustrations we have had making our way through Africa.

Malawi has been very refreshing compared to Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania in terms of far fewer people demanding money etc from us. Although one man did ask us to buy his corn on the cob (for about 5 times the usual price) because he was hungry, when we suggested that he might want to eat the corn on the cob himself he just looked blankly at us. Also in Malawi the towns are well organised and clean, the countryside is lush and full of carefully tended crops (although we are here during the rainy season). Even the driving is considerably better with fewer lorry wrecks by the wayside.

Further down the coast of Lake Malawi we stopped at Senga Bay for a few days. This is more of a town than the other places we have visited so there are many more people around. Yesterday I walked through the fishing village right on the beach negotiating my way through the drying nets and men either repairing them, sleeping or talking on their cell phones. Behind the beach are rows and rows of fish drying racks- the smell is really quite overpowering!

From here we head to Lilongwe and then on to Zambia.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

It’s been an eventful few days since the end of the last entry. We have now left the coast behind, although we had to depart Dar es Salaam with unfinished business, as the day we left was a public holiday (for the end of the Muslim Haj). We still did not have the vehicle insurance we had been trying to buy since Nairobi, and publishing the last entry had to wait until we found an internet café in Morogoro. We did manage to stock up at a supermarket, though, and best of all, we finally found a Potje, or Dutch Oven (the cast iron pot type – not the other one…). Catkin has been dreaming about all the new things she will be able to cook in the pot, like bread, pizza, chocolate cake(!), stews, scones and even roast chicken!!! I have been dreaming about eating all of the above (especially the roast chicken. I love roast chicken). Tonight we are finally trying it out for the first time, with bread.

Morogoro was a bustling town. We ended up camping for free at an hotel – the Canadian owner seemed most unwilling to charge us for the privilege of parking (and sleeping) in the carpark.

From there our route toward Iringa took us through the Mikuni National Park. I thought I was pretty smart when I was first to spot a baboon by the roadside, but I was well and truly trumped when suddenly Catkin shouted out “ELEPHANTS!” And there they were, just wandering along not far from the road. We stopped and watched them for a while, and ended up seeing quite a few throughout the journey through the park.

We were aiming for a farm campsite just south of Iringa, where we had heard you could buy tender steak from their farm shop. Sounded too good to miss.

Near the end of the day we were alarmed by a loud noise that sounded like scraping metal as we went through a depression in the road surface. There was no way we could scrape anything, and a quick inspection of the underside of the Land Rover and the road revealed nothing. We carried on to the campsite, but a few new knocks and clunks on the way suggested that all was not okay. A closer inspection at the campsite revealed the worst – a broken front spring. And on a smooth sealed road!

In the morning we decided to go back the 50km to Iringa to look for a new spring, rather than carry on the 200km or so to Mbeya. The people at the campsite gave us a name of a place to ask for, and we ended up dragging one of their employees around town to various new and used parts stores. In the end we settled on a used spring, with a plan to get some good new ones in South Africa where they should be cheaper. We pushed on for a bit until we found a quiet spot in a forest, then while Catkin cooked lunch I whipped the broken spring out and put the good one back in. So far so good.

That was yesterday. Last night we stayed at Matema, at the very top of Lake Malawi, and today we crossed the border into Malawi itself. We have ventured up a steep zigzag to Livingstonia, and then descended again in a quest for fuel. Luckily we have found a campsite that is willing to sell some of their generator fuel to us so that we can make it to the next filling station. Tomorrow we head further down the lake to find a nice spot to set up camp for a few days, and spend Christmas.

Seeing as we are south of the Equator (although still in the tropics), we have just had our fourth “longest day” in a row after following summers around the world over the last 18 months. This one was the shortest longest day I’ve ever experienced though, with about 12 ½ hours between sunrise and sunset. Not quite the same as London or Queenstown.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all, especially our friends and families. Keep safe,
Gavin and Catkin