Sunday, May 29, 2011

zambia to malawi

 Each border crossing we go through is met with excitement coupled with anticipation of being haggled by either the border officials or the local money exchangers, who at times can be very pushy. The crossing into Zambia seemed to go relatively easy until we tried to exit through the boom gate…suddenly a bombardment of requirements was demanded from us, each with their own dollar price and office to find.  Not having local Zambian Kwacha our only choice was to pay by dollars. A note to travellers, if you are caught in this situation, either brave the sneaky money exchangers, or enquire what exchange rate the officials are using.  On one payment we were able to save US$10 noticing that the receipt was being written out in Zambian Kwacha and not US$.  After getting all the receipts we drove into Zambia concerned about what we had heard about the traffic, road officials and possible thieves.  On our left we snaked along the Zambezi River into Livingstone, where we exchanged dollars, topped up on our finished water and searched for a tourism office.  A very broad scale map for Teeny’s tank bag and we were on our way into Zambia with a couple of notes of ZK 500 000. 
About 20km outside of the town the road is being upgraded (another Chinese project), and a short detour takes you through a traffic police stop point, which Nick decided to drive through! This was quite stressful considering the stories we had heard about having to bribe officials in Zambia to get by…but luckily the officer just waved us through asking Teeny if she was tired. Not quite the response we were both anticipating. The roads were in a good condition with dense bush on either side, and the only thing we had to worry about was when the next bus would drive past.  They drive so fast and overtake quite closely testing the nerves of each of us. We drove through busy but friendly towns with people waving at us and in some cases encouraging wheelies or us to drive faster!! Our destination for the night was a place that Nick had been told about earlier in the morning by a local trucker. It was called McRons Take Away and the owner Ronald allows travellers to camp for no charge behind his take away/ bar/ restaurant.  Ronald was not in the office, so we chatted to local truckers and workers on the farm.  Most of the crop in this part of Zambia is tobacco farming, and we were told that every Wednesday night the local farmers get together at McRons for drinks and dinner.  We eventually got hold of Ronald, showered and set up camp before heading to the bar to meet the local farmers.  What a great group of people!! They shared stories about experiences in Lusaka and suggested things we should get and places to visit while in Zambia. They also gave us tips to sound like the locals, instead of saying ZK5000 you would just say 5 ‘pin’ – another handy note for travellers! We enjoyed a crispy chicken dinner and the local brew ‘Mosi’ before jumping into bed
The local Zabian beer

A lunchspot stop
The drive to Lusaka was beautiful but quite testing with all the trucks, busses and bicycles on the road, although we think that having travelled over a long weekend we managed to avoid heavier traffic loads. It seems that bicycles are the main mode of transport between the villages, and they transport anything from 50kg’s of charcoal, chickens and vegetables to their families on make shift seats on the back of the bicycles.  The roads are scattered with charcoal bags to buy, vegetable stands, firewood and friendly Zambians waving us along our journey.  The landscape was scattered with beautiful yellow flowers, fields of maize or sunflowers. About 50km before Lusaka heavily loaded trucks made our journey quite a bit slower and in some instances we were stuck in first gear unable to take over the row of cars in front of us.  We thought that maybe the heavy traffic was due to it being closer to rush hour, but our time in Lusaka showed that this was normal traffic volumes all day. 
Lusaka traffic !
We immediately drove to the backpackers, but after looking at the first place we decided to try the next place down the road.  Not much better, but a bit more secure we booked a room for the night to be able to lock everything while we walked the city to find the things we needed.  As it was still about 2 hours before business closed for the day we walked into town to find the Kawasaki dealer.  Walking in a town busy all the time with people walking somewhere or standing about doing nothing, there was never a point where we felt threatened but rather welcomed.  We found Kawasaki without a problem and arranged to have Nick’s tyre fixed. We explored the city a little further, finding Jubilee Chemist (recommended by the tobacco farmers) to buy co-artem – a treatment for the early stages of malaria – as well as got directions to a second hand bookstore and internet café.  On the walk back to the backpackers we bought fritters – yummy pavement treat! We jumped into bed that night for our first night’s sleep under a mosquito net!
Up early in the morning Nick took his front tyre and brake pads off and we headed back to Kawasaki to get a new tyre and hopefully collect the spares we had requested over email and the day before.  We arrived and none of the spares were available other than the front brake pads for a price of R750 nearly triple the price in South Africa. Very disappointed we told them to only change the front tyre.  While this was getting done we did some internet searches for places to stay during the rest of our time in Zambia, and wandered the two main streets of the cities.  Most of the shops comprise of clothing, hardware (tools, spares, electrical, bike parts) and fast food places similar to Chicken Licken. After collecting the tyre we caught a taxi back to the backpackers, packed up and headed to the office of Comesa.  On entering Zambia we had been charged for third party insurance, a hefty US$25 each.  Most countries we are travelling through subscribe to the Comesa yellow certificate which you get from an insurance company dealing with cross country third party insurance.  As we had nearly been caught out entering Zambia we thought that this would definitely work out cheaper and save hassles at the border.  A very helpful gentleman directed us to the insurance company we should visit to get the Comesa card, and explained the charges we should incur.  So off we went to Nico Insurers to extend the month’s third party cover we had received at the border up to 6 months (the time required for our journey) which is then used to issue the Comesa yellow certificate.  It took us nearly 2 hours to apply for these two pieces of paper, because firstly the gentleman charged us the incorrect premium, and then after already having rewritten the Comesa yellow certificate twice, had to do it again as he had only ticked coverage for Malawi instead of all the countries we intend to travel through.  We decided it would be best to leave Lusaka before spending anymore money, and drove 17km out the city to a campsite called Pioneer Camp.  An excellent spot offering cheap camping and free Wifi, we settled in and wrote our last blog.
Nick showing them how to fit as tyre properly !!
An affordable breakfast, accompanied by free tea and coffee and friendly informative staff we spent the morning taking it easy and enjoying the spot.  Our drive was only 200km further into Zambia to a place called Luangwa Bridge camp. The route travelled past the Lower Zambezi National Park, through wonderful passes and at one stage we were only a hill away from Mozambique.  The road was quiet except for the occasional kamikaze bus, and we arrived at our destination early enough to take a walk along the river and enjoy the company of young Zambian children spending the day fishing in the river.  They had caught a large barbell and were quite excited to have their picture taken and shown back to them.  Their friendliness is amazing, and where we were expecting them to beg for money as we said goodbye, their response was “we wish you a safe journey”.
Pioneer camp bar AWSOME !!

One of the many charcol bags for sale along the road

Drooling over our neighbours meat feast for dinner, we ate our beans and rice before heading up to the bar to chat with a couple (Elen and Guillem) who had just travelled from Sudan in their 4x4.  They had been working for the UN in south Sudan during the election time, and told us that we should not go to Southern Sudan but rather enjoy North Sudan.  We shared stories of places to see in South Africa while they shared information of camp sites throughout East Africa. 
View of the Luangwua river from Bridge camp

some locals with the large barbel they caught

Guilleme and Ellen

The next leg of our trip through Zambia was on to Chipata. We had been warned that the road was in a poor condition scattered with potholes “like you’ve never seen before”.  However, we think that he has never seen the potholes in South Africa where sinkholes swallow cars and some potholes are bigger than people’s pools! Glad that the road was not as bad as made out to be we winded our way towards Chipata making a stop at one of the roadside veggie stalls to buy potato’s, onions, green beans and received as a gift a ‘prickly’ cucumber to try. 
Road side stall where we purchased some goods
.  In Chipata we stayed at Deans Hill Lodge and camp - relatively new camp with the bar area and toilets still under construction – but the view over the town showed a much larger place than expected. A short walk away and we were at the Total garage where we could get a good take away for lunch.  In the morning we met Dean, the owner of the lodge/camp, an Englishman marketing for the overland trucks rather than the independent traveller. He suggested that we stay at Mabuya camp in Lilongwe, Malawi and off we went. We stopped in at Spar in Chipata for more water and breakfast and met the owner who helped us find Farouk, a helpful and honest money exchanger.  This was a great help because the money exchangers at the border were very forceful and have a  reputation of ripping people off.
The border crossing was sweet and short with no extra costs and smiles from all the friendly officials.  Finally we were in Malawi!
Lunch !

The walk up to Deans camp

The number of bicycles increased slightly, and as we travelled it was a little daunting not knowing what speeds you should be going until suddenly you have to be doing 50kph through the small towns or past schools. The ride to Lilongwe was short and in the town at the first turning circle Nick learnt that bicycles have as much right of way as cars nearly colliding with one turning out of the circle.  We found Mabuya camp quickly, set up and walked through to the local market and busy commercial street.  At this town there are lots of little shops packed to the brim with everything you need. Some dedicated to hardware and bicycle spares, and others fill of any appliances you need, groceries or cosmetics.  The pavements are covered with old singer sewing machines with the pedal and no motor operated by men, custom made stamp makers and peanut and naartjie vendors. While wandering the local stores we enquired where we could find a Malawi flag sticker for our panniers, but alas none were available for us.  We bought T-bone steak for dinner from the local halaal butcher as well as some garlic and barbeque spice before heading back to the camp site.  That night was spent trying to navigate the very slow internet and meeting fellow travellers both on the overland trucks and cyclists from London.  Again we shared camping spots along our journeys and experiences from each country.  To save on costs and time for making our own braai we asked the local overlanders if we could use their fire to cook our meat, and spiced up our chunks of T-bone before cooking it. A little tough but still very enjoyable!
Lilongwe Area 2 market

These guys were cutting planks from this huge piece of wood with hand saws !

Bicycle taxi

Some houses have these water bottles outside which any one can stop and have a cup of water

Bicycle taxi rank !

Local Malawian beer
Excited to get to Malawi lake, we headed into town to get more food supplies from the Spar.  While Teen went in to do the shopping, Nick was approached by a local asking if he we were still looking for Malawian flags.  This could only have been related to our query in the market on the other side of town the day before – amazing how you stick out as foreigners and how fast word travels!  After exchanging some more money at the bureau in town (at a better rate MK183 to 1 US$) we jumped on our bikes and took a less crowded and scenic route out of the city.  The ride was quite chilly and it was only as we went over the incredibly winding pass that the temperature started to increase as we saw Lake Malawi in the distance! The turns and switchbacks in the road down the pass were so tight that our panniers were almost touching the floor around the corners.  You can almost tell when you are about to enter a tourist attraction because the roads become full of vendors selling incredible hand crafted arts and crafts.  These particular ones were all wooden toys sculptured into fully functioning cars, bicycles, trucks and bulldozer so cleverly built that they put some of the toy shops in South Africa to shame!! We made our way towards Monkey’s Bay and over every hill and around every corner we would stand and look out in the distance to see if we could spot the great lake ahead of us. Finally we arrived in Monkey Bay and spotted the light blue waters of lake Malawi – Stunning! Monkey Bay itself is a little town bustling with shops, with only one camp site Mufasa Rustic Camp at the end.  Wanting to see more we headed to Cape Maclear, part of the Malawi Lake National Park, to find Fat Monkeys Camp – a place which we had heard many people talking about.  The drive there was on a dirt road just before sunset with some absolutely stunning views of mountains around the lake, then you drive through the local villages before finally arriving at a piece of paradise!!! With the sun setting over the lake, silhouetting the islands we ordered the local beer Carlsberg –AKA 2 greens please – and sunk into our long awaited days of relaxation!! Took some amazing pictures and although they look photo-shopped, we can assure you they are real! Pizza for dinner, sipping on cold beer shandy’s we listened as the water lapped the shore and a few fish eagle cry’s in the distance – oh yes another shitty day in Africa!
Winding pass to Lake Malawi, Cape maclear
The next morning Nick jumped out of bed as the sun rose excited to get exploring! The ‘beach boys’ were on us immediately smelling fresh meat! “I have some bracelets/rings/key rings/ boat rides/ fish/ tours etc …all at a very good price”.  Tempted after hearing about the snorkelling and fish eagle experience at Thombuti Island, we bit the bullet and organised to take a boat ride later in the afternoon.  The rest of the morning was spent getting the admin of washing done before lying on the ‘beach’/shore sleeping and reading.  
Happy to arrive in paradise
Chilaxing by the lake
Kingfishers all along the shore
We had a quick bite to eat before we headed out on our boat trip. After years of doing this trip, the fish seem to recognise the boats and as we landed on the island there were thousands of multi-coloured fish all around us. The guides then showed us how to catch these fish with our hands and a piece of bread, great fun and shouts of excitement when we finally caught some !!
After our patience and the bread were gone it was time to do some snorkelling and explore the island shores. As we put our heads under the water we were greeted with a plethora of colours , blues, greens, oranges and everything in-between. The fish were not the only attraction around the island, as we headed around into a small cove we watched Pied Kingfisher`s sitting in a tree busy trying to get the fish that they had caught into the right position to swallow them.
After spending an hour or so in the water we got back onto the boat and headed out for our fish eagle experience. As we sat on the boat the guides threw out fish into the water and we were able to photograph them swooping in to pick up the fish…absolutely amazing. 
Hand fishing !
Success !!
THOUSANDS of them !
Our guides
Fish eagle WOW!
The island where we snorkled
Pumping water

We got back to shore and then decided to take a walk through the local market, again lots of arts and crafts for sale and loads of food, from vegies to meat. The kids all come running up saying hello and asking where you are going , and one stage Teeny had about 4 kids holding her hand and walking through the market !!
We bought some tomatoe, eggs and bread and headed home for dinner. It seems to get very windy here at night but in the morning when we got up it, another glorious day awaited us. 
Today was spent relaxing and we took a short walk through the other side of the village and then enjoyed sun downers on the shore watching yet another picture perfect sunset whilst writing this blog. Tomorrow we will be heading further up the lake stopping mid way before reaching Nkhata bay a spot apparently more beautiful than here, if that is possible. Until then from paradise with love…

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