Sunday, August 31, 2008

Southern Malawi

We ended up staying in Blantyre, the largest city in southern Malawi, longer than we'd planned, a total of 4 nights. We needed to get some more US cash and the girls got their hair braided again. Now that we are back into something resembling developing Africa they wanted the braids back. Blantyre wasn't bad at all, it has a nice hilly setting and wasn't overly busy. The central part of town, the banking district, where I spent most of my time is nicely developed and clean. Malawi is significantly cheaper than the rest of Southern Africa, from the food prices to camping to internet. I can camp and eat an overpriced meal at the hostel for the same price as camping in Mozambique. They also have proper greasy street-food again! Mmmm....greasy fries...
When we finally left, we headed on a very slow and rickety bus to Monkey Bay, on Lake Malawi. It was a long, boring bumpy day, not helped by the lack of view since this country, actually the whole region, is so hazy these days. The bus was the super slow local one, the only direct option, and the local ladies sitting next to me were travelling with a pair of chickens under the seat. When they finally left, a different lady with a different set of chickens sat down. Ah, the chicken run.....
It wasn't a long way but it took all day, nearly 10 hrs because of the stops and the last 2 1/2 hrs were on road being rebuilt so we were in the dust on the side and finally exited the bus covered from head to toe and with a none-too-happy family. We were supposed to be headed to Cape Maclear, a popular backpackers destination nearby but it was getting late and the transport in the area is a bit of a hassle with connections and timing so we ended up on a 1/2 march through sand and a fishing village to a backpackers place right on the lake called Venice Beach. The beach was nice, but it was strange to see such calm water after all the wind and waves in Mozambique. The fishing village surrounds the place and it seemed that every villager came down to bathe and do laundry all day in the lake while the fish dried in the sun on racks nearby.
One thing I definitely have to say about the people here, they are really nice and friendly. I think Malawi may have the nicest people in Africa and so far it looks as if this will end up being my favourite country on the continent as it is for so many others I have talked to. I walked around town with some guys from the high school who were very helpful in showing me around and just chatting.
Leaving Monkey Bay was a bit of a nightmare as the 6am bus either didn't exist or just didn't bother to show up. The 7:30 arrived totally stuffed and we ended up having to take a combination of 2 pickup trucks and one minibus to get to Lilongwe. When I say we were in a pickup I mean something a little larger than a typical pickup that you would drive at home. More the commercial type but still something with no business putting 30 people and their luggage in the back and driving along bumpy dirt roads. We were totally squashed and to make matters worse, this country has gone back to the old style of every female has a baby so you end up surrounded by a bunch of bouncing breast-feeders to horrify you. Oh the clouds are so nice out here..... Actually, the view is or would be stunning, if not for the haze. It is pretty dry but has some small mountains as well as the lake.
Lilongwe is not as nice as Blantyre, or at least not in the area we are. We are in a cheap hotel across from the bus station because we weren't planning on staying long. We needed more money (the ATM withdrawl limits are so low here, grrr) and planned to move on but have ended up staying 3 nights. There is a good reason though. Ben met us in Lilongwe that first night having just arrived from Zambia, where we intend to go next (tomorrow). We didn't want to travel on Sunday and today is the funeral for the Zambian president, who died in France just recently. Everything will be completely shut down across Zambia so there was no point in leaving today. There is a big mosque just beside the bus station and it is the first time I've heard the call to prayer since West Africa. As we head up the coast we will of course get more Islamic again. Not sure that the girls are too keen on that.....
We intend to jump into Zambia for only a couple of days to visit South Luangwa Park for one last safari before coming back to Malawi.
Ammon
PS. Shean, the syntax you questioned, well, I was making it clear (sort of) that Kees is not in a relationship with the mother other than as a joint parent. Mom's speeding ticket cost about $25.

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