Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nkhata Bay, Malawi to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

It took us all day to get to Nkhata Bay on a bus from Lilongwe. The bus was completely stuffed (as is all the transport in Malawi) and I didn't even get a seat until about 3 1/2 hrs into the ride. Someone also hit one of the side windows of the bus with a rock and it shattered while we were bumping down the road. All good fun but honestly I'm surprised that more rocks haven't been thrown in Africa so far. We met up with Ben and Bre at Nkhata Bay as they'd already been there for a couple days and found a great place to stay. Not the cheapest but certainly the most popular and lively. Mayoka Village has the horrible effect on people of being so nice that lots of people end up "getting stuck" and staying a lot longer than planned. The same happened to us too :)
Nkhata Bay is one of the more popular stops for travellers on Lake Malawi and a very popular place for diving. We didn't do any but Ben was doing is PADI Open Water when we arrived and most of the others there also seemed to be doing a dive or two as well. We stuck to daily swimming and snorkeling. There are hundreds of species of Cichlid fish in the lake of various colours which are fun to see but dad rated the snorkeling as a 1 out of 10 overall. Picky..... It was better than that, if only because fresh water is so much nicer to swim in and the water temperature a warm 25C. The water was usually very clear (though there were windy, wavy days) and the sun always shining. The only real problem with the town is that it's full of Rastas with retarded names for themselves like Happy Coconut and Sweet Cheeks and other such nonsense. Pretty soon I'm going to despise Rastas as much as taxi drivers. It's getting really close.
Ben and Bre took off after about 4 days together with us. They've gone off to do Ben's stuff and we'll see them in about 5 weeks or so, though anything could happen at this point. They should be entering Burundi today and hopefully Bre will write blogs about her own adventures. We hung on in Nkhata Bay for a week total, the last 2 days of which we were supposed to have left on. I'd've stayed longer if it'd been up to me (there were cool guys and beautiful British medical students staying there, what can I say?) but just managed to stay long enough to have my birthday there. That was a little strange because there was a Canadian girl there turning 30 on the same day. What are the odds? The staff at Mayoka were awesome, baked us a cake and sang the most horrible, inharmonious version of "Happy Birthday" ever. It was great.
The reason we had to leave so soon was because Savannah was harping on us to go meet up with Kees in Dar es Salaam, since he was now alone again. I'd wanted to take the same route as Ben and go up the west side of Tanzania to Burundi and Rwanda but alas, I've lost any semblance of control here. I am merely a slave to the demands of the people...... So we left Nkhata Bay early on the 14th and spent the entire day transiting up to Mbeya, Tanzania. I was in horrible shape after late nights and early mornings the last few days before leaving and am actually still trying to recover a few days later. It was a terribly long day but without any specific complaints or hassle. The border was fine and the roads good. The landscape was beautiful and entering Tanzania somehow made the land greener and more suitable for growing tea because we saw lots of it on the hills. It kind of reminded us of India.
We'd been warned that Mbeya was full of hassle and scams, particularly at the bus station but we stayed a full day in town to recover and it actually seemed quite pleasant. I don't know where the hassle was supposed to be because we never really saw it. From Mbeya it took us 13 1/2 hrs to get to Dar es Salaam where we were picked up by Kees at the bus station and taken to a beautiful beach resort just north of the city. We now intend to be reunited for the remainder of the African trip as I understand it but we are in the process of planning again. No telling what will happen next.....

Friday, September 05, 2008

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

We had an amazing time in Zambia, specifically at the South Luangwa National Park these last couple of days. It was the only reason we went to Zambia and we didn't plan on staying long at all but needed one last shot at a proper safari. We still hadn't seen a lion yet. The park had come highly recommended and although Zambia is currently the most expensive country in southern Africa, we figured we had to go. Not all of us thought that though because Bre didn't come, choosing instead to run off with Ben back to Lake Malawi where we will meet them in a day or two.
Zambia is really expensive, as I said, the fuel is nearly $3/L! The food, transport and everything else has gone up considerably as a result. It is also a cheeky country because it has jacked up its visa fees since it is now getting almost all of the tourism for Victoria Falls with the Zimbabwe crisis and they are milking it for all its worth.
It took us all day to get to South Luangwa park, having had to change transport 3 times and cross a border. The road in from Chipata, the town closest to the park is a horrible road of ~100km of hard corrugations and rattles like nothing else we've been on. Being squished the whole time doesn't help either and it took us a full 6hrs to make it.
The camp we stayed at was Flatdogs Camp. It's a very touristy lodge type place, but most people come in as campers in their own overland vehicles (like Ben). The camp is not in the park itself but is on the edge of the Luangwa river (which, being at the end of the rainy season now is really low), across which is the park. The park is not fenced so the animals wander as they like, including throughout the camp itself! At night the hippos come out of the river to feed on the grass and leaves beside our tents, as do the elephants (both day and night) and giraffes (day), and we have photos of the animals with them only a spitting distance away! I was camped on the ground but they have platforms in the trees for people to use too. The atmosphere is great. At night they won't even let you walk around the camp on your own and guards will actually escort you to the bathroom to make sure you don't get crushed by something. They have had lions in camp before too but the most exciting thing for me was watching an elephant kick someone elses tent a few times. Grumpy thing....
We spent one day just hanging out and enjoying the sounds of nature and on the second day went out for a night safari. Even though we've been in a few parks now, this is the first real safari because the others were in Kees' truck. It was 4 hours, from 4pm to 8pm so half in light and half in dark. Awesome! We finally saw our lions. 7 lazy beasts (most were cubs) just laying in the sand ignoring us and then at the very end we spent several minutes watching a leopard walking along the ground. What a beautiful creature! We've now seen all that we need to and what a great way to end it. I was surprised at how small both the cats were and it actually made me proud to have bears in my country. Now that's a scary looking animal :) My other thought was something about Bre being an idiot and missing the best place in all of Africa....:) I don't know if Zambia has any other redeeming features but wow, it was great.
Our good luck continued on the way out too because we managed to hitch a lift with an overland truck and got a ride out of the camp and along the dirt road under much, much nicer conditions :) We are back in Lilongwe, Malawi again and will head to Nkhata Bay next on the northern part of Lake Malawi for some more R+R and to meet up with Ben and Bre again.