Ready? One, two three – breathe in, and breathe out. Ahhhh. Feels good to be back in (south) Central Africa after a 2500km detour through Zimbabwe and Mozambique – Zimbabwe was worth it, Mozambique sticks out like a saddle sore as an incredibly difficult country altogether. I’ll quit bitching about it after I tell you about my last 2.5 days of the country.
Mozambique has discovered what looks to be the worlds largest supply of high quality coal and natural gas near the Tete area (I skipped it based on numerous reports that there was nothing to get out of the area) and a big push is on from Aid agencies and the government to get some roads suitable to do mass cartage of goods in and out of the country – It seemed that when I got back on to tar roads after 200km of jolting rides and deep sand from Beira it was the last of it, but as I found out it was not to be the case. The contractor for one of the other main roads went under, so the budget for the remaining 200km of Mozambique was reallocated for some time. Work has started back up on the road, but only 60km is being half completed at this point in time. The road has a lot more traffic than the other dirt roads I’ve been on which helped with the packing of the road, and there certainly wasn’t a shortage of people along the way in the villages. The climb out of Mocuba into Malawi is quite high, and wasn’t that bad actually even on the dirt combined with overcast weather and even an all out downpour on one of my days ending the days travels early. The only unfortunate thing is that I’m still dealing with a (now 15 days) sprained wrist which causes pain when going over bumps, tar or dirt. A shift of the hand the wrong way seems to start the throbbing all over again for 5 minutes before it subsides. I’ve had issues with this wrist before actually – hard-core computer usage for many years had me wearing a wrist brace 10 years ago which after a while it seemed to disappear. Here’s to hoping for this one, and I’ll be more careful from now on flipping my bicycle upside down.
Towards the end of Mozambique much more English was being spoken, and it was interesting to see that the locals much rather preferred to use the Malawian Kwacha – although not knowing what the exchange rate was properly I was taken for quite a bit of my Mozambique Metiscash, in one instance paying $3 for a bottle of Coca Cola, and close to the border where the currency exchange vultures stand at the side of the road with thick pockets and a huge fold of bills in their hand giving someone the opportunity to rid themselves of the departing countries bills. All in all I probably lost $20 USD at the end of it all, but still frustrating that I could let it happen – will be more careful next time – it was quite difficult to get any sort of connectivity to do research on what was coming next on the internet and all in all I’m glad to have left the country, likely not to return – unless I have a hankering for another Manica beer.
At the border, Malawi Immigration stamped my passport without issue and without requiring payment for a Visa, and it seemed like blue sky appeared out of the sky at the precise moment I passed through the gate. People waving to me as I passed, children running after me yelling “How are yooo!” and everyone smiling. English is one of the major languages here which is a welcomed treat, and the local language Chichewa is very simple to understand and speak since it shares many aspects of the Zambian language Nyandje, which I learned quite a bit during my last weeks there. There is actually infrastructure here, shops galore, good roads, and unbelievable scenery to take in from the minute one crosses in from Mozambique, starting off with 40 odd kilometres of tea fields which are one of Malawi’s popular exports looking quite inviting to just run and jump into or get lost in the maze like pathways. Gone are the Precambrian rocks from the south instead replaced by towering mountains, such as the countries highest peak Mount Milanje, at 3000 or so metres – popular with climbers, and one hell of a view apparently. I keep putting similarities to this country to Zambia, but maybe it’s a central African thing, the people are warm and friendly, shops are everywhere and lots more action on the streets as opposed to Southern Africa. The police are nothing short of great, offering me a nights stay on my first day in the country although I declined the Victims Support area bed for someone who actually needed it.
It seems the prices are a bit more manageable for food and goods here – but an interesting surprise was awaiting for me when I arrived in Blantyre, the largest city in the country (872,000) however only by 40,000 people or so compared to the capital of Lilongwe. When pulling up to the grocery store a man who had been living in the area for 47 years told me the news that my money was worth nearly double due to a massive devaluation of the currency in the 48 hours before. The story goes like this – Malawi has had 4 presidents, with the 3rd president passing away unexpectedly on April 5 of this year – putting his Vice President into power – a woman who wasn’t directly aligned with the previous presidents ideals and goals. It’s turned out the past president was getting his paws dirty with the countries money, prompting major aid withdrawal from US Aid, Oxfam, the International Monetary Fund. The IMF told the government that nothing more would happen with the aid unless a change to the economy occurred and gave the option of taking a devaluation on the Malawi Kwacha, who resisted. Now, a little over a month since he has passed away, the new leader Joyce Banda brought forth sweeping changes to the way the country is run, sacking the Chief of Police on corruption issues, putting a heavy hand down for reopening failed trade agreements, and of course the currency devaluation.. This unfortunately caused some panic buying from the upper class along with the expat’s who are here working trying to snatch up as much pasta, rice, beer, cola, and other dry goods as possible before the eventual rise in prices. Shop shelves were mostly bare at first, but didn’t last for long – business as usual. Even after the rise in prices on virtually everything I’ve got a huge grin on my face paying 35 cents a beer, under $4 for a pound of great Malawi grown coffee, restaurant eating for $2 and and even bread is .25 cents cheaper than the typical $1 cost. It won’t last long however as Malawi faces a 10% inflation rate and those who I’ve spoken to who’ve lived here for longer than a few months recall just last year prices being a fraction of todays cost. It’s happening all over Africa as the developing countries demand higher quality goods and services due to higher wages. It’s unfortunate though with the devaluation that the wages still stay the same, with the minimum daily wage coming in at about .75 cents USD/CAD. Change is inevitable, it looks as if this will work out better for the people overall even though at the forefront it looks like they are losing.
I’m about to head downhill again from topping out at 1300 some odd metres just outside of Blantyre as I made my way over to Zomba, which I can’t help but laugh often getting the name confused – What was once the capital of the country now houses important colonial style buildings, an impressive university campus and a vibrant market. Lodges dot the roadside every few kilometres as this area offers something for pretty much anyone wanting to get outdoors, from hiking, safari’s, and of course the countries biggest attraction, the lake that stretches nearly half of the country housing exotic African Cichlid fish and many other marine species. For bird lovers there is an area just south home to 700 different types of birds, and even some nasty things like Hippopotamuses. it’s a welcome change from the past few weeks, and I intend on taking it slow and easy as I make my way north, focusing on getting my wrist better and hanging out with new friends I meet along the way. It almost feels like Christmas right now as I was able to pick up some packages in Blantyre and Zomba that I had sent over in mid December while in Botswana – better late than never, I’m now the owner of 24 more spokes (I actually broke another one in Mozambique which I failed to mention), new brake pads (not needed, but I wanted to fill the package a bit) and a bunch of cheap crap from China, screen protectors, cables, and more unlock kits for my phone, which I’ve traded some of the goods already to the local shops in return for product – The Africans salivate for new electronic/tech gear, this might not be a bad idea going forward to order a bunch of stuff and use it as bartering artillery. I’m really looking forward to what’s coming in the days ahead – Unfortunately a friend who was going to come and visit along the lake can no longer make the trek, but such is life with every ones busy schedules – going to make the best of it as much as possible – if all else fails, drink as much cheap coffee as I can get my hands on
I think I may have nailed the IPhone battery drain issue – When under with some time on my hands I decided to see if my old SIM from Zambia would work and the unlock kit would cause the same battery issues – it wasn’t any better – After trading a kit with a local I managed to pick up a new SIM along with a hefty data plan – so far today it hasn’t shown the same problems – time will tell. I also removed a few of the packages and software on the phone that was used to break the phones security that I no longer need - I have a theory they may be butting heads with the hardware lock, sure would be nice to have something that works without issue now a days, tired of mucking with things all the time!