Peace Lake Unadulterated Ridiculousness (PLUR)
Judging by the speed I’ve been traveling through Malawi I better figure out a way to find an immigration office to restamp for another 30 days – this country is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Friendly smiles, fantastic scenery, great roads paired with ridiculous times have now pushed Zambia out of the way to #2 making Malawi the #1 country in Africa so far. I’ve dropped my daily riding down from the usual 100km/h a day to 75km as a maximum but most of the times it has been less – Such a short distance between everywhere and too many places to lure you in for a couple minutes or 5 days.
I headed south from Blantyre to pick up yet another package in Zomba, a very scenic area nestled in the mountains very popular for those who wish to hike around and explore the natural wonders. The man who I had sent it to again was expecting me 3 months back but fully understood what unplanned travel could be like and sat there for months wondering what was inside the package – a goodie bag from DealExtreme.com – unfortunately most of the stuff I had ordered I had also ordered in Zambia so I had duplicates, but that took no effort to sell it on the black market or in trade for other parts and services. Coolest thing I kept though was a small knife sharpener which turned my knives into full on dangerous tools as witnessed by the time I slipped when cutting open a package and stuck the blade right into my finger. I wasn’t planning on staying with the host, Gibran, a Peace Corp Volunteer for too long as he had some commitments in Lilongwe the capital city that weekend – however his house was a revolving door of visitors and open to all. One night late he received a call from some friends who asked to spend the night as an army of ants had invaded their house and was creating a path of destruction – this happens frequently and the best thing you can do is just let them go on their own way and enjoy everything being picked clean and empty the next morning. The next night we found out that 3 more Peace Corps Volunteers were coming into the area and we all decided to check out the Film night at nearby Chancellor College. It’s free, and was a fantastic thought provoking session of debate as we watched Internet Popular KONY 2012 aimed at disarming and capturing Joseph Kony known for his tactics to kidnap children and turn them into war children armed with AK47’s and the like – on opposite we viewed Les Maitres fous, a french film filmed in the Congo in 1957 about a group of workers who went on a spiritual retreat on a weekend to help let go of the past of many years of oppression due to the Colonisation by Belgium. The husband and wife teaching duo had the group immersed – certainly if I was in post secondary education I’d like to have teachers like that.
Instead of leaving however my rubber arm was twisted to go hike up the Zomba Plateau which was a nice way to spend an afternoon along with beers at the top and some baboon sightings. I made conversation with a woman sitting reading a book at the top who turned out to be a teacher at the College and was once a Peace Corp Volunteer as well. With that the weekend got started.. We all went out for a night dancing and having ridiculous times at the “Domino’s Pizza” – same name, not so same service – you won’t get your pizza if its over 30 minutes, sometimes you won’t just get your order! When everyone started to disperse I somehow found myself in a car with some college students going to a huge party on the campus with a couple hundred people. Getting up the next morning for 8am was a bit of a challenge as I had arranged for the group to be picked up at the house we were staying at and taken 60km down the road to a lake where a regatta was being setup – the boat race was being done with flat boats – and needed 2 people on the team, one to sit inside and one to push around the shallow lake with crocodiles and other animals inside. With a group of us it obviously attracted attention for the locals and I can’t even remember if I was able to see any of the race due to the hundred or so people staring and surrounding us. For the best, good times were had, many laughs all around and a few of us foreigners taught the kids how to headstand, although by the time things had progressed to that stage we were slightly off balance from the revelry. I blame the Chibuku.
Chibuku is a traditional beer that I’ve seen in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi that is made from Maize, and looks like milk from a far served in Milk Cartons. You are supposed to shake it up which makes the flecks of (?) float and then drink it down like its supposed to taste good. I could see maybe at 8am under a tree but not in the hot sun. Regardless – we polished off all the leftover cartons used for prizes for the boat race and then went back for another night of craziness at Dominos.
I can’t take too many successive nights of that so opted to leave while some stayed behind and I made my way to the town of Balaka a short distance away as I had promised one of the Peace Corp Volunteers I would fix their saddle after explaining my issues with sore testicles and a frightening experience in 2011. It was easy riding, downhill most of the way getting speeds of 65km/h during the descents and a great way to sweat out the past days toxins. I even ran into a couple from Amsterdam who were cycling in malawi for the past five weeks. We shared stories and tips of the area and exchanged contact info – we both know the same people which made for some good conversation under a tree while being watched yet again by a good group of people.
It seems when riding malawi has more children yelling “Azungu” (different than mzungu, as it is supposed to be less harsh or show some respect) – when I stop to look at the children they all stop and wave, smile, laugh and start racing after me. “How are yooo!” is frequently heard, but the one that’s come out the most is “Give me money!” – I don’t blame them for doing it, but don’t stop to let them cash in. Some of the people can be on the verge of annoying such as older women at the road just standing with their hands out, or the time an adolescent boy told me that he wanted to look at his phone (mine), and then tried to give me hassles that “I shouldn’t be stealing his bicycle”. I politely told him that if he kept saying that he’d have some real problems to which he said sorry and backed off. I have tolerance for most of it but things like that go on the verge of flipping a switch in my head.
Once in Balaka I headed out to where Mary the Peace Corp Volunteer had invited me to along with her visiting friend Adrian. After a quiet night I was surprised when she offered some of the contents of her peace corp first aid kits, stocked full of all sorts of stuff that couldn’t be found elsewhere. There were some slightly hilarious things – Peace Corp Volunteers get camoflauge condoms in the kit – useful, but funny none the less. I grabbed a disposable thermometer, some anti histamines, and some anaesthetics for future usage. In return for fixing her saddle I was given a pair of gloves in return – they don’t entirely fit but have done wonders on my wrist keeping the side to side movements at a minimum after I had someone look at it in Zomba letting me know that it was broken. 3 weeks of pain had been tough, but it seemed to be on the mend – up until I heard a loud crunch – felt a bump and then felt the actual wrist crunch again a few days later (more on this)..
I had planned to head to Monkey Bay at the south end of Lake Malawi but opted for going to Cape Macclear, or also known as the village of Chembe based on recommendations from my new friends. It was well worth the extra 10 kilometres, even though the road in nearly killed me climbing a hill of 14% grade. I rolled off my bicycle and laid on my back for 5 minutes as the locals chuckled as they pushed their bicycle up the hill. It’s a nice little Cape nestled inbetween some mountains keeping the water very still, and offers a very scenic look out onto the lake and some of the nearby mountains coming out of the lake, where a short distance in a wooden canoe made from a single log offers fantastic snorkelling where over 500 types of African Cichlid fish can be viewed – or if you are daring you can throw a fish up in the air and have a fish eagle swoop out of the sky with its sharp talons screaming out as it snatches the fish less than 5 feet away from you. I found a lodge that offered space for $2 a night to sleep, $1 beers, and $3 meals. Instead of eating at the lodge however I just went outside and took in the cheap deals at the markets, where one could have a plate of roast goat, french fries and cabbage for the cheap price of .33 cents. It was then I realized I’m on the tourist track, as many people from around the world were staying in the area, some backpacking, some hitching rides, some on motorcycles. It turns out one of the people hitching on the back of a motorcycle knew another cyclist in Africa (who by coincidence sold his tent to the other couple from Amsterdam I ran into). I’ll be running into him soon I hope.
I met a man also in Cape Maclear who was trying to setup an orphange, and went over to his house with nothing inside but a computer and a laser printer and helped get his components working again – He was a good fellow and I liked what he was working towards. He offered to go catch a fish for me the next day but instead I opted out to sit on the hammock and recharge, letting him keep his money and food – just glad I could help.
Looking back I should have stayed another day, but I had an idea that I wanted to take a ferry across Lake Malawi to save 150km and see some of the sights on water instead of road, but when I left to Monkey Bay I found the prices completely out of this world, and the ferry cost equating to more than 4 days of living. Instead I headed out back on the roads and had a great time with the locals as we played leapfrog on the road, I taught them (and perfected on my own) how to ride with no handlebars, and even had the men who rode the bicycle taxis carting people 15km or more doing it. I stayed in the bush one of those nights and had a wonderful sleep although the bugs were on the level as the Northwest Territories. Malaria is everywhere here – 2 people died in the 3 days I was at Cape Maclear from it, so I’m going to be surprised if I make it through this country without picking it up – I’m still adamant about not taking the preventive medicine due to the side effects but have the medicine should I come down with something.
The next morning I was on the road bright and early pumping the music and took a wrong turn (although it seemed like the right idea to stay on the asphalt) putting another 25km onto my daily route. I stopped at one point in time and realized that I had broken yet another spoke, pulling off to try to get my stove to work as it has been acting up again not firing up properly. Even worse I’ve been running some questionable gas in the reservoirs – You can’t buy Unleaded gas anywhere at this point in time unless its through the Black Market – for a litre of gas one can expect to pay $2.75 – $3 at this point in time – throwing transportation, goods delivery and the country into a bit of turmoil. Food is becoming sparse as well – unless of course you want to eat chips all day long – I’ve been eating Spaghetti with a bouillon cube combined with Soya Pieces that resemble chicken every day, with an empty pannier otherwise. Yup – I’m starving a bit and can’t remember the last time I ate a real good meal – scratch that – On Cape Maclear there was a man who came by every morning and for $1 you could get 2 pancakes cooked right in front of you that you covered in sugar, squirted lemon juice on, placed half an avocado and a banana on – rolled up and stuffed it in your mouth. He explained that instead of begging he’d do something different and also offered very strong tea along with the meal grown locally.
I didn’t really want to fix the spoke, but since I had some time to boil water with a sputtering stove I went for it gathering quite the crowd of onlookers all eager to help. We changed it pretty quickly, and upon inflating the tire a huge explosion occurred and the tire blew right off the rim! Looking inside the rim I was surprised to find green slime everywhere – the tube had shredded apart maybe from too much pressure or being pinched – I found its a quick way to get half of the crowd of people away from you rather quickly. I changed the tube and went on my way after thanking some of the men who helped realizing that I was going off my intended course. It was getting hot, and I was running low on water and heard a beep in the background through my music – waving at the dozen or so people standing in the back of a truck as they passed. The next thing I knew I heard a crunch from behind me and felt like I was being knocked over, and then WHACK – came the feeling of being hit hard in the back of the leg, followed by the next punch from the mirror in the elbow. It pushed my elbow inwards as I held on for dear life onto the handlebars forcing my wrist to pop outwards and crack again, followed by the rear bumper slapping my panniers and hitting my leg. I didn’t fall off the bicycle, and maybe that’s why the driver never stopped – but I was able to stick my middle finger up in the air and quickly grab a photo of his license plate. I hope I left some good scrape marks from my pedals and bicycle on his new black sedan. The experience has made me a bit nervous of passing vehicles – am sure it will subside – the whole thing could have been worse, but now I have to spend more time getting my wrist back in order and be extra careful – not bad in all this time that I’ve not been hit before – a similar thing happened in 2009 when I was first learning how to ride my bicycle again knocking me onto the ground and throwing my panniers off my bicycle while riding home from the gym.
With all those moments in the day I couldn’t make it to where I wanted to go – the beach to have a beer – and fell short by 3km opting to sleep in the back of a church for the night, while children found my secret hiding spot and spent more time staring at the foreigner who had entered the village. Again, they are harmless, but sometimes you just want some privacy!
I made it the 3km to the Sange Bay and found a lodge and spent the entire day sitting on the beach trying to fix my cyclists tan, relaxing and repairing my bicycle and other components – something I’ve been putting off for some time now. The place is a bit too isolated for me to be honest – while the west side of Lake Malawi is scenic, it’s very windy, and theres no other customers here! Instead of staying for my intended 2 days I’ll start riding and make my way north where I have a considerable number of contacts to go and spend time with – I’m in need of more social contact with a bit of depth associated with it. Take this as a recommendation however: come visit this country – it’s certainly stands up to its nick name of ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’