25 January 2010

12. Botswana - Caprivi – Namibia – S. Africa 2 Nov – 20 Nov

Crossing a border once again, this time on a ferry into Botswana, we made our way to Kasane, near the entrance to Chobe Game Reserve, and pitched camp at the Chobe Safari Lodge. It turned out to be a great plan, as all the lodge facilities were for the campers as well, and we made good use of the swimming pool and bar. We took a magnificent sunset cruise on the river, where the beautiful storm clouds, made for a great sunset and gorgeous light for photos………the animals came to the party too, and it was a wonderful introduction into Botswana. On our game drive the next morning we experienced huge herds of elephant for which Chobe is famous, and they kept us entertained and fascinated for hours.

At the western end of the Caprivi and over the calm and beautiful border into Namibia, we discovered an amazing and very eco and camper-friendly place called Ngepi Lodge, situated very close to Popa falls. The quirky and humorous signs displayed to guide us there, gave an inkling of things to come, and we weren’t disappointed.!!!! Our grassed and shady, private campsite, was on the banks of the wide and free-flowing Kavango river. There was a huge, steel, floating cage, placed in the river and this was the swimming pool…..it was accompanied by a sign which read ‘World’s largest Hippo and Croc diving cage’, and another which said, ’Swimming at your Own Risk..’ All the staff had t-shirts with “Get a Life ,…….Yes You!”, emblazoned on their backs and so it went on………… ………. we decided that we could happily stay here for a couple of days.

We took a guided bird walk with a really knowledgeable local man who had never been to school, but his best book in the whole world was a ‘Roberts Bird Handbook.’ This had been posted to him by a grateful New Zealander, and he had taught himself to read so that he could further his bird studies!!!! On his day ‘off’, apparently, he is seen striding through the bush, looking for rare birds (of the feathered variety), so that he can add a precious tick next to their names in his book. He says that all the people who he grew up with, laughed at him at first, but now, because he earns good money from taking people birding, they are begging him to teach them!!! There are many such amazing stories.

Ngepi lodge has become famous for their ablution blocks. There must be 10 different ones that they have creatively and humorously built using the natural bush, rock and trees. Some of the names of them are ……… Garden of Eden (a galvanised slipper bath on a raised timber deck amongst the trees and overlooking the river. (Lionel’s favourite) The King’s Throne (Toilet set into the seat of a carved wooden throne, overlooking and open to the river, and Brandon's favourite, hence the picture) and next door………… The Queens Royal Flush!!!!!...........Then there is Pooper Falls, which is a toilet set high (15m) above the ground and accessed by a winding wooden staircase (not recommended for the inebriated)……………… My personal favourite was the “Adventure Bathroom with Unlimited Stars”, open to the skies in a colourful natural bush setting, with the taps fitted into a beautiful fallen tree-trunk, and the shower spout being an enamel bucket with holes in the bottom, strung from a tree. There was also a ‘De-vine bathroom, (set amongst flowering vines on a wooden pedestal) and also a ‘Holiday Inn, 5 Star’ bathroom, with tiles and a roof, complete with a huge pair of chained-on sunglasses and towels. (This was my LEAST favourite!). An ablution which we found particularly funny was the ‘His and Hers’. ………………..2 toilets sitting side by side with the ‘his’ version with the toilet seat lid chained and padlocked up, and the ‘hers’ version with a toilet roll and seat covers, along with a bathroom mat and the seat lid………….yep!….. DOWN!!!!!

One morning in the sweltering heat, the guys were ordering drinks and I decided to have a swim. I was just about to dive in when I realised that it would be better to take a pic before I got wet, so walked back a little and was just about to click the shutter, when there was an almighty “THUMP” and the whole swimming pool cage jarred causing big waves in the river……….I got such a fright and ran back to the bar to tell them that a hippo was bashing at the pool,……….they, and the staff, looked at me quizzically, and thought yea, right, just another panicky female in Africa!!!!!! They grudgingly walked to the pool to be confronted by a huge hippo and mate cavorting in the water next to the cage, (I’m convinced I saw a painful lump on his head and I was sure that he had a almighty head-ache!!!!).

Etosha was next on our itinerary and we found that the camp-sites in the three camps were over-priced for the sandy and unkempt sites on offer. The reception staff at Namutoni were also very off-hand and uncaring. One evening an Ellie decided that the trees in the grounds of the lodge were enticing and stepped over the fence at the side of the waterhole. We had a bit of excitement while the rangers headed him back into the wild with a few shots fired over his head, putting paid to any other animals making use of the hole that night.

Halali camp, (also in Etosha), has a beautiful waterhole in the middle of a rocky outcrop which serves as an amphitheatre for viewing the animals. They supplied us with an endless spectacle, from young male elephants chasing off Rhinos (with much trumpeting, and when that didn’t work, resorting to the splashing of water with their trunks). The Rhino’s were fighting amongst themselves and also threatening the hyena’s. It was like a National Geographic Movie with animals coming and going all night!. I felt really sorry for Lionel as he wasn’t able to sit around and watch as he had a persistent cough that would have troubled both the animals and the spectators! We wanted to buy 6 eggs (medium) at the shop in the Halali camp ………. they were marked at $32.65 (a Namibian dollar has the same value as the S.A. Rand),………… the same eggs from the same supplier were marked $12.70 at the Namutoni camp shop!! I think that Etosha, sadly, has fallen into the bad policy of catering for the people who have £’s, $’s and Euro’s to spend, and the locals just don’t matter.

The Okaukuejo camp is by far the best and most creatively-planned, and the chalets and campsites are all well-placed around the water-hole. We had not booked our site (we never pre-booked and had never been turned away) and were told that the camp was full……..we took a chalet and it was great, but noticed that the camp was not full at all…………..we wondered if this is how they fill their un-booked chalets (which have just been renovated at great cost). In spite of these gripes, we enjoyed our experiences there.

Using Mount Etjo’s Dinosaur camp, as an overnight stop, we cruised to an undiscovered little gem called Norotshama Lodge. Perched on the banks of the Orange River complete with swimming pool, restaurant, bar and, wonder of wonders, an ablution block with a bath!!!!!!!!! Brandon was travelling with us and had virtually taking over all the setting up that had been in my job description, I really enjoyed the break!!! We pitched camp for 3 nights, allowing Lionel a rest from driving, and to recover from his bad cough. Norotshama is set on a magnificent and efficient farm that is the biggest African supplier of table grapes to the European market. It is a vast green paradise on the edge of the arid Fish River Canyon National Park.

With the border to S.A. being only 50km away we found our thoughts turning to home…………..and with family, friends, dogs, shopping malls, soft beds, en-suite bathrooms, washing machines, hairdressers, and good roads, all luring us onwards, we stepped up the pace. With two overnight stops, we arrived in beautiful Cape Town, to a perfect 30 degrees C.

It was really good to catch up with the family and we all attended the Johnny Clegg concert on a perfect evening at Kirstenbosch.

Knysna is the most amazingly beautiful place to come home to, Everything was perfect, thanks to the best dog/house-sitter in S.A. (if not the world)!!!!!! Thanks Margaret, you are a gem. Our arrival back in Knysna was heralded by a wonderful never-ending round of wining and dining with our friends………..so much so, that Lionel was seized and attacked by a painful bout of gout! Our very understanding doctor said it would only take a couple of days to clear but gave him a months supply of medication explaining that it being ‘that’ time of year he might just need them.

We have found that 3 months is long enough to be away, any longer than that, then one day just seems to melt into another. We had become a bit dis-enchanted (aren’t we spoilt) with the poverty, begging, constant heckling to buy curios, cruelty to animals, totally reckless driving and disgusting roads, not to mention day after dry day, of never-ending heat, making it difficult to sleep.

We loved the camping with the evenings sitting around a camp-fire accompanied by the night sounds, as well as the children in all their innocence. The early mornings, alive with the sound of birds and animals (we have seen more sunrises than at any other time in our lives.) and all the new, different and wonderful experiences that we encountered, the friendly and stoic local people, more than made up for the other short-comings .

We have rolled (due to the excesses of the ‘silly’ season), into 2010 with a feeling of thankfulness. Thankful that we were able to experience such an amazing journey,………….thankful that we returned safely without any major mishaps and most of all thankful for Gods provision and direction that was evident throughout the whole trip.

Thank you to everyone who followed our blog with such interest and encouragement!

01 November 2009

Ngoragora – Mt. Kilimanjaro – Kapishya Hot Springs (Shiwa Ngandu) - Lusaka - Vic Falls. 16th Oct - 1st Nov

We have had some ‘up close and personal’ encounters with quite a few animals and ‘beasties’ on our trip, but none more so than, early one morning waking to a strange sound, looked out of the tent to see nothing, and then, a couple of seconds later realising that we were not alone………..a huge, hairy baboon was sitting in our van at the foot of our bed!!!! Screech, Screeeee…eech, (from me), and he hot-footed it out! ………..He had forced his way in, through the velcro that attaches the mosquito screen. I don’t know who got the biggest fright!!!! There was also the middle of the night encounter with a huge (well it was all of 1 foot long) snake in the toilets, fortunately, I had taken a torch and saw it before I stood on it…………I changed my mind and decided to relieve myself elsewhere…………………….

We drove to the top of Ngoragora Crater into thick mist and down a narrow winding road into bright sunlight with the crater spread out before us. After the great experience with a guide in the Maasai Mara, we decided to take one with us into the crater, but the guide we took thought we were paying him to talk and sms on his cellphone, until I enlightened him that we expected him to spot animals and take us to the water spots! (We had been spoilt in the Masai by an amazing Masai guide, Edward Lion, who knew the tracks like the back of his hand and could spot things from miles away!) The light for photo’s was amazing and we saw loads of animals and had a really good day.

On our way to Zambia we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro, and wonder of wonders………….it rained!!!!! It was wonderful and we both felt like doing a rain-dance. (We had not seen rain since our first week in Mozambique). Of course, it meant that we were unable to see the peak with all the clouds about, but it was cool, wet, and wonderful and I will never complain about the rain again.

Through Tanzania we had to use the same road south as we had used to go north, and crossed the chaotic Tanzania/Zambia border at Tunduma. Northern Zambia is a lot less populated than any of the other countries that we have visited so far, and is really beautiful. Indigenous bush and mountains wherever you look with hardly an animal or any form of agriculture to be seen. There are few vehicles to be seen either. It is so unspoilt that it is difficult to even get diesel. We virtually had the pot- holed roads to ourselves………..fortunately we have been carrying 120 litres of diesel in cans, and had to put 100L of those into the tank to enable us to limp to the only garage that had fuel in the North. I think that we had about 2 litres in the tank to spare!!!!
I continue to have a love affair with the children of Africa……..they are so free and unaffected. One sees them happily walking along the highway, from about 4 years old, hand in hand, sitting on fences chatting, playing on rocks, sand, garbage or anything else that happens to be around.

Our clutch had been slipping from time to time, and was getting worse by the day. Knowing that we had a spare one in Knysna, and amazing friends there as well, we asked Errol and Lorr Scanlen to help. Errol, just about to tee off, phones Lorr. Lorr collects the clutch from our house, drives to George, and air- freights it to Cape Town, to be collected by Brandon (our son) who flies it out to Lusaka. Is that not going above and beyond the call of friendship? Thanks Scannies, we owe you big-time!

The Kapishya Hot Springs are in the middle of nowhere, on a private farm called ‘Shiwa Ngandu’. Owned now by the Harvey family (a grandson of the original owner,Stewart Gore-Brown), an eccentric Englishmen, who wanted to settle there. But the woman he loved, was not prepared to live there without all the ‘niceties’ of life, so he built her an English manor house. Sadly, by the time the house was finished, she had fallen in love with someone else and never did get to see it. The farm is like an English village with stables, outbuildings and labourers cottages, all with shingle roofs and in typical tudor style.
The ‘springs’ are water bubbling out of the earth into this clean pool, at 35 degrees C, and is surrounded by indigenous bush. We spent 2 nights there, and, on travelling the next day, I asked Lionel how it had been in the pool that morning, and he said it had been fine, but that he was a bit worried about his heart!!!!!! ‘Oh, no,’ I’m thinking, with dread,….. has he had palpitations, ……….was it too hot?.....................Turns out, he did and it was!!!!!....................... The little french number who came down to the pool while he was there, had nothing on, and then proceeded to put her costume on in front of him!!!! He hastened to tell me that she wasn’t so good looking…………… personally, I don’t think that he ever got to look that high up!!!

We picked up Brandon complete with clutch at Lusaka airport, and had it fitted the next day. We made one interesting stopover on our way to Livingstone and the Vic Falls at a camp site with a croc farm, where there were 4 vehicles filled with SA policemen (part of a 15 car posse) who were on their way to the Congo and other African countries to recover stolen vehicles.
Arriving in Livingstone we set up camp at ‘The Bushfront’, a small, well-maintained place, complete with pool, bar, restaurant and DSTV nogal!!!

We are really happy to have Brandon along, as he has added an extra dimension to our journey. (Dare I say, that I think that we had become a little bored with african markets, poverty and the overwhelming heat.)

The next day river-rafting, down rapids 10 – 25, was on the cards. The descent into the gorge was so steep that it took 20mins. They have made a ladder-like pathway that one literally steps down from log to log, and in the really steep places it is necessary to go down backwards! Our legs like jelly, and well and truly overheated, we arrive at the river and I’m wonder what on earth possessed me to even entertain the idea of rafting. However, once in the boat, we loved every minute of it and actually bailed out and swam down one rapid. Thankfully, we weren’t required to climb out and were chair-lifted out of the Batoka Gorge and then transported back to watch a video of our exploits. This morning, very stiff and sore, there were loads of grunts and groans accompanying any physical movement, we walked to see the ‘Falls’. Had a really good lunch at the Royal Livingstone Golf and Country Club and now look forward to moving on tomorrow……….

16 October 2009

Lamu – Masai Mara 5 – 16th Oct1

Lamu was an amazing place and we found a great hotel (a little removed from Stone Town in Shela village). We had our own suite, complete with open-air rooftop lounge/dining area, where we were served breakfast each morning. There was also a pool to cool off in because, boy, was it hot!!! Our first evening there, we took a sunset cruise in a dhow, and Lionel tried his hand (very successfully, I might add) at sailing a dhow. The island, being without vehicles of any sort, is full of donkeys, and now I know where the saying ‘beasts of burden’ come from! Those poor donkeys carry everything from sand to huge stones, and anything else that is required of them. The muezzin call to prayer every morning (4.30am) was accompanied by the hee-haw, hee-haw chorus of donkeys and there is an official picker upper of donkey manure twice a day in the narrow passages. Every evening we would go to the smart Peponi Hotel, on the waterfront, and have a really delectable meal………there is a limit to how much local fare we can handle!

We had planned to go to Amboseli Game Park near Nairobi, but were told that if we wanted to see dead and dying animals that that was the place to go. Masai Mara seemed like the better option, and although extremely dry and dusty we managed to see close-ups of the ‘big 5’ within 3 hours. We saw huge numbers of wildebeest and zebra massing to migrate, but only saw a couple of mini crossings. Fat, giant crocs are a common sight, as are the healthiest looking hyenas ever!!

The whole of Kenya is in the grip of a drought, and driving through from the Masai Mara to Arusha was like a nightmare!!! Besides the carnage on the roads, due to reckless and irresponsible driving there are some parts, that have not had any rain for 3 years. If there is no rain, then there is no grass for the cattle to eat. The cactus plants are shrivelled and limp and mature trees are dying. We saw 4 women trying to lift a cow that had just collapsed from hunger, and I have never seen such skinny cattle. The odd few people that we saw, were dusty, skinny and desperate-looking and the children waved us down and asked for water, their gaunt little faces pinched and dry, their clothes hanging in rags off their filthy bodies. There is so much hardship. Poverty, drought, hunger, unemployment and hopelessness (along with corrupt officials) is an ever-present feature of life here. Men, women and children walk, or cycle miles every day for a few litres of water for their cooking, etc. People, crows, cows, dogs, cats, goats and donkeys all scavenge for food on rubbish dumps and litter is everywhere that there are people. I fear that Africa is wearing us down and sometimes we find it hard to sleep at night. (Incidentally, Lionel is snoring as I am typing this.)

The town where we are staying now, Mto Wa Mbo, (a tourist town close to the Ngoragora Crater and Lake Manyara), is in stark contrast to the neighbouring areas. There is greenery, tall trees, agriculture and most of the people are moving around with purpose. (Trying to extract as much money from us ‘mazungu’s’ (whites) as they can, shoving necklaces, bananas and curio’s in our faces as we walk.) .

We have decided not to go to Uganda as the roads are bad and Lionel is very tired of potholes, dust and having to get off the road everytime a tanker or bus drives towards us, as in Africa, life is cheap, power rules, and there is no regard for the rule of the road.

We are now homeward bound and that is very a nice thought………there are still a great many places to see along the way but we will be closer to home and civilisation with each passing day with Zambia and all that it offers, awaiting us………………………

05 October 2009

Dar Es Salaam – Pangane – Mombasa – Watamau.

Ever onward, we chose the wrong route to drive to the Kenyan border towards Mombasa (hindsight),…….. instead of the main road, we took the prettier, coastal road, which was a stoney, corrugated, bone-shaking alternative. One of the flying stones hit the caravan and shot back onto our car’s back window, smashing it to smithereens!!!! We both knew what it was as soon as it had happened and Willmore, alias McIver, alias ‘The A Team’, sprang into action……………. 2 mealiebags and a whole lot of duct tape, and within half an hour we were on our way again. We spent 2 nights at Peponi Beach Resort, and bumped into Cape Town tennis friends, Graham and Colleen Burchell from way back when.

Hoping that Mombasa would have a back window for us (but not very confidant) we drove into the madness that is rush hour traffic, on our hunt to get to Nissan. There was one particular chap screaming at us manically from his car and I smiled sweetly at him. He kept on and I realised that he was shouting, ‘FIRE’ , and pointing to the back of our caravan!!!!! We pulled over very smartly, and caused our own major traffic jam, while Lionel opened up the back of the van and sprayed our fire extinguisher willy- nilly wherever he could, trying to find the source of the fire. In the meantime the crowds and traffic, hooting crazily, were backing up behind us. We even had 2 policeman, complete with machine guns, ask what was happening, and once I told them, they said ‘Oh, Okay’, and walked away! (I kid you not).
Following the smoke, Lionel found that one of the batteries that keep the caravan charged, had worked loose in its bracket, and had fallen over and caused a short circuit and hence the fire!!! The good citizen that had alerted us had followed us, and was very vigilant in making sure that the car was secure from the crowds while we attended to the caravan. He then took us to the Nissan agent before shaking our hands and driving off!!! We were very stressed by this stage (Nissan could get us a back window but it would take a week and was going to cost at least an arm, and two legs, and we decided that we would drop our standards and drive back to S.A. in December without benefit of a back window. The fire extinguisher had done a really great job and there was powder in every nook and cranny of the caravan, we also had no means of keeping our fridges in the caravan charged, as all the wires pertaining to the batteries and the 12V system, were just a melted tangle of metal. This was NOT our best couple of days in Africa!!!
We felt stressed, depressed and very, very tired and we had still not found a place to stay………the caravan was out of the question, as it needed to be unpacked and cleaned, and we needed to find an auto electrician. Somehow, with the help of the guidebook on Kenya and the Gps, we arrived at a very ordinary, reasonable (so that they weren’t too fussy about these smelly people, unloading all their filthy worldly goods into their hotel room), with a secure carpark, it was on the beach, and clean, with friendly, helpful staff, wireless internet, and just across the bridge from the centre of Mombasa. We were thinking about the day and I had an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness. Thankful that we happened to be driving through a busy place and were alerted in time……………if we had been on the open road we would have probably had a major, trip-ending fire. Thankful too, for the hotel, which somehow was so perfect for us to lick our wounds and get re-organised. There have been so many things that have fallen into place for us along the way, and I thank God for them all.

Through the driver of a S. African chap that we met in the bar that night, we were given the name of ‘Rashid’, and his phone number……………. he asked us for a deposit of R500, (I know what you are thinking, and you are all wrong, he didn’t rip us off.) He fixed the van in 2 days, and the Willmore wheels were rolling again, north to Malindi via Kilifi. We have condemed all the campsites in Malindi, as not suitable, and so are once again in an hotel (on the famous fishing beach of Watamau, of Hemmingway’s fame), and will leave our rig in their parking lot, while we fly to Lamu island for 2 days. Lamu, I believe, is a place where time seems to have stood still, there are only 2 vehicles – both ambulances, and for the rest it is donkey or man- driven carts, bicycles, and shanks pony!.

Lionel, having been fortified by an excellent curry buffet, accompanied by a fair amount of liquid refreshment, is now happy again. Hot showers are not as important as they were, cold showers, in the ever increasing heat, are fine! We think of all our family and friends often and hope you are all well. Ren, how are you doing? Heather how’s the new grandchild?

We are more than halfway through our trip and will be heading inland after Lamu, so it’s adios for now……………………

27 September 2009

8. Chinteche – Livingstonia – Tanzania 16 – 27th September

We travelled on from Chinteche and parked our van at Sangilo Lodge for the night, before tackling Livingstonia, a little Presbyterian missionary village, at the top of a very steep mountain with twenty switchbacks (hairpin bends), Established by a man named David Law, it is named after David Livingstone. How they toiled up the mountain, and built a school and hospital, as well as other Victorian-type buildings, I have no idea, as the road is a battle for a 4x4 in this day and age!!! We slept up there, perched on edge of the mountain, in an open chalet, and it was a magical experience to see all the lights of the fishing boats dotted over |Lake Malawi…..it is truly ‘The Lake of the Thousand Stars’.

Itching now, to get on to Tanzania, we headed for the border and all the chaos that is part of the African scene. Umpteen people, all very pleasant, but insistent, that we should change money through them, buy cellphone cards, insurance, water and fruit. I felt like shouting ‘What part of ‘NO’ do you not understand?’

We made for a coffee farm for our first night there, and then on the next morning to a place called Kisolansa farm, which grow and produce all their own food. We had a gourmet meal there in the atmospheric ruins of an old cottage, that they have cleverly turned into their restaurant. Somewhere between the coffee farm and Kisolansa, we, (and this is the royal ‘we’, and I think it was probably me), lost Lionels’ phone, which means that we are only contactable with the local number which is……+255 76394 7442.

Onwards towards Dar Es Salaam, we camped overnight at Baobab Valley Lodge, which is a great place on a wide fast flowing river, (complete with resident crocs) and, here too, we had a really good meal. (Still no internet.) Not too many problems getting through Dar and drove straight onto the ferry that links the City with a place across the bay, called Kigamboni. (It is a 600m ferry trip that saves 39km by road.) It was a Sunday, but we couldn’t make out why the place was so quiet, and then we found out……………….

It was Eid, and all the people were beautifully, dressed up to the nines, and out celebrating after fasting. We arrived at our campsite, which is a resort called ‘Sunrise Beach Resort’, to find that the whole of Dar was doing their celebrating there!!!!!! I was in seventh heaven!!!! I grabbed my camera, and sat on the beach and snapped away happily at the passing parade. Lionel was very understanding, and muddled through, setting up camp without my expert help. We had 2 days of the Celebrations, and crowds of people, but it was a happy crowd, and an experience that made me wonder if we Westerners haven’t lost the plot somewhat, with our subdued colours, and casual approach to dress. I have never seen so many beautifully dressed women and children in my life.

We spent some happy days just swimming in the warm sea and generally relaxing, before leaving our rig at ‘Sunrise’ and taking a ferry (3hr crossing) from Dar to Zanzibar.

We were really looking forward to staying in an hotel with an ’en suite’. We led our long-suffering taxi driver a merry dance trying to find the ‘right’ hotel in Stone Town. Once again the camera was pressed into service. The quaint narrow streets with an eclectic mix of people, going about their business with taxis hooting, children playing, dhows bobbing, and fisherman fixing their nets along with the call to prayer echoing through the town. Peeled sweet oranges, ginger tea, dates and coffee, all been sold from barrows and stalls in the streets. Shops, shops and more shops, ………I hadn’t seen so many in a long time……….. I loved it!!!

We booked to go on a Spice tour and it was worth every cent. The bus drives through various villages and onto a farm where the place is aromatic with all the spices that they grow. Did you know that a type of camphor and cinnamon come from the same tree? The cinnamon is from the bark and the camphor is from the leaves. There is also a camphor tree that camphor chests are made of. We visited the slave caves and had a very tasty lunch made with the various spices.

Lionel was very happy to find a good Indian restaurant to satisfy his taste buds. We enjoyed Zanzibar, and once back in Dar took a day drive to discover that there was a Spur Steakhouse in one of the upmarket suburbs! With mouths watering we ordered our meals. The place was really humming and just like the S. African ones, same menu and salad bar. Ons het dik gevreet!!!

Ever onward, we will be travelling north along the coast again tomorrow………we have people to meet, and places to see……….

22 September 2009

Lake Maclear – Senga Bay – Lilongwe – Kasungu – Ngala – Chinteche. 30th Aug – 15th September

At Senga Bay we stayed on the beach under trees at the Steps Campsite. It is run by the Livingstonia Hotel (Sunbird group) and had the best hot showers that we had had up to that point. Lionel’s knee-jerk reaction to that, was to have a shower, morning and evening!!! There were actually quite big waves and it was really hard to think of this huge expanse of water as a lake and not the sea!

We are enjoying the Malawian people, they are generally very friendly, polite and most importantly they speak English!!! (Even the police who are everywhere are always polite. (English is the official language.) Malawi has a long history with missionaries and organisations, who have built schools and hospitals, and because of this, the standard of education is good and discipline, and a good work ethic, are taught as well. There is a softness to Malawi that was not so evident in Mozambique, and the people all seem to have little brick houses (they make their own bricks from the clay soil) and a few of the homes have plants in pots and bougainvilleas that give a glorious splash of colour. (I guess this is the missionary influence as well). Not too many Malawians own cars, and bicycles are everywhere that you look. Not only are they used for carrying the family around, all on the same bike, but they are used for transporting all manner of goods including goats, pigs, chickens strung from the handlebars, firewood and anything that you can imagine and a whole lot more besides!!!! I have never seen so many bicycle repair shops and am of the opinion that all those bikes on Leisure Isle are absolutely under-utilised!!! Maybe Sue and Chris, and all you other cyclists, next time you go for a ride, you might think about lifting Lionel and I around, once we are back in Knysna!!.

While we were in Cape Maclear our car‘s idling had started giving problems again. We asked the Nissan garage in Lilongwe to order a part (idling solenoid) that Nissan Knysna said they thought was faulty. After much persuasion, Lilongwe said okay, that they would, and that it would take about a week to arrive. Well, that wasn’t such a problem, as we were going to stay in the area for at least a week anyway, and then would move on to Senga Bay which was only about 120 km from Lilongwe. The plan was that we would drive the car through there to have the part fitted, and get on with this business of discovering Malawi!
Well, the long and short of it is, that they never did order it, (and you can imagine that Lionel had fire coming out of both nostrils). We were now in Senga Bay, and decided that if anything was going to happen, we would have to travel through to Lilongwe for the day, and get Nissan to have a look at the car and see if they could find the fault.. They said that they thought it was the diesel injector pump, and no, they didn’t have one in stock, and it would take 7 working days for it to come from S. Africa and then they didn’t know how long it would take to clear customs!
It was now Wednesday and very frustrating………… time to get the family involved………..Lionel phoned Mike (our son-in law) who dropped everything, and after much to-ing and fro-ing between Nissan Knysna and Nissan Pretoria, he located the part and would fetch it that day in Pretoria. Hah, not so easy, Nissan had, by mistake, couriered the part to Knysna! Mike then tracked it down in Bloem and told them that they must deliver it to Nissan, Cape Town, and that it would be fetched from there the next day. Andrea who had in the meantime been put on standby with her passport, collected the part in C. Town the next day, and on Friday she flew the part to us in Malawi. It was a double bonus………..special time to spend with Andrea, who stayed with us for 4 days (and probably took about a thousand photo’s during that time), and finally, the part that would be fitted to the car. As it turns out, the diagnosis from Knysna Nissan was the correct one, and we only needed to fit the idling solenoid, which is a small part of the fuel pump. We were so happy that the car was once again purring along, for we had decided that if the car couldn’t be fixed, then we would return to S.A.
In Lilongwe we found a great campsite called the Sanctuary Lodge (located in a nature reserve in the city) and it was so good to hear the hyenas at night, instead of the thump thump of the African Music which is a feature of most evenings, particularly in the cities!!

Back on the road again we drove up to Kasungu Game Reserve…….didn’t see much, but it was a very peaceful place with the campsite overlooking the dam. We headed back to the Lake the next day through beautiful mountainous countryside and stayed at Ngala campsite for the night, and for the past 3 days have been at Chinteche Inn which is top notch, and in a beautiful position on the lake.

During our time here, we took a beautiful day drive through rubber plantations and mountains, (7 hrs there and back) through to Mzimba to meet Ellen, (our gardener, Trouble’s, wife). Ellen, Trouble’s mom and dad, his uncle and grandmother, brother, James who is in Malawi at the moment, and all their children all live in their own homes in a compound together. Ellen, or any of the young married women, are not allowed to be in the same room as their father-in-law, brother-in-law, or any male who is not a blood relative…………..She is not allowed to even look at the men, so that if they walk around outside she has to go out of sight immediately! James explained early on in the visit, that this is their culture. The family were wonderfully warm and very appreciative, and wanted to know why we didn’t spend at least 2 nights with them. Protocol was broken for a while because Trouble’s father decided that he wanted us to take a photo of the whole family together and he sent James to call the ladies and explain that it was okay ….…..……….. Incidentally, like Trouble himself, their home is very clean and neat and they have flowers on the patio. (Photo enclosed of their home and his wife and children). It was a really interesting time and we learnt a lot about the Malawian culture there. The patriarchal system is well and truly alive in Malawi!!!! We also now understood why we had never seen mixed groups of people walking along the roads……….we saw either groups of men or women, or a family of husband, wife and children.

Wherever we go we meet the most interesting and lovely people, who share their experiences and give tips on where to go, or not. All this helps us to plan as we go, the next day or so. We have been in Malawi for three weeks and will now make our way towards the Tanzanian border with a couple of scenic and historical stops along the way.

It is not so easy to access the internet here, so the blog has taken longer than usual to be posted………I love all your comments…....... and as requested, a pic of Lionel and I……………

27 August 2009

Nampula – Cuamba – Blantyre – Cape Maclear.

We knew that we had a long and difficult drive ahead of us, so left Nampula early. We arrived in Cuamba at 4.00pm to discover that our tow-hitch wiring that connects to the batteries and rear lights on the trailer had, at some point during the day, come adrift and was totally destroyed!!! While Lionel was chasing around the village to see if we could buy the part that we needed, I established that the best place to stay (US$75) was not an option, everything about it was dodgy……………so, where to lay our head for the night with no other place to make for? Lionel was stressed and, dare I say it, grumpy, after a hellish drive and with no electrical parts to be found. It was Friday night and the music? that goes on all night long, had already started thumping,(this is to rouse the locals into party fervour,) We decided, in the gathering dusk, to get onto the road to the Malawi border and to find a local in one of the many huts along the way, and ask if we could park our rig and bed down for the night. ……..we felt that they could use the money more than those sharks in town!

This we did, and in no time at all we had a crowd of fascinated villagers gathered around us (5 feet away). We had planned to warm up a curry that we had frozen, but realised that in the dark, and with the bystanders, the best we could do would be to have tea and go to bed with a pkt of biscuits. That was not to be……..We were given two chairs, which we obligingly sat in, and then brought some monkey nuts to have with our tea. The next thing we knew we had two plates of food, one with putu, and another with a lentil & spinach-like mush! Lionel whispered that there was no way he could stomach the mush, so I manfully chewed my way into their good books. We then retired with lots of ‘bon nuits’ and ‘goodnights’, and the crowd took the hint and melted into the night!!!!
We were up before sunrise ,……….. and so were our hosts ! We handed out books and pencils to the youngsters, and a wind-up lantern to our hostess, along with some financial reward, and took our leave.

Our border crossing went without incident, except that Lionel refused to buy insurance for the trailer, and the minute we were in Malawi, the roads improved, there were English signboards, and we were able to travel a little faster. We made for ‘Doogles’, in Blantyre, as it is the only place that one can camp. ‘Doogles’ has seen better days, but it served its purpose and enabled us to buy the necessary spares, get them fitted, buy some provisions, (there is a Game and a Shoprite) and to move on, but not before going to Joyce, who informed me that she is the only one in the salon who does ‘caucasian’ hair!

We drove to the Zombo Plateau, which is an amazing road to a trout farm, lodges and cottages, up on a high and beautiful mountain where the Malawians sell any type of berry that one desires, even gooseberries.

We had a run-in with the law………..about 4 times in about 2 hours!!!! We were stopped for speeding through a village, Lionel argued, and got off………..We were stopped for not having insurance for the trailer, twice, Lionel argued, and got off …… ……..We were stopped for not having a Temp Import Permit, Lionel argued,……………and got fined! It was almost a relief, but I have convinced him to buy some insurance for the trailer when we can (R125)………. It will save so much time!!!!!!

We then drove through to Chembe Eagles Nest, at Cape Maclear, and even in the dark and with the wind howling, we knew that we had struck gold! Our campsite is on the grass, about ten metres from Lake Malawi itself. We are the only guests, and so we have this completely up-market, lodge and its staff, to ourselves. We decided that this is the place for us to stop and really relax for a week. (At US$10pp per night, it won’t break the bank!) We have been here 3 days now and I am typing this while watching DSTV. We sailed out on the lodge catamaran, to a nearby island for a spot of amazing snorkelling this morning.
In our camp we have a family of monitor lizards that reside on the rocks next to our caravan. I think that they are as inquisitive about us, as we are about them, and I must admit to giving our campsite a jolly good look–over, before doing anything there. Just in case!!

Yes, Christine, Lionel, with a moustache and beard, is on the road to becoming a Kingsley Holgate look-a-like………. I don’t know what it is about men, but they seem to thrive on roughing it a bit, and he has lost weight and is looking good, whereas I, I feel as if I could do with a jolly good scrub and am probably looking a bit ‘faded’ and have not lost weight!!!

Chris and Sue, we bumped into friends of yours at the Mlembe Golf club yesterday, Bev and Peter Bekker, They say how about an e mail with your news!!!! Their e mail address is infotropex@africa-online.net and cel +265888723195. We had gone into Mangochi town to buy trailer insurance (at last) and decided to check out the golf club and maybe have a drink there. It looked so interesting we wanted to walk the par 3 course, got onto the 1st tee and then decided to play. We bumped into Bev and Peter as we were finishing!