To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries
- Aldous Huxley

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Where in the Malawi, are we?

We crossed the border into Malawi early in the morning and then stopped to get some money and some supplies. Also had a surprisingly excellent strawberry milkshake. One noticeable thing about Malawi is that it is cheap and another is that it is noticeably poor.
It is also known as the friendliest country in Africa. Time will tell.

After getting what supplies we could, we headed for our first two-night stop called Chitimba Beach, which is situated on Lake Malawi.
Lake Malawi is the 3rd largest lake in Africa and 2nd deepest, the lake itself is an amazing sight to behold and the beach is quite nice as well. We arrived at Chitimba beach around 4pm (also gaining an hour due to time zone change at the border) and set up camp. The campsite itself has a really nice set up with the bar over looking the beach and the lake. Unfortunately they only had cold showers and not much in ways of things to do.
We brosed the local curios just outside the campsite and I got to play the local game called baobowl (or something along those lines) against a local and I won despite not knowing exactly what the rules were.

I suspect he let me win, but still I retire with a 1 – 0 record.

I bought a wire bracelet to add to my already thickening collection, it has the Malawi colours on it and actually looks pretty cool. Danni bought a similar item but as an anklet and not in the Malawi colours.

Day 2 at Chitimba Beach saw us sleeping in, exhaustion had set in after a couple of days of early wake ups and we decided there wasn’t too much we wanted to do and took it easy, did some washing.
We were hoping to see the local witch doctor but this was before we saw a photo of him on the signboard and he looks like Snoop Dogg and dresses like a normal guy, not exactly the image of a witch doctor we had so we decided to skip it.

It was nice to sit back and relax a bit, we also had to try to fix the hole in the air mattress which has so far eluded us much to the disgust of my shoulder and back that suffers when it goes flat at night.

Once again we had an early wake up and headed to our new camp site about 150km away from Chitimba Beach called Kande Beach.
Kande Beach was an even better set up than Chitimba with fuseball, a pool table and a handmade table tennis table that plays like a day 5 pitch in India.
But still I managed a 1 – 0 record to retire as table tennis champion.
Unfortunately the first night we were stuck hearing from loudmouths on another overland tour who just wouldn’t shut up and were acting like dickheads, doing rude poses on a statue and other idiotic stuff.
We were glad to get rid of them the next day but not until they yelled and talked as loudly as they could at 6am.

Sigh idiots!

General Sherman (Simpsons Reference)

Anyway, the day we arrived we did a village tour of the local area, which included seeing the school, medical center and orphanage.
As we left the campsite we were jump upon by locals, most of us had two, who would pepper us with questions asking about Australia or wanting us to ask them questions and, of course, showing us what they sell so we can buy them.
We passed by the local village and saw how they made bricks for building which basically was done by collecting mud (I think) and placing it into a giant kilns made of mud and hay with an opening on either end. Depending on which way the wind would be blowing they would block one end of the kiln while the wind blew in the other and with a fire going underneath they left it for 48-hours to create bricks. These kilns were all over the village.
The villagers didn’t build the houses themselves, rather they would hire someone to do it with the bricks they had.
After showing us how they made bricks our guide shows us his home, it was a most 4-room house with very little in terms of furnishings but he did have a bed and toys for his kids and, strangely enough, a satellite dish yet no TV.
He took us on a long walk to the school next.
The school was modest with 3 buildings and over 1500 students and only 10 teachers. Yep, that’s right, each teacher would have 150 students in a class.
School for the kids is free in primary school, which runs to grade 8, and then they have to pay 150US per term to stay in school.
That is when they threw us the sponsoring angle at us to try to get us to help a child go to school.
We thought about it but no one had the money on them to do it at that stage but we did donate some exercise books, pencils, chalk, erasers and other stuff for the kids, which didn’t even elicit a thank you from the vice-principal who was talking to us.

Once we were finished at the school we walked a short distance to the medical center that is used for pregnant women in the local area.
They only do natural births and if there are issues they have to send them 70kms to the nearest hospital, even though they don’t always have a car to do so!
It was a bit eerie in there, the only room they had only had 6 beds and it just felt more like an abandoned mental hospital you see in movies right before the ghosts or something appears.
Very errie indeed.

Thankful to get out of there we took a long walk to the orphanage where the kids were utterly fascinated by our cameras and us. They loved it when we took a photo and showed them the image.
They followed us around the outside but stayed outside when we went inside. The house was a single building with a couple of rooms, some used for a sitting room, some as bedrooms and one as a classroom for learning. We donated more exercise books, pens, pencils, erasers and colour-in books, which got a huge thank you from the matron of the orphanage (take note vice-principal!)

Afterwards we walked back to our campsite along the beach still being questioned by our new friends (my guys were named Shawn and, I kid you not, Sisqo. I expected him to breakout a rendition of the Thong Song). They kept on asking questions and what I thought of Malawi and if I wanted to buy their paintings or woodwork and all that fun stuff.
In the end I gave them a shirt, some socks and jocks and a pair of god-awful-coloured flip-flops that elicited an interesting response. Shawn seemed happy about it but Sisqo wanted to keep selling me stuff and when I wouldn’t purchase anything he just seemed angry.

Whatever, I did my good deed, no matter how selfish the guy wanted to be.

The next day we did our first freshwater dive ever. It was so much better than I expected, though to be honest I didn’t have high expectations because all you would see were fish. But I wanted to do a freshwater dive to see how it goes and I had read that Lake Malawi is one of the best freshwater dive sites in the world.
Besides it’s diving, as if I could not do it.

However I was pleasantly surprised with the dive, not only with the abundance of colourful fish, but we also saw some freshwater crabs, a big, resident catfish but we also saw some fallen trees, a sunken boat, a sunken canoe and a jeep. I suspect they were all deliberately put there but it added to the experience. I was also thrilled in swimming through some natural canyons, between boulders and I was pleased that my buoyancy was excellent and we dove for 45 minutes at 18 meters and still had 100 bar afterwards.

Overall I was very impressed with the two dives we did. I was also pleased to see that aside from diving, the dive company there does marine research and I got some information on how to go about doing such a thing without the need to have a biology degree, though I am seriously considering educational options in marine research to some degree.
Another pleasing, and redeeming, aspect post-dive was as we were departing the boat carrying our stuff, Shawn showed up wearing the shirt I gave him the night before. It was nice to see him make the effort to come out and wearing the shirt I gave him.

This was incredibly eerie when we approached it

After taking a nap, we just hung around the campsite for a bit, enjoying the sun and shade and our last day in Malawi before heading to Zambia tomorrow.

Malawi is an interesting place, it is one of the poorest countries in Africa (I think 3rd on that list) and I think aside from Lake Malawi, which is worth the visit, and some Game reserves there isn’t a whole lot to see. It would be a nice visit if they didn’t throw there rubbish everywhere (really getting annoyed with this in countries) as the countryside is nice. I don’t know if I would call it the friendliest place in Africa due to some of the responses and looks we got from people (right at you Sisqo!). Also the children have an annoying habit of running up to the window of the truck, rubbing their fingers together and saying “Give me some money”.
I get they are poor and want money and I do feel bad for them, but it’s just not the way to go about it.

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