African shoestrings – Malawi Day One Hundred and Seven/Nine – Nkhata Bay Malawi

So the very next day we went into Mzuzu to find out for sure. The information we were getting in Nkhata bay was unreliable and sketchy.

Stephan had a saying “Africa wins again” well that’s exactly how you could describe the sum result of the next eight hours in Mzuzu.

We were getting a lift in the back of Leonard’s Ute but due to the remarkable fact that it had run out of petrol before it had even moved we were delayed for a while. Eventually we were dropped off at the main Post Office in Mzuzu. Nearby there was a bus depot where we asked for directions to the bus station where the office of TVC, the Dar es Salaam bus operator, was located. The guy offered us a lift in his bus that was about to start its journey. Half an hour later we were still sitting there and decided to get out and walk the 500 metres (he had said that it was a least two or three kilometres).

At TVC’s office, which incidentally was also a hairdressers and beauticians, we found out from the couple of guys in there that they were sure there was a bus Thursday but to ring later to confirm.

We were still toying with the idea of flying to Dar so off we went to the Air Malawi office in the Hotel Mzuzu, the closest premises Mzuzu has to a three star hotel let alone a five star. There the rather impatient ‘customer service officer’ told us that flights to Mbeya (at a mere 500 kilometres away and the first major town in Tanzania) had been discontinued LAST WEEK! But we could take either a flight back down to Lilongwe and up to Mbeya for US$225 each, which he was happy to tell us had just gone up or a flight to the town of Karonga (180 kilometres away but still in Malawi) for US$53 each. Neither of these options were really much good as we would still have to get some form of land transport to Dar or pay another few hundred dollars to fly. Thanks for nothing!

Whilst we were at the hotel we thought we may as well change some money. This was also a waste of time, as they didn’t have any cash, so we had to walk back to the bank and queue for half an hour.

One of the reasons that we needed money was to help bail out the resort. We had been approached the day before to pay some of our bill so that the resort could afford to stock up on beer and food. As we mostly ate and drank there it seemed like this was in our best interests.

Despondent we caught a minibus that as well as looking like it should be condemned and probably not good enough to be wrecked for parts, packed us in like sardines and took one and half hours.

Back in Nkhata Bay we phoned TVC from the travel agents. No there was no bus on Thursday after all but there was definitely a bus on Saturday night.

Thoroughly depressed we drowned our sorrows at Njaya, watching the Aussies beat Zimbabwe and reflected on Stephan’s “Africa wins Again!”

We spent the next two days strolling into town, eating, drinking and just lazing around on the beach. On one day we watched our laundry being washed in the lake and dried flat on the sand by Fraser an entrepreneurial young man, who on reflection charged a lot more than a coin operated washing machine.

The only chore we did was to visit the local doctor to obtain some ‘cleansing’ tablets for Bilharzia. Apparently you can take these pills that make you feel like shit for a day or so but cleanse your body of any of these little worms that carry the disease. We never actually used them but visiting a local doctor’s surgery was certainly an eye opener. The surgery itself was tucked away behind some houses and the main supermarket. So get to it we had to follow a small footpath through several private gardens. The doctor’s rooms consisted of two rooms, the consultation room equipped with a basic examination, table desk and a chair and the pharmacy equipped with just a table. All the medication was sealed in bags and small containers sitting on this table. The doctor was helpful and did say that Nkhata Bay was Bilharzia free but we decided to err on the side of caution. It cost us nothing for the doctor’s consultation and very little for the tablets we required. We felt that we had somehow denied the locals medication simply to save a few dollars. (The same service and tablets in London would have cost a small fortune).

We did mix a little with the others but it became fairly clear that Stephan and ourselves were no longer part of the ‘inner circle’. The problem seemed to stem from my comments about some ‘friends’ of Lucy’s who in between bouts of dope induced blankness told us of their far-fetched plans to build a lodge around another bay. I innocently said after they wobbled away that they didn’t know what the hell they were doing (I’m easily irritated by anyone who loses control of their faculties due to excessive drugs or alcohol). Lucy obviously took offence and contradicted me and I left it there. What Stephan’s crime was I don’t know nor did I care much.

We spent our final day mooching around town and attempting to pick up two shirts and two sarongs that we were having made. I say attempt because we had been unable to get these items made by the same tailor as the first one (he was too busy) and we had to settle for Kenny. It became clear to us that Kenny liked a drink or two. The day before we had checked on his progress and the smell of stale alcohol was everywhere, even so he had promised us that they would be ready on time and at that stage in the game it was too late to change tailors…………. Well, we went to pick them up and he had a made a real mess of it. He hadn’t finished for a start and had stitched the shirts with the wrong colour cotton, one of Sue’s sarongs had not been even started and the material for the other had been turned into a shirt! The sum result was that Kenny (again smelling of alcohol) paid us for the shirt material and replaced the material for the sarongs from another market stall but we had no shirts or sarongs. For some strange reason I actually felt sorry for him and until stopped by Sue and Stephan I was quite prepared to just walk away and leave him the material. After all it had cost very little. But as they said it was the principle.


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Small cluster of huts on Lake Malawi's eastern shore

Small cluster of huts on Lake Malawi’s eastern shore


African shoestrings – South Africa Day Fourty five – Kalahari

The Kalahari Gemsbok Park is the South African section of one of the largest protected areas in Africa. The other section being the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana together they contain two million hectares of dry semi-desert and desert land. Incredibly this area supports nineteen species of predators, 215 species of birds, countless antelope and the odd bushmen.

Like most we had heard of “the Bushmen of the Kalahari” mainly through that crazy movie “The Gods must be Crazy”. To actually come across one, in fact a family, living (to a certain extent) how their ancestors did over many centuries was somewhat sobering.
We came across them on our way to the closest and biggest of the three camps in the park, Twee Rivieren.
Roland stopped and got out of the minibus, and in almost Crocodile Dundee fashion started a conversation with them in a mixture of San (Bushmen) and Afrikaans. I was impressed Roland knew his stuff. He crouched down with head of the family who wore nothing but a Springbok loincloth. His wife and his brother too wore loincloths and his small son was happy to wear nothing at all.
Their home was a Tepee style grass house by the side of the road with just dirt floors and no other protection. To one side hung the family name in a small basic frame made from branches of one of the few trees that grew here. Against this frame rested a bow and arrow and the skull of a Gemsbok. To one side sat the shell of a Pangolin, a rare small animal that is almost entirely covered with brown, horny, overlapping scales and slightly resembles an Armadillo. According to the Bushmen they’re insides are really tasty and the shell if left outside their ‘house’ will bring good luck. The thought of catching one is enough to be put me off, I’m not sure I liked the look of those sharp scales and I’m certainly not into eating its insides, good luck or not!

This though wasn’t poverty, this was people contentedly living life as they found it and were friendly and more than happy to pose for the five or so cameras that appeared with us as we too got out of the bus.
In the past we have often been approached for payment by the ‘models’ when taking pictures. In this case they seemed so genuinely happy to pose that payment wasn’t an issue. Roland told us later that even though both the men worked for the National Park, money wasn’t really a big thing with them. All I can say is that they must be the only ones in the world!!

Twee Rivieren was a welcome sight after the 240 kilometre ride from Upington. It’s a sealed road for about 180 and then becomes gravel for the rest. That makes for a hot dusty ride and now would have been a great time to wash down the dust with a tinny or two and a swim (there’s a swimming pool). But the camp had a night drive starting about 30 minutes after we arrived, so we had to rush to erect our tents and then be ready.

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The San people or Bushmen of the Kalahari.

The San people or Bushmen of the Kalahari.