A warm country, very nice people, fine sand beaches, music reggae in the background in all the country: Malawi and I: a love story !
Right before the border, I am overtaking 2 cyclists and surprise, one of these cyclists is Yoichi, one japanese guy I met 11 months ago in Istanbul! The other cyclist is getting sick and wants to rest a few days. I am passing the border with Yoichi and we are driving together during a fews days to Mzuzu.
Contrast is striking with Tanzania. The country is much more populated but immediately this is the kindness of the people which is striking me. One feels really welcome here and moreover, everything becomes greener, thanks to the superb lake Malawi. In Tanzania, as in most of the countries of East Africa, I felt racism by certain people. Here, much less even almost not. Food isn't the same, they are always beans and rice, but in Malawi it is cooked differently...
We are arriving in Karonga by the lakeside. Immediately, I am jumping in the water ! What a nice feeling it is after having spent 3 weeks in the Tanzanian bush, under the blazing sun, the dust which sticks to the skin and the arid landscape all around me! For the next 600 kilometres, I will drive more or less close to the lake and above all I will spend most of my time... in the water! Arrived in Nkhata Bay, I am putting down my bicycle. I will take it again only 3 weeks later. My friend Thierry is coming from Switzerland for 2 weeks to Malawi and we will travel together. Strange to take a bus and to have to carry a bag on the back... But in the same time it is so much relaxing to move around unnoticed. We are visiting the national park of Vwaza Marsch where we can go without a car. We won't see the elephants that everyone promised to us but on the other hand we will see hippopotamus from very close.
During 6 days, we are taking a canoe ride on the lake towards the north. There are no roads, the only access is from the lake and people live their lives, far from common worries of civilization. People are happy to see us and everywhere the welcom is exceptional. Moreover there are mangos everywhere. Ah mangos! Season Ah mangos, The season has started and the ground is covered with them. They fall by the thousands.I adore mangos but after 2-3 weeks and a few kilos in the tummy, I cannot eat some any more,indigestion! I will have to wait for a few weeks before feeling like eating some more again.
The first docking attempt is a real catastrophy. The waves are pushing us towards the beach, the boat is going sideways. I can't manage to put it back straight and Thierry, who was supposed to dock it, is falling when he is getting out of the boat. Result of the exercice, the whole boat together with its load and myself are falling in the water ! But we are going to learn from our mistakes and we are quickly acquiring lake experience. We are paddling, we are stopping to swim and to jump on the rocks along the coast, we are snorkeling and we are admiring lots of small fishes of all colors. When we are arriving on the beaches, immediately ten children are welcoming us all excited and shouting, jumping around, offering us mangos and right away, by reflex, they are helping us secure the boat.. The adults also are very nice with us and and each time we feel welcome. Sometimes, their nosiness prevents us from being really in peace but, at the end, it is part of the game and this Malawi is such a beautiful country.
After 3 days of paddle, we are arriving in Usisiah, which is the largest village of the area. There is a restaurant and one and we are taking this opportunity to eat a big dish of fishes and delicious rice. When we are leaving, we are realizing that our mp3 players, my camera and my speakers have disappeared! We are coming alongside as quickly as possible and We are taking the police on the beach where we think we have been stolen. As were were coming alongside, a type had come to us very aggressively while looking in the boat. I do not know why but I immediately reacted very violently with him, which I do not do normally. When we are coming back, he is not there but we are searching for his name, that we are finding very quickly, and the policeman is telling us : hold on, this fellow is used to the house!
The police is arresting his at his place and we are all going back to the police station. On the way, the policeman is leaving me alone with our handcuffed thief while he is going say hi to his friends in the local pub. The thief doesn’t speak English so I can't get anything out of him while we are alone together. Arrived at the police station, the chief wants to light a cigarette and is asking his friends for matches (there are almost fifty people around us. When something occurs, everyone runs to watch in Africa, like anywhere else). In the box, with the matches, he is finding marijuana and very surprised is asking who has just given him this matches box ! Obviously, it is nobody and everyone is bursting out laughing, we and the police officers included…Ah, Malawi....
After questioning for half an hour which doesn't lead to anything, I am deciding to change my approach. Thierry is playing the part of the one putting pressure and I am trying to find a compromise solution while cooling my friend down (an African in a stressy situation loses all his faculties, they are not used to be put under pressure). So suddenly I am saying to our "Robin of African Wood" that it is obviouly not him who stole us, but only if he has information so that I can get back my thing, he will get some money. This happy idiot is answering me: Ah yes, how much you will give me ????? We found our thief, I still can't believe he was so dumb… 1 hour later he is back with our things and was still hoping that I would give him 2000 kwatchas as a reward (approximately USD 20. -). On the other hand, as as reward we are telling the police that they can put it in jail for a few days. We even have to insist as the police is asserting that the case is now solved. The problem is that this kind of guy likes the jail because he gets food and has got company in the 2 square meters that he has to share with 3 other guys... Ahhh Africa...
Unfortunately, as a bad news never arrives alone, the same evening I am losing the money that I took for our hike and Thierry relied on me to pay. That must be my karma. We will have to live on credit the 3 next days but this is Africa, no problem, never problem! The place is splendid, a beautiful fine sand beach, palm trees, mango trees, mango trees, mango trees, oops forgive me, that’s becoming an obsession ! We are even playing... pétanque (bowls)! Pétanque in Malawi, who would have believed it !
The next day, we are leaving and we are reaching Ruarwe where we are sleeping in a place quite as beautiful as the first one. An incredible exotic garden and from a platform, we can jump in the lake which is approximately 8 meters lower. In spite of the feeling to have reached a small paradise, it is necessary for us to go back to Usisiah the following day where a boat will bring us, we and our boat, to Nkhata Bay. The last day we are starting to be tired but but we have become real malawi paddlers, true pros ! We are riding the rough waves of the lake and we have learned to take the waves in such a way that they are pushing us (if of course we are not on a contrary current). When the lake is quiet, it is an incredible feeling and that makes a little surrealistic, splendid sight. From the boat we can easily see the bottom of the lake until 30 meters depth. This lake, it is really like the sea! Splendid small trip.
After the departure of Thierry, I am staying there to get some rest and especially I am partying a lot in good company. In 2 words, I am enjoying life. It is very hard for me to leave Mayoka Village, the place where I spent so much time and where I met lots of very nice people. I am managing to leave at only midday, under a blazing sun and after one hour on the road, I am getting sick! I am managing to drive almost 60 kilometres but I am arriving in a bad state in Kande Beach, especially the last kilometres where I must push my bicycle in the sand. I believe that it is malaria, because the lake is very well known to be an important source of malaria. I am having my blood tested but the test is negative. Apparently it is an African influenza, nothing real bad. After 2 days, I am feeling better and I am taking again the road and leaving these tourist places. It does me enormous good to be in company of another Western tourists and to eat different, delicious dishes! I’m driving easily to Blantyre, I am feeling much better and this long rest has recharged my batteries. Moreover the wind is pushin me in the back. The road is close to the lake, the surroundings are splendid but the weather is terribly hot, the rain season is coming. As long as the rain is not falling, the temperatures will rise. Driving in Malawi is easy, people are nice, smiling, I’m finding food more or less everywhere, I am often crossing wizards dressed with skin of leopards, collars, hanging bone of various animals, feathers in their hair. They go from village in village to help people. I am sleeping in small hotels, sometimes in the restaurants, on the ground and sometimes in my tent on the beach too.
While speaking about restaurant, it is necessary for me to say something about the famine which is unfortunately becoming day after day a real serious problem. The rice stores is decreasing, the price by kilo increases. Poor people can’t afford anymore to feed themselves. The biggest problem is the lack of fertilizers. Too much expensive for people and the government does not help people to get some in time, because the problem is known since this spring! In the streets, people are starting to eat termites or another cooked insects and cities are getting full with poor people, sick, disabled persons who beg for their survival. Contrast is striking if I am comparing the country when I arrived.
Here we go, I am at the border. Tomorrow, I am leaving the English-speaking world to arrive in a portugese ex-colony, I am impatient but a little sad to leave this beautiful country after all! But it is the nomad life which requires it, learning to leave places and people we like for the unknown, moving forward ,always moving forward... Finally, it is like life, it is always necessary to move forward!