A Travellerspoint blog

PLEASE SPONSOR US!

Donation link working again.

sunny 35 °C

We are raising money for 2 charities that we have seen doing incredible work in the area around the hospital that we used to work in in South Africa. To learn more about the charities check out the early blog entry ‘SPONSOR US’.

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If you want to donate to Lulisandla Kwmtwana (foster care program. Caring for orphaned children in the community – they currently need a 4x4 to access children in remote areas) (UK taxpayers can claim Gift Aid)

Follow these simple steps:
Click: DONATE to Lulisandla Kwmtwana (on favourite links, bottom Rt of this page)
Type in your details
Type in amount you want to donate
Write in 'Details of Donation': Long Way Home - Lulisandla Kwmtwana
Tick the Gift Aid box if you are a UK tax payer

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There is curretly a problem with donating to the hipporoller project. We are working on a solution.

Thankyou for your support.

Posted by robandpol 04:10 Archived in South Africa Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

More lakeside lounging

Sumbawangwa to Tanganyika

sunny 36 °C

We had a seriously restful day in Sumbawanga – The highlight of which was breakfast of pancakes, jam and sweet tea in a small cafe talking to the local crazy man who is going to rename Tanzania – Tanganyika when he becomes president.

With a spring in our step we headed off towards Lake Tanganyika – 160km away – 2 nice short days. They turned out to be more challanging than anticipated – Rough hilly roads and Pol's gear cable snapped so she had to cycle the final 130km in 1 gear!!

We found a beautiful spot to wildcamp by a dry riverbed and were able to have a shower standing on polished flat rocks – feeling as if we were on a 5* safari – no photo I'm afraid folks – but rest assured we are now looking quite chiselled!

The following day we had an introduction to the infamous Tsetse fly. Careering down a steep rocky track I felt a terrible sharp prick in my butt... then another and another.

“I think I'm suddenly developing a terrible allergy to that soap powder” I shouted to Pol.

“No” she said”there are big flies on your bum”

The flies are the size of an English horse fly but much quicker and more robust. They have no trouble biting through clothes. You'll never be fast enough to swat one which is a pointless exercise anyway as they are crush proof. The locals say the only way to kill them is to pull the head off the body. We also later found out that they are attracted to black and blue objects so we'll be covering up with light colored clothing for the rest of this leg.

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Soon we had our first glimpse of our goal – the fabled, beautiful Lake Tanganyika- the longest and second deepest lake in the world. 700km long and over 1500m deep!

By midday we were at our destination 'Tanganyika Adventure Safaris' the only tourist accommodation by the lake for 100s of km. Run and owned by the very enthusiastic Chris and Louise it was well worth the battle with the dusty roads.

We spent 5 extremely relaxing days camping in the shade of an enormous mango tree.

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Sitting in our hammock.

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We made use of the canoes and the luxurious facilities

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Eating amazing food freshly plucked from the garden

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Strolls to the nearby village to buy supplies made a change from pedalling.

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The ruins of a monastery remind us of the 'White Fathers' who walked here over 100 years ago from Dar es Salaam – a trek that took 3 months and saw almost half of them dying from malaria and dysentery.

The commitment of the missionaries back then was brought home to me as I read extracts of the diary of a 23 yr old Scottish engineer. William McEwen, whose task it was to build the road between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi to open up the centre of Africa to Livingstone's 3 C's. Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation - via a network of roads joining the great lakes of the rift valley. A potential trade route covering 1500 miles needing only 275 miles of overland transport.

Mc Ewan came out in the 1880s at a time when 1 in 4 Europeans who spent more than a year in Central/East Africa mysteriously died of fever and/or dysentry. He was only 23 yet was expected to lead a group of over 100 'natives' to create a road over a mountain range. The only tools for the workers were crow bars and picks and payment was not with cash (as there was no formal economy) but with calico cloth by the yard.

McEwan's problems included 'wild beasts' and the ruthless Angoni tribe which would regularly raid and kill his African workers. But his main problem, as with all the missionaries, was ill health. For more than half of his time on the project he was either incapacitated with 'fever, jaundice and diarrhoea' or caring for his friend and colleague Monro with the same. An entry on Christmas day 1884 reads:

“who could think of Christmas with the surroundings of an African village.... Monro was looking bad this morning. I myself wasn't feeling quite the thing, but it doesn't do for 2 white men to be ill at once, so of course I gave way”

Boxing day saw them both too unwell to get out of bed and the following June McEwan died, 'jaundiced, pale and Haemmoraging from everywhere'

His road now looks very similar to how it would have done 100 yrs ago but the African Churches are more numerous and the ruthless Angoni and wild animals have since been pacified or shot and the present day mzungus are taking antimalarials!!

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Watching the fishermen go out at sunset, their kerosine lanterns light up the lake at night as if they are trying to rival the stars in the crystal clear night sky.

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Rob managed to get his hands on a speargun and satisfied his hunting instincts again. Shooting enough for everyone to feast on fish cooked in banana leaves for our last dinner in this little piece of paradise. (Ironically this fish is an 'englishman' but this could well be the first one shot by an Englisman!)

Posted by robandpol 02:57 Archived in Tanzania Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Dust, Heat and Grimy Water

Mbeya - Sumbawangwa

sunny 37 °C

Equipped with our brand new camera we headed towards Lake Tanganyika and the most remote part of our trip so far... the next 1000km would be on dirt/gravel/sand roads.

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The road from Mbeya to Tanganyika saw yet another complete change in environment.. From lush tea and banana plantations to dry arid inhospitable terrain.

Our first day led us to a horrible border town called Tunduma (Tanzania/Zambia border). We had heard the town was unsafe but we could have guessed... money changers, guys in bars, everything decrepid and dusty, many guest houses but none that looked free from bed bugs.. we headed to the catholic mission for refuge. After some confusion we found 'Father Rocky' who did not allow us to put up our tent but warmly welcomed us into his own home where he had warm beds, delicious food and most importantly a HOT shower (our first for over a week)

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Father Willi, Father Rocky and the 'Cooker'

The road to the lake was hard work and our suspension earned it's place on the trip. Mile after mile of gravel, sand, bone jarring corregations in the compacted mud, dust - inches deep in places and hiding the deep ruts beneath. As we lost height the temperature soared and water became more scarce.

As our thermometer hit 42.5 °C and we hit more hills and corregations the trucks haired passed us pumping blinding plumes of dust - forcing us to stop, close our eyes and hold our breath - words from Stanley's diary came flooding back.

“The torrid heat, the miasma exhaled from the soil, the giant cane-grass suffocating the wayfarer, the rabid fury of the native guarding every entry and exit, the unspeakable misery of life, the utter absence of every comfort, the bitterness which each day heaps upon the poor white man's head, and the little – too little – promise of success one feels on entering it.”

And we remembered that life wasn't that bad... yet.

We were drinking large volumes of water and it was difficult to come by at times. We stopped by a village and asked
“Where's the water pump?” Making a pumping action. The guy looked bewildered and pointed us to the only person in the area who spoke english -
“Do you want water or a pump?” he asked as a middle aged man came running up with a bike pump.
“Water” I answered pointing to our empty bottles.
“Ahh – come with me”
He kindly started filling the water bottles from a jug and I was horrified to see what was pouring into our bottles - Pale cloudy fluid.
“Is it water?” I asked, not wanting to seem too stupid
“Yes of course”
“Is it boiled?”
“Yes of course, and don't you want that bottle filled too?” pointing to the one now concealed behind my back.
“Umm.. yes.. that would be..... lovely”

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Dubious water.....

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But no obstacle to hardened african travellers!

One benefit of this route is that mzungus are a novelty and the local population are consequently friendly and respectful.

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The children, instead of demanding pens, sweets, money or clothing simply stare with wonderment and giggle when they they see a Mzungu do something that they also do... like eating peanuts!

At one village a hundred wonderstruck kids stood over the road gawping at us sipping luke warm coke when they were nearly crushed by a steamroller coming one way and a lorry carrerring the other – fortunately one of the adults spotted the impending annihilation of an entire generation and cleared the road - just in the nick of time!

The next excitement occurred at another well deserved break – Pol was sitting on the verge and spotted 2 oxen toeing a sled full of firewood (note no wheels) wanting to take a memory of this timeless image she pulled out the camera.

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But the cows took offense – had she asked permission for photography? When they were within a meter they surged towards her, flailing their horns. Images flashed into my mind of zulus I had seen in Mseleni who had been attacked similarly and came away with huge gashes – usually to the face. But pol was too fast and somehow managed to summersault backwards – away from the malicious beasts. Thwarted and annoyed by the screams of all the onlookers the cows careered off into the bush with the upturned sled bouncing behind and the herder yelling and shaking his long stick. We continued on – but slightly slower as pol had pulled her hamstring in all the excitement.

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Is that a crazy tan line or simply grime?

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With our food supplies dwindling we resorted to chewing on sugar cane – which was surprisingly good!

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The bikes taking a well earned break!

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Many things are different to back home – hotels are usually far less glamorous, but quite a bit cheaper!

We eventually arrived at Sumbawangwa in the dark. We had covered 230km of very bad road under a very hot sun in 2 days. Feeling very pleased with ourselves we washed off about half a kilo of dust and grime and proceeded to the restaurant for food. The beef curry was well worth the long wait. We wolfed it down – but it proved too much for Pol - she turned ashen white and queezy – as she sat on the floor with head between knees – I paid the bill and we limped up to our room. WE WERE EXHAUSTED! After a rejuvinating cup of sweet cocoa we collapsed into bed.

Posted by robandpol 06:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

FERRIES, CAMERA THIEVES AND DANGEROUS BEAKERS!

Prologue! - Apologies no photos – camera got stolen... read on to find out more!

sunny 36 °C

Waiting on the beach for the others, guarding the luggage as the Ilala (the Lake Malawi ferry) filled up a couple approached and offered to help me get everything back onto the boat. They were cyclists themselves just off the boat to stretch their legs whilst the island had its weekly re-stock. The trip from Likoma Island to Nkhata Bay was PACKED. Even the top deck felt quite full. We eventually pulled out at about 7pm only to stop at the next, tiny island for a few more hours - what happened during those hours I have not a clue! Fifty odd years post-colonialism it is still white people who make up about ninety five percent of the first class passengers. Down below on the other decks there was not even room to move. 99.9% of the people on the lower decks were black – with Narada, Brad and Tye making up the missing percentage. Narada and Tye bobbed down to 2nd after a brief sojourn on the top deck to save their pennies and Brad, who got on at the second stop presumably never made it past the sacks of fish pinning him down in the 3rd class squallor. He later relayed that the only part of his body not in contact with fish was his backside planted firmly on his rucksack!! We got to Nkhata Bay 5hours late which suited us well as we arrived at 6am instead of 1am refreshed by a full nights sleep in our tent on the deck!! The delay was not appreciated so much by Narada huddled in his corner down below as every time he opened his eyes from his fragmented sleep it was to cockroaches scuttling across his “pillow”. Disembarking was MANIC. The rules for getting off were PUSH and PUSH EVERYONE ELSE and if you're not pushing you don't deserve to get off . The laws of physics and logic did not apply. Massive heavy boxes were pushed through incomprehensibly tiny gaps. As I neared the opening loaded with bags a crowd of people just as big as the one on the boat trying to get off bustled on the jetty trying equally hard to get on. I surged back and forth a few times before stretching my hand out through a gap towards the gang plank where Rob grabbed it and forcibly pulled me out the crowd!! We looked up at the sea of people on the front deck of the boat bubbling and boiling between us and our bikes, not to mention the tonne of cargo, mostly boxes of fish, blocking them in. I stayed with our things while Rob made his way forward. No sooner had he reached up to grab the edge of the ferry than the crowd below had thrust him up onto the deck. Battling through it took him a while to reach the bikes all the while goods were flowing on and off over the sides – boxes of fish, sacks of potatoes, bundles of clothes. A box dropped splitting as it landed spewing thousands of capenta (tiny silver fish) onto the slimy brown deck. A massive argument ensued. People shouted and gestured and soon everyone was involved. The jetty was piling up with boxes and bustling people shouting. Looking back to the boat I saw Rob inching towards the edge with one of the bikes held high over his head. I went forward until I was right at the edge as close to the boat as I could get and held up my arms. Rob began to lower the bike and I caught hold of the tire. A muscly young man came to my aid and together we guided the bike down the 5metre drop. Rob turned back in quest of the other bike and I carefully wheeled mine away from the edge, stacking it against a dirty cardboard box.

After receiving the second bike I stacked it next to the first wondering how long it would be before Rob broke through the agitated mob, still debating who was responsible for dropping the box of fish, and made it to the jetty. Not long. I looked back to see him standing on the edge of the front deck balancing high above the crowd with one hand on the thick wires running from the loading crane. The next moment he had lowered himself down and was swinging from the edge of the boat. There was only a second for me to wonder if he would make it before he had swung across the gap over the fishy water onto the jetty.

From Nkhata Bay we headed for Mzuzu. It's a hilly much travelled route and in the heat of the day not even the spectacular scenery could save us from the frustration we felt at the exhausting interactions with the many children along the way. The in greeting with the youth seems to be “umZungu Givememoney” sometimes “Givemeyourmoney” or “Givememymoney” the politer ones try to fit in the formalities but when your target is a cyclist you have to be fast: “mZungu hello. HowareyouI'mfineGivememoney”. But it doesn't have to be money. There's an alternative greeting which goes “mZungu givemeeeeeee .......” followed by a pause while your whole being is scanned for a suitable handout. It was up a particularly long hill that this really got to Rob and he finally lost it. Pedalling past 3 young boys 6 or 7 years old one of them offered him the customary greeting “mZungu givemeeeee shirt”. Rob stopped and started ripping off his sweaty t-shirt shouting at the boys; “Is this what you want? You want my shirt? Do you think I'm here to give you clothes? You want my shirt? What will I wear? How many shirts do you think I'm carrying? Come on then take it!” The point however was lost, blocked by the barrier of a language in which only a phrase or two was known and obscured by the mixed messages received from previous responses to the demand. The slightly bemused child looked up at the crazy bare-chested foreigner. His dark brown eyes were dazzled by the whitest skin he'd ever seen as they flitted over the spectacular wally tan. He meekly reached out his hand to take the shirt! “No you can't have my shirt” sobbed Rob in desperation “What will I wear?”. As he put it back on and turned to pedal again the tentative voice of the child was heard; “Give me money??”.

By the time we reached Mzuzu we were hot and tired. We cycled around the town in search of some food and were re-energised by delicious bread and cold juice from the bakery. After stocking up on clementines from the red plastic tub atop the head of a passing woman we found our way to the market. Passing down the thin sandy footpaths between the covered wooden stalls bounteous goods were seen for sale. The people were friendly and the happy, positive vibe went some way to soothing the frustrations of the day. We headed on to the guest house where we'd planned to camp but ended up taking one of the spacious, clean, cheap rooms instead. We did our laundry, ate tasty beans, rice and veg for a pittance in the restaurant and went to sleep to the sound of the first rain of our trip hammering down on the roof. We were very pleased to be inside snug and dry.

We packed up quickly in the morning ready for a long day. It wasn't til all the bags were closed and firmly attached to the bikes that we realised we hadn't seen the camera since supper the night before. Not wanting to jeopardise our early start we pressed on, after searching the guest house, under the assumption we had unintentionally bundled the camera into one or other of the bags. We sailed out of Mzuzu past the shops, the market and the multitude of extravagantly decorated “taxi bikes” with their colourful padded rear pannier racks – some topped with a passenger, some empty and touting for business. A strong tail wind and smooth smooth tar had us racing along in the early morning cool and we reached “Rumphi” much quicker than anticipated. As we drew near the town we bought the smallest of a selection of Pawpaws displayed on a bench by the road next to a cluster of tall spindly Papaya trees. We ate the delicious fruit sitting on a fallen tree which served as the bus stop and debated which of two possibles routes we would take from there.

Opting for the more adventurous road we left the tar and pedalled west away from the Lake before veering north again parallel to the hidden water along a sandy gravel road. The sand thickened and we deflated our tyres – just as effective a trick on bicycles as in cars. The track led us along a flat plain between two sets of mountains – those that form the Nyika National Park and the escarpment that borders the Lake. The people we passed were more surprised to see us than those living along the tar road and waved welcomingly as we went by. About 50kms later we dropped down into a valley as the mountains closed in on us and the road followed the path of a babbling brook. The brook grew into a stream and bananas, tomatoes and aubergines were cultivated in the flats next to its banks. A few resourceful homes channelled the water so that it irrigated their crops before rejoining the main body. The scenery was so stunning all the way along that we were very regretful we didn't have a camera to hand though this probably helped us cover the extra mileage on what became the longest day yet of our trip. In the late afternoon we tore past the turning to the Livingstonia mission station – an old colonial town translocated high up on the hill safe from the malarial strangle-hold that had crippled the young missionaries on the shore of the Lake and we set up our tent at the top of a high cliff with a breathtaking view towards the water just 4km away but about 600m down.

The next day held for us a much anticipated downhill. After visiting Livingstonia complete with guided tour of the hospital we began the exhilarating descent taking care not to drop off the end of any of the 20 odd hairpin bends zigzagging down the cliff as we dodged the ambulance and a few backies loaded with supplies on their way up. It was awesome! The gravel road had been hacked into the cliff by a 22yr old British Engineer at the end of the 19th Century. Reaching the bottom we made our way to a campsite at the Lakeshore and stowed away our bikes. We planned to hitch a ride back to Mzuzu as it was now apparent our camera was not in one of our bags but had been stolen..

Back in Mzuzu the camera had not turned up at the guest house. We did a circuit of the many shops selling electronics in the hope they might be re-selling our camera. It was in vain as we learnt you don't sell hot property in the town you nicked it. If it's for sale in Mzuzu it was probably got in Nkhata Bay and vice versa. Ironically we had a picture on the camera of the place it probably ended up in Nkhata Bay. At the time the shop writing advertising “Fairly used electronics, reasonable price” had amused us a lot.

However all was not lost. The camera was insured and we headed down to the Police Headquarters to report the incident. The police were very helpful and we were escorted into the CID office to make a statement. The room was plastered wall to wall with mugshots of wanted persons, a word or two underneath detailing their crimes. There were a lot of TRICKERS and a lot of BREAKERS, a few HOUSE BREAKERS and one HOME BREAKER. There was one BEAKER and one DANGEROUS BEAKER! There was a picture of a man “FOUND IN POSSESSION OF 31 COBS OF INDIAN HEMP at Nkhata Bay” These were laid out on the table infront of him and he was looking quite proud. There was also one MURDERER – KILLED MAMA – BIG MAMA, we guessed he was significantly more dangerious than a villian who killed a normal sized mama!

Police report in hand we boarded the bus and made the 5 hour journey back to our bikes, standing room only. We learnt that travelling by bicycle is not such a slow way to travel after all. Re-united with our luggage we pressed on and the following day blitzed across the border to Tanzania and up the many hills that followed as we climbed out of the depression holding Lake Malawi. Unfortunately we were unable to change money at the border so went 48hrs with no local currency – the only benefit of which was that we have now eaten the horrible packets of soup carried 4000km from SA!

The climate changed as we climbed and we were very soon surrounded by lush vegetation and the neat rows of numerous tea plantations. We camped under the protection of a Tanzanian family and joined the 18yr old daughter of the house for church the following morning before cycling on to the town of Mbeya in the afternoon. Mbeya is a big town and we found an ATM, stocked up on supplies. We also got a new camera which we managed to find at the end of the day in a petrol station. Consequently next week there will be more pictures and a lot less writing!!

Posted by robandpol 00:12 Archived in Malawi Comments (5)

Idling on the Island

A week on Likoma (16-23 August) Lilongwe-Likoma

sunny 29 °C

Janet very kindly offered to give us a lift to the ferry which meant that we had an extra day enjoying their hospitality.. however even with 24hrs extra to pack I was still rushing around 5 minutes before we were due to leave and walked straight into their glass patio door and smashed it – janet handled the situation with limitless grace... and we headed off in the Landrover after a final cup of tea on their beautiful balcony watching the Sunbirds and Lilac Breaseted Rollers.

The ride to the ferry port was without incident until a rather bewildered goat wandered into the road and then when she saw us panicked and ran straight into our path – the little goat was no match for the new Landrover and came off significantly worse (ie dead!)

Catching the ferry was rather a civilised affair – especially as we had been told to be at the port at 12 noon and the ferry didn't leave until 4pm!

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We decided to go 1st class – which meant that we got to sit on the top deck with a beautiful view of sunset.

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2nd class looked a lot less comfortable with people, goats, chickens, veg and huge sacks and boxes of very smelly dried fish stacked in every available corner..

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We pitched the tent on deck and awoke in the morning to a blustery force 6-7 and unable to see land in any direction but with an amazing view of the most beautiful sunrise. We were very glad to have spent the extra few kwatcha as the guys in second class were getting soaked by the waves!

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Rob had a quick go at steering in the gale!

After 24hrs we sighted the beautiful pair of islands - Likoma and Chizimulu.. surrounded by small fishing boats, sandy beaches and dotted with baobabs and mango trees.

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Disembarking was a lot less civilised than boarding – there was a huge scrum for the shaky ladder down to the little boats that would ferry us to shore... manoeuvring the bikes down into the dinghies proved relatively easy for the locals - used to handling 50kg sacks of maize.

Cycling across the island to the backpackers we came across Jo who we had met 4 weeks ago in Livingstone. He was looking panicked and asking directions to the hospital. We pointed him in vaguely the right direction and asked if he needed the assistance of a Dr – the answer was an emphatic “YES!” His girlfriend had just been plucked from the stormy waters after their canoe had sunk – she couldn't swim and had very nearly drowned – he said she had breathed in a lot of water and was hypothermic.

Arriving at the hospital we found her – cold and shaken up but well.. some med students had had a listen to her chest and hedged their bets saying they'd heard 'a few crackles' however I found her chest was clear so was able to reassure her... although I didn't actually have to do anything of note they found me reassuring – especially as I was the only Dr on the island (with a population of 8000 and a 50 bed hospital with fully equipped pharmacy and operating theatre!).

We got chatting to the 'clinical assistant – Aubery who invited us back the following day to help him figure out what to do with a box of drugs that had been donated from Germany.

The following day was Sunday so we went to the beautiful brick cathedral – which we found crammed full with African worshippers. I found it very moving to hear such beautiful singing and enthusiasm from the congregation after all the sacrifices that had been made by the Scottish missionaries over 100yrs ago – when 1 in 4 of the young men and women who came from 'that green and pleasant land' died of malaria and dysentery.

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After church we went to see Aubery who had prepared lunch for us.. Rob went through the box of German drugs – a completely random selection of opened packets. I threw away about 2/3rds as they were out of date or utterly useless in a rural African context.

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Aubery gave us a conducted tour of the hospital which seemed well equipped and clean but obviously lacking a Dr. Highlighting Malawi's lack of health professionals. South Africa has 70drs per 100,000 where Malawi has 1 per 100,000! However the Clinical Officers did seem to be doing quite a good job after having just 2 yrs training since leaving high school, however one of them may soon be going to Med school on the mainland funded by a local charity.

We are forced to stay here for a full week as the ferry only visits once/week.

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What a hardship!

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We have been reading, swimming in the crystal clear freshwater lake full of colourful fish.

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Exercise has consisted of occasional volley ball and trips into the village to buy bread and tomatoes.

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The locals go fishing at night with powerful lights and come ashore in the mornings with hoards of little fish which get dried in the sun and sent to the mainland.

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The nets drying on the beach make colourful patterns

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Walking around the island you encounter innumerable friendly children, we are frequently asked 'will you be my friend?'

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Baobabs provide some valuable shade

We've buddied up with some other guys at the backpackers, a crazy, hyperactive canadian - Tye and a thoughtful American - Narada, to share the cooking – saving us quite a bit of money and resulting in very sociable evening meals.

Knees and bums are now fully recovered and we are looking forward to getting back onto the bikes. The next section will be very hilly with our next port of call being the town of Livingstonia – built in memory of the famous missionary and explorer who was the first European to set eyes on many of the wonderful sights we are experiencing.

Posted by robandpol 06:49 Archived in Malawi Comments (2)

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