Prologue! - Apologies no photos – camera got stolen... read on to find out more!
14.09.2009 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!!