Saturday, 21 May 2011
Malawi to Tanzania
Cape Maclear had been what I had expected from Lake Malawi. Decent camping at the beach side campground. Guys trying to sell us everything from fruit to wooden necklaces to fish, but only half heartedly in the heat of the day. Great sunsets and wonderful night skies. Bed by 8 p.m. up at 6 a.m.
Further up the lake we stopped at Nkhata Bay for more of the same but in all honesty this place was a bit of a disappointment. The place we stayed at was run (down) by a disinterested English woman and it was a little shabby. We still stayed two nights and I have to say that the food was really good but the bay itself wasn't much to write home about and we had no electricity all sunday which means I missed Spurs beating Liverpool! It was, however cheap. I stayed two nights and had breakfast and lunch once and dinner twice, plus several beers. My total bill was £20.
Above: View of Nkhata Bay from our campsite.
Below: Camping by Lake Malawi, Nkhata Bay
Leaving Nkhata Bay was made exciting by the total lack of petrol anywhere. I'd somewhat limped in to the place on the sunday with little fuel left and had stopped at the only petrol station. As there was a power cut I couldn't get any petrol. When we left on Tuesday I was told they were out of unleaded. It was 30 miles to Mzuzu, the largest town in northern Malawi and I had about 30 miles of fuel left. I made it with 8 miles to spare. The closest I'd come to actually running out of petrol since Alaksa.
After filling up we stopped at a supermarket to stock up. We all agreed that Malawi has the worst stocked supermarkets in southern Africa. I assume it's because everything comes up from South Africa and the further away we get the less stuff there is. It was pleasing to know, however, that I could still get Heinz baked beans and Marmite, even here.
Three for 10p
Whilst packing everything into my pannier a guy came up to me. The conversation went something like this.
Me: “Hello, how are you?”
Him: “I'm good , how are you?”
Me: “I'm good thanks.”
Him: “Where are you from?”
Me; “London, England.”
Him: “Oh, you a right geezer init!”
I had to laugh. He'd picked up some “London talk” somewhere along the way and we had a long chat about Chelsea. Whether Kaka will sign for them, whether Torres is going to be any good and whether Man U will beat Barcelona. I was speaking English but he kept saying stuff like.
“I fink Abramovich is rubbish, init, He's no good. Apple and pears. Know what I mean?”
Quite bizarre, but this is what I love about travelling. Stuff like this doesn't happen when I go to Sainsbury's.
Moving up Lake Malawi we managed a leisurely 100 miles on Tuesday before stopping at Chitimba Lodge and campground. This was a real find. I have to admit that sometimes Daryll's GPS comes up trumps. Chitimba doesn't even register in my Lonely Planet of Southern Africa but the GPS has camping marked and we found an excellent little place on a sandy beach.
Great find in northern Malawi
Live update: I was just sat in the bar typing this up, when the owner asked me if I would be eating dinner, which was Chicken stir fry. Before I had time to answer the barman (who is Dutch) came along with his huge dog.
He said,” Is anyone in your group by chance a vegetarian.”
I said, “Yes, actually I am.”
“Oh good. It's my dog. He's drinking but he won't eat”.
“Ah, you said veterinarian didn't you.”
( I got an email from my wife recently who, after reading my blog, said, and I quote - “You're an idiot”. Guilty as charged.)
Although we're not riding off road in this part of Africa, every day starts and ends with a little off road section as we take a track off the main road down to the campsite we're staying at. Sometimes it's short and easy, other times it isn't.
Photos of us getting to and from various accommodation.
Some are steep
What you can’t see is the guy behind Daryll, pushing!
This one was steep AND rocky.
Back break on. DON’T touch the front break.
I just DON’T LIKE SAND
It might look easy to you. You weren’t there!
Another day, another border. This time crossing from Malawi (I liked Malawi) into Tanzania. Leaving Malawi should have been straight forward – the passport guy stamped the passport and the carnet guy cancelled the carnet, and like all the borders I've crossed (except getting into Zimbabwe) there has been no queue and no waiting. However we had money to change. I had about $30 in Malawi Kwatcha and Daryll had $200. We'd stopped at the last big town before the border but the banks weren't interested. I had one bizarre chat with the man sitting at the “Foreign Exchange” desk of the Malawi National Bank...
“I'd like to change some Kwatcha into Tanzanian shillings please.”
“Oh no, not possible. We don't do that.”
“Can I get US dollars then?”
“No we don't do that either. Change with the men at the border.”
“Can you tell me what the offical exchange rate is so when I change (illegally) at the border I'll know.”
“Oh, it changes. Ask the men at the border. You know it's all down to supply and demand.”
I really couldn't believe it. I was in the countries National Bank and I was having a chat with someone about supply and demand economics of the illegal black market.
So, back to the border. I went off with a guy who'd promised 7.8 Shillings to the Kwatcha. We went up a hot back alley and past a few butchers shops. We changed money in a small shop. However, for the FIRST TIME ever (and I've crossed a few borders and changed a lot of money at them in my time) he tried to pull a fast one. Whilst doing the calculation on his phone he typed in 7.08 instead of 7.8 as the rate. I caught him doing it and he said it was a slip! later Daryll changed money with him too (there really wasn't anyone else to go to) and he tried to short change him giving him 600 instead of 6000. Not a great way to leave what is a lovely, friendly and really very cheap country. Malawi, I'll be back.
Tanzania – the immigration and customs guys were efficient, friendly and helpful. We got out stuff done in no time. $50 for a visa. The we had to get insurance for the bike. Again, it was a walk down a back alley to an office but it all seemed legal enough. I got insurance just for Tanzania ($50 for 3 months) Daryll got a COMESA, for $100, which covers them for all countries heading north.
The insurance office is down here sir. Honest
I also decided to change a little more money into Shillings whilst Daryll sorted out his insurance. First the guy offered me 1500 shillings to the dollar. I wanted $200. Which equals, as you will all know, 300,000. He gave me 100,000 in 10x 10,000 shilling notes. Then another 100,000 in the same. Then he gave me lots of 500 shilling notes. As I was trying to count it he kept talking to me and putting me off. The bike, where this illegal transaction was going on, was surrounded by his mates and onlookers all telling me it was the right amount. But something in my tiny mind was telling me to recheck. It was hot (30 degrees) and I was tired, thirsty, confused and a little agitated. I tried three or four times to count the money but juts couldn't. Luckily my brain was alert enough to know something was up and I asked Daryll to double check for me. It was a scam. He'd given my 200,000 but the last bundle was only 10,000 not 100,000 as it should have been. In essence he was giving me $140 for my $200. I told him where to go.
Another guy offered to change and although he suggested a rate of 1450, we settled on 1500 and he gave me 300,000. We were about to get on the bikes and leave and yet another guy came over with the $200 I'd changed telling me I owed him 10,000 as the rate was 1450 not 1500. Things were getting a little ugly now. We'd attracted a lot of attention (there we no other tourist crossing the border that day at all) and just wanted to get out of there. I told Ange and Daryll to get on their bikes and head off, I'd follow just I assumed they'd all chase me down the road. The guy with my original $200 just kept waving it in my face and demanding his 10,000 (about $6). I was adamant that I'd agreed the rate of 1500 with the other guy and that was the end of it. I got on my bike a little nervously as I was worried he might try to push me over. I ignored him and road off. They didn't follow.
Not a great introduction to Tanzania. I was quite surprised. As I said, I've NEVER experienced any sort of money changing scams in my whole life. I know they go on but this border (both sides) really takes the biscuit. Fellow travellers be warned.
I soon calmed down however as we were now climbing away from the hot basin of Lake Malawi into the Tanzanian mountains. Passing banana and tea plantations we climbed to over 2200m before dropping down again. Motorbikes were replacing bicycles as the main form of transport, although there was still very little traffic on the roads.
That night we stayed in a missionary compound. Not my kind of place but the singing coming from the church next door was good and they didn't try to convert me.
Heading East towards Dar the traffic increased somewhat as I had to share the road with big, slow and very smoky trucks. Since South Africa I've pretty much had the freedom of the road, there is surprisingly little traffic on the roads and I'd got used to it. But now(and I assume all the way to Nairobi) that has changed. Overtaking one of these trucks I ran into a Tanzania traffic policeman and his speed gun. I was doing 54 kph in a 50 zone. I gestured that that was only just over the limit and the laughed and told me to enjoy my trip.
Another day done, another great campsite. This one was $3. Just us three and some monkeys. They even started a fire for us (although they were out of beer which just took the edge off a great day).
The following day was supposed to be a simple one. Ride 200 miles to Dar. But it turned out somewhat different. First we had a group photo taken underneath one of the Boabab trees at out campsite. We only had a day or two riding together and I'd worked out that I only had three more riding days until Nairobi! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Daryll and Angela.
Then it rained on us. First time it's done that since I left Lesotho, on April 6th, 5000 miles ago. We rode through the Boabab forest and on towards Dar. In 2006 Tracy and I had been to Dar (and Pemba/Zanzibar) and had gone on safari just west of Dar. Passing through this National Park again on the bike I saw, giraffe, zebra, wildibeast and an elephant. Awesome.
Always exciting to rid through a National Park on a bike
Even more so when you see something
Giraffe and Zebra in background – Alaska number plate in foreground!
We approached Dar at 3 p.m. on a Friday. Bad move. The heat and traffic were crazy and it reminded on my arrival in Las Vegas.
Queuing for the Magogoni ferry. This is NOT the ferry to Zanzibar, just a 5 minute ferry across Dar to the beaches.
It took us almost two hours to get to the port and the ferry that Daryll told us would take us across the water to where the campsites were. (Dar itself doesn't have any and Daryll had been here 10 years ago.) We queued up for the 5 minute ferry. Us and hundred of locals going home for the weekend. It cost 5p per person and 5p per bike.
We’re going down there?
No room to get off the bikes. Just sit there getting hotter and hotter.
The back of the ferry. The back “should” rise up, but clearly that would mean fewer people could get on.
This was nothing like the Vancouver ferries I’d been on!
On the ferry Daryll got talking to a local woman. She wanted to hear our stories and insisted that we went to her house for the night. So instead of finding a campsite we followed her to her (brand new) house. So new in fact she didn't have any running water and the electricity was down. I have to admit I had been looking forward to a long cold shower after the day we had just had, but that would have to wait. We spent the evening with Alisha and her two daughter. She used to work for DFID (UK Department for International Development), had lived in London for a while and both her grandfathers were British. Anyway, even though I was hot, tired and very very smelly, we had a good evening.
This wasn’t where we thought we’d end up for the night.
Alisha – very kind (and brave) of her to take in three bikers.
Can't say the same for the night. Partly because it was on unusual to NOT sleep in my tent (first time in 31 days) but mainly because of the mozzies in the room all three of us had a restless night. I counted 15 mozzie bites on my bodies in the morning. It's the first time on the whole trip I've had a problem with mozzies. I hope it's the last.
In the morning we said our goodbyes and moved a mile up the road to Mikadi Beech lodge and campground. I'll be here for the weekend before heading over to Zanzibar (and possibly some diving) for a few days. Then it's on to Arush and by the end of next week, Nairobi.
I assume I'll be saying goodbye to Daryll and Angela this weekend as, although they are also going to Zanzibar, we have slightly different agendas from here.
Also, sorry this blog has been more of a list of things I've done rather than anything readable or interesting. I'm typing this up at Mikadi beach. I have limited electricity (as does all of Tanzania) and have to rent their dongle to access the internet. I hope to publish this blog on saturday. I hope it works. Needless to say I'm still having a great adventure and although it is going to be painfully sad to make it to Nairobi (because it's the end) I'll also be over the moon that I've actually done it – just no-one to share it with.
But how can I complain when I’m here for the weekend!
Mikadi Beach lodge and campsite. $5 a night
Time to do some serious reading (and snoozing). Have a good week everyone!