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(63) Meandering through Malawi

August 12, 2013

Wednesday 26th June

After resetting our watches for Malawi time we didn’t want to take any chances and made sure we would be up in time to have everything packed before the kids arrived for school. Just before the alarm went off we heard a gong being struck which was followed by the chatter of small voices. We shot out of bed and started packing as quickly as we could. We soon discovered they’d not been called for assembly yet but for sweeping duties. We met some of the teachers and settled down with a cuppa and waited for the assembly bell. We met the head teacher again and assured him we would be happy to chat to the school about our trip. We managed to make tea and toast before assembly started.

We gave a brief overview of our trip to around 600 pairs of eyes before the Head master asked Sharon what level she was educated to. Sharon said to degree level to which he smiled and turned to the children and said ‘Miss Sharon is a doctor’. Before she had time to correct him Doctor Sharon realised he was making a point for education. He told the children if you become educated, get a good job then you too can travel and have good prospects for the future. We continued talking to them for another 10 minutes which was fine and just about managed to get a picture of the pupils before they all realised they could see it on our digital camera and ran towards Sharon excitedly.

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A great school photo

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Once they realised the pupils realised they could see the photo on our camera!

We said our thanks to the headmaster and got on the road. We had to get to Karonga to try and get money out as the last two ATM’s had not worked which was slightly worrying. The road remained flat and after one and a half hours we reached the town.

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The flat roads of Malawi

We made our way to the lake spotting a hotel named Hotel Taj but on the sign it seemed to read Hotel Tat. The latter was more relevant but at £1 per night for camping it was fine.

We headed into town and soon managed to get money out much to our relief. We went to the Internet café and worked on our blog and tried to sort out an SD card for our USB stick to use the internet on our laptop as the cafe would be closed from 5pm. We picked up credit and stopped for dinner at a local restaurant. The food was basic and not much but with another order of chips it was fine. We headed off to the market where we picked up fruit, veg and some ice lollies. Sharon asked how much the lollies were when one lady said they were 10 Kwacha each and the lady next to her said they were 20. Sharon asked why was the second more expensive when the first lady replied “she is corruption” and fell about laughing. They continued to laugh, pointing at the holes in Sharon’s trousers and asked why she was wearing them. Sharon turned around to show them the even bigger hole in the back side of her trousers, to which they fell about laughing even louder.

We continued on around town picking up a few more bits before heading back. We stopped for a of couple beers and made our way to the hotel to pitch the tent and cook. With Sharon now a little merry, she ended up dropping onions on the floor and covering everything in sand then spilt cooking oil over everything trying to get the lid off. After a bit of clearing up we were sat inside a room that we could lock the bikes in to watch the film Life of Brian. It had been great to stop in the town as it had made us feel much more relaxed about the people in Malawi. 

Thursday 27th June

Being in a good place to try and contact home – especially Andrew who was due to come and see us soon – we got up made breakfast and sorted out a few things. Even though we weren’t due to have a day off we were surprised at how many small jobs we had to do, like repair Sharon’s handle bar grips, replace the wires going to the charger on Sharon’s bike, get rid of unwanted paperwork and wash clothes. Seeing as we had been riding along Lake Malawi Tim had to jump in the water to test the temperature which he said was nice and warm. He spotted lots of dugout canoes on the beach with the lady’s busily sorting fish.

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Staying at ‘Hotel Tat’

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A pretty visitor to the campsite

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The town of Karonga

We had lunch and headed into town to sort out our Internet dongle. It was good to start with and we even managed to call home. However, the power soon went off and put a stop to everything and we lost some work for the second time which was frustrating. With no power we went off in search of food and with everyone cooking on open fires we knew the food should be ok. We sat in candle light which was nice and after our dinner headed back to our camp to try out the Internet once more. We managed to chat to Andrew and it gave us chance to sort out a rough plan for his visit to Malawi in a week’s time. We were so excited! With it now late we had a quick shower and went to bed ready to get back on the road.

Friday 28th June

After a late start we didn’t leave the campsite until 10am. We rode into town spent 1/2 an hour sorting out our Internet stuff then went into the market to buy an ice lolly and a coke. We ended up leaving town at 11.30 and by this time it was 35 degrees and rising. The road was flat but with a head wind which made the going a bit slower. We made good progress and enjoyed not climbing for a change.

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The flat roads with good tarmac made a nice change

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A Baboab tree – one of many we saw

We stopped for a coke when a guy barged into the shop saying something. The others grabbed him and took him off. He had some issue but unaware of what was happening they said sorry and we sat watching the locals play a board game. We think he was drunk and wanted to chat to us but the locals kept him away. We had a lesson on playing the board game but it made no sense to us!

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A local board game we watched many times in Malawi

We rode on for another hour to find a place to eat dinner and spotting a good place just off the road we dropped down the bank and put the kettle on. We were soon spotted by a group of kids and every time we looked up they were a little closer. It was hilarious watching them slowly inch their way towards us and they ended up sat almost right next to us. Tim started singing which they really enjoyed as Tim is a great singer and we asked if they had any Malawi songs. 2 girls stood up looked at each other and started to sing their school anthem. It was brilliant and they were clearly very proud to sing it to us. We clapped when they finished and we cleared up and waved goodbye.

The road started getting closer to the coast and it was great to see the lake on one side and the mountains on the other.

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Riding into the dusk

As we had left late we only stopped once more before arriving in a town in the dark. We think we missed the campsite we were heading for but found one that was down a long drive to the the beach. It looked nice and there were lots of people there. We found out there were a lot of Peace Corps volunteers having a break. Peace Corps is an American voluntary organisation where volunteers live in a village in Africa for 2 years and work on a project. After the manager kindly agreed us a discount due to the nature of our trip, we took ourselves off to the camp ground to set up camp and cook.

Saturday 29th June

We woke as the sun rose but still seemed to take ages to have breakfast and get going. It was nice to chat to a few of the volunteers while we packed but we needed to cover the miles and with a hill to climb we were in for a long day.

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The view from our tent

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A good view of Lake Malawi

We reached the main road at 10.30 and had a cold drink to get us started. It was already 35 degrees and Tim’s legs were feeling tired. Sharon was flying and so he just hung on the back (for a change!) We rode along by the lake with the mountains getting closer and closer to the sea.

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Heading to a mountain climb

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We passed a tree with a bad hair cut

We tried to look for where the road climbed but it wasn’t until an hour later we saw the sign. The road rose steeply and we could see the dirt road that ran along the coast. It was an option to take it but with every climb we have always been rewarded with great views. Tim’s legs however felt like lead and it seemed to take ages to settle down into a good rhythm   He was carrying 7 kg’s of water on top of his usual weight which didn’t help and as we climbed for an hour we passed several large families of baboons. We were a bit nervous passing them as some were huge and if more then one went for us we would have our hands full. They left us alone getting up off the warm Tarmac to let us pass and we could hear them fighting on the steep cliffs below.

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A baboon looking on

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The views were starting to get better

After another half an hour we reached the top and stopped for lunch. The view of the mountains behind us and the lake in front was stunning.

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Great views from the top

Sharon managed to face time her sister Cath using our internet dongle until the batteries died in our router so we continued on descending a great road until the valley levelled and started to climb again.

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We passed this bridge made of bamboo – fortunately we didn’t have to cycle across it!

We soon passed our 12,000 mile mark and as always we stopped to take a picture. It obviously takes Tim and Cowburt longer than 10 seconds to get ready!

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Sharon ever the professional posed while Tim and Cowburt weren’t ready!

Still with around 30 miles to cover which included a climb and a small town to get through we got going. We needed to cover the mileage to put us back at the coast and not to leave us with too many miles to cover before meeting Andrew in Lilongwe. As we neared the last main summit we could see water being thrown over a truck’s wheels and as we got close the rear tyre exploded making everyone jump.

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The stranded truck

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Looking for a camp spot

It was almost dark so we managed to pick up water at a well and arrived in the small town in the dark. There were a few drunk guys wandering the streets so not wanting to hang around we continued on to look for a good camp spot. We kept our lights off so not to draw attention to ourselves but there was a lot of people on the road and they all seemed to have better night vision than us. The amount of people heading between the villages started to reduce and after a few failed attempts we finally made our way down a track to a brick works. As we headed away from the road we could see something sparkling in a dip only to find it was the reflection of the stars in a pool of water. We went behind some bushes and pitched the tent. Sharon started to panic when she realised she had stood in an ants nest and had about 50 ants were crawling up her legs. It was Tim’s turn next and it seemed to take ages to get them all. We had tea and headed to bed only to find them in the porch and on our bags. We had to spend ages trying to kill them all only to find there were huge ones aswell. We finally cleared the worst and hoped they wouldn’t find a way in during the night.

Sunday 30th June

After killing the last of the ants we managed to get a good night’s sleep. Sharon woke in the night to the sound of whooshing unsure what it was and it moved around outside of the tent then disappeared. We found out later that it could have been elephants and if we had shone our light at them it may have made then angry. It was a cold night and we woke hugging our sleeping bags. As the sun rose we could see the condensation on the fly sheet. We cleared the tent and made breakfast with the little food we had left and waited for the sun to dry the worst off the tent.

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Our camp spot

We joined the road with a few surprised looks from locals trying to work out where we had come from. It was a cooler day with more cloud and a strong headwind which made the going tough. We had about 35 miles to cover until we reached the town of Muzuzu and then another 30 miles to the coast where we were hoping to stay for 2 nights to go scuba diving in the lake.  The road kept climbing and with nothing that would qualify as a descent we arrived in the town shattered.

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One of the few ‘descents’

We stopped to eat chicken and chips paying a bit extra for a larger piece of chicken only to find we were still hungry. We wished we had picked up food from a shop and cooked ourselves as we rode on to the junction and turned east towards the coast.

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Can’t complain about the views

The road was bad and with many short but very steep climbs, the ride down to the lake the lake wasn’t the winding meander we had hoped for.  We passed many kids shouting ‘give me money’ and stopped at a small town for chips and a bit of time out. We added our own Heinz tomato sauce and continued to the coast. We dropped into a depression then climbed to a junction where the road split. We rang a dive shop that had been recommended to us – we were hoping to get a dive in the following morning. Sharon spoke to the owner only to find out it was another 40- 50 miles away. We decided to continue down to the harbour and stay there the night and booked our dive for 2 days time. We rode down a very steep hill and found out from a local that it was one way so we would have to climb back up the following morning. We soon found a cheap backpackers and pitched our tent, cooked and soon fell asleep. 

Monday 1st July

We woke just before sunrise to watch it rise up over the lake. We were still shattered but with around 40 miles to cover we knew we could take it easy. The backpackers where we were staying looked much better in the light and we almost wished we had another day. We managed to Skype home to organise a few bits for Andrew to bring out and started the very steep climb out of the bay.

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Leaving the backpackers

 It didn’t take us as long to climb out but we were pouring with sweat by the time we reached the junction. We continued on with a few climbs but it was mostly flat and we enjoyed the scenery.

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We passed through a rubber plantation on the way and the trees had distinctive cuts in the bark with small pots collecting the rubber sap bleeping from the trees. There was an interesting sign for ‘would be rubber thieves’.

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The road was good with a few climbs which gave the local kids chance to run alongside us but we would soon lose them again on the descent.

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It didn’t take long to reach the small village where we would turn off for the campsite at Kande beach. We stopped for hot chips and freshly cooked goat kebabs which were very tasty and served as a ‘pick me up’ before heading down to the lake. We met two guys from England walking down to the campsite, one of which was taking a bit of time off before emigrating to Australia. We enjoyed chatting with them and the road was ok to start with but soon turned to deep soft sand and made it almost impossible to push our bikes.  It was about 2 km to the camp and after much pushing and pulling we arrived at the gates.

We booked in for 2 nights and pitched the tent – it was a nice place although pretty busy. We made our way to the dive shop which was at the campsite and met the Spanish dive instructor who put us at ease. He clearly didn’t want to push dive deals on us but he was happy to do what we wanted. With a dive booked for the following, all we could do was enjoy the rest of the day with some food and a couple of beers.

Tuesday 2nd July

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Our camp spot

We woke with the sun starting to bake us out of our tent. It was nice to relax and put the kettle on for a cupper. Still feeling tired we relaxed in the morning and looked forward to our dive which was at 2pm. When we headed over to the dive shop we realised it was a really laid back place and although we hadn’t dived for a few years it all came flooding back. There are around 1,000 different types of fish in the lake and around 600 have been named. We joined a Danish couple on the dive who were living in Malawi. The Dive was good and even Cowburt enjoyed it with the many colourful fish.

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A pretty bird visiting our campsite

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Cowburt about to do his first dive

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Kande beach

Due to being on a budget we decided to only have one dive and spend the rest on food (always our priority!) With a couple of beers which were kindly paid for by the Dutch couple, a good pizza inside us and good company we went to bed relaxed and pleased we had stopped there. We were ready to head towards Lilongwe in a few days to meet Andrew!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    August 12, 2013 9:16 am

    Great read with my morning coffee. Amazing photo’s and hey cowburt must be the first diving cow. Look forward to hear what he thought of it in his next blog. Lots of love to you both Sara xx PS do you still have Sharky with you?

  2. Mum and Dad Pitts permalink
    August 12, 2013 5:51 pm

    Great pictures,. Glad to know Cowbert enjoyed his first dive. Please will he give us his autograph!!? We love you both LOTS. Love from Mum and DadXXXX

  3. August 21, 2013 10:42 pm

    I like the photo of the men playing the board game. I think the game is called Bao. It is a variation of Mancala with a very complex set of rules. Thanks so much for posting it.

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