Rumphi - Dedza




Wednesday 13/11/96

Dear Leah,

I'm now in Malawi, which seems a much poorer country than Kenya and Tanzania - it's much cheaper. There are 24 Kwatchas to the pound and 100 Tambalas to the Kwatcha !! We are at quite a good rest house after a few days in Livingstonia up in the mountains, which was cooler - it seems much hotter here. There is very little to buy here so we should save money, which is good as we think we will need more for Zimbabwe. Transport here is also a bit erratic and you have to get lifts on the backs of pick-up trucks etc. - you pay the same as the bus fare and it's quite normal. We hope to get a lift to Vwasa Marsh National Park tomorrow to go and see some wildlife as it's a lot cheaper here than anywhere else.

Although since I last wrote to you we went through a game park on the bus on the way from Dar Es Salaam to Mbeya and we saw zebras, giraffes and elephants as well as antelopes and a warthog ! Seen loads of monkeys everywhere. There's not as much food available here, but what there is OK - a lot of rice and beans. I don't think there's much meat about. The staple food is called nsima which is like ugali in Kenya - a stiff porridge made from cassava flour and water - ugh ! Rod likes it - it's totally tasteless like thick wallpaper paste ! You eat it with your fingers which Rod likes too - he's a heathen !!! They bring you a bowl of water to wash your hands before and after - so far I've had cutlery - but if you ask for nsima you just don't get it !! Chips are what you have for breakfast here - meals out are cheap - we have just had rice and beans, nsima and beans and 2 cokes for just over 30 kwatchas which is less than £1.50 !! The room here is 100K a night (less than £4.00) - and it's got hot water !! Any water after the last week or so is a luxury - and electricity - we didn't have electricity in Livingstonia.

We are in the mountains now, just away from the lake - the lake is huge and looks more like the sea - the countryside is very beautiful. The lift we got here from Livingstonia was on in the back of a police land rover - very uncomfortable. The road down was a dirt road and we were totally covered in dust - there are 20 hairpin bends - fantastic scenery. The main road north/south is called the M1 - it is tarmaced but has huge potholes every now and again which don't half make it a bumpy ride. It may well get better further south which is a richer part of the country. We picked more people up yesterday on the road here - one man with a huge pot of fish and a woman with her daughter with various bundles, one of them was a live chicken which I somehow ended up holding when they got off - much to Rods amusement. The equivalent of the cinema here seems to be a room with a TV and a vWho's Arguingideo and they show videos at different times - Rod reckons he'd like to go and see Terminator 2 this afternoon !! The rest of them were mostly Indian films - at least we won't get the 'fat man in the suit' singing on every bus journey here - like in Tanzania.

We went for a for a beer and then a meal. When we asked for omelette & chips they said "no eggs", then we said just chips and said "no oil" - in the end they made us a veg curry with mashed potatoes which was quite good and made a change from rice.

Thursday 14/11/96.

We are now sitting at Vwasa Game Park. We came on the bus. Unfortunately the camp tents with beds are all booked, but they have lent us a tent for the night - no mattress - the water comes from the river - no food here. We did buy a packet of soup mix, some bread rolls, peanut butter and biscuits as we thought we might need it so we should survive for a day. In the distance we can see the lake (not Lake Malawi) and we can just make out hippos - so I hope we get to see them later. This is much cheaper than any other game reserve, it costs 45K to get in, 45K to camp and 15K for a guide each. Most of the reserves everywhere else cost $20 US just to get in. They said there are elephants here but they haven't seen them for a while - maybe we'll be lucky and they'll come back - I'd love to photo some.

It's now nearly 2 o'clock and we are still at the camp. The tent has been put up for us. It's red hot here - I'm a bit concerned about the water for drinking. They have given us a bucket of water from a water hole in the river, which is dry. We may need to drink that with tablets in it if nothing else appears - we have a bit of water in a bottle but it's so hot you need to drink all the time.

We have been for a walk to the nearest shops about a mile away - hoping to get a meal - but no luck. We had a couple of cokes, but sweated them off coming back !! We have bought a couple of Fantas for later and Rod has bought a carton of the local brew. It comes in 1 litre cartons and is called Chibuku Shake Shake - you have to shake it before you drink it. It smells of home made beer that's not ready to drink and from what I've seen, seems to be pretty potent stuff.

Some people have arrived on an organised safari - I'm hoping we can make friends with them and they will offer us drinks !! We hope to go out walking in about an hours time when it starts to get cooler and the animals get moving. The locals in the village here were really curious about us - we felt like celebrities. We were hoping to get some fruit or tomatoes, but they sell out in the morning - there really is very little food to buy here. All the shops have a few cokes, lots of soap, material, biscuits plus rice and sugar. We bought some custard creams which Rod reckons he's lived off once before - so that's OK - but look what it did to him !

The loo here is primitive to say the least - it's a shed withThe bathroom at Vwasa just a hole in the ground. This will make the Glory Bed and Breakfast in Mombasa seem like the Ritz !!! Rod says no, this is cleaner, and he's probably right.

Well it's now 5.45 and we have just come back from our walk with the guide. We saw vulture, impala and loads of hippos in the lake - they don't come out until dark, then they eat grass all night and then spend all day in the water. I took about 3 photos but they were just a bit too far away - so they may look like rocks. Took a photo of a huge mantis - saw elephant footprints and elephant poo but no elephants ! In the morning at about 5 o'clock we should see herds of buffalo close to the camp.

The Mantis - the only wildlife photo of the tripI was so thirsty I was hallucinating glasses of sparkling wine !!! Instead I had 'bucket' river water with a chlorine tablet in it and we shared on of our two fantas. Now we have to light a fire to cook our packet of soup and eat our custard creams - then Rod will try the shake-shake. The light is going now so it's goodnight from me and goodnight from him !!

Friday 15/11/96

Last night I got a dreadful headache from the sun and dehydration - so I didn't fancy my mushroom soup - but Rod enjoyed his. I just wanted to drink and drink - got through loads of chlorinated river water and it was delicious - but I was thirsty !!! Rod had his shake-shake which is full of millet - fermented - it looked horrid - but he quite liked it - and it wasn't too strong - it's so cheap they must drink a lot of it. I slept fairly well considering I had no mattress.

We woke at 5 o'clock this morning to join the other group for another walk. We managed to scrounge a cup of tea off them which was good. Their guide was good, he knew all the birds and trees - Ang would have loved it. We saw the hippos again, this time a bit closer and one out of the water. We managed to get a name for a really weird tree we saw first in Karonga - but when I asked there they told me in chichewa which I couldn't pronounce or spell. The English name is the sausage tree which makes sense. I called it the green willy tree - typical.

Hippos FartingOh yes, Rod wants me to tell you about the hippo farts - real rip-snorters - they start a tidal wave and if the wind is blowing in your direction - well - you can guess !! The guide this morning told us a story about them. He said legend has it that when god created hippos they were supposed to stay on land - but they found it easier to mate in the water and also it stopped their backs from cracking in the heat. God said they had to promise not to eat fish, because they have such big mouths there wouldn't be enough for other animals. So the hippos said they would spread their poo out so that god could check it for fish bones - which is what they do !!!

We are now waiting for a lift. The guide from the other group is hoping to go to Rumphi later, so if we're lucky we'll get a lift with him. Rod has had a packet of custard creams for breakfast.

We got a lift fairly quickly to Rumphi - had some chips for my breakfast, then got a bus to Mzuzu. I went to look for a resthouse but the ones I found were dear so we had a drink and got straight on a bus to Nkata Bay. I'm now sitting looking over the lake - we are in the Africa Bay Beach Village -Our hut on the beach we have a bamboo hut on stilts on the beach with just 2 beds in it. There is a shower block and restaurant and bar, all very rustic with wooden walkways - but really nice especially after last night. I won't have to drink river water here. We have ordered a veg casserole - which sounds good. I think we will spend a couple of nights here - the village looks nice, we will explore tomorrow.

Lots of travellers here - had a meal with them all which was nice - a bit expensive though. The veg casserole turned out to be rice and veg - there are limited veg here - a dark green spinach, quite bitter onions and white cabbage with a bit of tomato. They had carrots and peppers in Tanzania and Kenya, but not here. There are lots of lizards here with bright blue tails and a honey comb of bees nesting in the roof of our hut - they are only little.

Saturday 16/11/96

Nkarta BayWent for a walk to town to buy a bar of soap so we can do the washing in the lake !!! I'm going native. We are waiting to borrow a tub which they use to do the washing up - and bath the baby. It's only 10 o'clock and it's baking hot and has been since 8. We woke early again - all the locals were off on their dug-out canoes to go fishing at about 4.30. We had banana pancakes and tea for breakfast, which made a change - they were big pancakes so should keep us going all day - depending on how much energy we use washing the clothes - mine should be OK - but his - well !!!

We got the tub eventually and did the washing standing on the edge of the lake - it was quite good fun. Then we went for another walk around the town. It's a bit more touristy - with a few stalls selling carved seats and wood carvings. Went to a juice bar - but the only juice available at the moment is lemon. We had garlic toast which was nice - there's a bit more European food here because of the tourists. Came back and watched a woman and her daughter play a different game of bao. So we had a few games of that, we're not sure if we got all the rules right, but it was a good game, especially as I kept winning.

We decided to eat in town as it's a bit cheaper. Had a beer in a local bar and then found a restaurant that looked closed - the view from the window was straight down to the lake where everyone was bringing the fish in, and right outside the window was the cooking area. Rod went down and chose a fish for his meal - we watched them make the fires to cook our meal - they don't have anything prepared here in case of waste and they just start a fire when you order a meal - they are really quick at it too.

Went back to Africa bay and had a couple of beers and another few games of bao, Rod won this time but only because I was tired.

Sunday 17/11/96

Sunday has just reminded me that when we were playing bao yesterday afternoon we suddenly heard all this 'praise the lord' singing, hallelujah and hand clapping. There was a big gang of christians on the beach and they were having a baptism ceremony - lots of singing, clapping and hollering.

The Lake Ferry on the Beach - Sod it!Well, we wondered what we were going to do today but entertainment was laid on in the shape of a boating incident. The lake ferry came in the morning, dropped off passengers, picked more up, and for some reason ended up on the beach. We walked into town at about 8.30, it was really windy and they were trying to pull it off with a tug, but no luck - they only have one tug. So it sat there all day with various attempts to get it off. They took all the passengers off at around 2.30 - we just sat and watched it all. The kids were having a great time paddling out to the boat and climbing all over the lifeboats.

We chatted to a bloke from London who only seems to work for 3 months and travels for most of the winter - he does accountancy so Rod reckons I've got to do that.

Had a restless night, heard a fire burning and these huts aren't exactly fireproof. Rod went out to have a look - it was the bank behind us, but safe. Then we heard a cargo vessel at around 2.30 am come to tow the ferry off the beach, we saw them pulling it back out of the bay from our window. There were lots of lights out on the lake from all the fishermen in their dug out canoes.

Monday 18/11/96

Rod went to the bank while I packed the bags. We have had a really nice few days here - it's a really good place - everyone is very friendly - just right for relaxing ready for the next journey. There don't seem to be any postcards on sale so far in Malawi - so the local kids come round selling you their pictures - it's really sweet and quite clever of them. I shall buy a few before we catch the bus.

We're not sure where we're going next. Apparently there are a few nice villages along this stretch of the lake with good beaches - so we may have a couple of days at one and then go on to Nkhotakota which, according to book is one of the oldest towns in Africa.

Well we got on a bus to Kande, but unfortunately after Rod walking about 1.5 miles in the heat he discovered it was camping only so we waited for about 2.5 hours for another bus which was hot and smelly. Now we are sitting on our bags in a very small village at about 4.30. The bus has a flat tyre and no-one knows when the next one comes and there isn't a spare. They have sold out of drinks, no food, and nowhere to sleep. People seem to think there will be another bus but it doesn't go to Nkhotakota which is where we have paid for - they say we can't have our money back until they have told the bosses. There is no phone here so I don't know how they will do that. The buses here are Stagecoach, like in England - a bit rougher - but not much. Another bus has gone the other way, and the conductor - who looks like Eddy Murphy - has been to speak to the driver - still no spare though. It seems the next bus doesn't go as far as we want, and where it does stop there isn't a resthouse so god knows what we will do. I'm beginning to get hungry as we haven't eaten since we left Nkata Bay.

We met some people we'd met in Livingstonia on the bus to Kande, they decided to get on a bus straight away, but we went to look at the campsite, I wish now we hadn't bothered. Sat talking to the locals who were very friendly - the bus eventually arrived at 6.15 just as it was getting dark.

The journey to Nkhotakota took another 3 hours in the dark. Because there is no electricity, or hardly any, there are no street lights and the houses only use oil lamps, so people were leaning out of the windows trying to work out where they were. On the first part of the journey to Kande we went through rubber plantations and could see the cuts on the trees and the cups collecting the sap. When we were in the other village waiting for the replacement bus we were surrounded by locals. We got the map out which they loved, one lad came rushing over and said "I'm going to Australia - where is it?". Also a little boy came over with a tiny little bird a bit smaller than a wren. It was really pretty with red around its beak - he had it trapped by the leg and was carrying it around on the wire. They eat them, so we were told, but considering most families have at least six kids, it was hardly going to be a feast. Rod says I should have bought it and let it go - but I don't think they would have understood that.

When we eventually got to Nkhotakota we just made the resthouse - there was only one single room left, so we had that. It was only 25 Kwatcha (£1.00). We rushed out to find food and beer - but no luck - we had a coke and bought a packet of custard creams. Had a couple of games of bao while we feasted on custard creams. Rod won but only because I was tired and hungry.

Tuesday 19/11/96

Up early hoping for a huge breakfast - no luck at the resthouse we were at - went down the road to a restaurant and managed to get eggs and bread and tea. It seems most people here just have bread in the morning. The bus station was empty - not at all like Kenya and Tanzania where they are buzzing. Decided to walk to the main road to catch a lift/bus towards Lilongwe. Met the chap we'd seen in Nkata Bay and had a chat with him. Got a minibus ride - front seats - luxury - to Salima. I'm now sitting in a restaurant after feeding my face and I feel a bit better - although it's really sweltering here and the sweat is pouring off me.

Caught another minibus to Lilongwe - front seats again but incredibly hot. Trekked around a few resthouses until we found one that wasn't full and was clean. Booked in for two nights - we're right by the market in the old town. The bus station here is a bit more like what we've come to expect - manic. Had showers and went out for a beer at the Woody Woodpecker Bar, had beans and rice over the road, and came back for a game of bao.

Wednesday 20/11/96

Got a minibus to the city centre. The city is very spread out and the old town is about 3k from the new bit - but that's still very spread out with huge gaps between all the buildings, so you have to walk miles. Went to the post office to see if anyone had sent us any mail, but everyone had forgotten us in darkest Africa.

Went to the Mozambique Embassy to apply for a visa for the one day bus journey from Malawi to Zimbabwe - we pick them up tomorrow. The city centre was much more European than anything we've seen for a while - very expensive with a hypermarket (a bit like a Co-op really) with more food from South Africa around this part of Malawi. Lots of white people driving posh cars that obviously live and work here. Feeling very thirsty today - had a coke. Bussed back to the cheaper part of town - had a walk around and found Annie's coffee shop which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide but was a lot more expensive than eating in the real African restaurants, so we just had a drink. Called in at a small supermarket called Kwik Save and bought a couple of yoghurts. Rod had some nsima and veg but I was happy just with my yoghurt. Went back to the resthouse and wrote some postcards, the first ones we've managed to get in Malawi.

Oh yes, up in the city centre I bought a little man - drumming - that you push along all made out of bits of wire, bits of old shake-shake cartons, plastic and material. The kids here don't have toys , but the boys push cars and lorries made out of wire along on a stick - very basic - but clever. This man is a more sophisticated version of that and I thought it was much nicer to bring home than a carved giraffe or some such item. The carvings are lovely, but you see so many of them, this was much more ingenious.

Had a snooze and then went out for a beer and a meal. We were immediately accosted by Ben, a chap we met last night at the Woody Woodpecker. He'd had rather a lot of Carlsberg Greens and insisted on buying us a beer and then insisted that we went to eat with him at the Council Resthouse Bar and Restaurant. He speaks pretty good English and we couldn't really shut him up. It turns out that he's a gem stone smuggler and he showed me a little bag of emeralds he had stuffed down the front of his shorts. I wondered what he was going to show me for a moment ! We shared the cost of the food, but he just kept buying more beer and we really couldn't take it all.

A really nice woman from Zimbabwe and her friend from Zambia came and talked to me - they were called Emily and Gertrude and were in Malawi selling wine - I don't know how well they will do with the locals as no-one seems to drink it - they'll probably sell it in the posh hotels. We had quite a struggle getting away without offending Ben. We said Rod was ill and had to go to bed, which wasn't totally a lie as he's had a touch of the shits the last 2 days but being a bloke, he won't stop eating. We left Ben surrounded by about 10 bottles of beer!!!

Thursday 21/11/96

Left our bags at the resthouse office and caught a bus back to the centre to go and collect our visas. I'm sitting at the Mozambique Embassy waiting. I've decided to post this to you today when I post the postcards as I'm sure how long the post is taking. I've just realised I haven't brought am envelope with me so I'll post it later.We plan to catch a bus to Dedza next and then to Zomba, then to Blantyre, then on through Mozambique to Harare and on to Victoria Falls and then back to Harare to fly home.

Dedza Bus Station with Stagecoach BusI'm now in Dedza - it's a nice town in the hills - lots of trees for shade. We have a nice room - clean - the toilets are holes in the ground but I'm getting used to those. The washing facilities are cubicles with bowls of water. There's country and western on the stereo at the moment - terrible - but better than the fat man in the suit. I'm off to post this here now and from now on I won't post anymore as I imagine I'll be home before you get them.

We get back into Heathrow on 4/12/96 from Paris at 7.25am AF804 so if you feel like an early morning maybe you could get out there to meet us - but don't worry if you can't - we shall probably make our way to Jane's, so you could try phoning later on in the day. Tell Alex I shan't be sending another instalment, I expect he found them dead boring anyway. I hope they have all arrived, I shall have a hell of a job remembering everything without them. I've bought a few more postcards today, and hopefully I haven't forgotten anyone - I know I haven't sent you two one but I thought you'd get the photo's and the letters and a pressie. I expect Christmas has started there - there are a few signs of it here - but hardly anything. I have seen my 3rd African Morris Minor today - it's a pick-up, completely knackered, here in Dedza and it's a taxi.