The story of Malawi continues when we arrive at the shores of Lake Malawi. This will be a short(ish) story, since we have been extremely lazy lately.
We arrive in Cape Maclear late in the afternoon, and drive towards Eagles Nest Bay to park our car right on the shoreline. Up to that moment the best campsite we’ve had. We roll out our FatBoy inflatable seats, pour our daily GT and play some games of pick-up sticks during the sunset. We watch the local fisherman return from their day of fishing on the lake, and fantasise about buying freshly caught fish tomorrow.
Cape Maclear is quite a special place. It is a reasonable sized fishing village, which is called home by about 16,000 Malawians. The lake literally is their live: they catch the fish which they eat and sell, but they also wash themselves in the lake, do the laundry, the dishes, swim and drink. This creates a funky display of fun, work, household and tourism. For a Malawian this is a great place to live!
When we go for a run early the next morning, we see the village waking up and herds of people make their way towards the lake. We see the fisherman unloading their night-catch, which the women spread out on meters-long wooden stands to let the fish dry in the sun. Another group of men is weaving new fishing nets, and an old man is carving a brand new dug-out canoe. Children are doing the dishes with sand and water, whilst the mothers are washing their other kids. The little ones look like snowmen, since they are completely covered in soap. So funny to see!
On our way back we run through the village itself, and see some vendors setting up their stores for another market day. We eye out some nice vegetables, for which we will return later that day.
Although there is loads of activity in the lake, the water is still as clear as you can get it. We have also been told that the lake is flocked with little colourful cichlids, the aquarium type tropical fish. We obviously have to see this for ourselves and organise a local tour guide to pick us up around lunchtime.
The wooden motor boat arrives right on time, and we jump in to sail for about 30 minutes to a little island. From the rocks of the island we dive into the crystal clear water and are surrounded by hundreds of beautiful fish, that all come up to check us out. Very nice! On the island we enjoy the fresh fish (Mcheni, butterfish) we fantasised about last night, before we sail back during sunset.
The next morning we are preparing our traditional camping breakfast: oats with mango. Oats are easy to keep, since you don’t need a fridge and only need water to prepare them. We can get mangos for 6 cent on every corner of the street, so that makes for the perfect breakfast.
However, monkeys seem to enjoy the mango maybe even more than we do. And even though they can pick the mangos themselves from the trees all over the village, they prefer ours. Just like this morning, when a monkey jumps out of the tree above us, onto the table, and steals the mango from Lin’s plate, right in front of her! Since this moment we always buy 2 mangos: 1 for us, and 1 for the monkey. Our newly acquired catapult comes in very handy to scare them away!
On our way to Nkhotakhota we are fortunate enough that a bridge, which collapsed earlier that day, is being fixed in front of our eyes. This forces us to take a break. Whilst we wait for about 45 minutes, a group of kids come walking up to our car. We have a bit of a chat and give them some balloons to play with. This however is not interesting enough for them, as they literally start shopping in our car: “give me pen!”, “give me bottle!”, “give me sunglasses!”, “give me watch!”, “give me shirt!”. As we say in Holland, “ze vragen ons letterlijk de kleren van het lijf”…. The bridge is fixed and we manage to continue with our clothes still on. We stay over on the western shore of the lake for 1 night, before we head on to our next stop: Sunga Moyo.
Arriving on the campsite we see a true paradise: blue waters, little white sand beaches amongst large boulders, tropical trees and hammocks! Time to chill for 2 days. We didn’t expect the lake to be so beautiful! We play Trival Persuit with our Aussie & English neighbours and watch the sunset with a local beer.
After we say goodbye to paradise, we travel further up north as we plan to visit one of the national parks. But when we are driving through a semi large city, we decide to stop to give the car a regular maintenance check-up. We are referred to a Belgian mechanic, who has great eye for detail and unfortunately sees much more than we expected him to see. Most of it being preventative maintenance, but he also fixes the broken rubbers holding the engine and gearbox in place. Imagine, driving through Africa and losing your engine… We are glad it is fixed!
To do these repairs, the mechanic needs to source some spare parts, which will take a while. This gives us the opportunity to visit another village along the shores of the lake. Last night we met 2 Dutchies, who are running some sustainable social enterprises in Nkhata Bay. Together we went to the newest bar in Mzuzu, Johnny’s Sports Club. Actually a terrible place, but we had great fun with good company, playing darts and pool. They invited us for coffee in Nkhata Bay, and we decide to stay for 2 nights, as it is a idyllic spot on the cliffs, overlooking the lake.
The Dutchies, Hannah & Floris, came to Malawi 2,5 years ago, and help locals in setting up small sustainable businesses by providing knowledge and small loans. They have for example successfully started a business producing re-usable sanitary pads & diapers, a local bakery and a small cinema, which we visit in the afternoon. The cinema is nothing more than an old shed, with a laptop and projector but provides a fantastic business for the Rasta owner and great entertainment for the locals. The support given by Hannah & Floris is basically advise on accounting, sales and strategic planning. But everything is run by the locals, and all business are fully self supporting and sustainable. This is in our eyes the way aid and support should be given: supply knowledge, and make the people responsible for their own duties and income.
Over the last week and a half, we ended up speaking to so many people about NGO’s and Western aid, and it made us feel even more sad and sceptical about the ‘support’ given. As we described in our previous blog, not enough research is done to understand the culture and the actual need for help. A classical example are malaria nets. These are handed out to prevent malaria infections. However, many Malawians don’t believe malaria is distributed by mosquitos, so the nets are not used for the actual purpose. Instead, they are used as fishing nets.
Another example is the collection of second hand clothes in Western countries. These clothes are handed out to Malawians, as a form of aid. However, most likely they will be sold on. This creates unfair competition to locals who have set up a business in the production and sales of clothes.
These are just 2 examples of our findings about foreign aid and Malawian culture. If you are interested, please read more about this below this blog.
The next day we pick up the car, and head for Livingstonia. Heading further north, the police man along the way seem to become more lazy. In general we are stopped about every 20km at a police road block. Most of the police are always in for a casual chat. However on the road we drive on now, the police man created a mechanism to open the boomgate with a rope from his chair in the shade of a tree. We wave as a friendly manner, but think “what a lazy basterd”… and hope all further police stops will be as easy.
Livingstonia is a strange place. It is a mission village, built on top of the mountains. It is nearly impossible to reach, with a bad road winding to the top in 20 hairpin bends (they call it the “Monster Road”) It takes about 1 hour to reach our campsite for tonight.
We stay at Mushroom Farm, and camp right on the edge of the cliffs. The views are just incredible, with Lake Malawi stretching as far as the eyes can see. The place is a fully eco & vegetarian lodge, little did we know when we asked them to keep our steak and salami in their fridge. Only later we realised that this was the reason why they looked so surprised when we asked them.
Together with a guide we go for a long hike to Livingstonia, and visit missionary houses, a maize mill, the university, a museum and last but not least we climb the clock tower of the church. Once we are down inside the church again, Lin asks about the meaning of a word in one of the 10 commandments. This question ends up in an endless discussion about why men can have multiple wives (this is fairly common in Malawi) whilst this is against their religion, with the following reasons given: First reason: a man needs to be able to have sex when his wife is menstruating. Second reason: when his first wife is ill, his second wife can cook for him. Men know they are wrong, “but god is never tired, so he will forgive”. This topic is not discussed in this church, since the pastor also has multiple wives. You can imagine Lin’s reaction…
After a beautiful hike to the Chombe Plateau the next day, we drive down the same challenging road again towards country number 5 of this trip: Tanzania! We have been in Tanzania for 5 days already, but will keep these stories for our next blog, hopefully to follow in 5 days after we have visited the Ngorogoro crater and Serengeti!