It was the eleventh day of our 40 day tour and the early starts, along with constantly putting up and down our confined tents was becoming a burden. That being said, I firmly believe that living amongst the wildlife was an essential part of the experience and looking back now, I wouldn’t change it. I feel that I have already learned to appreciate how lucky and privileged I am in the UK.
Today’s journey began with a short stop off in the Baobab Valley to learn more about these wooden wonders. There are nine varieties of Baobabs and only two of which are indigenous to Africa and the Caribbean, with six being native to Madagascar and one to Australia. They are fondly known as monkey bread trees and their fruit is consequently monkey bread fruit. Mostly growing in arid areas, they can expand from seven to 30 metres in height for as long as 2,000 years and are one of the most important trees in the African continent: They provide shade and fruit to animals and humans alike; their leaves are used to make a proteinous food source similar to spinach; and animals such as elephants find needed moisture upon scratching off the bark of the tree, as the trunk is hollow and can store around 1,200 litres of water. I remembered that I had tried this fruit in Zanzibar and we sampled it again now.
Our second stopover of the day was to Neema Crafts, a craft centre which employs local artists with disabilities, in Iringa. We toured the workshop and met some of the workers, some of whom are deaf and some have other disabilities, but their real common trait is their talent in making incredible craftwork. The founder, Susie Hart, had visited Tanzania when her husband had been sent as a missionary and was shocked to discover, as somebody who had studied art and had a disability herself, that disabled people were shunned by their community and excluded from education and employment. She proceeded to create Neema Crafts and has since received an MBE for her work.
Arriving into our campsite, we were advised by Justus to try the camp bar’s speciality, hot chocolate with Amarula (an alcohol made with cream and marula fruit). Dangerously, it didn’t taste at all alcoholic.
The following day consisted of a border crossing into Malawi, with a 3:30am wake up and a long drive ahead. We were stopped by the police three times before leaving Tanzania. One police officer said she noticed some of us not wearing our seatbelts from the side of the road, though we all insisted that we were. She shouted at us, and Justus told her to “stop being so obnoxious mama” and to “be patient” when she demanded to be paid 30,000 Tanzanian shilling immediately (around £10). I thought how different the system was here; at home most of us wouldn’t dream of speaking to the police like this, but then they’d unlikely address us in such a way either.
We stopped by the side of the road to buy some fruit and it was fascinating to see how many people rushed over to sell us various items. Their ability to hold really heavy things on their head did not go unnoticed.
We arrived at the border crossing eventually and waited in no man’s land as our $65 visas were being processed. At the crossing, we were approached by many young children asking us to “show me a pen for school”, “show me a biscuit”, or “give me sweets”. We were told explicitly by our leaders not to give them things, otherwise they would likely turn to begging permanently, not attending school or becoming criminals. Though it was difficult to ignore their pleas, I taught some of the children a handshake, which they appeared to enjoy. They were very energetic and happy, regardless of their apparent poverty.
Malawi is the third poorest country in the world, after the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A large percentage of the country is made up of Lake Malawi and subsequently their largest industry is fishing.
Upon driving through our third country of the tour, we could see the Livingstone Mountains out the window. Despite the beautiful landscape, the poverty was more discernible here and there were far more bicycles than cars on the road. Nevertheless, the people looked happy, smiling and waving as we drove past. I don’t want to sound obtuse to the extent of the situation, but it seemed that money really doesn’t buy happiness.
After a lot of driving, our arrival to tonight’s campsite was gratefully received and we were told that here was the place to purchase souvenirs, as the entire profit went to the local people. I bought a beautiful painting of our route through Africa from the stall belonging to Ken and Cappuccino (I assume this was a friendly nickname as other people told me they were called ‘Sweet Banana’ and similar!). They then asked if we had anything to trade (Justus had informed us that it was better to trade for one of their wares rather than to give, so that they’re still doing business). I traded my travel alarm clock, two batteries and a water bottle and received a handmade anklet which was the colours of the Malawian flag. Ken told me that the water bottle would be really useful for his walks to church, as it is quite a long journey.
The next day brought us the next campsite and we drove there via a supermarket, being exceptionally careful on the road as Malawi has the third highest number of traffic accidents in the world. Bizarrely, the supermarket was embellished with Christmas decorations, despite it being the 13th of October!
We drove past an abundance of rubber trees and a rubber factory and then arrived into Kande Beach. It was beautiful here and there was music and dancing on the sand. Other than the swarm of ants and the cockroach which crawled on my foot, much to my horror, we had a lovely, relaxing time here and even made punch, to share amongst the group. We got to know our leaders a bit more as they told stories of their family life and we danced into the early hours, later watching the sunrise over the waves.
The following day was spent relaxing on hammocks, walking and talking with some of the local people on the beach and watching the sun set just as beautifully as it had risen. As evening came, we all walked together to a house in Kande Beach village. It was the home of one of the G Adventures employees who worked with the tour groups at the beach resort. En route, we were approached by many of the village’s children, who wanted to hold our hands, ask our names and even compliment our hair. They were very sweet and we rejoined them after dinner. We ate in the garden area, sitting on wooden mats on the floor and had sweet potato soup, cassava, spinach, rice and beans. It was delicious.
The evening’s entertainment was even more excellent than the food, as the children performed songs and dances they had learnt at church and school, accompanied by some of the young adults. They sang the Malawi National Anthem both in Chewa and in English, as well as a name song, where they introduced themselves and we then did the same. We also took turns joining in the dancing and were paired up with the children, whose moves were impressive, they could certainly dance a lot better than we could! It was a lovely experience and the locals seemed very happy to meet a group of tourists, even inviting us to return to Malawi and stay with them. Their hospitality was heartwarming.
Visiting Malawi was a wonderful and humbling experience, but as with any fast-paced tour, we were moving on to the next country in a flash. Please do stay tuned for next week’s blog post as I take you with me on my journey through Zambia.