31 August 2009

Malawi roundup

We had planned to spend just a few days in Malawi. Come in from Zambia, head for a dive to Cape Maclear, have a meeting in Blantyre, and leave for northern Mozambique. Simple. What we hadn't counted on was Malawi's paradisiacal landscapes, the fascinating lives of its population and the nicest people one could meet.

We cruised in a canoe past hippos on the Lilongwe River, where Stuart had his best bird sightings yet. We lounged at the edge of the World at Livingstonia drinking Kuche Kuche and watching the sun set over the lake far below us. We had our first night drive, a terrifying experience never to be repeated, and a time warp back to Melrose Arch, a little bit of luxury at just the right moment. We went diving in Lake Malawi and lost a few days to its tropical charms and otherworldly serenity.

Malawi has been our most sociable place yet: we met Naomi and Mike (twice), the Belgiums in the orange daffy car, Jaques and Mandy who gave us tips for the trip up North, Moncho the fast talking Spaniard at Fat Monkeys, and Paul the lonely Aussie at Mushroom farm, who made great eggs for breakfast. We learnt about the Malawi education system from Robert and Unex, engineer and programmer in the making, and with their help figured out how to shop in the markets. We drank beer, ate pizza, learnt to play Bao and exchanged mp3s. It took us out of our little travelling bubble. Thanks, guys!

Malawi is religion in the shape of Baptist schools, Evangelical clinics and Catholic day care centres; it's bikes used as trucks and wheelbarrows and taxis; women carrying vast loads of firewood on their heads, or gallon drums of water, or big bowls of fruit for sale. It's handkerchief-sized fields and stalls at the roadside selling pineapple, mangoes and tomatoes (I got the strong feeling that Malawi farmers need band together to make the most out of their good soil and hard work). It's the friendliest people we have encountered, even when it rained on the tea plantations the pickers still smiled and waved, Evas helped us get all the veg we needed at the market, Felix took us out to dinner and made sure Stuart got a good fish, Amy - the entrepreneur - got us a good rate on the room, and David told us it's no trouble, this is our home now. It's the strange vastness of Lake Malawi, which looks like the sea, but has no salt to make bathing annoying, which also means that there's no need to rinse out our dive kit! It's finally solving the mystery of the roadside kilns, thanks to Bright, who showed me how to make bricks in his back garden.

Malawi is the hardest place to leave.

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