A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

It's plague time

When I first arrived in Malawi, i was sitting on a bus coming down the M1 when I got my first glimpses of Lake Malawi. A few minutes later an I could see several thick columns of smoke emanating from the Lake, which didn't look good to me. I asked some locals on the bus what it was, and they told me it was lake flies. I struggled to believe it could be flies, but asking other people over the next few days confirmed that it was.

Now I know that it was.

Back in Nkhata Bay, I somehow managed to spend another week doing not allot. By now I knew a number of people, and there was a good crowd around, and so it hadn't been very difficult to persuade me to stick around to be sociable, a birthday celebration and to watch some cricket (WooHoo! Another Ashes victory!). After a few days, we were sitting there one morning watching as what looked like a deep rain cloud descending over the bay, until we realised that it was the Lake flies again. Malawian Lake flies have a fun life cycle: They are born, blown into shore and die. In their billions of billions.

That evening, we got to experience it properly. Luckily they are not in any way dangerous, and don't bite. But they are annoying as heck. Any kind of light attracts them in hoardes, and even non lit areas get infested. Simple things like talking end up with you having a mouthful of flies. The only drinks worth attempting are bottles, which you can cover the hole with a thumb when not being drunk from, but your drinks are still lumpier than ideal. Food is offered with a lake fly coating – extra protein, if nothing else. They get through the smallest gap, and that includes holes in mosquito nets. Showering is just not worth it. Basically, you just get covered by flies regardless of what you do. It is a strange experience, even for me who has been in sandstorms before – lake flies seem so much intrusive.

I was going to take some pictures of the mess, but somebody else attempted it and their camera died seconds later because of the flies getting into it (similar to when sand gets in a camera), so I decided against it. The following morning, the number of live flies had rapidly diminished, but there was a black layer of dead flies, sometimes over an inch thick covering pretty much everything. Clean up is attempted, and respite gained, but they return the following evening to start the cycle all over again.

The technical term, I believe, is yuk.

Posted by Gelli 06:10 Archived in Malawi Tagged animal Comments (0)

In memory of Hawaii 5-O


It was pure bliss, and perhaps even more so as it was accidental. No electricity, no phone reception, and pretty much no tourists. Just a few other enlightened souls, 4 large dogs, and some friendly locals in a wonderfully picturesque setting where a waterfall joins a remote section of Lake Malawi.

I hadn't planned to come to the Zulunkhuni Lodge in Ruarwe at all, but then I hadn't planned to spend a week in Nkhata Bay either. I'd rocked up with the intention of getting the weekly boat to the islands in Lake Malawi, to discover that it had left the previous evening. Probably I should have checked such things at ferry timings beforehand, but planning was never my strong point. So i spent a pleasant few days doing not allot at Butterfly, a community project and hostel, waiting for the next ferry before being talked into leaving a day early on the same ferry in the opposite direction. Hmmmm. But it just seemed the right thing to do, and so I did.

Every now and again, I just need to turn off from the world, and Ruarwe is definitely a good place for it. Occasional outside excitement was offered by a tornado spotted on the lake (the first real one I have ever seen), a 2metre-plus long Forest cobra in a tree, the suppressed yelps of an Irishman trying not to scream as he jumped of a balcony and assorted games of scrabble. Other than that, it was just pure unadulterated freedom.



The MV Ilala is the lifeline of Lake Malawi. It as built in Scotland in the 1940's, and transported to Lake Malawi by sea, road and rail, and has been working lake ever since





A view of Zulunkhuni lodge hidden amongst the lake, the Forest Cobra, bits of the waterfall, and waterfall jumping (no, not by me)





Happy hour at the lodge, relaxing on the beach at night under a gloriously starry sky; woodcarvings around Ruarwe; heading out to the Ilala on a rowing boat (I always started singing the Hawaii 5-0 theme in my head whenever I was in one or a dugout canoe) and bottom, disembarking back in Nkhata Bay

Posted by Gelli 05:46 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Give me bottle. Give me pen. Give me Kwacha. Give me Sweet.


It probably wasn't the cleverest thing i could have done, i know. No, scrub that. I KNOW it wasn't the cleverest thing that I could have done, with my recent medical history. But I love walking, especially upwards, and had done very little serious exercise since long before Hamish came onto the scene. I was itching for it.

Within the first 300m after the turnoff, I was passed by 2vehicles who both offered me a lift, but i declined. It was a gorgeous day, and besides, it was only a 12km walk on a road up the side of an escarpment, so not as if it was a serious challenge. I had been told there were many shortcuts and cutoffs, and started experimenting down some of the more likely looking of the many trails and paths that headed off from the road, discovering quite rapidly that whilst (obviously) steeper, they did cut down the distance quite allot. As such, I was making pretty good time. In fact, the only thing that was slowing me down at all, was the slightly irritating kids, who I have now christened the 'give me' children.

The 'Give Me' children are just normal Malawian children from maybe 3-12years old, and almost universally cute looking. I m used to – and enjoy – the normal interaction with African kids, which tends to involve lots of waving, hand shaking/similar, saying of 'Hello' and repeated 'How Are you?'s' (this involves every kid around – even in groups of 30 or 40 – all asking 'How Are You' individually and repeatedly. One meeting with a group of a dozen or so lovely Ugandan kids probably involved us exchanging some 500 How Are You's), but in Malawi it seems a bit different. How Are You is generally missing, and Hello is only an occasional comment. Instead, there is a constant stream of 'Give Me's': Give me Bottle/pen/sweet/Kwacha (Malawian currency)/money, or sometimes more oddball things such as 'Give me balloon', and one memorable 'Give me Laptop' as i walked past.

The problem I have is that there is never anything resembling a please/thank you, and pretty much every 'No' or ignoring of their demand leads directly to the next give me. I am aware – acutely aware – that the people are very poor: many families live off a dollar a day or less, and I understand that as travelers we are stupendously rich in relative terms. But I dislike the fact that you can sometimes hear parents (which means it happens many times that you don't hear) instructing their children when they see a white person passing 'There's a mzungu, go and say “Give me....” to them', and the fact that despite the average Malawian speaking much better English than their East African counterparts, I have yet to hear a single 'Please' from a Give Me. I am happy to donate, and help out charities and locals where I can, but despite being probably stupendously wealthy in Malawian terms, I don't like being constantly seen/treated as a walking wallet even though I understand it. If you are going to beg or try and get stuff from me, just please be polite about it. Anyhow. Moving on.

Even now, i'm not quite sure exactly how I ended up scaling a 20m or so sheer cliff, and then
climbing up through a waterfall, even though it was blatantly obvious that I really shouldn't be were I was, and the short cut I had attempted to make really hadn't been a shortcut – or, really, a path – at all. A couple of hairy moments, some glorious views, a little backtracking, and some logical swinging through trees in the right direction (at that point, there really wasn't any path or even way through) and I stumbled Tarzan-ish-style back onto the road. And resolved perhaps not to attempt anymore shortcuts unless they were obviously very well used.

Looking out over Lake Malawi from the Mushroom farm, though sadly this was taken when it was hazy so Tanzania is not visible in the background

And so roughly 2hrs 20after starting off from Chitimba Beach Camp, I wandered onto the Mushroom Farm. It was only at this point that I discovered that most people don't walk up. They hitch. And it was only the very brave, stupid, energetic or mad that actually walk, especially without using local porters to carry bags &/or local guides to show ll the shortcuts and thus not end up, for example, climbing up waterfalls and sheer cliffs by accident. The Mushroom Farm is not a farm and does not have mushrooms, but is instead a small vegetarian hostel on the top of a huge cliff near Livingstonia, an old Scottish missionary station on the top of the plateau, and with amazing panoramic views out over Lake Malawi, the surrounding areas, and even across to Tanzania, and i had been told that i had to come here.


I loved it. The following day, I walked up to Livingstonia itself, another extremely pleasant walk, and was treated to the odd sight of 130year old British style brick buildings and streets which looked like they could have been plucked out of somewhere like the Ironbridge museum. The mission is still in operation to this day, though large chunks of the town are now part of the University (which was closed, as was the cathedral), and it was slightly surreal to walk around what in parts looked like a 150year old ghost town.


On the way back, I fended off some slightly, erm, enthusiastic monkeys and found a glorious waterfall to sit and look at. I ran into another couple of people who i got talking to, and who invited me to join them on a little wander round through some pools and into some caves behind another, from here hidden, waterfall.


The main Manchewe waterfall and then walking behind the other waterfall

I've only been in Malawi a couple of days, but already I am rapidly warming to it – the beauty of the country and friendliness of the people (bag snatchers and 'give me' kids notwithstanding) and think that I could finally start to relax here.


Posted by Gelli 04:23 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

A new country means a new hospital


Even now, I'm not sure what gave him away. The bus came to an abrupt, juddering and sandy stop, as it often does, and hawkers came running over to sell stuff. It was a cheaper and, erm, more character-ful than many other buses in Malawi, and locals on the cheaper buses always seem to buy more than on the posher ones, for reasons i've never quite worked out.

I watched idly as the scene unfolded: tomatoes, bottles of fanta, freshly cooked cobs of corn and assorted sundries were purchased, and i sat there with my head slowly shaking from side to side to indicate no, i didn't want whatever the heck they were trying to sell, to their disappointment at seeing a mzungu (which in large swathes of Africa in hundreds of languages means, variously, European, white person or foreigner) who wasn't buying anything let alone at the normal special 'mzungu rate'.

This guy ambled over, slightly slower than the rest and unfocused. He had a few small bags of peanuts for sale, but just didn't look quite right. At the bus he seemed a bit too preoccupied with something else except selling: and as most of the hawkers get the entire family income this way, being preoccupied can lead to hungry children. He even sold at least one bag. He walked along the outside of the bus, but even ignored a couple of locals who wanted to buy. At the window in front of where I was, he stopped and feigned attempts to sell again, but by now my senses were really up. In front of me were a Mzungu couple – the only other white people on the bus. They were slightly preoccupied in haggling for a fruit purchase. Suddenly the hawker continues walking past, but now he had a bag in his hand.

My angle of vision, plus the chaos of the scene mean't that I hadn't seen him actually take it, but I was pretty sure that he hadn't been carrying it before. And it looked like the sort of bag a female tourist would carry. Without thinking, i shoved my arm out of the window and grabbed the bag, but oddly i didn't say anything – part of my brain was still not quite sure that it wasn't his bag. The guy tried to struggle and run without dropping the bag, but my hand was well in place and I still said nothing. Neither did he. We just kind of looked at each other whilst tugging. This silent tugging commotion had roused peoples attention, and the English girl sat in front suddenly realised her bag was the centre of a tug and war outside the bus and started screaming. That was enough for the guy – and the crowd – he made one last desperate tug, dropped the bag, ran, and was caught. The bag was passed through the window and as if on queue, the bus suddenly drove off, leaving an angry mob behind and a failed thief to his fate.

On the road, I got a very brief thanks from the girl, and then discovered my hand hurt like hell. Especially the top of my thumb, which on reflection realised had probably been forced back more than would be ideal when the guy made his last desperate bid for freedom. A couple of days later, I had a really horrible fever and then went for a malaria test just to be safe. Whilst there and almost as an afterthought, I asked if they could have a look at my hand. Astonishingly, they had an X-ray machine and I discovered I was now the proud owner of a broken wrist.

My African hospital/clinic tour sadly seems to be continuing unabated.

Posted by Gelli 07:19 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (5)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]