Sunday, June 30, 2013

We are now travelling up the west side of Lake Malawi, the water is very blue,and the fishing boats come in laden with small fish that are put on racks to dry, or boiled to preserve them for longer. We wandered along the beach to get a closer look and were greeted with lots of 'hello, what's your name?' from tiny tots to teenagers! All great fun. The children all have their jobs, carrying water, doing the washing-up in the lake, looking after their younger siblings, spreading the fish on the racks...they even get time to do acrobatics to entertain each other or anyone walking by. They all seem so happy, it is really great to see.
In the evenings the fishermen load paraffin lamps on the front of their mokoros and paddle out across the lake. Apparently the fish are attracted to the light and can be more easily is great to see all the twinkling lights across the water.

There are a number of very nice camp-sites along the lake as the water here is warm and clear, ideal for diving and snorkelling. As yet, we have not done any, although there is a plan. So far the priority has been to find a place with a decent TV so that we can watch the British & Irish Lions in their quest to win the series in Australia. Eventually we were successful for the second test...shame about the Lions. Next week should be good, though. There may also be some tennis to watch as well!!!
Before arriving at Lake Malawi we set off on a quick flit around the southern part of the country. Blantyre proved to be something of a disappointment [not helped by the first rain we had encountered since leaving home] although it did have a very nice church that we spent an hour browsing.
By contrast, close to the border with Mozambique, we came across one of the tea growing areas of Malawi.
Not far north of the tea growing area of Mulanje we came across the former administrative capital of Zomba. The town was of little interest to us but the overshadowing plateau looked very inviting. This massive block of rock towers over the town at about 1850meters [fairly similar in height to Mt Ventoux, part of the Tour de France, that we climbed whilst doing our shake down trip in Europe]. Although similar in that there was a tar road almost to the top, the interesting part of the drive was on some fairly rough dirt road with steep drops to one side. An exciting day, some spectacular views and in the closing stages and encounter with a tree that had fallen across the road. No prospect of reversing or turning back! How glad we were that we had our chain saw…. And it worked, first time, well the first time after I had remembered to switch on the electrical switch!
One of the oddities on this plateau, remote as it was, is that if you stop moving someone will appear to try and sell you something; quite possibly something like this:
  From there we went to a National Park, Liwonde, renowned for its elephants and waterbuck.

There was a fantastic drive all along the river with masses of waterbuck, great numbers of warthogs which always make us laugh as they run away with their tails stuck right up in the air. There were also some good birds, though we haven't done much birding this trip, yet. The fishermen were all out throwing their nets over the side of their small mokoros, and then hauling them in again.  
The hippos didn't seem at all bothered by the fishermen, though they might be more interested if a fisherman fell over the side!! We didn't see any elephants, but we did see them in our campground!!! they came to visit each evening a distance away..we did hear one stripping a bush just a few yards from us in our truck....door and most windows were shut, so no danger there!!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Malawi's main export is tobacco. As an addict of the dreaded weed for many years I felt compelled to visit the place where it is auctioned, in huge quantities, for sale to the world. The place where this happens is at the "auction floors".

Actually there is only one "auction floor", very large and lined
with rows of bales of tobacco. Nearly all the tobacco up for auction is destined for the cigarette market. The odour within the building doesn't remind you in the least of cigarettes. There is a sweetness in the air that is difficult to place. There seem to be as many people milling about as there were bales of tobacco lined in military array.  We arrived at the auction floors without appointment, but within minutes, a guide was organized to take us around and explain how this market worked. Suffice it to say that is is very different to Chippenham Livestock Market! Only 10 people are involved, initially, in the selling of (on the day we visited) 10573 bales of tobacco. (Peak sales are 12500 bales). On the selling side there are 4 with 6 buyers. The auctioneers team walk along one side of the bales and the buyers walk on the other side. The first person on the auctioneers team calls the details of the bale to be auctioned, the auctioneer takes the bids of the buyers and knocks the bale down to the top bidder. The next man on the auctioneers team writes on the bale docket the details of price and buyer. Whilst he is doing this the auctioneers teams moves on to the next bale, by which time the 4th man on the auctioneers team is writing down the details of the latest sale. - phew - during this very short time the two groups - 4 auctioneers on one side and 6 buyers on the other side have not stopped walking and the auctioneer has not stopped talking. At the end of each row of bales the auctioneer is greeted with a large glass on water - he definitely deserved t!! So, now that the bales are sold, they have to be checked for quality and leaf type. More people. The bales are then, if there are no problems over quality and leaf type, sew up - another gang of workers - removed from the floors to the loading bays by sack truck - yet another gang. Finally they are loaded by fork lift truck onto lorries to be moved to the premises of the buyers. - yet more people. Once in the buyers sheds it is sorted and loaded on lorries which transport it to either Durban in South Africa or Beira in Mozambique for export to the worlds great cigarette makers.
I enjoyed this days outing as much as I used to enjoy cigarettes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

On our way out of the wonderful South Luangwa National Park, we passed Tribal Textiles, where they print cotton by hand and turn it into a variety of items which they sell locally and send all over Zambia. We were amazed at the skill and dexterity of some of the painters, who were drawing and colouring free-hand, but even those with a transfer under the cloth were able to draw perfect semi-circles and straight lines!!

 The colour of the paint is mixed entirely by eye, from red, yellow and blue, with small patches of colour on a scrap of paper to be matched. The paint is made of flour and water…(memories of childhood !!)and then the painted cloth is baked in an oven for a short while.

A new line for them is a collection of bags made out of old maize-meal sacks, …very nice they were too. There were also some very nice cards on sale, and on closer inspection we discovered they were taken by a man called Edward Selfe !!! he is the fiancĂ© of the woman who runs Tribal Textiles…I was able to tell her that it is great being a Self !!!!
We are off to Malawi in the next day or two to start another adventure…snorkelling in Lake Malawi, and some walking in the mountains and who knows what else!!?
South Luangwa National Park is all that it says in the guide books. Loads of
animals of all sorts. Well organized with good roads through the park and a good
deal of freedom - you can get out of your car where ever you want, your risk.
Really, really nice feeling all over.

We did two organized game drives with the campsite we stayed at and also spent a day
in the park with our truck.

The really big thing here is the leopards. We didn't see any. Our neighbours saw 3!
To add insult to injury, we saw them about half a mile behind us at a point we had
passed a short time earlier, saw their camera flashing and guess what they were

We didn't see this but they gave us the photo.
However, we did see these. They had just killed a buffalo and were sleeping it off.
They are so close to the truck that you can smell them. We didn't need a long lens
for this photo.

Back into town tomorrow to prepare for the crossing into Malawi - money changing,
top up with diesel, shopping etc. probably not really necessary but we like to do it
when we have the chance just in case half the bad things we are told are true.

Monday morning's run into Lusaka was interrupted only by a brief stop to look at a petrified forest. Very similar to the other petrified forests we have visited although they did have some quite large examples still in, almost, one piece.

We also spent a little time watching a craftsman carving a wooden candle stick on a lathe powered by his assistant's arms. He alternately pulled the end of a strap which operated a mechanism to rotate the lathe. There didn't seem to be much gearing involved in the system, it looked like hard work.

The campsite in Lusaka had a variety of animals, giraffe, zebra, water buck, impala and of course some monkeys just roaming around the campers. There was a gate which most of the campers shut only to have it left open by the locals who popped in for a drink at the campsite bar.

 Lusaka is a modern city with everything that you would expect to find in a modern city. We were able to stock up with food, drink and a new bird book as ours didn't cover the birds north of the Zambian border and there are far more of these than we thought! Should have bought the expensive book first time - would have been cheaper in the long run!

One of the bits of bureaucracy we have found difficult to understand is a round visas and charges for visas in Zambia. Firstly, it has fairly recently been made illegal to charge for things in any thing other than the New Zambian Kwetcha. Visas cost US$80 for a 90 day multiple entry visa. Secondly, when you, having converted the Kwetcha you have just acquired into US$, have purchased said visa you get a stamp in your passport that allows you to stay in the country for 30 days! But I've just paid for a 90 day visa you exclaim; just go to the nearest immigration office when the 30 days has expired, they calmly reply, and your entry permit will be extended by a further 30 days, free of charge. SO as we were in Lusaka and the Lonely Planet Guide had a map that showed where the immigration office was, we decided, even though we had been in Zambia for only 25 days, to go and and get a 30 day extension. It required the telling of more than one little white lie, and the telling of them with as much charm as it is possible to muster when confronted with this type of petty bureaucracy, to have our passports stamped 5 days before they should have been, free of charge. Had we no idea of how much difficulty this sort of thing caused? asked the charming assistant in the immigration office.

Whilst in Lusaka we also discovered that our trip to the Lower Zambezi National Park had caused some damage to the metal box that houses our house batteries. Fortunately, we noticed that there was a branch of a firm who had done some work for us in Botswana (Aliboats built a ladder for us so that we could get onto the top of the cab) and we went to see them. Half a day later they had removed the box, strengthened it, and refitted it to the truck.

 Next stop, South Luangwa National Park. The Park entrance is about 730km from Lusaka so we knew that we wouldn't get there in one day. By the time we messed about with a few odds and ends in Lusaka and discovered also that the cash machines were not giving money (no one seemed to know why) it was after lunchtime by the time we got away, although we did have cash! Knowing that. We couldn't make our first choice campsite we went for plan B. This turned out to the better bet. This small campsite run by a Dutch guy and his English wife, most recently from Somerset, had a wonderful bar/terrace overlooking the Luangwa River and lovely hot showers and flush toilets with proper toilet paper! Following day's drive proved to be the worst day we have had on a tar road. Lots of pot holes and lots of up and down. Still, we eventually got to Chipata where we found a good campsite and a well stocked SPAR, not that we needed it as we had stocked up in Lusaka but it will be a good place to stock up before we cross to Malawi.
After our trip to The Zambesi Gorge we decided that a few more little bits of work needed doing to the tank! At mid-day. We were able to get away and head for Lake Kariba and the dam. So far all the roads we have travelled in Zambia have been fairly good - the tar roads, that is, dirt tracks have been a different matter. Eagle's Rest at Siavonga, on the lake edge, proved a very nice , quite resting place. It had the convenience of a bar, restaurant and hippos that wandered around the campsite at night. Liz got quite a shock when she popped out to visit the loo just before going to bed! A signpost promised us crocs too, but we didn't see any sign of them.

Lake Kariba is HUGE.

There are lots of statistics, but, to be honest, the numbers are so big that we got even more confused. Largest lake in Africa, man-made, and one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Lots and lots of water. At the dam there are two power stations, one each for Zambia and Zimbabwi. All seems to work well, although several people have said that it works better on the Zambian side.

Our next target was the Lower Zambezi National Park. Getting there didn't look to be too much of a challenge! 80kms, even if it should turn out to be all dirt couldn't be that difficult. Suffice it to say that we were very glad to get to the park gates. FOR A COUPLE OF MOMENTS. Our truck was too big to be allowed into the park, they said. No there was no camping available near the park (Lonely Planet said the was - LP had it wrong.). There used to be a couple of campsites on the rive banks but they have long since packed up and gone. I imagine because few people ever go there. Fortunately, Conservation Lower Zambezi have a place just by the river and close to the Park entrance. The very nice English girl who runs the place was kind enough to let us spend the night in their car park. She also invited us to join her and some friends who were sitting around a camp fire on the river bank drinking coffee and listening to the lions on the Zimbabwe side of the river. Very pleasant! CLZ is an NGO involved in environmental education and anti-poaching support in the area.
In the morning we turned around and drove the horrible dirt track again. Just before we arrive at the tar road we came across a riverside lodge (not the Zambezi but still a nice river) and decided to spend a couple of nights in their campground, eat in their restaurant and relax on the terrace overlooking the river. That took care of the week-end and enabled us to watch some more Super 15 rugby.