A cultural experience in Malawi

Posted by Cycle Africa on 30 December 2011 Tags:,

From Senga Bay, Lake Malawi, we cycled through the town of Salima to Kuti Wildlife Park. Hendrik had a headache and wasn’t feeling too well.  He was a bit concerned that it might be the first symptoms of malaria.  We were pleasantly surprised by the standard set at Kuti – facilities are well-maintained and clean.  There is a marsh covered in water lilies, with much bird activity in and around it.  Lloyd is the manager of Kuti.  He mentioned that there is a good relationship between the local community surrounding the park and park management.  95% of all staff members have to be employed from out of the community.  One scout is employed out of every chief’s village which helps to minimize poaching.  30% of the money generated by Kuti is used for community upliftment programmes, including the maintenance of boreholes, financial support to orphanages and supplying of bicycle ambulances (transporting sick people to clinics).  Occasionally funds are used to buy meat for the community. From Kuti we cycled over the Great Rift Valley towards Lilongwe.  Hendrik really felt sick and Riki had to slow down for him to keep up.  The tough hills were a challenge in itself.  Along the road local children never seized to shout:  ‘Give me money, give me my money!’ They did not even bother to say ‘Hello’, or ‘How are you,’ like Zambian children do.

In Lilongwe we camped at Chivimbo.  Hendrik recovered well.  We were relieved that it was not malaria.  It is worth mentioning that the owner and staff of Chivimbo score 10 out of 10 for their hospitality, friendliness and excellent service.  In the city, several people offered to show us the way to shops, internet cafes and the bus station, by saying, ‘Follow me’.  We tailored behind on our bicycles, crisscrossing busy streets. We planned to head north towards Nkhata Bay but decided to take a bus (we had already cycled most of the road going south from Nkhotakota to Senga Bay and then west to Lilongwe).  We were told to be at the bus station at 06h30 the following morning.  We arrived there at 06h20, nervous that we might be too late.  Hundreds of people were already queuing for transport.  Eventually, after a very long wait with no chairs to sit on, the bus arrived.  We departed just before 10h00.  The price of the tickets almost doubled from what was quoted to us the day before.  Hendrik managed to negotiate a cheaper price. The bus ride was a cultural experience in itself.

After all the seats were filled up with people and their oversized hand luggage, the path in between the rows of seats was filled up with more people and even more luggage.  One man sitting right at the back of the bus bought mobile air time from a man sitting in front.  The passengers in between them had to pass on the money and the top up card from one end to the other.  More than once we had to pass on a little baby between mother and son sitting at different places in the bus.  At every stop food was traded through the windows.  We bought boiled eggs, bananas, Coke and fried potato chips.    It was a long, hot ride.  We got very thirsty over the heat of the day.  At the next stop we bought a bottle of frozen water through the window. Only after Riki gulped down the first sip of ice cold water did she notice that it was a used soft drink bottle which was filled up with water! At the stop just before Nkhata Bay, a man with the name of John got off the bus.  His friend, a tall man neatly dressed in a bottle green suit, white shirt and tie, was waiting for his arrival.  When he saw John he was overwhelmed with excitement and joy.  He was laughing so loud, his teeth very white against his dark skin, while he embraced his long awaited friend – truly beautiful moments.  He kept on shouting “John, John, John!” through his laughter.  It was special to share in his joy.  We couldn’t help but miss our own dear once in this Festive Season. We arrived at Nkhata Bay after dark.  The market was a buzz of activity, people and music, with a great vibe.  We were picked up and transported to Mayoka Village, where we stayed for two nights.  We had a lovely view over the lake.

The next day we went for a walk through the Batawati forest.

People live everywhere along the path.  Hendrik picked up a mango underneath a mango tree.  An old lady saw that.  She took a long stick and slapped some mangos off the tree and gave it to him.  Children gathered around us.  We peeled the mangoes.  We were brought chairs to sit on.  The old lady also brought us a bowl of water to wash our hands in.  As soon as we took the first bite, the grandfather commanded the children to go and sit under a tree a few metres away from us.  They obeyed immediately without complaining.

Despite the language barrier between us we managed to communicate to a certain degree using hand signs and body language.  Riki tried to explain to the kids how to take a photo of us with our Nikon point and shoot camera.  One little girl managed to push the trigger but did not understand that we should actually be in the photo!

The grandmother was cooking cassava and mushrooms on the fire for lunch.  Hendrik asked to taste the cassava.  Immediately the lady dished up all the cassava in the pot and half of the mushroom relish and brought it to us to eat.  It was very delicious, but we only ate a bit.  We were touched by their kindness but couldn’t get it over our hearts to eat their lunch. We continued the walk.  Hendrik asked around to buy mushrooms.  A boy escorted us to a hut where the whole family was busy peeling Cassava roots.  We bought mushrooms from them but they had no bag to put it in.  One of the ladies sent a little girl to go and get a plastic bag from somewhere.  They also had no change available.  A boy was sent to neighbouring huts to try and find change.  We waited a little while and where amazed that these people can make a living from what nature provides, without any cash in their pockets.

Back at Mayoka Village we snorkelled in the crystal clear waters of Lake Malawi and saw many brightly coloured fish. Late afternoon we took a small boat and paddled towards the open waters.  A fisherman paddled past.  We bought freshly caught butterfish from him which Hendrik roasted over the fire that night.  It was mouth-watering delicious.

The evening was very hot and humid.  We woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the heat.  We decided to go for a dip in the lake.  The water was cool and refreshing.  Early the next morning rain poured down.  We stayed in the tent until much later than usual but eventually started to pack up.  The tent was soaking wet which added even more weight to Hendrik’s already heavy loaded bicycle. From Nkhata Bay we cycled to Mzuzu over very steep and long up-hills.

The hills were so long and so steep that it was almost unimaginable that more hills will follow.  Yet, every time we thought we reached the top, another steep hill towered ahead of us.  Riki wondered whether Malawian cyclist will cycle down these incredible down hills coming from the other side, or whether they get off their bikes and walk down.  They hardly have any brakes on their bicycles – many of them still brake with the old fashioned back-peddle action.  At one point we passed a truck which jack-knifed across the road.  Safety workers tried to recover it.  It was a very tough hill.  We clenched our teeth, working every muscle to its limit, forcing ourselves not to get down and push. Higher and higher we climbed.  Our clothes were drenched in sweat.  When we were almost at the top, a man came flying down on his bicycle from the front.  Just after he past us, Riki remembered about the truck which was still across the road.  There was no way for him to stop in time unless the angels picked him up and put him down on the other side of it.  Riki said a silent prayer for his protection.  We can only hope and trust that he made it safely down that hill. In Mzuzu we camped at Mzuzoozoo. ‘This place is a zoo!’ said the owner.  We kind of agreed.  Early the next morning we left towards Vwaza Marsh.