Saturday, 3 December 2011

Malawi – An African Adventure

We’d technically already visited the African continent when we went to Morocco, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Malawi that we felt we were experiencing the real African culture.  Upon landing in Lilongwe (after ~24hrs in transit consisting of 3 flights, the last 2 being with Ethiopian Air) we haggled with a taxi driver for 30 minutes to drive us into town for a reasonable price, but we lost as we were short on time to get to Blantyre, so we agreed on an outrageous price and left.  After arriving to the AXA bus terminal, we discovered that the luxury bus to Blantyre which was recommended to us was fully booked as it was a Friday!  In fact all the luxury buses were booked out, so our only option was to take the local bus, which on the bright side was quite a bit cheaper.

As per normal for us, the bus was in the process of leaving at the same instant we arrived to board so we didn’t have a chance to buy water or use the bathroom so it was quite a loooong ride! Luckily, a friendly guy helped us buy water out of the window at one of the 5 minute stops the bus made ‘en route’.

teaAfter such a long trip it was awesome to be reconnected with Shar in Blantyre (it had been almost 2 years since we’d last seen each other), and what a thoughtful person she is!  It was a further one hour drive to the Hayton home in Malamulo, so Shar had a pre-packed a home-made dinner ready for us in case we were hungry (we were starving since our last ‘meals’ with Ethiopian Air could not be classed as such).

The week we spent with Shar and Ryan was too short, we had such a great experience seeing their life in Malawi as missionaries (we even became accustomed to Huddy’s 5am wake up calls – which also prepared us for early rises when we went on safari!).  It was not only great to visit the hospital where Ryan works his magic, but also to see what an amazing influence the whole family has on the people around them.  The Hayton house seems to be an open house to all the other expats working in Malamalo.  It’s a place where everyone is welcomed with a huge smile and usually a quality meal depending on the time of day.  Even when we had plans to eat dinner at a friends place out on the tea estate Shar still fed at least 8 people dinner before we left! Incredible….

IMG_1966We were surprised to see how British colonisation is still quite evident in Malawi.  We had an amazing high tea at Satemwa Tea Estate’s Hutington House.  It was beautiful as we drank coffee and tea, ate scones and cake and played croquette on the lawn of an old estate house with meticulous gardens, surrounded by acres of green tea bushes.  The boys had a ball running around while Shar, Dave and I relaxed in our couches soaking up the ambience….IMG_1977

Thankfully on the weekend Ryan had an extra day off work so we headed up to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi.  It was about a 6 hour drive, made difficult due to the massive diesel crisis happening at the moment in Malawi.  Luckily Ryan had prepaid for a couple of hundred litres of fuel, so on the morning of our trip we were able to fill the tank at the pump where the police cars get filled! 

The lake was as beautiful as the guide book says, although, as the guidebook also says – we most likely have contracted Schistosomiasis from the snails in the water).  We camped on the beach a stones throw from thesunset water and each night watched the sunset over the lake.  Camping with Shar and Ryan did make us realise how ill-equipped we were going to be for camping in Kruger – they definitely know how to camp in style! And Shar is the queen of great camp food, every meal was another amazing creation and we were  loving eating Aussie style again – it had been such a long time since we’d had baked beans on toast or weet-bix!  We also bought a fish freshly caught in the morning from the lake so we could try the local delicacy.  Dave undertook the task of scaling and gIMG_2297utting it, we were a bit worried that the boys might be grossed out, but they were both really interested in the whole procedure and asked loads of questions like if we were going to eat the eyeballs and did it hurt the fish when Dave stuck his knife in to gut it.  Dave did a really good job of explaining everything though.  We grilled it on the beach BBQ (Aussie style) – very tasty.

We spent our days relaxing on the beach, taking turns on the Ryan’s massive paddle board, which you stand up on to paddle.  It took a bit of confidence but on the last morning, when the lake was glass and you could see right down to the fish, I paddled out fully dressed on the board and luckily didn’t over balance :) boardWe also took a boat ride out to the nearby island where the snorkelling was amazing.  There is the largest variety of fresh water fish anywhere in the world there, so many colours and different types.  Ryan recommended holding bread out for them to nibble, although he did ‘forget’ to mention that the fish will also nibble your fingers so I got quite a shock as when I held out the bread underwater I was instantly swarmed by a 100 fish who failed to distinguish between the food and my hands! 

Our guide on the boat also bought fish with him to feed the sea eagles.  He whistled, then threw the fish and the eagle would dive right next to the boat to collect the fish.  It was majestic to watch.  eagleOur guide was very talented and also caught a colourful little fish with his cupped hands so that Benson and Hudson could feel it before throwing back.   All the fish are protected now to ensure that they don’t become instinct.  It was quite interesting as we asked our guides whether there were less fish now for the fishermen who go out each night with their nets, they replied that there are still plenty of fish, but God is just hiding them better….

Unfortunately on the way back  home  our planned Hippo cruise didn’t eventuate as the tour company didn’t have any fuel to run the boat.  In fact, we had to stop and buy some black market diesel as we were running low by then too.  Ryan was chatting to the guys as they poured the diesel in and he told them how previously when he couldn’t get fuel from anywhere he had used cooking oil in the car.  They didn’t believe him at all and said he must have a magic engine.  IMG_2261Ryan lifted the bonnet and showed them the type of engine that can process cooking oil (as not every diesel car can) but they were still very sceptical when we left, so we told them to Google it.

As I said our week passed way to fast and all too soon came the 5.30am farewell.  It was hard to say goodbye, but great to know that time and distance don’t change a thing between friends.  We look forward to our next reunion already, most likely back on home soil :).

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