November 11 - December 8, 2010
After 4 nights in Lilongwe, the Legislative capital, my mystery sickness seemed to be under control and I headed south to Blantyre, the commercial capital. It was slightly more interesting than Lilongwe but neither are all that spectacular. I met an John an English guy there and we usually hung out at the bar at night.
Jon from England (right) and some guy
I stopped in Mulanje, an hour from Blantyre for 3 days to trek around the Mulanje Mountain. Somehow I was convinced again to go hiking. The first night I spent with a couchsurfer, Frieder, and his roommates. They are German volunteers doing aid work for a year after high school as an alternative to military service. The second night I was on the mountain. It was really nice but I didn’t hire a guide on the second day and on the way down I got super lost and ended up having to do a lot of improvising to find a way down. Once I had to jump down from a big ledge which was a bit nerve racking. I ended up in some farm exhausted and filthy.
Next was Zomba where I stayed with another German volunteer couchsurfer Matthias and his roommates Greta and Tony. Again I went hiking. This time on the less challenging Zomba plateau. I spent one night on the plateau. The forest was a mix of everything from pine trees to jungle which was pretty cool. I got lost so I didn’t get to see everything I wanted but it was still good.
The Zomba Plateau
Finally it was time to head north to the highlight of Malawi, the massive Lake Malawi. My first stop was Cape Maclear. It was pretty nice. The beaches are perfect with warm clear water. Camping was only $3. One day I went snorkeling at a couple of the best spots. I had never done it before and it was really amazing. The first time I dove in it was like entering a different world. Fish were everywhere (over 200 types) with all different colours.
I only have a video of my guide snorkeling (he's throwing a mango pit)
I stopped in Lilongwe for one day on my way to the north of Malawi. I was kind of happy to leave Cape Maclear because the rainy season had arrived. It only rained at night but the second last night felt like a hurricane.
My last stop in Malawi was Nkhata Bay a village on the north of the lake with nice beaches. Again the camping was just $3 and the hostel had mango trees that we could eat from. There was also a traditional canoe that we could use. One day I decided to take it for a spin. There was a hole in the back that at first didn’t seem to be a problem but suddenly the canoe was full of water and I was nowhere near the shore. I had to jump to grab my half submerged bag with my cameras at the front of the boat then hold it above the water as I treaded water. Some fishermen had to come save me and bring the boat and me back to the hostel. Of course they wanted money (nothing is free in Africa, especially Malawi). One night there was a bachelor party at the hostel bar. An expat girl from Calgary (my city!) was marrying a local Malawian guy. It was kind of fun.
Beach at the hostel in Nkhata Bay, that's the canoe on the right
After four nights in Nkhata Bay I took a 24 hour boat further north up the lake then spent a day in buses, minibuses and shared taxis to cross the border into Tanzania. The plan was to extend my Malawian visa for a week but it turns out it costs $30, so I decided to just leave Malawi early. I think it was for the best because actually I'd kind of had enough of Malawi.
Unloading fertilizer, it took like 6 hours
My first stop in Tanzania was the town of Mbeya where I stayed with yet another couchsurfer who was a German volunteer, Pascal and his roommate Tobias.
Tanzania is much different from Malawi. Tanzania is politically stable and fairly developed whereas Malawi is the seventh poorest country in the world. The interesting thing is though that things cost the same if not less in Tanzania. Internet and making phone calls in particular are a lot less. The one thing that definitely doesn’t cost less though is tourism. The government in Tanzania has huge taxes for foreigners at the major sights. To see the Serengeti $140/day is normal and if you can climb Mount Kilimanjaro for $1000 it’s a bargain.
Tanzanian people are different too. I met a Tanzanian guy on the boat in Malawi. He said “At least 3 out of 10 Tanzanians have there eyes open whereas everyone in Malawi is blind.” I think there is some truth to that. Tanzanians seem to be a little more open and educated in general. I actually was a bit disappointed with Malawians. Malawi is said to be the “warm heart of Africa” and I heard stories of people at a bar being bought drinks all night by Malawians with nothing expected in return. This was not my experience. I found them to be a bit arrogant, rude and concerned only with getting my money. In Tanzania the kids seem really nice and just happy to meet me. In Malawi most of the time they just said “hello” in a disrespectful tone then “give me money!”
From Mbeya I took the train across the country to Dar es Salaam on the coast. It was nice. For awhile the train goes through a national park with lots animals. Unfortunately the train was late so when we got there it was already too hot for the animals to be out so we only saw a few giraffes, some antelope and a couple elephants. There were lots of other travelers on the train which was kind of nice.
Now I’m in Dar es Salaam where I’ve been for 6 days. It was a real shock for me when I arrived. It’s the first really big city I’ve been to since South Africa. Also, its nothing like the African towns/cities I’m used to. Because of its history it is filled with Indians and Arabs who have influenced everything. After 5 months of nothing but rice and chicken/beans suddenly I have this…
…and all sorts of other flavours.
It’s fairly safe here but a couple days ago I was walking with two other travelers when suddenly a guy was sort of standing in my way. I looked in front of me and Sabrina (from England) was being blocked by 2 guys and they were going for her pockets. Fortunately I was able to jump in and save the day before they got anything.
Life was a bit rough around the time I was sick in Malawi. It just seemed like everything was going wrong. My cameras were having problems, every bag and zipper I owned seemed to be falling apart, I couldn’t seem to upload my blog anywhere and of course the problems with getting my Ethiopian visa. In general I was feeling a bit down but I think it has been more or less sorted out.
I’m really amazed at how easy it is to get sick in Africa. Not just malaria or yellow fever but also things like marks, rashes and infections that suddenly appear or just diarrhea for no apparent reason. I recommend to be very sanitary in Africa and take good care of yourself in general.
When I was in Blantyre in Malawi I seriously thought about staying for a month or two to help out at Doogles, the big hostel in town. A young Bolivian guy, Carlos, who grew up in Malawi had just bought the place and was fixing it up. He was a really nice guy and was really enthousiastic and committed to making it work. I thought I would just help out wherever I was needed for a free place to camp. Also, he has lots of local staff working who have a tendency to do the absolute minimum requirement (normal in Africa) and I noticed sometimes they would take money without a receipt (also normal). With me there I think they would be forced to shape up. In the end I decided not to though. The trip is already going to be pretty long and apart from that the rainy season was just arriving so I wanted to head north to try to avoid it.
Buying anything in Africa is always a hassle. 90% of the time when locals see a “mizungu” (white person) they will tell a price 3 or more times as much as it should be. The best way to find the right price is to ask other travelers or nice locals.
My plan for Tanzania is just to take the boat to Zanzibar Island near Dar es Salaam and stay a few days then head to Kenya. Zanzibar is a big highlight of Tanzania but not so expensive like other places in Tanzania, although foreigners are only allowed to take the expensive boats to and from the island (about $40-60 return). It looks like I’ll definitely be in Kenya for Christmas. I need to get my Ethiopian and Sudanese visas in Nairobi which could take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months.