Beijing may have 9 million bicycles but Malawi has a Trillion!

Day 16

Country : Malawi (Senga Bay to Nkopola)

Distance : 273 km

No peace for the wicked!

Our sojourn on the side of Lake Malawi was due to be interrupted for a day as we upped sticks and moved south. The reason being that we had to start heading back towards Zimbabwe. Our plan was to try drive from Malawi through Mozambique to Zimbabwe (along the Tete corridor) and this meant starting further south than where we were in order to have enough time to complete the trip without being caught in the middle – i.e. in Tete.

Now, while Tete may not be hell on earth it is certainly not a spot that one chooses to spend the night (with apologies for anyone reading this post that may actually live in Tete).

So, the plan was to wake up and have a quiet breakfast, slowly pack and take off around mid morning for a short 150km to Cape Maclear where we would camp for the night before the border run the following day. Unfortunately our resident hyperactive child (yes, Sharpie) started bouncing around like a rubber ball on speed and began his packing as the sun began thinking about coming up. However, we let him get on with it while we tried to lie in for a bit.

Thereafter the now ingrained process of de-tenting, packing, breakfast, washing up, packing, loading, hitching up and leaving, began and ended. A quick stop at the reception to settle our bill and we started out.

I mentioned in a previous blog about bicycles in Malawi. Well, Salima must be the bicycle capital of the entire country. Our arrival on the first night happened later in the evening (after 7pm) so, although we saw a lot of bikes – and spent nerve wracking ‘hours’ dodging them in the dark – but it was only on the way out through Salima that we realised exactly how many there actually are.

A bicycle can replace a car if you have to – one up, two up (often the wife/girlfriend/mother riding side saddle behind the ‘pedaller’) and even three up, although the record we saw was 4 up. We saw just about every possible cargo being pedalled around : people, (empty) 25 lt and 50 lt drums, huge stacks of wood and bamboo, clothes, chickens, goats (yes – alive and trussed but still a goat), beds, mattresses – the list is endless. And all on he back of bicycles.

The fortunate thing is the lack of vehicles on the road. This means that you can (with relative safety) travel in the middle of the road when you have hoards of bikes on either side of the road crowding you out. Unfortunately I was not able to take a picture to show the extent of the bike invasion because when it was at its worst I was not going to try do a one handed picture shot and risk taking out a sizable portion of the local population! So all you get is the one below while we were still on the outskirts of Salima which in no way illustrates the onslaught waiting around the corner for us.

The shortage of vehicles means that those that are around get maximised. The picture above shows the cargo – human, animal and baggage – that had decamped from a bakkie with a flat tyre. And the picture below shows another load on its way to market.

After a short stop in Salima where we managed to change some dollars into kwacha (cue ‘Kwacha Kwacha Maaaaaaaaan’) and refuel, we set off towards the Cape Maclear Nature Reserve where we hoped to camp for the night.

On arrival at Cape Maclear, we discovered two things. Firstly, a ‘Nature Reserve’ in South Africa/Zimbabwe/Zambia generally means a place turned over to nature and her animals. Not so Cape Maclear where you have a fairly large village along with all the cropping associated with village living. Confusing for us but … each to his own.

Secondly, up until now – with the exception of Mana Pools – we had just pitched up at our chosen camping ground, booked in and started camping. Unbeknown to us though, there is an annual regatta that includes Cape Maclear and when we arrived there were no available sites.

Wham Bam. Turn around. Go Back. Ain’t no room at the inn!

So we did.

We spent the next two hours driving up and down the coast looking for a camp ground that would pass muster…


My kingdom for a campsite …

After checking and rejecting multiple sites we eventually capitulated and checked into a hotel as far down the coast as we could get before it was too late in the day.

And it was there that we met Mackenzie, the worlds greatest waiter. By the time he (and his irrepressible smile) had finished serving us and we had staggered off to bed late that evening, Sharpie was ready to adopt him and the Barefoot Barman was looking for a way to smuggle him out in his luggage! It was not that Mackenzie was exceptionally polished, smooth, suave or sophisticated. No, it was the way he summed us up, took our order and then committed to refresh our rounds with ice cold replacements whenever the glasses reached half full. This was then done with impeccable timing for the rest of the afternoon and evening – complete with sparkling smile, engaging manner, jokes and deceptive speed!


Big planning for the next week about to happen. Note the furrowed brow as both brain cells attempt to ignite at the same time.

We spent the sundowner hours quietly soaking up Malawi’s finest ales whilst planning the routes and destinations for the next 10 days before retiring to our rooms to prepare for dinner. Before dinner, we organised with the hotel for a take-away breakfast as we planned an early start which they readily agreed to, promising us delivery at 6am.

Dinner was good, the team choosing between local fish and chicken dishes which all went down very well, before we headed to bed, a long day ahead of us.

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