13th – 20th January 2009

We’re now in Blantyre, Malawi, and about to leave for Mozambique.  Malawi is an absolutely stunning country; the scenery on the drive over from Tanzania was amazing, steep hills covered in tea and banana plantations. Coming down from the Tanzanian highlands we glimpsed Lake Malawi shimmering in the distance, and although we knew it was big, we had no idea exactly how big, and how blue.  From this side one can just make out the mountains on the Mozambique side. 

Lots of blue wobbly stuff

Lots of blue wobbly stuff

 Over this week we’ve driven South along the lake, and detoured to visit a couple of game parks on the way cos they’re cheap here! 

A little bit of Scotland, maybe that's why the missionaries liked it here

A little bit of Scotland, maybe that's why the missionaries liked it here

The first park we visited, Nyika Plateau, was a surreal trip through Devon, Scotland and back to Africa as the landscape changed from rolling hills, with tree filled valleys and tors, to barren moorland where you could easily imagine the herds of Roan antelope were red deer.  It even had bracken and blackberries!

In spite of all this, I just can’t love Malawi.  It’s beautiful to look at, but somehow shallow.  There are a few reasons why Malawi just doesn’t do it for me.  Primarily, it has for a long time been a corridor for travelling between North and South, and as such, has the strongest ‘backpacker’ culture of all the African countries we’ve visited so far.  The campsites are well equipped, well run, and in spite of their laid back ‘stoner’ vibe, are about as individual and atmospheric as Travel Lodges. 

It also must have something to do with the staggering Tsetse fly population, by which we have been bitten senseless.  The beautiful Vwasa Marsh National Park was marvellous in every regard, except for the pestilent Tsetses.  I was still in pain 3 days later and have bruises where the bites were.

Vwaza Marsh, full of small bitey things

Vwaza Marsh, full of small bitey things

Thirdly, food.  Malawi’s markets seem to be stocked exclusively with little dried fish and tomatoes.  Nothing else.  This makes self catering tricky, to say nothing of our diminished gas supply. 

Cooking sans gaz

Cooking sans gaz

Which means we’re currently reliant on the universal ‘backpacker’ menu of burritos and burgers.  Bleagh…….

And another thing!  It has started to rain, big time.  Now this I can’t blame on Malawi, we always knew we’d hit the rainy season about here. Even so it has come of something as a shock.  The change in weather causes fabulous things like dramatic sunsets and awesome displays when multiple electrical storms do their thing over the lake.

Sunset over Lake Malawi

Sunset over Lake Malawi

None of this short sharp shower in the afternoon nonsense, when it rains, it threatens to drown or wash us away, this makes for some pretty challenging driving.

Slippery bridge

Slippery bridges

and shed loads

and shed loads

And finally, we’re running out of money and time, and having to think about coming home soon and that is throwing up it’s own challenges, so we’ve been busy planning our next steps from here.  The current plan is Mozambique next before a quick visit to S. Africa en route to Botswana, then Namibia then into S. Africa for the grand finale in Cape Town.

Nothing to do with you Malawi, we just happen to be here at the moment. 

PS.  Don’t take it too personally, Sean loves you.

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Thursday 8th January – Tuesday 13th January

Elsie has firm buns again!!  Thanks to the lovely fellows at Tren Tyre, especially Mike Chantry & Erik who went out of their way to get us back on the road.

Elsie having her bottom looked at

Elsie having her bottom looked at

 Whilst we had the shocks fitted Sean & Mike, who is originally from St. Austell, chatted about rugby and Mike showed us his impressive gunshot wound.  We left Dar a day later than planned, but feeling positively liberated to be on the road again.  

On Thursday night we stayed at Malela Campsite – it was indicated on the GPS- but when we got there we found it derelict and deserted.  This suited us fine but eventually a guy turned up and extracted 6000 Ts from us.  It was an outrageous sum to pay for somewhere with no facilities at all, not even water, but when I reminded myself that it was only £3 it didn’t seem so bad…. 

The following morning we decided to backtrack to Morogoro as we were very low on cooking gas.  Morogoro is a bustling regional capital, with everything you could wish for, except the ability to refill gas cyliners.  So we made a 75 mile round trip, but only managed to get beer and water.  Oh well, at least we got the essentials covered.

Downtown Morogoro

Downtown Morogoro

From Morogoro the road to our next destination, Iringa, goes through Mikumi National Park.  From the main road we spotted elephant, buffalo and a tower of giraffe.  Close to Iringa we stayed at the very well run Riverside Camp for one night and enjoyed a camp fire and the closest we’ve got to a romantic dinner for a while with candles and everything!  Sean was delighted that as we were leaving I reversed into a tree, evening out the score somewhat, although unlike his efforts so far I didn’t manage to damage the car.  Did I mention this before?

On Saturday 10th we gave in to our wilderness craving and headed for Ruaha National Park.  The last 40 miles of the road from Iringa to the park had possibly the worst corrugations so far and even with her new firm buns it was very difficult to actually stop Elsie being shaken off the road, and the fillings coming out of our teeth.  It took us 3 hours to cover about 75km, and by the time we got into the park at about 3.30 I was exhausted by the driving. 

The Ruaha is a postcard African river, with sandy beds, big boulders, and a healthy population of crocs and hippos.  Amongst other things we saw a croc with her babies sitting on her back. 

Sweeeeeet!

Sweeeeeet!

I wasn’t allowed to steal one.  Reluctantly, we left the park at 6pm as we couldn’t afford the $60 it costs to camp in Tanzanian parks.   Our chosen campsite, Chogela Camp was 17 miles away, I think it was nice, but we couldn’t see much of it as it was dark by the time we got there and it did have the scariest range of weirdy insects we’ve encountered so far.

We got up hideously early the next day to get back into the park, but the sight of the full moon above the road ahead and the dawn just breaking behind us made up for the 5am start.  Ruaha is meant to be home to large buffalo herds so it came as no surprise that we didn’t see a single one.

Proof that we're not hiding out in Bognor

Proof that we're not hiding out in Bognor

 We did however spot a lot of circling vultures and followed them down to the ground where we saw a big pride of lions, absolutely stuffed after eating something substantial, but all that were left were a couple of leg bones.

Another zebra anyone??

Another zebra anyone??

Ladies who've lunched

Ladies who've lunched

We also saw a couple of small herds of ellies, which made a half hearted attempt to chase us as they had calves, and a vervet monkey crèche, with about 10 very cute baby vervets mucking about as only small monkeys can. 

On our last night in Tanzania, we stayed at ‘Bongo Camping’ between Mbeya and the Tanzanian border, which is described in the Lonely Planet as ‘community integrated.’ This means that you’re actually in the middle of the village and the evening’s main entertainment.  Balloons to the rescue!

Keeping Sean amused is a constant challenge

Keeping Sean amused is a constant challenge

It was a good place, and the camping fees contributed toward the village school so we felt useful to boot.  The sunset was stunning

Shepherds delight? I think not!

Shepherds delight? I think not!

Since the road from hell in and out of Ruaha we’ve been trying to locate a random smell in Elsie, so at Riverside Camp we cleaned the car out and didn’t find anything more noxious than a slightly suspect cabbage.  Sadly, the weird smell continued especially over bumps, and at Bongo, while sniffing around the wheel arches (as you do) I think I’ve narrowed it down to oil leaking from a front shock absorber.  Aaaaaargh!!! These are meant to be the best shocks available, and we’ve gone through 3.

Leaving Tanzania we got a taste of things to come, as the skies blackened and when it started to rain we had to pull over for about 40 minutes unable to see anything ahead. 

Rainy season here we come!

Rainy season here we come!

Just in case you were wondering, or indeed care (sniff!).  We crossed into Malawi a few days ago, and haven’t found a means of blogging yet that doesn’t involve selling the car to raise funds.  We’ll post an update as soon as we can afford it.

27th December – 6th January

Well, our New Year was different!  From Tanga, we crossed over the Pangani River on the ferry which was a laugh as we had to disembark backwards for some reason.

Rusty, but effective

Rusty, but effective

 We drove down the coast a bit and found a place, The Beach Crab Resort, Pangani where we were lucky enough to be parked yards from the sea again

Castaway at the Beach Crab

Castaway at the Beach Crab

We spent another couple of days swimming and reading, before the final day of 2008 loomed.  Those of you that know me will already be aware that I’m not a fan of New Years Eve, it tends to bring out my (not so) inner curmudgeon, however I figured that being 11,500 miles from home might see a relaxation of my normal state of fear and loathing.  Hmmm……..

Imagine my horror when we turned up for dinner to find that all the tables had been pushed together for jolly communal dining.  Virtually all our fellow dinner guests were German.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against our European chums, after all, they do make good cars and beer, but being so outnumbered was a little overwhelming.  

We actually ended up sharing a table with some charming people, Theo, a German  and his outrageously beautiful Zambian wife, Annette, by whom we were both transfixed all night (its not fair!) and a solo Belgian, Phillippe, whose girlfriend and children seemed to have decamped to Norway without him for Christmas.

Fortunately Sean had anticipated my frosty British reserve, and mixed up a cocktail to be forever know as the ‘Cherry Hoff Drop’ (vodka, coconut milk, and cherry juice, for those of you that might wish to try this at home), which served to lubricate my social skills until fireworks at midnight when I scuttled off to the privacy of the Hotel du Van, relieved it was all over – (it is now!!). 

Answers on a postcard please.....

Answers on a postcard please.....

Anyhoo, moving swiftly on, there are a couple of other stories to tell. 

Firstly, Elsie’s bust suspension.  Back in Ethiopia we hit a pothole at some speed and with a fair crunch.  Yes, Sean was driving.  In spite of the assurances of Ndovo Garage in Nairobi that it would last one of our rear shocks has given up the ghost, with the result that Elsie is now shaking her ass like a crazy thing. We must seek a replacement forthwith which means that we will be stuck in Dar until we can source the right part and get it fitted.  So much for our plans to scoot through Tanzania.

Secondly, revisiting Tent with a View.  Back in the distant past when Sean and I came to Africa for the first time we were lucky enough to stay at Saadani Game Reserve, which is Tanzania’s only park on the coast.  The owner of the lodge, David Guthrie, is in part responsible for us falling in love with the African bush.  There is a story about a bottle of JD, and a drunken stumble around a game reserve in the dark here, but I’ll save that for another time. 

I’d tried to text Dave to let him know we were in his ‘hood, but suspected that he was spending Xmas in the UK, however, as we were only 30 miles up the road we thought we’d drop in anyway to have a look at the old place.  Having gone there and not recognised anything we decided to press on and head for Dar es Salaam.  And that’s when it all went pear shaped.  For the first time on this whole trip the Garmin let us down, the maps were senseless and we couldn’t find the road we needed.  The upshot is that we crossed the Pangani River again, and are almost back where we started in Tanzania after driving around for 5 hours looking for the road.  The interesting thing is that we still didn’t kill each other.  I must be relaxing!

Having said all that the place we stayed, Peponi Beach, was very nice, and gave us some good advice for further down route.

The next day we pressed on to Dar.  It was a long drive, but on a good tarmac road which was a blessed relief after having to coax Elsie over gravel & corrugations.  Every silver lining has a cloud however and I managed to score my first EVER speeding fine.  We had been warned about the Tanzanian Police and they didn’t waste any time in extracting money from us.  The official fine for speeding is 20,000 Tanzanian Shillings, however Sean suggested 10,000Ts as we didn’t need a receipt, and they seemed happy.  Funny that.  By the way I was allegedly doing 66kph in a 50.

Ten miles down the road the next patrol had a go, obviously having been radio’d about the loaded Wazungu heading their way.  I gave them some feedback and they quailed.  Then, when we reached Dar, I took a wrong turning and ended up going down a one way street to the ferry the wrong way.  Bless them, the police finally had a legitimate reason to fine me for something but I went so mental, telling them that they were a disgrace to African policing, that they gave in and helped us push in on the ferry queue.

Ferry at Dar es Salaam - one of many trips

Ferry at Dar es Salaam - one of many trips

After yet another weekend on the beach we went into Dar yesterday, and spent a day sitting around the Toyota Service Centre.  We emerged a whole £14 lighter, with a welded something, working handbrake and a much, much cleaner car.  Today our pursuit of a new shock proved fruitful, we have some new ones coming South from Arusha (on a bus on their own, aren’t they clever?).  With good luck and a following wind we should be able to leave Dar tomorrow and continue our safari. 

I know it’s really cold at home and that you will all hate me unreservedly for saying this but I’m fed up of sea ‘n’ sand.  I don’t feel like I’m on a Big African Adventure anymore, I feel like I’m stuck on some interminable beach holiday.   Oh boo hoo, poor me, I can hear your hearts collectively breaking. 

Till next time XX

Sunday 28th December

We were beginning to worry about ever escaping Tiwi’s seductive clutches, but managed to wrest ourselves out of them this morning and have made it over the Tanzanian border to Tanga, where we’re now contemplating our next moves.

The 10 days at Tiwi were pretty much indistinguishable from each other, we spent the days swimming when the tide was in, lying in the shade when we couldn’t swim, and cracking open the beers from midday until bedtime. 

In a bleak midwinter......

In a bleak midwinter......

Christmas day was super-uneventful, I think I even failed to go for a swim, but we spent a very pleasant evening with our chums eating yet more fish and waving sparklers about.   We were a mixed bunch, with Anne Marie and Patrick from Holland and Cisco and Christina from Spain.

What, no turkey?

What do you mean there's no turkey?

 It was the least Chrismassy Christmas ever, but a bit of a hoot nonetheless.

We met lots of really nice people at Tiwi. all of whom were great fun.  Most remarkable of all were Marco and Antonietta, our Swiss-Italian neighbours.  They keep 3 campervans on 3 continents, and shuttle between them during the swiss winter.  They were both in their early 60’s and super fit, great fun, Marco had a fabulously smutty sense of humour and Antonietta made amazingly good cakes on their fire.

Smarter than your average retirees!

Smarter than your average retirees!

I nearly invented the sport of Kite-Tubing, whereby one sits in the sea in an inner tube, and uses a kite as a means of propulsion.  However Sean and Patrick went out to test my brilliant idea, and it proved to be a complete failure.  Sadly, the amusing video is failing to load, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, and use your imagination.

One event of enormous significance; on Boxing Day Sean went fishing and caught something!  After a morning of being chucked about in one of the Kenyan fishermens’ improbable dhows with outriggers he came back bearing a 3.5Kg Yellow Fin Tuna which he assures me he caught himself.  It was delicious.

Captain Birdseye eat your heart out!!

Captain Birdseye eat your heart out!!

Unfortunately, he also managed to split his big toe open on a lump of coral that morning, it looks horribly painful but I think he’s going to survive.

A practical aside or two:  So far most of the kit we’ve bought has been useful, but at Tiwi our awning proved invaluable for reasons that we never anticipated.  Every night after dark we found ourselves under a relentless bombardment of Bat poo, which covered everything that wasn’t under shelter.  We huddled under the awning and hid from the splattering, but the tent and awning are both covered in a rich patina of fig based bat ordure.  As soon as possible we’re going to have a major session with a jet wash.

Another animal related nuisance – our tent has been invaded by ants which is really irritating, as they seem to be making themselves comfortable and we can’t get at the little critters.  We’ve fumigated the tent with Doom twice now so hopefully we’re winning, but I think the Doom might finish us off before the ants.

On another note, Africa has gone Obama bonkers, and I couldn’t resist this very attractive Kanga.   It looks even better with his face on my backside – honest! 

Savior of the Universe?

Obama - Savior of the Universe?

I’m working on our New Year’s Eve post, I fear it might be libellous or cause an international incident in it’s current edit.  Watch this blog closely!