Sunday, May 2
Malawi border - Chilumba, Malawi
Upon waking up, Bjorn admits he has considered 'strangling me to death with a pillow' because of my crap bike and amateurish cycling skills.
After a slightly odd breakfast consisting of a flask of hot milk and a loaf of white bread the owner of Lubele Village Motel, Clement Mchomvu, goes out of his way to help us with the impending issues of the day:
A bicycle repair man comes to the motel and provides a new tyre and inner after repairing the wheel. Total price including labour - 7 pounds.
Next, Clement finds a trustworthy money changer who exchanges our unused Tanzanian Schillings for Malawian Kwacha…at a fair rate.
As if all this help wasn’t enough, Clement then cycles with us to the border to make sure we get through both sets of customs and sends us safely on our way into Malawi.
My initial impressions of Malawi and Malawians are that this country is poorer than either Kenya or Tanzania, and its people look tougher. The road to the first big town, Karonga, is flat as a pancake meaning we make quick progress. From there it is around 65 kilometres to Chilumba on Lake Malawi.
Kids ask for pens, shoes and money. The road is still flat but, aside from the colourful people that reside close to it, uninspiring compared to the amazing countryside on the other side of the border.
We reach Chilumba and locate the ferry terminal. Relying on unsubstantiated information I believe a once-weekly ferry leaves from here around midnight but it doesn’t appear as if a ferry has docked here in years.
Looks, however, can be deceptive and it turns out, fortuitously, that my information is correct.
Chilumba is a one-street cowboy town. Its restaurant-, bar- and store fronts haven’t seen a lick of paint in a decade. Every male of adult age appears to be drinking beer or spirits. It would be rude not to join them. Amongst our new found friends is Moses, who used to work at the nearby BP storage terminal but now does odd jobs to make ends meet, Justice, the River Steamer ticket master, who wants to become a preacher, and Joseph, a dapper, proud-looking 65-year-old man wearing a stetson and sharp pin-striped suit. Justice is the only man in town who doesn’t drink. But he, along with 90 per cent of the locals, is, shall we say, a little eccentric (in a nice way).
If Kenya and Tanzania are typical of Africa then the inhabitants of this tiny corner of Malawi, at least, remind me of the good citizens of Barbados and Jamaica.
Care of the only parable antenna in town we watch Chelsea overhaul Liverpool along with two-dozen kids crammed into a hut that resembles a classroom then set up camp at Chilumba Port as darkness cloaks the landscape.
Justice is so keen to become a preacher that he asks Bjorn to put him in touch with some Norwegian Missionaries. It is fair to say that although my Norwegian friend is a man of many good morals, he is not a religious man.
Not a man to be easily put off, Justice then requests that we join him in his solemn retro-office where, surrealy, he shows us three type-writer versions of the same CV. He got ’7’ for Bible Reading when he left school in 1974. He wants us to make a video of him so that potential missions might see our short film and contact him.
You can watch this fascinating little piece of cinematic magic here:
(LINK will appear here later)
The MV Ilala arrives at 9pm and we are allowed to board this beauty of a river steamer. She will be home for the next three days as we sail the entire 700-kilometre length of Lake Malawi to try and make up for the time we have lost with my ongoing bike problems.
Bed for the night is a sleeping bag on the wooden top deck of the steamer, under the brilliant stars.
This is travel at its most romantic; a throwback to a bygone era. I lay my head down, smell the fresh breeze, admire the starry sky...and fall into a deep, cosy slumber.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
The Landmark Hotel has been the perfect bolt hole. I buy some new shoes to replace my dead Adidas Sambas, find a very honest fundi (only wants to charge me ten pence for his work) to repair my bike (again) and manage to get Internet for an hour to post some blogs and let my family know I am OK.
The road from Tukuyu to the Malawi border is down hill for the first 20 kilometres. It should be a perfect day of cycling once we are out of the rain clouds.
Thirty minutes by the roadside.
Beautiful mountain scenery and well-kempt tea plantations.
Glass in tyre. Puncture. Brow of a hill with lorries and minibuses zooming by.
Puncture 3, puncture 4. I am ready to throw my bike in Lake Malawi. I feel ridiculous to be slowing down Bjorn so much.
By puncture six it is clear the problem isn’t just the rotting tyre and buggered inner. The badly/cheaply designed Chinese wheel is also creating its own punctures.
This is the most beautiful scenery we have seen so far in Africa. We are cycling a ridge with dramatic valleys either side. Tea plantations are once again replaced by bananas; thousands upon thousands of banana trees as we travel south. Green, lush vegetation covers the peaks that surround us. There are waterfalls, smiling kids by the roadside, strangely shaped mountains covered in rain clouds soaring out of the landscape. This is an incredibly beautiful part of Planet Earth, and we have it practically to ourselves. I will call this place ‘Paradise Ridge’.
But as the hours roll by we realise we may struggle to find a ‘safe place’ to spend the night. I must cycle on a flat tyre, and I must cycle very quickly if we are to make it to the border before dark.
Knowing we are in a tight spot is enough motivation.
The sweat pours off me like the rain did previously. Even my trousers are soaked from sweating.
We do of course make it to the Kasumulu and the border before darkness, I having felt every bump and vibration in the road from my flat back tyre.
It has been another amazing day of highs and lows. I am sorry for slowing Bjorn’s journey down so much, but the reward has been to spend many hours in one of the most beautiful and serene places I have ever seen.
Lubele Village Motel, Tel 0754 391650, Box 35, Kasumulu, Tanzanian side of border. Ask for Clement.