Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cape Maclear, Malawi

In the morning, we woke up when people started talking at around 5:30 am (the sun rises very early, African languages all seem to be spoken at high volume, and if one person is awake, then apparently, everyone else should be as well). Colin was looking at his sheet and noticed that it was covered in tiny bugs, as was I. And the wall next to my bed was also covered. They weren't mosquitoes but were some kind of gnat that was small enough to fit through the nets. Needless to say, after I scratched my imaginary itches for a solid ten minutes, we packed our things with the intention of moving on after hopefully finding more fuel to do so. 

Colin got dressed and rode back down that hellish sand road into town to look for fuel. Unfortunately, both stations in town had been out for days and didn't know when they'd get more. One of the local guides, whose given name was Cheeseandtoast (he swore that was what his mother, evil woman she must be, named him at birth) heard Colin say we needed petrol. He just happened to have a friend who had some fuel that we could purchase, but give him 30 minutes to contact the man. Well, as it turned out, his friend had already sold his stash of petrol, but Cheeseandtoast knew another guy who could “help” us. His other friend was glad to sell us 20 liters of petrol for only 520 kwachas per liter. Mind you, the rate at the petrol stations was around 300 kwachas per liter, which is the equivalent of about 1.75 USD. So at a rate of 3.05 USD per liter, or 12.00 USD per gallon, we got 5 gallons of gasoline. What a bargain! 
The best photo I've ever taken.
Tanks and jerrycans full, we packed the bikes and left for our next stop, Cape Maclear. It's only about 16 miles from Monkey Bay, and was supposed to have nice places to stay right on Lake Malawi. Our guidebook said that the road was a challenging dirt road, but I had spoken with a German couple at our guesthouse in Monkey Bay who said the road was not bad at all, was graded, and in fact, paved in part. We turned off the main road and onto the dirt road to Cape Maclear, which didn't seem too bad at all at first. Then, it turned to corrugated gravel and dirt. Oookay, we could handle this... but then, it changed again to deeply rutted, corrugated dirt. And then, we hit the paved part, which was good, because it was the steepest, most twisty road we'd seen in all of Africa. When we started back down the other side of the hill, it turned back into the rutted and corrugated dirt with the added bonus of deep sand, which I wobbled into and promptly went over. This topple was fortunately at a slow speed, so I did no damage to the bike or to myself, and best of all, didn't spill even a drop of precious fuel. I let a string of loud f-bombs fly and wanted to kick something really hard. This was not fun. Colin came back and once again, helped me lift the bike upright, and we forged on.

One of the many islands in Lake Malawi
We finally made it to Cape Maclear, after more than an hour to ride 16 miles, and found a place to stay that was much cleaner and without an obvious bug infestation. Since we were again overheated from our most recent stupid ride, I asked at the restaurant for a pair of cold, Diet Cokes. They unfortunately didn't have any, but they did have plenty of cold Carlsberg lagers. In addition to being overheated, we were also exhausted and pissed off, and although we don't normally drink during the day, let alone before noon, but this morning was worth an exception. So for brunch, we drank ice, cold beers and ate breads from the halaal bakery in Monkey Bay. It was delicious! We spent the rest of the afternoon camped out on a double chaise lounge overlooking the lake, enjoying the breeze, the scenery, and not riding. That evening, we went for dinner at a small restaurant and enjoyed some local fresh fish (Colin's fried, mine baked in banana leaf) with sweet potato chips and sauteed mixed veggies by the light of a kerosene lamp since the power went out just before the sun set. We walked back to the guesthouse in the dark (we forgot our flashlights). 
Colin has been chronicling his experiences from a more technical perspective on ADVRider, while I've been keeping this blog for a more general reading audience. The problem's been that I end up rewriting much of what Colin has already written and add my own experiences. We find that this is taking a lot of our very dear internet time. So now we are going to try something new. I am going to print a slightly edited version of Colin's reports (I'll edit out the technical nuts and bolts specific stuff and his references to boobs and butts so it's suitable for the whole family). After his report, I will add my own observations and expand on what was important to me. Hopefully this will allow us to post in a more timely fashion and allow us to use what little internet time we seem to have a bit more effectively. I will put Colin's writings in another color so you know who's writing about what.

Back at the guesthouse, it was a lively scene at the beach bar and many westerners who were volunteering in Malawi had come to the beach for the long, holiday weekend. Before we joined the festivities, we wanted to refill our water bags from the local safe drinking water tap. The water in the bathrooms comes directly from the lake and is therefore unsafe to drink, so some western NGO has installed water taps at half km intervals along the road. I grabbed my flashlight and the water bags and headed out the gate to the nearest one. Since the power was out, it was pitch black on the main road, and I noted one of the very few cars in the area had started its engine maybe a hundred feet down the road from me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the reverse lights come on, which handily illuminated my path. Suddenly, the driver seemed to floor the accelerator and flew in reverse towards the building behind him. He turned the wheel at the last second and clipped the side of the building. Now he was coming straight at me at full speed in reverse. I ran back towards our guesthouse and missed getting hit by about 10 feet as he careened in reverse through 3 fences before eventually coming to a stop, half inside an unoccupied curio shop. Thinking the driver may be in distress, I pointed my flashlight inside the vehicle and saw a rather startled looking local. When he saw the light, he threw the vehicle into gear and tried to drive off, striking another fence. At this point, several locals came up, shouting for him to stop, and he made two more attempts at driving away. I quickly read his license plate number aloud for anyone to hear, and he came to a stop. By this time, there was a crowd of 30 or more local people, including the owner of the building he'd backed through. A couple of the local men yanked him from his vehicle and brought him in front of the woman whose building he'd damaged. At this point in time, I stepped in to give my account of what happened and left them to sort out the details. I filled up the water bags and headed back inside the compound. Happy to have not been run over by a car in Malawi, I decided to celebrate my good fortune at the beach bar. There were 15 to 20 people already there, a mix of westerners and local guides and “beach boys.” (beach boys are local men who hope to “entertain” wealthy, western women. Their main skills seem to be dressing well, excellent grooming, and playing the drums.) There was already a large fire burning in the fire pit, which seemed kind of redundant as it was around 85 degrees, but we grabbed some beers and found a doublewide chaise near the activity. We had our backs to the fire and the drummers but enjoyed the scene nonetheless. The stress of the past couple of days, coupled with the heat and cold beers, made us kind of punchy, and we laughed and had a good time. At one point, the wind picked up, fanning the fire, and the drumming seemed to grow especially loud. As the light of the flames danced on the blowing leaves overhead, I had the strange feeling that the next thing I would see was an ax coming down to lop off the buffalo's head. A strange night indeed.

People working and playing in the lake
This afternoon while we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful lake view, a western woman got out of the water and laid her towel on a stretch of sand next to us. She asked if we were the ones on the motorbikes, we said yes, and told her about our trip. When I asked if she is also traveling, she told us that she is actually here working as a nurse in a hospital outside of Lilongwe. Her name is Gunhild, she is Norwegian, and she's in Malawi with an exchange program, supposedly working on a project to start an ICU in the hospital. Unfortunately, the hospital is so understaffed that the two Norwegian nurses haven't been able to begin the project. Gunhild has been working in the pediatrics department with one other nurse taking care of up to 120 patients. The hospital is out of morphine, HIV tests, and glucose monitoring for diabetes, among other things. It's interesting to learn about problems with providing healthcare in a place like this. She told us that diabetes is actually more of a problem than HIV and AIDS because of the issues with teaching people how to monitor it, how to inject insulin, how important it is to deliver doses at specific times of the day, and also with the temperature requirements for insulin (it's supposed to be refrigerated, and people don't have fridges. She said people in the villages bury it in the sand to at least keep it cooler than air temp). Many of the women in the villages don't recognize when they need to bring their children to the hospital, and by the time they do, it's too late. Once this happens, they are afraid to come to the hospital because when someone does, they die. Gunhild's opinion seemed to be that the situation in Malawi is pretty hopeless. The members of the government take what they want for themselves and their families and leave nothing for the rest of the nation's people. They get millions of dollars in aid from around the world and have little to show for it. The country has been struggling with fuel shortages for two years, the people rioted over the summer because of the lack of fuel, and it's affected the prices and availability of everything. On the flip side, the people here always smile, they are warm and friendly, and there is always music and laughter. Gunhild said she tried to take some of that attitude home to Norway with her, but people thought there was something wrong with her for smiling and laughing in the hospital. Our conversation was eye opening and thought provoking, and Colin and I both spent time that evening thinking and talking about the situation here. 
After another hot night's sleep, we woke to another beautiful, clear morning. Somebody really needs to bring ceiling fans to Malawi. We walked down to the beach and looked at the water while we woke up. We had decided that another easy day was the plan. Wifi is available here, but the place that sells access cards for it is 2 km farther up the beach. We decided to head there early in the morning when it's at least a little cooler. The walk was uneventful and ended at a very nice guesthouse and campground. After walking in through the front gate, Re went to look for a wifi card while I headed for the large, overland truck I spotted in the campground. The Green Monster is hard to miss, as it is one of the biggest private overland trucks we've seen and is painted an interesting shade of green. As I walked around admiring the setup, the owners came down the steps. While I chatted with them, Re joined us and we spent more than an hour talking about our travels and traveling. The couple to whom the truck belonged (I wish I could remember their names) have been everywhere in the Monster. The highlight of the conversation, however, was when we commented on the difficulties we'd had driving in. They also remarked how bad the road was for them. Re and I have always assumed that those roads would be a breeze in a big truck with big tires, but apparently no, the washboarding shakes them as much as it shakes us and is damaging to the contents of their rigs. But our biggest laugh was when the driver told us how they were also told that the road was fine, and he said if he ever met them again, he would...and gestured as if he were strangling someone. I then told him what I'd said yesterday about punching people in the mouth, and we all had a good laugh. After they gave us several recommendations for campsites along our route, we said goodbye, bought our wifi card, and headed out for breakfast. We stopped at the same restaurant as last night for coffee and fruit pancakes before heading back to our guesthouse for another lazy afternoon at the beach. We did spend some time catching up on RRs and blogposts and were able to post them when the wifi finally started working sometime after dark. As the weekend was over, we were the only people staying there. Around 7pm we went out in search of dinner, but many of the nearby places seemed to be closed. We happened across a small restaurant with a good sounding menu out front and were invited in by the waiter. As we took a seat, I started to have second thoughts about the place but didn't listen to my better judgment. Re had a local fish with lemongrass and mashed potatoes with onions and coriander, which was very tasty. I had chicken curry with nsima (the local version of mealie pap or sadza) which was also quite tasty. After dinner, we went back to our guesthouse for a drink at the beach bar and a low key evening. As we headed to bed, I was concerned by how much my stomach was grumbling. Oh no.

No comments:

Post a Comment