Malawi and Tanzania: Overland Trek to Kizolanza Farms Campsite

Posted Posted in Malawi, Round The World Trip, Tanzania

Today we drove into Tanzania.  Because Tanzania is an hour ahead, we set our watches ahead last night.  So we woke up at 4:45 to be on the road by 6:00, but – according to our bodies – we woke up at 3:45 and were on the road by 5:00.  Very, very tired!

We got through the Malawi – Tanzania border without incident, and stopped in a town to exchange Kwatcha for Tanzanian shillings.  This particular Bureau de Change was a nightmare because they didn’t have change for smaller bills.  So we were there for a good hour while they sent runners to different vendors to try and get change.  The Aussies started a game of soccer outside with some local kids while we waited and I had some peanuts – very yummy.

The terrain in Tanzania changed almost as soon as we crossed the border.  It’s the third poorest country in the world, but the terrain is mountainous and green with some gorgeous rock formations.  We’ve climbed significantly in altitude, so the air is much cooler and very refreshing compared to Malawi.

At 7:00, we arrived at our campsite: Kizolanza Farms.  It looked rather barren at first but it’s actually a very cool camp.  The showers are clean and the water is heated by a “donkey”, which is a hot water heater powered by fire.  New vocabulary for me and Jon.  The toilets were a source of great amusement among the guys.  They were very clean, and had about a 30 meter drop to the pit below.  The boys were ruminating that they should score drop times, but I wouldn’t give them my stopwatch to take with them.  Gross.

There was a little bar-hut with stools about shin-high clustered around pots warmed with coal.  It was precious!  We sat around the warmers with our beers ad played the “bullshit” game we’d started the night before.  It’s basically a name game where each player is a different kind of animal shit.  (Sorry – not the ideal topic for an online journal entry, but it’s my journal so what the heck).  I was hyena shit and Jon was Puku shit.  Other shits were:

Mathilde – bird shit (because she always sings that damn “Fly Like a Bird” song)

Dennis – impala shit (because impalas just won’t go away, and neither will he)

Brendan – dingo shit (he’s an Aussie so why not)

Kerry – hippo shit (apparently because she eats a lot although I haven’t noticed)

Matt – mongoose shit (as we only saw mongooses (mongeese?) on the game drive the other day)

Jason – blue-balled monkey shit (enough said)

Juliette – springbok shit (because they were all over the place)



Juliette, Mathilde, and Matt at tonight’s bar

It’s not really worthwhile to explain the rules of the bullshit game, but suffice it to say that the more beer, the funnier it gets.  We played a similar game called “Cookie Jar” that involved knee slapping and clapping and is quite amusing.  Kerry named herself the “Chairman” of the game and started each game with a bizarre ritualistic chant:

Hands High

Hands Low

Hands in the Middle

Angle Dangle

Flob of the Knob

And Awaaaaay We Go

Then we played a silly “bunny” game that had us in tears we were laughing so hard.  After a few hours of games, we went to bed.  Dennis and Jason didn’t have to worry about that as they had decided to sleep in the bar instead of setting up their tent.

The Bunny Game

Malawi: Northern Lake Malawi

Posted Posted in Malawi, Round The World Trip

We SO slept in today and didn’t get up until 7:45!  Then we had some breakfast and hit the beach.  It was overcast, and we just laid on the beach with the group being silly.  There were two village boys working us to buy their bracelets and they were bragging to (Aussie) Brenden that they were going to have 10 wives and 60 kids.  Brenden laughed and said he was glad that puberty was over.

A view of the campsite from the beach

The interesting thing about Africans is that many of them ask – when they see us – “are you the driver?”, meaning the driver of the truck.  This is something that they find impressive and admirable – to be a driver.  It’s an occupation that many of them can aspire to become.  So these two little boys wanted to know who the driver was of our truck and said that they were going to learn to drive.

Another interesting thing about the African culture are the greetings before “business discussions”.  Everyone says, “Hello. How are you today?” before getting down to business.  And they honestly wait for an answer before continuing.  Our guides do this at every border crossing, police stop, directions inquiry, campsite office – everywhere.  I know that some cultures find it rude to launch into business without the appropriate pleasantries first.  This was hard for us as New Yorkers to adapt to at first, but now we’re digging it.  It’s a nice thing – someone actually caring to know how you are.

So as lay on the beach, the group started talking about the perfect cheeseburger since Jon had one yesterday.  Our mouths were watering.  At 11:00 we went into the bar to order some.  Then the guys started a game of volleyball.  Although we sang Kenny Loggin’s “Playin’ with The Boys”, we girls decided that it just wasn’t as good as the volleyball scene in “Top Gun”.  By this time, I had had enough sun and went to the tent to take a nap.  At 3:00, Jon came and woke me as the 7 of us were going to the village Witch Doctor.

Beach volleyball in Lake Malawi

The Witch Doctor

We walked outside the camp gate and negotiated a price for a guide to the village: 30 Kwatcha each (About $.45).  The witch doctor’s name is Zimphepo, which means “air”.  We crowded into his little hut and sat around him on the floor.  He didn’t speak english well because – we were told – true witch doctors are not schooled.  Their gifts are given from god and therefore should not be muddled with other stuff.  So our guide translated everything Zimphepo said.  Some villagers followed us into the hut and they clapped, sang, and drummed as Zimphepo started a slow dance to get rid of evil spirits.  Then the beat picked up and he danced a bit faster, pulling each of us up one at a time to dance with him.  I think he was having a bit of fun with us because he would make us do funny “Hoo Hoo” noises as we danced.  But what do I know about witch doctoring?  After the dance, our guide answered some questions for us and then it was off to have our futures told.

Zimphepo (in blue skirt) dancing

My future – before they realized I was married – was that I was going to be married and have two kids: a girl and a boy.  Apparently, I have chest pains too but they’ll be all right.  Then they (the guide and Zimphepo) figured out that I was already married and said that we would be very happy together.  Alright, I knew this would be a bunch of hooey from the very beginning, but I felt like I needed to go anyway.  Jon’s future was pretty similar – although when he asked how many kids we would have they said, “We’ve already told your wife”.  But he pressed them so Zimphepo said “Two boys… no, a boy and a girl”.  Close enough, I suppose.  By this time we’d been there for an hour and a half and we just wanted to go.  Kerry had some medicine pouches made for love and luck as we waited outside.  Some little boys in the village were enthralled by Jon’s shaved head and how it felt.  The Aussies told them to call him “Forrest Gump”, which they didn’t understand but called him that anyway.

Jon and the village boys – Forrest Gump

Then we went back to camp, showered, ate, and spent the rest of the evening in the bar.

Malawi: Steps Campsite on Lake Malawi to Northern Lake Malawi

Posted Posted in Malawi, Round The World Trip

Attack of the Killer Ants

Yesterday I did some laundry and hung them on a line on the tree near our tent.  A half hour later, I went to check on them and noticed that the laundry was covered with ants.  The ants were all over the tree, too.  But we didn’t have any problems the night before, so I wasn’t concerned about it.  At about 1:00AM this morning, Jon flipped on the flashlight.  There were ants everywhere and they were crawling all over his head.  He shined the light in his corner of the tent and saw that they had covered it.  They hadn’t made it to my side of the tent yet, but they were on their way. We were completely freaked out.  We spent a few minutes discussing our options for where else to sleep for the rest of the night: we could sleep on the ground in the camp “common area” where we had dinner, but the ants would probably find us there.  We could sleep on the beach, but there are hippos there at night (and I can’t decide which would be worse: ants or hippos).  We could sleep in the truck, but that’s where Brendan and Vanessa (our guides) sleep.  So we settled for sleeping in chairs in the “common area” instead.

Piece by piece, we took everything out of the tent: sleeping bags, mattresses, backpacks, daypacks, water bottles, sheets, fleeces, etc.  Each item had to be shaken violently to make sure there were no more ants on anything.  Then we moved the tent away from the trees and spread some insect repellent around the tent to try and get rid of them.  Then I looked at Jon and said “shower?”.  He was still a little dazed by the whole experience which is understandable since there were ants crawling on his head.  So he had to think for a minute before he said “Yeah”.  We showered and went back to the campsite.  By this time, it was 2:30AM and we actually debated staying up since we had to get up at 4:30 anyway.  One last look at the tent showed that most of the ants had disappeared, so we curled up under the stars and tried to sleep.  We got up at 4:30 when everyone woke up to pack up.

The Drive to Northern Lake Malawi

Another long drive ahead of us today.  We went to Lilongwe to try and get Didier’s Visa straightened out, so they dropped us off at the market corner and told us to be back in an hour.  Jon and I made a beeline for the Internet Cafe and managed to get a few pages uploaded.  These connections were so slow that it took 10 minutes just to log in – and then the power went out for 15 minutes.  But they eventually got it back up and we were on our way.  Unfortunately for Didier, today is “Freedom Day” – a national holiday in Malawi – and the Immigration Office was closed.  So we headed to the airport, where we knew the immigration office would be open 24 hours a day.  He got his visa, and we hit the road again.

Uno: the greatest game ever invented!

I slept on and off for most of the ride.  We arrived at northern Lake Malawi at 7:00PM and put up our tents on the beach.  It’s a very nice campsite, with a very cool bar area run by some Germans.  We had a delicious dinner and went to hang out in the bar for a while.  Met some British kids who had been on the road for over a year.  They were all under 18 and we all felt very old.  Then we went to bed.

Thoughts for the Day

  1. Clean clothes is a relative term.  I have no qualms wearing the same shirt a few days in a row.  It gets too cold at night for laundry to dry, and we’re on the road too early for the sun to do any good.  So the laundry just has to wait a while longer.
  2. African Mosquitoes are relentless in their pursuit of my blood.  My lower legs are covered in bites, and are quite unattractive right now.  These mosquitoes can actually penetrate my clothes and bite through my pants to get to my skin.  Jon delights in pointing out which bites he thinks are the malaria bites.
  3. You really don’t need warm water to shower.  One can get very clean with only cold water – it’s just not as much fun.


Malawi: Steps Campsite on Lake Malawi

Posted Posted in Malawi, Round The World Trip

The Aussies on an early-morning swim

We actually got to sleep in today, and didn’t get up until 7:30AM.  It was cloudy and overcast, butt Lake Malawi is beautiful.  We were warned in the US about these parasites that – while swimming – can get into your intestines and wreak havoc, so Jon and I have been mentally prepared to stay away from all inland bodies of water.  The funny thing is to hear the four South Africans on the tour talk about these parasites.  For them, it’s like an allergy attack: something you probably get at least once a year, you take some medicine, and you get better.  They were very amused at how concerned the rest of us were.  Still, Jon and I won’t be swimming today.

Wood Market

After breakfast, we drove to one of the local markets.  Brendan the guide took us to the wood-working market, which was incredible.  It’s a small stretch of road where vendors have set up rudimentary booths out of branches and reeds.  There were about 20 booths, and their eyes lit up when we drove up. The products were basically the same genre: coasters, bowls, cups, utensils, necklaces, chairs, tables.  But each booth had a slightly different variation in the artistry.  It was amazing to watch them work.  Jon was in heaven because he got to bargain for everything we purchased.  We bought some necklaces, a frame, a bowl, and some utensils.

The Aussies each bought a chess table.  It’s  small round board – about the size of a large dinner plate – supported by three crisscrossed legs.  Because the vendor was short on supplies, we sat and helped sand the chess pieces before they dyed them.  It turns out that these boards take 2 weeks to make, and the guys got them for around $10 each.

We returned to Steps Campsite for lunch, but dropped off Jon, Brendan, Dennis, and Jason at a local bar called “The Third World Pub”.  The chessboard guys said it was a great place to eat and drink.  The rest of us went back to the campsite for lunch and to lay on the beach.  The beach-laying didn’t last for long as it was cold and windy.

Sign on the beach at Lake Malawi

View from camp

Special Guest Appearance from Jon:

So after the market, 3 of the Aussies and I decided to have the bus-truck drop us off at a local bar (very local, but we did manage to get even more local later but just keep reading).  We each had a few beers with some of the villagers and then decided to take them up on their offer of a tour of the village.  It turns out that one of the sons of the villager leader was one of our guides.  he took us to see his sister’s hut.  His sister is the village’s moonshiner!  The moonshine is something of a corn mash.  After getting a “tour” of the facilities and sampling the products, we decided we had to have 4 bottles.  So for about 700 Kwatcha ($9.50) we had 4 liters of rocket fuel.  we also stopped by the corn mill, which is a big deal since with electricity the villagers don’t have to use a mortar pestle to mill the corn by hand.

So where was I?  Oh, after the corn mill we dicided that we wanted to see where the villagers go for beers.  Let’s just say that this was an enlightening experience.  As near as I can recall, the bar was just called “Chikbuku Bar”.  The locals drink a brew called Chikbuku.  It comes in a cardboard carton – sort of like orange juice.  It’s also called “Shake-Shake”, which are also the instructions on the carton.

We ended up being a group of myself, Dennis, Brendan, and Jason and at least 10 villagers.  We ordered 20 Shake-Shakes (25 KW each, about $.30).  Shake-Shake is made using the remnants of corn meal which is fermented with yeast and all packaged up in a carton.  The corn meal is still in the mix when packaged, hence the instructions to “Shake-Shake!”

The cartons were all set on the ground in the middle f our group with the bottles of spirits we had purchased earlier.  After the barmaid cut the top off of a few Chikbuku, and those were passed around, the village drunk wanted to get into the moonshine.  Unfortunately for Dennis he was sitting beside the “Professional Drinker” who seemed to know how to make the most of the booze.  Needless to say, Dennis had to match the drink shots 1:1 since he was sitting beside him and got “quite pissed” (that’s English for drunk).

After bit we eventually had to avail ourselves to the bar’s “restroom”.  I say “Restroom” since an open hole in the ground can’t be called a toilet. Words alone do not adequately deI have to say is lscribe the facilities.  We commented that we really should photograph each of these “restrooms”.  The Aussies thought that this would make a nice calendar!  Boucher, all I have to say is that you would not enjoy yourself there. l 🙂  We’re still considering photographing the toilets.

Next was the 5K walk back to the camp where our “guides” tried to get us to give them our clothes, shoes, money, basically anything that wasn’t nailed down.  Dennis committed to giving them “something”, so he rummaged through his rugby mate’s (Matt’s) bad and game them some shoes and called it a day!

Having survived the tour but missing lunch, I headed to the restaurant at the hotel next to the campsite and had the best cheeseburger I may ever have eaten.

Stay tuned for my next guest appearance.:)