Unfortunately, due to the information superhighway not being particularly "super" in much of eastern Africa, I'm just now writing about our adventures in Malawi a couple of weeks ago now. In fact, on two different occasions, the power for an entire city block went out while I was attempting to use the web. Generally, you need lights in order to cruise on the information superhighway.
Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi and was an early stop for us in Malawi. The campsite where we stayed was full of activity as a convergence point for many overland trucks and various expeditions. The Tour de Afrique bike tour group was staying at the campsite. Tour de Afrique is a bike tour that begins somewhere in northern Africa (Egypt? Sudan?) and ends in Capetown, South Africa. The entire thing spans 4 months of riding. It is run by a Canadian outfit and supported by trucks from Africa Routes (an overlanding company). When we first arrived at the campsite, we saw tons of bikes under repair and then noticed a volleyball game played by some of earth's skinniest white men. That's when I clued in that there was some hard core biking going on.
We met some of our first Americans in all of Africa that were doing the ride. One guy was from Philly and the Philadelphia paper is following his ride. He's riding to benefit the charity fund founded after the death of his friend in 9/11. Apparently he road across the U.S. last year for his friend's fund and then decided to conquer Africa too.
If you're interested in Tour de Afrique, I'm told they have a website that chronicles their ride. It might be spelled d'Afrique or something more French than I can spell. For best luck, grab an espresso and a beret, then try to spell it.
Also of note in Lilongwe was our walk along the main road at "rush hour". Our group bought french fries from a street vendor who had a makeshift "street wok" for frying. After we all bought fries from him, he packed up and called it a day. I'm sure we bought more fries than he'd sold all day! On our walk back to the campsite, Kylie and Jules, the lively Aussie girls in our group posed with a photo with got a ragged looking character wearing sunglasses with a single lens and proudly showcasing his pecs. After he posed with the blondes, all the other guys at the bus stop were eager to pose too for photos. The fun ended when a rastafarian's pose included copping a feel.
Kande Beach, Lake Malawi
We camped at Kande Beach on Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is known for its clear waters and snorkeling. The lake is so large that you can't see the other shore and it has considerable waves much like the ocean. In fact, the lake was rough enough while we were there that we didn't end up snorkeling. It was, neverthless, an idyllic setting where we spent 3 days and 2 nights lounging and taking in the local village sites.
The Kande Beach vendors:
As we exited our gated campground at Kande, we entered the fray of the local crafts vendors. They were all young men about 20-25 yrs old, each had their own booth filled with crafts made by their family (or so they claimed), and each had a celebrity name. We met the following local characters: James Brown, Simon Loverman, 2Soft2Touch, SweetLikeChocolate, Julius Caesar, Mel Gibson, Banjo Patterson, and Pink Floyd. They all swore that these were their given names.
The wares in each of the stands were identical: Malawi chairs, carved good luck figures, carved wood chessboard end tables, highly stylized paintings of local men and women dancing, and a few wood giraffes like we saw lots of in Zambia. The Malawi chair is the specialty of the area. It is a low wood chair whose back is carved with the "Big 5" (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino). The cuter models have the asses of the animals on the backside of the chair back. The seat is maybe 12" off the ground and sits in a position similar to an Adirondack chair. Somehow Dana and I managed not to leave with a Malawi chair. Shipping these awkward, bulky items home is of course a non-trivial matter.
Kande Beach Village Tour:
Banjo Patterson took us on a tour of the local village where we toured the school, the clinic, the bar, and the local commerce area. As was the case throughout all of Zambia and Malawi, the schoolchildren all asked relentlessly for pens. School supplies are hard to come by and apparently the kids manage to hang on to their notebooks all year long but lose their pens early in the year and then have nothing to write with the rest of the school year. So pens are like gold to African primary children. They would scream up to our truck as it passed by the roads, "Give me a pen! Give me a pen!" This was more endearing than the less frequent, "Give me money!"
The class size is ~40-60 students per classroom. Overall, I felt like the schools were teaching, the kids did have a chance to learn, and a few from each class would make it to high school or maybe even college. If you'd like to send school supplies or money to this school, email us and we'll send you the school's address. Given its location near Lake Malawi's tourism, I would imagine it gets more assistance than many schools but it was certainly far from luxurious or well equipped.
Banjo's brother, Mel Gibson, coordinated having us to his home for a "typical village dinner". Mel's grandmother cooked. We ate chicken, rice, casava (a starch mash like mashed potatoes), beans, and a delightful pumpkin soup. We sat on a mat outside on the dusty dirt ground, ate by lantern and headlamp, and used the plates and silver we had brought from our truck. Since we hadn't brought bowls for the soup, Mel managed to come up with plastic cups for the soup. The meal was actually quite tasty though simple. Probably a dozen locals sat in the dark around us and watched us eat. After dinner, Mel and probably 18 little kids performed for us. They sang and danced and eventually got us all involved in a dance-off of sorts. The kids all sang while one kid would challenge one of us to dance like them. My favorite was the 5 yr old boy whose dance consisted of knocking his knees together as rapidly as possible while grinning ear to ear. The 9 yr old girl that challenged me liked to do a lot with her arms a la Motown's "Heatwave". But alas, her moves were no match for Snow's Cincy streetsmart moves. Cuz bringing "the street" to the Malawi village dancehalls is what I'm all about. Overall, the dinner was fabulous fun and I've already forgotten how sick my tummy was the next day (well almost forgotten...)
More stories to come,