A Travellerspoint blog

Village people!

We first spotted Lucy Ifould in her bright orange jumpsuit in a hostel in Kigali, Rwanda. It didn't take us long to realize that she just doesn't shut up about Malawi. She really is Malawi's number one fan!

"Lake Kivu is nice”, we'd hear “but it's no Lake Malawi."

Lucy came to Africa as the Programme Officer of the Mlambe Project, which is currently building a primary school in Chikolongo village. After hearing about the characters in the village and the work they were doing, we jumped at the opportunity as soon as she invited us.

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A month or so later we were each on the back of a bicycle taxi with our wheelbarrow wheel (the only thing we had been asked to bring from Lilongwe), our bags balancing on the back of another bicycle heading down the 16km sandy track from the tar road to our new home for two weeks.

We stayed with Steven and his extremely hospitable family for our two weeks in Chikolongo. We joined Lucy and Saalim (key member of the Mlambe project and fellow brit) in their daily routine and we were able to learn from many of their previous experiences.

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Steven and Geoffrey, the most hilarious duo and best friends, are the charity's managers based in Malawi.

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These four and the other Experts (Alf, Mr Manyawa, Twaya, Dairo, Joseph, Paul, Endless, Chief Williams, Geoffrey 2, Ganizan, Amina, Catherine) made us feel so welcome and threw us straight into hard work and real life in the village. They helped us to experience as many new things as possible. We never felt awkward or out of place the whole two weeks, it was a great feeling to be so comfortable somewhere that is very different and far away from home.

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I was a little anxious how I was going to get on with the outside squat toilets with cockroaches, the outside bucket shower, manual labour (lacking any upper body strength whatsoever) and corn based food 2 to 3 times a day.

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But this very quickly became normal – in fact we both loved village life! My favourite time of day was my kasambe (shower) under the stars and it was noted that Dave was eating as much pala (corn porridge) and nsima (white stodge made from corn flour resembling mash potato) as any hungry local. The longer we spent in Chikolongo, the more we came to appreciate the simpleness of village life: working outside in the sun, fresh air, children playing outside, such friendly and genuine people. However we never did get used to our new alarm clock – the time confused cockerel.

We enjoyed many new experiences in the village:

  • Helping to harvest rice, Geoffrey's nuts and cotton. When we arrived for rice harvest we were greeted by Annette's (Geoffrey's wife) big grin and we could hear her laugh from a mile away – these jovial sounds did not prepare us for how much hard work it is to separate the rice grains from the plant under the baking hot sun, although we were treated to traditional Yao songs.

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  • After a training session Dave was asked to be goalie for Chikolongo football team against a rival village. This was a very important affair and it seemed the whole village was there to support their players. Half the village ran onto the pitch for the half time team talk, and Dave just had to randomly nod and say “Yes, exactly” to the Chichewa chat.
  • Sitting in on a village meeting with all the chiefs.
  • Pumping water from a bore hole and carrying buckets of water on our heads – this was met with laughter and a round of applause!
  • Returning to our room to find a chicken had laid an egg in the corner – a better present than Saalim found... chicken poo on his bag!
  • Saalim and Dave killing a chicken each for our farewell meal, a very eye opening experience.
  • Lucy and Dave cycling a boy from the village to the nearest clinic to see a doctor, as you can imagine not the nicest place to go but definitely a good deed.

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  • Even though we were working and building, school was still going on around us. The kids were fascinated by us and we loved getting to know lots of them. We sat in on maths and english lessons, it was really interesting for us even though our presence probably disrupted the whole class for the teacher.

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When we set up an arm wrestling competition for the Experts, we went outside to find some of the older kids setting up their own version. One afternoon we were doing some outdoor yoga and caught a few of them trying to copy some of the moves from behind a tree. They were soon putting us to shame showing us their headstands!

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  • Actually helping to build a school building from scratch! In terms of the building project we chose the perfect two weeks to be in Chikolongo. We arrived as the foundation was being laid and left when all the walls were fully erect, the block looked great minus a roof!
  • Lucy, Saalim, Dave and I organised a goat party whereby we purchased a large goat, 15 litres of Chibuku, Geoffrey's favourite squash, various veggies and rice.

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For those of you that have not been lucky enough to try Chibuku you definitely have a carton shaped hole in your life. Chibuku is a corn based beer with the consistency of thick vomit! The day consisted of many speeches, Dairo expertly skinning and butchering the goat, formal introductions of all party guests, Steven's classic entrance in oversized aviators, the arm wrestling finale between Dave and Billy 'the beast' Manyawa and lots of impressive bum wiggling and dancing!

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We loved every minute in Chikolongo village! In this little corner of Malawi the people were amazing, the sunsets are unbelievable everyday and the Chibuku is especially lumpy...why would anyone leave?

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Posted by silve_lining 22:24 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Take me back to Zanzibar!

It was a bit of a shock for us to get off the ferry in Stonetown and see so many white tourists walking around, but then this was our holiday within our holiday!

Stonetown is a great place just to wander around, get lost in the tiny, winding streets, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the nightly food market and even take a boat trip to see some giant tortoises. The whole island smells of cabbage, the giant tortoise’s favourite food or maybe the latest, unknown aphrodisiac, as we were treated to two giant tortoise sex shows. I could have done without seeing this spectacle in my life, but our boat captain was very keen and kept telling me to film the unusual scene before us! I didn’t, I can’t be sure about Dave. Much more pleasant was holding a couple of the babies, and seeing a giant tortoise who is 191 years old – I hope they have a big party for this old boy’s 200th birthday!

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We headed North to explore the beautiful, white sandy beaches of Nungwi – so stunning they looked too good to be true! We stayed in a hotel run by Rastas, they were great guys and encouraged such a relaxed atmosphere.

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Take me back to a hammock on the beach under the baking sun of Zanzibar, listening to the wonders of Bob Marley!

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Dave did get a bit of a shock when he came back to our room to find a sealed bread roll opened and the crust had been completely gnawed off. He looked up to find a very fat and happy rat looking at him from a hole in the thatched roof. I’m sure the rats at the Rasta hotel’s nearest neighbor, the mighty Hilton, are nowhere near as greedy!

It is sad to see that as soon as you leave the beach, directly behind the huge, fancy resorts, is a very basic Nungwi village. The houses are extremely small, some do not have a roof at all and when it rained the dirt tracks were completely flooded, having to walk through shin deep water. The children’s playground was a huge pile of dirty rubbish. Saying that the people were so friendly and we found a very happy tailor to make us some African hippy trousers – Dave just looks like he is walking around in his pajamas!

We took a snorkeling trip to an island owned by Bill Gates (apparently), but we mere mortals are not allowed to walk on the actual island, simply swim around it. After we had had a snorkel around the coral, stalked some Moorish Idols and swam through schools of colourful fish; it was time for barbeque fish on the beach – one not belonging to Bill Gates. On the boat trip back to our new ratty roommate we were lucky enough to see a school of dolphin! It was such an unexpected treat to see at least 20 dolphins playing and leaping in unison from the water. I had seen this sight on TV, but in real life it is something else – they are such graceful creatures, barely displacing the water as they move! Everyone on the boat was silent as we watched, only interrupted by the occasional ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’.

Another new experience for us was our transport back to Stonetown. The locals had converted a pickup truck by adding a roof and bench seating, then squeezing more people more people than physically possible in the back of the truck. As a backpacker we can’t always travel in 1st class luxury!

Posted by silve_lining 09:37 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Animal Facts

The first stop for us in the father's homeland, Zambia, was South Luangwa National Park. We stayed in a great lodge on the Luangwa river, where hippos and elephants could be found roaming around the tents both in the day and at night. The key thing for us in South Luangwa was to spot the beautiful and elegant leopard, and we weren't disappointed!

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We saw a total of 5 leopards including a big boy who had hidden his freshly killed impala in a tree. He could hardly move, his belly was so swollen from all the fresh meat. A lonely female sat below the tree looking longingly at the dead impala, later we did see her sneakily chewing on a leg which had dropped in the male's hast to eat.

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We also went on our first walking safari in Zambia with a guide and an armed ranger.

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The ranger waited until after the walk before telling us his terrifying tales, including one where he basically wrestled a huge, male lion and had to continually punch the animal in the face to escape - I was in awe of this man whether it was a tall tale or not! We learnt so much from our guide too and I do love a good fact so

1. Hippos cannot swim – they are secretly walking on the river bed, sometimes only on their back legs. If you see them in deep water they are floating.

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2. Elephants and rhinos use mud as suncream, soap and to remove ticks.
3. Take wild mint and put it in an empty snail shell. Then find a fearless and stubborn man to wee in the shell. Finally put this concoction in your hunting dogs’ nose to improve its sense of smell.
4. A rhino penis weighs between 20kg and 30kg – people are buying rhino horn on the black market to try and gain some of these qualities!
5. A termite queen can live up to 18 years old and can lay 25,000 eggs a day.
6. Crocodiles can slow their heart beat down to 1 beat per minute.

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7. Warthogs butt heads to start a fight – they also made it onto the African Ugly 5 list!
8. Contrary to the Lion King, male lions are solitary and the females will do all the hunting and protection for the cubs.

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9. Male hippos use their tails to spray their dung to mark their territory… females feel no need to spray their poo!

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10. The average male elephant ejaculation is 5 litres.
11. A zebra has a weak back, so cannot be ridden like a horse or donkey.

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12. Crocodiles close their jaws with a force of 1000lbs per square inch, but you can hold it closed with 2 fingers.
13. Local Zambians use hippo dung to cure colic in babies.
14. (Learnt from our time on a cattle ranch) The signs of a masculine bull are:
a. Round bottom or rump
b. Heavy brow
c. Flat back that could hold water on it
d. Good sized male equipment.

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Posted by silve_lining 09:16 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Lilongwe Down

Our journey from Tanzania to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, became a series of challenges – some we chose, others were unexpected trials!

Firstly it took us 7 different transports to cross the border: 4 dalla dallas (minibuses), 1 shared taxi, 1 motorbike journey in the pouring rain and walking across no man’s land. We are used to African transport being a tad squashed but this last minibus took it to new levels, even the Malawians were shouting about it. This travelling sardine can literally could not fit another person in, so the conductor had to cling onto the outside of the bus holding the sliding door closed. We also had to wait an hour for fuel from the black market to arrive and another hour for a woman to get back from a little walk with her baby. Luckily for Dave he always gets offered the front seat, while I’m left in the back elbowing people for some personal space.

Our first Malawian destination was Mushroom Farm, which is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking Lake Malawi. We decided we would hike up there… I would like to see the man (rather mountain goat) that can hike this mini Everest in an hour and a half. It took us twice that! It is fairly steep with very long, winding paths couple this with the equatorial heat even at 9am. The 20 turn-backs are signposted and counted down to torture anyone foolish enough not to hitchhike up t the farm. But as a reward we were treated to incredible views, delicious food (portions Dave couldn’t even finish) and an upgraded room with our own private deck.

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Our next stop, before Lilongwe, was Nkhata bay – we met great people here and having such a relaxed atmosphere we ended up staying just a bit longer than planned! While we were resident in Nkhata bay we inadvertently set ourselves various challenges. Firstly we decided to canoe round a few bay to a nearby beach. Unfortunately the only quality I got from my Asian relatives was sea sickness (soon I will not be able to go on a pedalo on an artificial lake) meaning all the rowing was left up to Dave. As we arrived on the beautiful white beach, we couldn’t take the staring from the local children, so we pushed the canoe back in the water and rowed back. We also tried to swim to a nearby beach – we were told it was a quick, easy and pleasant 15 minutes swim. We have now learnt to analyse the man giving advice, in this case it was a Spaniard who is cycling round the world – the swim was not quick or easy, but it was fairly pleasant!

The hostel we were staying at had some local dugout canoes and if 2 people can row out round a fixed raft and back to shore, they get a free nights’ accommodation. Not as easy as it sounds – Dave spent hours in this canoe trying to learn to balance it like a local. People were shocked at his determination as he spent more time in the water and having to empty his canoe of water with a jug.

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Our 2 person tactic was for me to stay as low and as still as possible, while Dave rowed. Needless to say we paid for our room that night.

Finally after a 6m cliff jump and trying to get 6 people standing on a very wobbly raft it was time for us to say goodbye to Lake Malawi, hopefully Bilharzia free, and head to Lilongwe.

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Posted by silve_lining 09:10 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater

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The drive into Serengeti National Park felt like we were explorers on an alien planet - the vast horizon was filled with sand tornadoes and mirages, in the distance we could see lone Masai figures wandering the arid land with only their herd of goat, cattle and donkey for company.
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As we sat at the entrance to the National Park eating our lunch, we spotted a brightly coloured lizard scuttling over the rocks. It's head was bright pink, while the back end of its body was a deep purple colour... this just added to the out of this world atmosphere.

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Over the next 3 days we would explore the plains of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater (Fact: only 19km in diameter!), we also spent a great deal of time comparing everything to everyone's favourite Disney movie, the Lion King, and it really was quite accurate.

  • We managed to spot Scar wallowing after his defeat.

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  • We saw so many Pumbas either soaking in the mud or running around with their tails straight up in the air. They butt heads to signal the start of a warthog fight! Amongst our group they were fondly called "Pigs in wigs".

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  • Our wonderful driver drove us 80 km so we were able to see the seasonal Wildebeest migration. Luckily there were no lions in sight, but there were vultures scavenging amongst the injured wildebeest. It really was a once in a lifetime sight - all you could see in any direction were queues of wildebeest constantly moving churning the dry earth into dust clouds. All you could hear was their dull groan echoing on mass.

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Some of our other highlights which either made us laugh or amazed were:

  • Zebra, not the brightest of animals it would appear, would stand in the middle of the road acting completely oblivious of our huge 4x4 until the very last second and then they would erratically run in zig-zags to escape us. If you have read my previous posts, this could also explain why zebra is number one on the lion's dinner menu.
  • From what I hear, elephants are the highlights of all safaris. The African elephant is so huge compared to any other animal, even the baby one that was 3-5 weeks old would definitely have broken a few bones if it had stepped on your foot. We also had a run in with a dominant male. Your heart definitely starts beating a bit faster when he spreads his ears at you, starts stomping on the ground and you hear his deep trumpeting sound.

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  • The original pelican crossing.

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  • The Serengeti picnic spots always seem to be near the hippo lakes, which sounds nice until you get there and experience the smell. They are so content sitting in not only their own excrement, but that of their friends and family, the same could not be said for us!

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  • The cats are definitely the most regal animals that we saw on safari. In particular the two cheetah, that we came across posing on high ground keeping a watchful eye over the other animals, were beautiful. They were such posers, letting us take so many great photos.

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Our guide was keen for us to see a leopard, some say the hardest of the 'Big 5' to spot. We felt extremely lucky to spot a mother leopard and her 2 new cubs hidden amongst some rocks and bush. Even though we didn't have a great view we were content with our sighting. We left Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro crater feeling very smug about our extremely successful safari trip, when all of a sudden our driver performed an emergency stop. There on the side of the road outside of the national parks, 2 metres from our jeep, was a adult leopard. This is the closest you could get to one of these majestic animals outside of a zoo... the car was silent, but we all sat there with massive grins on our faces!

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Posted by silve_lining 09:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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