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Malawi Wowie!

Greetings from Vic Falls, folks. Here's hoping you are all well and happy, and enjoying life. I left you last in Dar Es Salaam, where we lingered longer than planned due to unforeseen malaria! Not sure whether I mentioned the other drawback with the disease, namely that you can't drink for a month to six weeks afterwards - double whammy!

We left Dar on the morning of 17th January, at the insane hour of 0530. We stopped en route for a very quick breakfast, and did similar for lunch. We drove through some groovy countryside; for a while we ere following a brown river winding its way between hills covered with baobab trees. At regular intervals, the guardrail had been obliterated by crazy locals - we saw the skeletons of many a lorry on our drive.

We reached our destination before dark, a place called Farmhouse, where we had the most amazing meal - carrot & cardomen soup, followed by eggs Florentine, or steak for the meat eaters. The food was delicious, but best still was the fact that it was served on a table laid with a table cloth, and proper crockery and cutlery - and we didn't even have to wash up afterwards! My, how we were spoilt!

The next morning we were up at six, for a longish day including a border crossing. I managed to wangle my way into the cab for the whole day - a jolly good place to be at any time, but especially for border crossings...I don't know why, maybe its just my perverse sense of humour, but I like to be up there while the crew's patience is being stretched by the border officials ('specially those customs officers, you've just gotta hate them!!). The Tanzania/Malawi border was the usual fun and games - money-changers, guards with whips, keeping them in order, hawkers with corn in the cob, boiled eggs, pineapple, small children in rags begging - all the usual fun & games - a tad different from Dover docks.

We drove on, into Malawi - a country which is mainly taken up by lake Malawi (which I believe is Africa's third largest lake). Our home for the next two nights would be Chitimba, on the lake's shores. Once we'd set up our tents - mine was actually on the beach - I headed down for a swim. It's weird the way your brain plays tricks on you - I kept telling myself it was a lake, not the ocean, but still expected to taste salt. Weird. I have to say that the lake boasts a better beach than Dover...not that that's saying an awful lot, mind!

Spent the evening having a wee few drinks. Actually more than a few. I had to be ordered to bed at 0200 by another passenger. I'd nearly made it to my tent, but had collapsed on a seat outside, and was watching the stars...which considering Malawi's reputation re mozzies was not too wise.

Not surprisingly, I felt a tad the worse for wear the next morning, but didn't let that put me off of the morning's task, which was shopping for Malawi chairs. Malawi is famous for it's chairs, which have beautifully carved backs, with a separate seat which slots through a hole in the back. Groovy, reasonably cheap, and relatively easy to post home. There were stalls placed just outside the gates of the campsite - a very good business move for them, and an idea that appealed to my lazy nature.

A couple of hours later, and I had secured myself one large chair, a table, a bowl & some salad servers for a combination of dollars, Malawi Kwatcha, T-shirts (they will trade just about anything, so we've all gone a bit crazy, and traded loads of our clothes!), and a couple of cold cokes. Some people were not as restrained as I - one couple bought nine full size chairs between them, plus sundry other items...the post office in Zimbabwe is going to love them!! I spent the rest of the day, mostly lounging in my hammock - which I believe is a good way to pass the time, when it's sweltering hot, don't you?

The next morning was a 7 for 8 start - although the intense heat (sorry to rub it in, fellow Brits!!) had most of us up and out of our tents by 0630. Our first stop of the day was Mzuzu, where they have a really big market full of clothes that have been sent out as aid. It is traditional here for overland trucks to pull in, and purchase the most hideous items of clothing they can find. The aim behind all this is a dress up night at Kande Beach (or Chitimba for Southward bound trucks) - we each pick a name out of a hat, and have to dress that person in as bad taste as possible. So next time you wonder whatever happened to that lovely top you gave to the charity people, just think - it could well be being worn and ridiculed by a group of overlanders!

Once sufficient amounts of crap clothing had been bought, we continued our journey, stopping along the way by several stalls selling more wooden products; here I bought a smaller Malawi chair, for use during the rest of the trip - saves sitting on campstools - and a few more goodies. We continued onwards to Kande Beach, our home for three nights, and set up camp under a mango tree - it was quite fun, really, lying there at night, hearing the mangoes hit the ground with a thud, and hoping none hit your tent!

We had a quiet night the first night, saving ourselves for the next night. The next day I did some more shopping, and went diving - getting some hammock time in, in between. The dive was OK, although the claims of 'it's like swimming through someone's aquarium' were a tad overstated. Come five o'clock we all started gathering by the truck in readiness to hand over our outfits, & get dressed for the night ahead.

I got away quite lightly, with a groovy top & short, short skirt, but others had some really gruesome outfits. Two of the girls resembled very cheap prostitutes, most of the men were in dresses - Chud, our one Canadian, was 'Miss Canada' in a long flowing night-dress, Jade was looking very swish in a black ball gown. Natalie looked great, I thought, in a fluorescent yellow woolly hat, a Flintstones T-shirt tucked into red satin shorts - very similar to a pair she had when she was about eight. The outfit was completed when she nicked white wellington boots that the cleaners used, from the toilets!

We had an excellent night, and when the bar closed at midnight, some of us headed down the beach, to the sound of drums - Dr Love (who also made exceedingly good cakes!) and a couple of friends were down there, banging on their bongos in front of a fire. It was most odd, we'd sit there chatting, forgetting that the music was live, and then look up to see these three black guys staring intensely at us! Adding to the atmosphere of the night was the rapidly approaching massive storm (I was personally convinced that we were in the path of a cyclone, and was somewhat disappointed when it turned out that we were not!)

We had a rather surreal evening the next night (well, those of us that had sampled some of Dr Love's cakes did, anyway), at the chief's house, where we had a traditional dinner, and were treated to some singing and dancing by some of the children from the village, and forced to join in with the dancing - deep joy, children and dancing in public, my favourite! We had one more night in Malawi, and then were off to Zimbabwe via Mozambique - a two border day! I sat up in the cab - I always try to on border days. To me border crossings epitomize the advantages of going on a trip like this - it really is no-brain travelling, someone else has to do all the thinking, worrying & stressing, we just sit there and hand over our passports when we are told to.

Mozambique seemed nice enough, although only being there for three or four hours, I guess I cannot really judge! We arrived in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, late afternoon and changed up money through the black market guy at the campsite. We got 1,100 Zim $ to 1 US$; the bank rate is 55 Z$ to 1 US$!! Whilst in the capital we went clubbing, to the movies, had a buffet lunch at the Sheriton for only $7, and posted all our souvenirs home - due to the black market rate, Zim is the cheapest place to do this from. I sent three packages totalling around 30kg for around US$30.

Our next stop was the Great Zim Ruins, dating back to the 13th century. They were most impressive, huge structure that were built without using mortar, and it is a wonder they are still standing. The country was named after these ruins, Zimbabwe meaning great stone houses. We left the next morning via a craft market, which sold a multitude of dirt cheap soapstone carvings; unfortunately many of our purchases have now broken, so it's just as well they were so cheap. Once we'd done here we headed off to a place which was sure to be a highlight of our whole trip, Antelope Park near Bulawayo.

The place is amazing, I got to play with little baby lion cubs, that were just the cutest things, and walked with lions - twice. The first day I went out with three, playful lions of eleven months old. we went for a walk for about an hour, and had quit a few photo opportunities - my squatting down amongst the lions, me walking a lion, by holding its tail, lions attacking each other - playfully, of course. We were told to look out for 'the naughty look', which is a sure sign that the lion is about to misbehave, and possibly jump up to play with you. If and when we saw that look, we had to say 'no!' in a firm voice, if that didn't work, point the stick we had been given at them. Failing that, if they were approaching, smack them on the nose with our hands, and if that didn't work, with the stick. We were told not to show fear - as the lions can sense it, turn our backs - as the lions will take advantage, or squat down (unless they told us it was OK to do so) as the lions would pounce!

We got to do a second walk for half price (the first one was only US$25 - amazing value for such an unusual & wonderful experience), so the next day I went out with two fifteen month old - and almost fully-grown - females. They are such gorgeous creatures, and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity to get so close to them. I had no sense of fear at all, just excitement and joy. Strange, then, that I should have felt so nervous when I went out on a game drive on horseback, but then I am scared of horses. I had a very docile one, and soon felt at ease though, and enjoyed the experience. We were able to get much closer to giraffes, impala, zebra and wildebeest than we would otherwise have been able

Whilst I was there I went out on a night drive, seeing bushbaby (well, its eyes, anyway), springhare, blessbok, steenbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, malibu stork, zebra and giraffe sitting down. Driving around at night added an extra dimension to the whole experience. I also treated myself to a massage, and to a night in a river tent, which cost $10, but was worth it for a rare night of luxury in tasteful surroundings - made a change to get away from the tent for a night.

Well I think I'm going to have to leave this here. I've got Rhino walks still to tell you about, and fun & games at Vic Falls, but this computer is just so damn slow that I'm going to have pulled all my hair out if I don't get off it soon - anyway, I'm off jet-boating in a mo, so TTFN, take care, and love & hugs to you all.


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