We had spent a few days in Zambia and now wanted to spent a few days on the other side of the falls in Zimbabwe. All this entailed was a short walk across the bridge, clear immigration and customs and find a taxi on the Zim side. We didn’t know what to expect from Zimbabwe (which by the way means ‘big stone house’) but were surprised at how different the two countries were. Zimbabwe is in strife – the currency so devalued that it is worthless, the people seem to have little hope for the future and there are shortages of many basics including bread and petrol.
The town of Victoria Falls is probably the best place to be as they use the US dollar for nearly everything and because of the Falls have a continuous stream of visitors and hard cash coming through. We were staying in the centre in a nice hotel – coincidentally where the chef was a friend of Maddy, our friend’s daughter from Zambia. We seemed to be hassled a lot, and even quite aggressively sometimes. They were not just asking for money but food and clothes which was a sad experience. Some of the staff are paid in US dollars but the people paid in Zimbabwean dollars found it hard to buy basic food for their families. Even though the supermarkets had plenty of imported food and vegetables, we saw long bread queues and they have to wait 12 hours for 20 litres of petrol. We were going to Bulawayo but were warned that we may get stuck there for days without any means of transport out so we ended up flying from Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwe is an extradordinarily beautiful place and I really hope it sorts itself out. Eddy the chef invited us to a village where some friends lived and we had a lovely day with the villagers. The chief showed us round and introduced us to a boy who painted with his feet. They were pretty much self sufficient with their food but he still told us that the young are very disenchanted with the situation.
we also visited the Victoria Falls hotel for a drink – a wonderful old colonial building which over looks the falls. Time seemed to stand still here and it was a nice reprieve from the outside world.
We went into the National Park to see the falls from The Zimbabwean side. This is a better view of them as they actually tumble over the top on the Zambian side. You get quite wet watching the water but it is a nice refreshing walk – even though a bit scary as there are no ropes or barriers and it is a long way down! You could spending a couple of weeks at the Falls, but we only managed 8 fun filled days before it was time to fly out.
We flew back to Perth for a week to catch up with our kids and friends, do some business and get a haircut! The week flew by and we headed back to Africa laden with boat parts which made our luggage over the limit but with parts so hard to come by we didn’t mind. We were flying from Johannesburg to Harare in Zimbabwe and then onto Lilongwe in Malawi for a week – plans having changed as we were going to spend time in Harare but decided to spend longer in Malawi instead. On arrival at Harare, we found even their national airport was not working. the escalators didn’t work, the electricity kept going out and there were vacant shops everywhere. There was no duty free except for 4 bottles of some type of local whiskey. All so sad – this used to be called the Bread Basket of Africa.
We arrived in Malawi at dusk and were picked up form the airport by the hotel we had booked into. It was so great to be picked up – a bit of luxury after a long journey from Perth and we were ready to explore this little known country.. .
Malawi is sandwiched in between Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia in East Africa. It is a long thin country dominated by a fresh water lake called Lake Malawi. The upper parts of the lake are in Tanzania and that section is called Lake Nyasa. Mozambique also have part of the lake but it is predominantly Malawi’s and is their top sightseeing place. We spend a day in Lilongwe and then decided to head down to the south to a lakeside hotel for a few days R&R. We asked about local transport and were told that there was no infrastructure for tourists and that we had to take a taxi the whole way there. We thought that was a bit excessive so we worked out how we could use the local busses. That was an adventure in itself. We got a taxi to the bus station and when they saw we were tourists, they literally surrounded us and pulled us along. It was far more aggressive that Lusaka but all they wanted was for us to go in their bus. We thought we were treated like that because we were not local but watched as they treated everybody the same way. We got on a bus with about 6 other people and being a 12 seater we knew it would be leaving soon with only 4 seats left to fill. Wrong – 5 of the people on board were just sitting there to make it look half full and they got off as someone else got on. 10 people later we thought it would leave but again wrong … they managed to squeeze 18 of us into this minibus – with luggage and chickens included. We then rattled our way down to Monkey Bay only being stopped no less than 6 times by road blocks who did nothing more than seem to have a chat and a stare. We were then ‘let out’ at Mangochi and told to get another minibus the final couple of miles to Monkey Bay. A bus appeared within seconds and we were again pushed into the bus with smiles and waving of hands and we were on our way.
We arrived in Monkey Bay and a young guy from the bus befriended us and showed us to the nearest bar where we bought much needed cold beers for everyone. He then showed us to our hotel. Such amazing hospitality and warmth.
We were loving Malawi – it seemed so much more peaceful than Zimbabwe and we decided to spend the whole week in Monkey Bay. There was a small dinghy on the beach so we took it out and had a sail on the lake. Ian used to sail this boat back in the UK when he was a kid so he was in his element. The Lake is used by all the locals for everything – it is 52 miles wide and over 300 miles long. There are villages all along its shores and a small harbour at the southern end. We were right on the lake and it was so relaxing to sit around, read and listen to music. The second day we went to explore the small fishing village in the next bay called Chizali. That entailed climbing over a small rock face which was a challenge in itself but the village was fabulous. We went straight to the chief and introduced ourselves and asked permission to visit. He was lovely, asked us into his home and gave us the run down on how the village started. They came down from the north in the 40’s searching for a new place to set up a village. There are about 70 people in the village and are made up from 5 base families. His daughter was a teacher and his son worked in South Africa he showed us their photos and was immensely proud of them – he was adorable.
We visited the shore where the ladies were washing the kids, the kids were washing the dishes and the boys were mucking around in the lake. They all speak a smattering of English – it’s taught in the schools here. We found out that all the village kids walk over the rockface then a mile to Monkey Bay to school every day. An hours hike twice a day – fit kids these. The kids followed us everywhere, trying on our sunnies, wanting photos with us and giggling at us.
The beach was full of drying racks for their small fish which they catch, dry out and then put into sacks which they tie to their small canoes and take round to the harbour for shipping to Blantyre, Muzuzu and Lilongwe. It is their only source of income and they have no electricity or sewerage but the lake provides well for them and they appear very happy. Later on in the day we hired one of the local boats to take us to another village called Jambo which was bigger and we saw some brand new canoes that hadn’t even been launched.
This village has a school but the kids from the small village didn’t go to it because the villagers couldn’t afford the diesel to take them. Back at the small village I bought them all some biscuits from the one small stall and felt like the pied piper as they all got so excited – we were accompanied home with 5 or 6 small kids – all scrambling to hold our hands in case we fell off the rockface!
We made friends with a couple who were travelling around Africa in a land cruiser from Holland and went with them over to Cape McClear for the day. This is another bay where there are many more hotels and backpackers.
We hired a kayak here and went and over to the island and snorkelled to see the Cichlids. These small colourful fish are very tropical looking but live in freshwater so they are very popular with aquariums owners. There were hundreds of them and it was nice to swim in fresh water for a change.
That night we watched the sunset over the lake and some boys came up with an old petrol can, and a homemade keyboard and asked us if they could play some music for us. They then gave us an impromptu dance performance with their homemade instruments – we were impressed by their pro activity rather than just asking us for money. Malawi is a desperately poor country who miss out on the tourist dollar that their neighbours get through their National Parks. In comparison to Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia they have very little as they don’t have the large animal numbers for the tourists – but they are trying hard to change things by re-stocking their national parks to encourage tourism.
That night we had a bonfire on the beach and had some drummers come over. It was great fun and I managed to keep time on the drums with them. Fell into bed that night exhausted but having had a great day.
We spent the next few days being very lazy. We hung around the hotel reading, lying in the hammock,listening to some great music and chatting to the other guests. We drank lots of beer, ate lots of food and swam. lake Malawi is known as the Lake of Stars and contains the largest number of freshwater fish in the world.
At last it was time to go back to Lilongwe so we decided that this time we would not brave the public mini bus but go by taxi and spend a day slowly driving through the countryside. We rang the guy we had met before and he turned up about 2 hours early. When we asked him why, he said he had left at 4am to make sure he was on time! Such dedication – he was promptly hired for an airport pick up two days later by the hotel so his loyalty and good timekeeping paid off.
Every village we passed through had ladies pumping water from a well. This means they don’t have to lug Jerry cans down to the river beds. It also gives the stock water as all the pumping stations have a run off section for the cattle to drink from. There is also a rule that women cannot wash either themselves or their clothes within 30 metres of the well to prevent soap contamination. Although the Malawians are very poor, they all have access to fresh water and medical attention – there are many medical centres. As most of them are subsistence farmers, they don’t pay tax and so the infrastructure is poor. There is high unemployment as well. Tourism would go a long way to alleviate some of their problems and I hope they manage to increase their visitor numbers over the next few years.