Sandbags to Sand Dunes Expedition 2010

40,000km overland in an Land Rover

Archive for the ‘Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia’ Category

Livingstone Mania

Posted by jamesandpolls on August 9, 2010

Its been a while since the last blog as internet has been either too slow or non existent . . . as a result this one is rather large so pour yourself a glass of wine, settle back and enjoy . . . . where were we, ah yes, Africa!

After crossing into Mozambique we spent about a week hopping from one untouched beach to another, enjoying the last of the ocean breeze before heading into the interior again. Each stop held its own treasures, golden beaches, lovely turquoise sea, and even a hot shower or two! Our last stop was Illa de Mocambique. This small island, about 3km by 800m was the capital of Portuguese Mozambique from the 16th Century until the 1920s when its small size meant that a move to Maputo became the sensible option. The island is about 2km offshore and is joined to the mainland by a rickety one-lane causeway, which made for interesting driving.

The old Portuguese hospital - Ilha de Mozambique

The right of way belonged to the biggest car – the other one having to reverse up to the occasional lay-by. The town is amazing. The once grand Portuguese capital is now fading after many years of neglect (the locals seem happier to stay in the huts at one end of the island). I honestly think not one pot of paint, screw, nut or bolt has been used here in the last four decades. The result is a faded magnificence. It has an African village atmosphere (roadside markets, football in the streets and pots on heads) but a very European feel as well (tree lined avenues, covered streets, pavements!). Strange but it won’t last long. As a UNESCO heritage site and with new transport links investment is sure to arrive soon.

The oldest European building in the southern Hemisphere

We saw evidence of this already – a few houses are being turned into hotels and more are sure to follow. It was great fun just wandering around the town imagining what it might have been like 100 years ago and trying to understand how and why the Mozambiquese have managed to do nothing to the buildings since the Portuguese left. We also visited the church of Santo Antonio, built in the 16th century, which is the oldest European building still standing in the southern hemisphere. Amazing.

The island was a great end to our beach hopping down the coast and marked our most southerly point on the east coast of Africa before we headed west. A short stop over in a Portuguese owned farm just outside Nampula set us up for a mammoth drive to the Malawian border.

Breathtaking scenery - the road to the Malawian border

The road was dirt and the weather increasingly hot. We have still not found all the holes in PAX so when it rains we get wet, when its hot its always a hairdryer and when it’s a dirt track . . . we become covered in dust. Thus it was two very hot and dusty people who rolled into the border town 500km later that day. We found a rather random place to stay in someone’s backyard which provided great amusement for the children of the family – they looked in amazement as we opened the roof tent!

Crossing the border the next day we felt very pleased with ourselves. Mozambique is well known as somewhere where bribes and backhanders are often needed to get through roadblocks, and we had heard some bad stories… but we had not met a single policeman. As the bridge was so new on the Tanzanian / Mozambique border we had not been able to buy any third party insurance so had travelled uninsured across the country – something a roadblock policeman would have been sure to use as leverage to extract a serious bribe!

View from our campsite , inland Northern Mozambique

However… within 20 minutes of being in Malawi we had had three police checkpoints (luckily we had insurance this time) but the last guy got us. . one brake light was not working! After much tutting and saying ‘this is an offence’ the policeman fined us.  We considered offering him one of the ‘Guchi’ watches or ‘Okley’ sunglasses that we had bought just for this situation but it the fine was only 12 dollars that we decided to keep these potential bribes for later on.

Malawi, (aka ‘The warm heart of Africa’) was an ex British colony and like all ex colonies has had its share of slavery, emancipation, liberation, independence, corruption and incompetence but now seems to be on an even keel and making a slow but steady move to democratic success. In Mozambique the living conditions had been as basic as we had seen since Ethiopia, rarely more than mud huts and as we crossed to Malawi there was a noticeable change as brick houses became the norm and even the occasional two-storey building! After stocking up on supplies (except diesel which is $1.50 a litre) we headed up to the Lake which would form our backdrop for the next 10 days as we slowly headed north again up the west ‘coast’ of this lake. Lake Malawi is the third largest in Africa and feels more like a sea as the other side (Mozambique) is rarely in view. Dr. Livingstone circumnavigated the lake on the last of his three forays into the interior whilst trying to find the source of the Nile. He is a local legend somewhat and his legacy lives on in the names of many towns, villages, missions, beer, cigarettes, water, shopping malls etc. . He would be proud!

Kayaking in Cape Maclear - Lake Malawi

We were very much back on the backpackers trail after the relative obscurity and remoteness of Northern Mozambique. In one place we shared a campsite with 5 overland trucks (about 100 people in total, all having separate parties in fancy dress) which was probably the most white faces we have seen in one place since Europe. Our first stop on the lake was Cape Maclear. It was the original travellers mecca in Africa years ago, and you can understand why, it’s a beautiful bay with beach, beach huts and lots of chilling. We managed to hire a canoe for a day and went snorkelling – the freshwater fish are so colourful.  We apologise for putting ANOTHER sun set photo in but this one, the one at the bottom of the blog, is too good not to. Thanks to the two fishermen who, when prompted, went out in their dug out to pose beneath the setting sun in Cape Maclear.

We spent a week driving up the coast of the lake. If not on the road, our days were dominated by swimming and sun bathing, reading, walking around the villages and shopping in the markets. The road up the lakeside was beautiful, passing through huge rubber plantations and forests. Another joy with driving in Malawi is the roadside food. Everywhere else in Africa the roadside fast food mostly consists of very cold, oily and hard samosas but in Malawi they have chicken and chips! These are deep fried in make shift deep fat fryers on the side of the road and made great elevenses. Yum! Another highlight of our trip along the lake was hearing the news of the birth of a new little Bond Girl – Polls’ brother Tim and his wife Anna had little Zoe Kate in Delhi on 19th July, we can’t wait to meet her!

With Janey, Leo and Tom in Lilongwe

After going up as far as Nkhata bay we headed south again to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, taking the inland road. Lilongwe feels like a regular small sub-Saharan African town rather than a sprawling capital city, but it had a Shoprite (big SA supermarket that is found in major cities all over Africa) so we could stock up on supplies. Just as we were leaving our campsite we gave a business card to Janey the owner – she then raced up after us and said that her maiden name was Townsend-Rose! It turns out that she is my second cousin, we had only met a few times before but hadn’t recognised each other! Her and her husband had bought the backpackers two years ago and had just had a son called Leo, a new family member!!

Our memories of Malawi will be dominated by the friendliness of the locals and the fun we had with other travellers. It was, for the first time in a while, an area where we have sat round the fire with interesting people chatting over a Mossi or 2M or whatever the local brew is. Someone who deserves a particular mention is Lucky Mike, who we met in Lilongwe. During his 52 years Lucky has been a Navy diver, sailed around the world, been a game warden in South Africa, owned a bar in Antigua before a hurricane blew it away, skippered a yacht for 5 years, lived in the London underground, been a professional skydiver with over 2000 jumps, has been a public speaker and energy healer in the US and has written two books and is on his third. (‘Dancing on Raindrops’– his first book is available from Amazon). Lucky (he changed a name after surviving a lion attack in the bush) was a fascinating and uplifting person to talk to and as you might expect had some pretty good stories to boot. We met a retired couple from Minnesota cycling around the world on their pension – hats off to them!

Our camp spot overlooking the Luangwa River - Amazing

From Lilongwe we crossed the border into Zambia and headed straight up (along a very bumpy road) into the South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa is a huge river that feeds the Zambezi and we spent the next four days camped on its shores, watching the hippos, crocs and elephant as they played and drank from the river. The setting was truly awesome. On one of the days we headed into the park itself, which in terms of beauty tops the list of parks we’ve seen so far. The diversity of the vegetation and geography meant that no ten minutes were the same, we saw tons of wildlife and could have spent four or five days in the park and only have seen 20% of it – it is huge. It also has the highest concentration of leopards in any park in Africa (or so they say) but unfortunately this multitude stayed hidden during our 24 hours of searching!

Polls and Lucy outside Mfuwe Lodge, Zambia

A particular highlight was watching a lion eating a hippo which was still in the water. The skin was so tough that the lion had gone in the only way possible – up the derrière, and was, when we saw him, pulling snakelike strands of gut out of said orifice. Fascinating and smelly in equal measures! It was also great to see Lucy Milburn, sister of Paddy and great Northumbrian family friends of the Bonds. Lucy works in Mfuwe Lodge, one of the nicest lodges we have seen so far. It was great to have sundowners and talk of Africa and home as the sun set over the river.

The lion after its Hippo feast - South Luangwa Zambia

From South Luanga NP we headed to the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, but the distance meant that we had to stop halfway. After heading into a campsite we saw a chap in a very ripped suit jacket, holey trousers and no shoes. Thinking he was the gardener we said ‘hi’ and continued to the reception only for him to follow us. . as it turned out the man was the owner/manager of this little pit stop campsite. We were the only punters that night. Lets hope he uses our money to buy a new jacket! On leaving the campsite towards Lusaka our odometer clocked 30,000km mark – Pax still going strong and Polls and I still talking – not bad!!

Lusaka is a lot larger and busier than Lilongwe and there is clear evidence of diamond and copper wealth. Dual carriageways and shopping malls put this city a step above, in modernity terms, anywhere else we had been to since Dar.  We could tell we had been in the bush for too long as we felt in awe of the ‘modern’ city. We were pleased it was a Sunday though as there was very little traffic as we stormed down Cairo Road, the ‘high street’ and out the other side to our site for the night. We have found that unlike their Arabian counterparts, big sub-Saharan African cities, although offering us the delights of Shoprite and other goodies, offer little else. That night we camped just outside the city and met some great Afrikaners, they gave us lots of pointers for South Africa, some delicious cheesy sausages and offered us a bed for the night if we pass through their little town in SA. We have been blown away by the generosity of all the South Africans we have met so far, and already have a growing amount of friends in Cape Town!

Us with the Zambezi river in the background

From Lusaka we drove south to the Lower Zambezi. The River Zambezi, one of the great African rivers, is probably mostly famous for its waterfall, the Victoria Falls but where we were, about 500km downstream of the falls, it was magnificent as well. The river here is a huge expanse of water with islands dotted amongst the stream. The animal life is prolific with hippos and elephant drinking at its banks and eagles and tiger fish above and below the waterline. We actually stayed on one of the smaller tributaries of the Zambezi, the Kafue River, but at over 50m wide, it was more than enough river for us! We couldn’t believe our luck; the campsite had a swimming pool overlooking the river – all for 10 dollars a night. From there we headed upstream, following the river west to Siavonga and Lake Kariba.

Not bad for 10 dollars a night - Zimbabwe in the distance

Lake Kariba was formed in 1960 by the construction of the Kariba dam, which blocks the River Zambezi. At the time it was an engineering marvel and continues to provide a large proportion of the power to Zimbabwe and Zambia. For us it formed the perfect backdrop to a couple of nights on the lakeshore. Although no swimming here as crocs and hippos are aplenty.

After a couple of nights exploring and staying on lake Kariba we headed on south towards Livingstone. A brief stopover at a campsite was a welcome break from a very straight 600km drive through the bush from Kariba to Livingstone.  Zambia is huge, there is so much space here, most of it bush. Livingstone is the adrenaline capital of Africa. Last night we parked up set up camp in a bush campsite, very peaceful apart from the constant helicopter/small plane and micro light noise – Victoria Falls is about 300m from our camp!

PAX is currently being serviced, he is leaking a little and the steering wheel shudders so hard it feels like it is about to come off (one to many potholes at speed I think). He is staying in overnight so we are camping in our ground tent tonight in a backpackers lodge, using internet and treating ourselves to some TexMex food! Tomorrow we are going to go to the falls where we will spend a few nights after which Botswana beckons!

Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia our 19th, 20th and 21st countries on the trip so far have been really interesting, for the coastline, the history, the people, the animals, and for the amazing landscapes. There is so much more exploring to be done here, especially Mozambique and Zambia, which seem to be endless miles of bush with only a few villages dotted along the road. I am sure we will be back.

Sunset over Lake Malawi, Cape Maclear


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