A lot of people I know who live and work in Africa have a few sayings that are frequently inserted into daily conversations. These sayings, which include “T.I.A” (this is Africa) and “Africa Wins Again,” are the most common responses to questions that are expressed with either incredulity and/or frustration with some type of situation. For example, I have been in the middle of Zimbabwe and have not had an internet connection for the past week (hence the lack of postings on this blog). As I was venting my internet frustrations one evening to Gert, he simply smiled and said, “what do you expect, T.I.A.” Of course, what was I thinking!? I must admit that over the course of this trip these sayings have definitely been incorporated into my daily lexicon. I am simply telling you this because it is my way of explaining (and apologizing) for the lack of posts. It was not me…it was simply Africa J
Anyways, the last time I posted I was encountering some very cheeky monkeys and loud hippos in Liwonde. After my time in Liwonde, we headed north to Cape Maclear located on Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and is rumored to have the most species of fish than any other body of freshwater on the planet. Can anyone say snorkeling? The drive to Cape Maclear was also breathtaking as we made our way through the Great Rift Valley. After four hours of driving I finally caught a glimpse of the lake. It was huge, peaceful, and dotted with large islands. I could not wait to dip my feet into the water and enjoy another amazing place.
Upon our arrival, we decided to stay at a lodge/camp site called Fat Monkeys. There were a lot of white tourist and as I sat on the beach I heard German, Dutch, and Afrikaans being spoken. It is evident people come here for the easy-going vibe and friendly people.
One evening, as I dug my toes into the warm sand and watched the sun dip slowly behind an island, I noticed that the beach was still buzzing with activity. As I watched the locals bath, wash clothes, and bring in their daily catches, I realized that this lake provides so many things to so many people. On the basic level it provides tourists a place to relax, unwind, and also a place to have fun and explore. But for the local people it provides so much more. It provides them with an income, food, a place to bath and wash clothes. It provides them with a home. I understand now why this place is so beloved for so many different reasons.
Another great thing about Cape Maclear is the fact that a large, traditional village hugs the coastline. As I walked through the village, the people were extremely nice and the children were very curious. I went on a couple of runs while I was staying at the lake, and at times some of the local children would join in with me, laughing and smiling the entire way. This was really a great experience and one that I reflect on with joy. I doubt they see very many women with pink Nike’s running in their village very often! Spending time at Cape Maclear was wonderful, but I was looking forward to going to the capital and experiencing the ‘heartbeat’ of the country. So we packed up our gear and headed south to Lilongwe.
As we drove into the city-center of the city I was surprised by how very modern everything was. There were brand new shopping centers and malls, as well as very large supermarkets. You could definitely see the Chinese influence, with large stores called Huang Xi’s Superstoresituated on every other block. The streets were congested and typical of what you would find in most cities. Apparently, Lilongwe is going through a major growth spurt at the moment. I also noticed that there were many more newspapers being sold on the street than compared to Mozambique (where I don’t recall seeing even one). Additionally, people were much more obliged to talk about the current political situation, in which the
reorganization of the Presidential cabinet was the hot topic du jour. Lilongwe is well on its way and I am interested in returning in a few years to see just how far they go.
We had a short stay in Lilongwe and once again we were on the road, this time heading towards Zimbabwe. As I reflect on my time in Malawi, I can honestly say that I have had a ‘true’ African experience. This country seems to have the best and the worst all rolled up into one. While it is a beautiful country and definitely worth seeing, always remember to have extra cash for those times when you are inevitably stopped at a police check-point and forced to pay a fine. Also, be mindful of the current situation in a country before entering. In hindsight, I wish we would have known about the diesel shortage and had filled up beforehand. However, traveling off the beaten path is all about learning, adapting, and experiencing these types of situations that the local people deal with every day. At the end of the day, I can honestly say that I enjoyed Malawi and was struck by how kind and friendly the people were. Like most African countries, it has it challenges and is struggling to create a better country and a better life for its people. Only time will tell, but I sincerely hope it continues to develop and prosper.
Until next time, travel well and travel often,