We had 1200 km over the next 2 days to travel. I’ve already mentioned my affection for our vintage Toyota van. We did decide to upgrade to something slightly larger with air-conditioning and new shock absorbers. We even each had a seat to ourselves!
But the next two days were grueling. It is such a good thing we all got along so well.
We also got to live the expression “This is Africa“, often spoken in exasperation as simply, “TIA”.
The first leg of our journey was to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, a mere 580 km. By all calculations, this should’ve taken eight or nine hours. Unless your van only does 30 km an hour in which case it’ll take 15 hours.No matter how much you like your travel mates, 15 hours on the road threatened the bonds of our fledgling friendships. We were tired; we were thirsty; we were hungry. In short, we were “hangry”.
And the best part of all, we knew we had to get up and do it all again the next day. Thankfully, Vicki made a few phone calls and got us a replacement van that could go the speed limit. So the next morning we set out optimistic and singing songs from The Lion King.
But TIA. We ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. Today we came prepared with water and snacks and even some wine which would come in handy.
One of the drivers got out and started huffing it into the nearest town God only knows how far that would be. So deciding that it was 5 o’clock somewhere and facing another 15 hour day, we uncorked a couple of bottles of wine. We actually had to drink up our water in order to create some “wine glasses”. We poured warm Sauvignon Blanc into our water bottles and settled down for a cocktail hour.
Somewhere into the second bottle, a large truck pulled over to see if he could be of assistance. His thought was to siphon some fuel out of his tank to put into our tank. So we began to look around for some sort of a container to use to transfer the fuel Well, bottoms up — we would have to use our wine glasses for fuel cans!
One person sucked on a hose in the gas tank to get the fuel to flow into the water bottles. It was slow going—one water bottle at a time. So slow, in fact, that our first driver, returned with an actual gas can.
Here is a picture of our pit crew!
Many houses are made from bricks that the villagers make. The village will help one family at a time to make a small brick hut.
Esther giving us a tour of her village.
Mfuwe Children Dancing
Adansonia digitata, the baobab, is the most widespread tree species of the genus Adansonia, the baobabs, and is native to the African continent. The long-lived pachycauls are typically found in dry, hot savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa, where they dominate the landscape, and reveal the presence of a watercourse from afar. Their growth rate is determined by ground water or rainfall, and their maximum age, which is subject to much conjecture, seems to be in the order of 1,500 years. They have traditionally been valued as sources of food, water, health remedies or places of shelter and are steeped in legend and superstition. European explorers of old were inclined to carve their names on baobabs, and many are defaced by modern graffiti.
Common names for the baobab include dead-rat tree (from the appearance of the fruit, monkey-bread tree (the soft, dry fruit is edible), upside-down tree (the sparse branches resemble roots) and cream of tartar tree (cream of tartar).
The baobab is primarily found in Madagascar and mainland Africa, but there is one species in Australia. They live thousands of years, but only have leaves for only 3 months of the year. It produces flowers and large squash like fruit. The antelopes, giraffes and elephants eat the leaves and flowers. The Hippos and monkeys eat the fruit. Dried baobab powder is claimed to help with weight loss and controlling blood sugars.
A cowherd in Senegal harvests baobab leaves for forage in the dry season. The baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa, but is little-known elsewhere. The fruit has been suggested to have the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable land care.
The African baobab fruit is usually 15–20 cm (6–8 in) long, but can be as big as 25 centimetres (9.8 in). The dry pulp is either eaten fresh or dissolved in milk or water to make a drink. In Sudan — where the tree is called tebeldi — people make tabaldi juice by soaking and dissolving the dry pulp of the fruit in water, locally known as gunguleiz.
Leaves and Seed
Baobab leaves can be eaten as a relish. Young fresh leaves are cooked in a sauce and sometimes are dried and powdered. The powder is called lalo in Mali and sold in many village markets in Western Africa. The leaves are used in the preparation of a soup termed miyan kuka in Northern Nigeria and are rich in phytochemicals and minerals. Oil extracted by pounding the seeds can be used for cooking but this is not widespread.
Baobab leaves are sometimes used as forage for ruminants in dry season. The oilmeal, which is a byproduct of oil extraction, can also be used as animal feed. In times of drought, elephants consume the juicy wood beneath the bark of the baobab.
The children of Mfuwe show us another use for the baobab.
In the morning one of the locals, Esther, took us around her village. It was Sunday so the children were not in school and were very excited to have visitors. It started with 6, then 12, then 30! The older ones could speak quite a lot of English. The little ones wanted to hold hands. We each had two or three on either side.
Esther explained the process of brick making from mud to baking. Each family unit has 4 living spaces made from bricks. The main living area, the toilet, the shower and the kitchen. The first three have steel sheets for roofs but the kitchen has thatch to let the smoke escape.
She introduced us to several families—which all seemed to be a cousin or a sister. Most families have at least 6 children. She explains, “This is why Zambia is so poor. The wife cannot say ‘No’ to her husband.“ The children from Mfuwe all seemed to be healthy and thriving.
The school is a series of 6 rooms, a library and a kitchen. In the kitchen there were only three large fire pits with humongous pots. This is where breakfast is served. ALL the children come to school every morning because of the breakfast porridge—a mixture of cooked maize, mashed soya beans and ground nuts.
The library is its own building and is the most popular place in the village. There are 2 volunteer librarians to help with reading lessons.
The remaining rooms are the classrooms: 6 rooms, 6 grades, 1,000 students. The kids from all of the neighboring villages come to the Mfuwe school. They also come on Sundays to watch television and play. Thus the throng that greeted us this morning.
We learned that each village has a “head man” who reports to the Chief. The Chief rules over several hundred villages. The chiefdom is not an elected position but an inherited one.
Everything but the lioness and cubs...
Each evening just after sundown, we hear drumming in the distance. It is coming from the surrounding villages. Elephants, despite their seemingly calm demeanor, are not the mild mannered gentle giants one might think. Mostly without malice, they create chaos as they lumber through villages eating anything and everything. And just due to their sheer tonnage, they topple thatched huts, chicken coops, water storage... anything that lays in their path. So at dusk the villagers position drumming sentries to deter the foraging giants.
This morning at breakfast a cheeky monkey dropped out of a tree, dashed into the dining area and grabbed Robert’s boiled egg, then his brother grabbed Shweta’s toast!
In the middle of the night we were all jolted awake by the most raucous cacophonous howling and screeching. It sounded like one of the baboons was being ripped to shreds. Just a normal family squabble.
Of all of the places I’ve now been on safari, the South Luanga was the only park with night game drives and walking safaris. The walking Safari was great for learning about the environment. We spent time talking about animal poop. But the most fascinating lesson from our guide, Abo, was about what happened last night. This environment is very sandy so every morning he could read the animal tracks and the drag lines. He pointed out the lone Zebra tracks the three Lions that following the zebra. Further along he pointed out where the Lions had dragged the zebra into the dense thicket. And his best guess was that the whole party was still there!
OK so maybe that’s an exaggeration. I have had Internet but it’s been terribly unreliable and there’s been so many more fun things to do that struggle with the Internet
The sight of the sparkling clear blue Lake Malawi was so welcomed after the long van ride. And it was a long 4 hours, crammed in the van, bouncing over potholes and shifting from one butt cheek to the other for some respite. My titanium knees were folded up at about 120 degrees so when we arrived I had to remind them how to straighten out. But Cape Maclear was worth the journey.
Cape Maclear is on the southern tip of Lake Malawi. The Lake is 350 miles by 47 miles and takes up 1/3 of the country. Lake Malawi was named “The Lake of Stars” because the hundreds of lanterns from local fishing boats look like stars in the night sky.
Our second night at Cape Maclear, Vicki had arranged for a sunset cruise. The sunsets at Lake Malawi are reputedly unparalleled. This cruise was dubbed “The booze cruise” since we were each asked to select whatever we wanted to drink from the bar. By the time the cooler was loaded, our guides could barely lift it. The skipper was Harry, a gregarious joyful host who would stand on the bow and sing to us. Needless to say, before long we were all belting out “Hakuna Matata” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. The sunset trip’s highlight was watching the Malawi Fish Eagles circling, swooping, and snagging fish within a few yards of our boat. Dale masterfully captured an eagle mid flight, wings spread, talons extended using his handy point-and-shoot camera. And the challenge was on. Robert pulled out his professional Pentax camera with a 150-400 zoom lens. It looked like a bazooka compared to all of our cameras. Jo commented sardonically, “Why Robert, I have never seen one quite so big!” To which Dale rebutted, “it’s quite about skill not size” and you can see where the conversation went from there. Along the way we snorkeled and worked our way through a cooler of beer; and the sun set magnificently.
Lake Malawi is definitely one of my favorite places.
3 Country Tour with a Group of 11
Off on an adventure with a group of 11 on a tour of 3 countries, Malawai, Zambia & Botswana with Rock My Adventure.
Our new friend Shweta’s luggage was lost. Is this not your worst nightmare! Our resourceful leader called the host at Kiboki lodge who had a friend that worked at Lilongwe airport and miracle of miracles, he found her backpack and drove it to us! Here are the wild and crazy Brits taking full credit for the recovery mission.
Along the way…
Lilongwe Textile Market
"Hope for the best, plan for the worst." That pretty much defines adventure—when our first van broke down, only to be replaced by our second van that ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It takes good-natured traveling companions to stay in the adventure.
The following day we would make the four-hour trek to Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi, so it was an early night.
Addis Ababa Airport
Finally, the date came for me to get on the plane and move onto Lilongwe, Malawi. I was really looking forward to meeting up with this group because I was tired of traveling alone. So my trip in Malawi was with Rock my Adventure, a tour group that specializes in small group adventures solo travelers, backpackers, and small group adventures. So I packed my bags and scheduled a taxi for 8 a.m. to be sure to arrive two hours before my flight. I was so jet-lagged when I finally did sleep I just could not abide by the 7 o’clock alarm and repeatedly hit the snooze.
I did manage to find a taxi to take me to the airport and I was still an hour and a half before my flight. But then there was security. Next lesson: Security at Addis Ababa airport is over-the-top paranoid. Before you can even enter the airport you have to pass the security. I watched a well dressed elderly gentleman in a wheelchair being forced to remove his prosthetic leg for inspection. Thirty minutes later we were in the next security line and again they insisted he removes his prosthetic. My journey through security wasn’t nearly as miserable, but by the time I reached check-in, I was within one hour of departure and I was denied a boarding pass.
I missed my flight.
Luckily I had planned to arrive the day before the tour began. BUT, the next flight with a seat available was three days later and I would miss my tour. I would simply have to show up and beg my way onto that flight. I gathered my bags, hiked to closest hotel and had a bit of a nap to clear my head.
As it turned out the following morning I was able to “beg” my way onto that flight with a crisp US Franklin.