A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Quick update - in Tanzania

We're in Dar es Salaam at the moment, it's really nice to be in a big city again. Heading to Zanzibar tomorrow which frankly I thought was a made up place shared with Timbuktu and Outer Mongolia. Very excited!

Hoping the 4 wheel drivers might read this and be in Tanzania which was always a long shot would love to hear from you

being kicked out of the internet cafe now, excuse the brevity

Posted by rachndave 12:41 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Redress the balance


This experience is absolutely the best and biggest thing I’ve ever done but it would been unfair representation if I didn’t admit that it has its more wearing side. I certainly couldn’t do this forever. I’m not keen to get back just yet but I know when I do I’ll be happy to be home.

People suggest in emails from home that they are reluctant to tell me their news because it somehow wouldn’t be interesting in comparison. Let me assure you that the more you’re away from home the more you appreciate the deeper relationships you have at home – and part of that depth is knowing the details of your loved one’s lives. They were interesting before, why wouldn’t they be interesting now?

In some ways I miss the small details of my own life – I feel like I’m living in headlines statements at the moment and while that’s what I signed up for and am thoroughly enjoying it’s a strange thing at the same time.

So I thought I’d share with you some of the tiring things about travelling to balance the scales a little

  • Having the same conversations over and over again
  • Never having time to get to know people properly, or too much forced time with people you don’t really have anything in common with
  • Squeaky doors in dorms :)
  • Rarely having any privacy
  • Being a constant focus of attention immediately you step out the door
  • Constant communication misunderstandings and sometimes inexplicable struggles to understand and be understood
  • Battling for fair treatment in any kind of service or trade situation
  • Remembering to handwash every few days and finding some way to do that
  • Rarely having more than one nights in the same bed and having to stay packed
  • Rarely being able to eat what you fancy when you fancy
  • An awful lot all conversations with resident people end in, or indirectly contain, some kind of request or sales pitch which makes it difficult to know how far to enter into any kind of conversation and cheapens earlier getting-to-know-you chit chat
  • Never remembering where the lightswitch is
  • Always knowing you’ll have to get dressed and hike to the shared bathroom in the middle of the night if you wake up

None of these (or even the entire combination thereof) are reason for you not to do this sort of thing yourself or myself again in the future cos I’m loving it. And some of these things I knew would be the case in advance but the reality is of course in emotional 3D. The thing I’ve come to realise is that the reason I have a *home* is that the inherent life-shortcuts I create by surrounding myself by the ultra-familiar is that I can concentrate instead on the more important/interesting details of my life and the lives of others…and not knock into tables looking for the lightswitch.

Posted by rachndave 12:39 Archived in Malawi Tagged observations Comments (0)

Goodbye to the lake

Rachel - Mzuzu and Nkarta Bay

It was nice to be back in a town and in an old school backpacker friendly place. The brilliantly named Mzuzu Zoo was a perfect place to relax on a sofa and share some drinks with other travellers (including Tisita, from the Ilala and Mushroom Farm) and the chain-smoking, shuffling Swiss/Italian Christopher Walken lookalike owner and his east ender ex-hippy mate. All the rooms were full, including the dorms, so we were given the caravan hidden in the towering bamboo forest. It was a funny little slightly knackered place the Mzuzu zoo but we had the comfiest night sleep we’d had in ages, some hosptible company and a later a chance to stock up on some bits and bobs in the town.

Tisita, bless her loopy cotton socks, donated me some tshirts she didn’t want anymore, lent me her charger and then failed to wait for us after we’d agreed to share a lift to our next and final stop – Nkarta Bay. So when we got to Nkarta bay we had to ask around in the lodges to find her and found out that her loopy reputation had preceded her since she had gotten into a fight with one of the bar owners after she’d been barred for un-surreptitiously smoking a big joint in the front garden. Everyone knew here but noone knew where she was so we gave it to someone who was also going back on the Ilala as we knew she had, so we hope it gets there.

So now we’re in Nkarta Bay where I’ve just spent three days sitting in the shady waterside bar of our hostel catching up with writing this blog so we haven’t seen much of it at all. In the evenings it’s lively here, especially at the moment because there’s a wedding hereon Saturday so the guests had a party last night which ended up with the bar owner gyrating half naked on the bar and being carried to bed by the staff :) Here we’ve caught up with Layni and Dean from Mushroom Farm, the Danny from Ruarwe, Tsur and Ido from Mzuzu zoo, Ryan from the festival/Cape Maclear, and Bella from Cape Maclear/Lilongwe so it’s been a great bookend to our trip.

We’ve been here for so long because we waiting here for the scheduled train to Tanzania which leaves on Saturday. We decided that although the train goes all the way west to east across Tanzania to Dar-es-Salam, and then we have to backtrack west and north using another train, that it would be a relatively stress free way to travel to the Ugandan border and take about the same time as going direct up the west edge by road given the reported bad state of the roads in the west of Tanzania and there isn’t much to see on that side other than some prohibitively expensive game parks. We may as well pay Zanzibar a visit in east Tanzania as well since it’s so close to Dar-es-Salam so we think it’ll take us a week to ten days to get to the Ugandan border. People tell us we need to be a bit more on our guard from here on in which is a shame after the easy going and welcoming nature of Malawi – even the hustles that we do encounter are pretty easy going. I’m looking forward to seeing some different landscape now though and even some bigger cities so much as I’m Malawi’s newest biggest fan I’m ready for the next stage.

See you on the east side!

Posted by rachndave 12:37 Archived in Malawi Tagged lake Comments (0)


Rachel - Ruarwe

We had read about yet another eco-conscious set up on the remotest shore of the lake which was also a challenge to reach being completely inaccessible by roads because of the surrounding mountains, and the boats all finished about 4 hours walk short (although it suggests you can speak nicely to the captain to take you the rest of the way). Ruarwe village is so remote that the lodge in question was originally named “Wherearewe” We had originally planned one of the other options to hike along the lake shore but so soon after Nyika we decided to get there by boat instead and maybe hike out. We had prepared ourselves, and were even welcoming, a bit of a battle to get there but after Steve from the Mushroom Farm gave us a lift down the big hill on his way to the market in town, and then we caught some easy minibuses to the closest harbour. We had a small wait for the boat but the captain offered to take us all the way without us even having to ask and even offered a reasonable price so after five breezy hours on the boat we arrived, not tired out in the least (other than a very numb bum).

The next day we walked a few hours round trip along the river past the waterfall and up to a gap in the mountains accompanied by the resident dog who had shared our dorm. And when we returned we hoped to find some more people to chat with but it was pretty dead with only three volunteers who were helping to build and run the local education centre who were cooking their own food and so weren’t really around much. So Dave and I asked someone to finally teach us the local boardgame: Bao. We must be very well matched or are missing a key rule because we’ve now played that game three times and we always have to give up because it doesn’t seem to finish!

That was after we borrowed the dug-out canoe and tried to balance ourselves by straddling an end each while I paddled us around for a bit. Those Malawian fishermen must have ore muscles of steel, we tried all sorts and it just felt so unstable, although we only had one fall overboard so I think we can take some pride in our wobbly efforts. Although by this point we were starting to worry about our earlier decision to hire a canoe with driver the next day to take us round to the next big town where we could get back to the main road. Three people and more importantly our precious bags wobbling about sounded risky but the manager assured us the bigger canoes were much more stable and the idea of canoeing out was too romantic to pass up.

We hung out with the three volunteers that evening, one of whom was leaving the following day and they were killing and cooking a goat in his honour. He was going to carry out the slaughter himself for idealistic principles after being a lapsed vegetarian and ex isreali army recruit and wannabe student doctor.

So the next morning, after the rain and choppiness had passed, we packed our things in plastic, secured them in the boat, took up the paddles and headed out along the coast. Even in a canoe people will shout hello from the shoreline so whoever wasn’t paddling was on waving duty and the three hours pretty much flew by while we sang all the sea/ship/water related songs we could think of to I think the bafflement of our main paddler in the back Adamson. We were told there was little chance of finding a scheduled pickup truck lift before morning so we struck some luck when a passing pickup said we could jump in while we were walking to the town.

We had to wait 2 hours for them to load mountains of fish and flour sacks onto the back from one of the visiting cargo boats while entertaining a relentless crowd of children. They wouldn’t stop staring or calling out and trying to get a reaction from us no matter how boring we tried to be and after our efforts this morning we really just wanted to zone out and wait peacefully but eventually after they were acting out the Macarena (of all things!) for us I jumped down and tried a round of hokey cokey. Fortunately at this point we were about ready to go and to a final farewell parting chorus of “give me money” we were off.

It’s a pity really that it was dark by this point because the road from the coast back up the valleyside must have been spectacular with narrow hairpin bend after hairpin bend and glimpses of the sheer drops and open views to the other side of the valley occasionally hinted at by the headlights and fires burning miles away. Our driver was a motoring whiz but still had us clutching the side of our seats and praying, not only for our lives but for the dozen or so people who weren’t in the cab with us but clinging to the mountain of sacks on the top! But thanks to the driver we all arrived alive in Mzuzu. Our inward journey to Ruarwe had been so easy but we felt like we had earned our rest today.

Posted by rachndave 12:35 Archived in Malawi Tagged transportation Comments (0)

The Mushroom Farm


Oh how we loved you the Mushroom Farm, you get an entry all of your own. On the face of it it’s a simple eco-friendly lodge with only 1 two level huts, a hand crafted mud “cob house” and levelled camping spaces set on the edge of the cliff looking out over to the lake. There’s a little bar and a little dining area come reading area come games room. And that’s about it. But the Australian owners are climbing and abseiling enthusiasts who are into permaculture so the place has all sorts of quirks that add to the whole vibe of the place. The composting toilet has a view. The shower makes you feel that you’re showering in a rainforest (you’d love it Laycock – hi Nick!). The power is solar powered, the food is vegetarian, interesting and really really tasty. They have piglets at the back, ducks and chickens and it’s all set clinging to the side of this hill.

Like I said earlier, it takes some effort for people to get there so there’s a sense of belonging there that’s hard to describe. The usual owner-managers were on holiday and so they pass it over to temporary mangers for 6 months of the year and this time it’s being run by Steve and Carmel – a half scouse, half Yorkshire couple who were taking over from their daughter who had told them they’d love it. I don’t think she quite prepared them for what was in store for them because they were rushed off their feet making small improvements to the place, raising the animals, tending the veg, ordering the food, managing bookings, running the bar and still take time out to try and get to know their guests and nothing is ever a bother.

After having a welcome rest in our beautiful balconied “honeymoon room” we decided we could do with an extra day to chill out, do our washing etc. and recover but our room was booked the following night so we camped the next evening instead – Steve and Carmel let us pinch the cushions from the chairs and borrow one of their tents for free so we still had a comfy night. We’re really glad we stayed because not long after we decided we could cope with camping John and Tisita from the Ilala turned up and we’d already made friends with the other two Canadians staying in the cob-house so we all had a good old natter and hang-out all day.

We also had a really interesting time talking with Steve and Carmel about the surprises they’d had on site like pregnant sows, administering antibiotics to piglets, the difficulties of managing staff, how to stay on top of stock when faced with diesel shortages, trying to rebuild links with the local villages, cooking on a wood fired stove and all sorts of new things they’d like to try out. It was a truly inspirational place.

Posted by rachndave 12:33 Tagged lodging eco-tourism Comments (1)

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