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Week 20: Tanzania/Malawi: From Zanzibar back to Lake Malawi

And we’re back in Malawi! As I’ve said in a previous blog, we’ve decided to skip North Mozambique for safety reasons, and rather retrace our steps south along Lake Malawi, before we go into Central Mozambique. And now that we are here, we are so happy with the call! When we passed through Malawi in Sep/Oct last year, it was still the dry season, and everywhere was dusty, dry as a bone and hot as hell. Now the country is into its rainy season, and it is a different place altogether – kind of similar to how we are feeling as we’re coming towards the last parts of our trip and seeing and appreciating every small thing as if for the first time! The colours are vibrant, it’s green as far as the eye can see, everyone is working in the lands planting and harvesting crops, and most importantly, it is a lot cooler (aka only 32° with a gentle breeze blowing and occasional rain to break the heat, vs the average sweltering 38° that we encountered on the way north!). The country is however again in the grips of potential political upheaval, as the heavily contentious election of last year has been reviewed by the High Court, and regardless of whether the election results will be overturned or not in the next 3 days, the losing faction will most probably gear up for massive protests. So we will aim to stay clear of the major cities again as far as possible, but so far all is quiet and calm (before the storm?)! Anyway, never a dull day in African politics! Back to our travel stats so far: • Total days travelled through Africa: 135 • Total distance driven from Cape Town through Africa: 19,042km o All-in-all we think we will be at about 25,000km by the time we get back home to Cape Town…so another fifth of the way to go – YEAH! • Total borders crossed: 11 o We’ve become super efficient with African border crossings by now…I think even the runners and money exchangers that usually hassle one to no end, are starting to become weary of us after a couple of seconds and realise quickly that they are on the losing side of the “assertive battle” 😊 And then the Aardvark stats for Week 20: • Best drink: Our final bottle of red wine (a 2007 Shiraz from the Swartland) that we’ve brought with from home…oh my oh my…this was the way wine is supposed to taste! And a close second = Hot chocolate and Amarula. My new favorite drink when its cold and rainy (obviously only after we ran out of red wine!)…and the team at the Old Farmhouse Camp in Iringa kept them coming 😊 • Best food: The home-made soup and freshly baked bread rolls at Simbanwenni Lodge & Camp in Morogoro…we got to the campsite in the middle of a downpour and in the dark…tired of a very exhausting drive out of Dar Es Salaam along with all the trucks, busses and speed cops…nothing like a hearty warm meal that tastes likes home! • Best view: Sunrise over Lake Malawi at the Kachere Kastle campsite…the white beach was freshly washed by the morning rains, empty and silent. Devoid of everything but beauty. Week 20 started with a visit to the local medical doctor in Nungwi to sort out Irene’s Nairobian Fly bites and get some much needed antibiotics - we’ve got an entire pharmacy in Aardvark, but as these things happen, you never have the necessary medicine with you when you really need it! Whilst waiting for the doctor, we started chatting with some of the other visitors to the island, and realized that the majority of them also fell victim to the Nairobian Flies…luckily we could tell them what caused their blisters and how to treat it – not sure it was necessarily information that we wanted to know 😊 Anyway, the remainder of the day was lazily spent reading next to the turquoise water, feeling as we are in paradise (albeit one filled with assassin bugs and loads of Eastern European tourists, but then again, one should focus on only the positive things, right?!). The next morning (of day 131) we flew back to mainland Tanzania, again with a little Sessna plane on which we were the only passengers, feeling very important 😊 We were rested and ready to tackle the notoriously congested road out of Dar, but unfortunately when we got back to the FPTC Centre where we left Aardvark for a couple days, we were greeted by a flat back tyre…the tyre pressure monitor’s o-ring was gone, and the 4 days were just long enough for the slow pressure release through the valve to completely deflate the tyre. Luckily we are no longer strangers to changing tyres, and after a bit of a delay and playing with various jacks, we were ready to hit the road! The road out of Dar is every bit as congested as we were told, and our average speed was between 20-30km/hour…which turned our c. 200km journey into a 5 hour ordeal! Our general rule is to try and avoid driving after dark if at all possible – we had to break this rule and drive in the dark and through a cloud burst to get to the Simbawenni camp. And getting there realized again how lucky we were to have not fallen victim to any of the numerous potholes or other obstacles (read random cement blocks in the middle of the road to demarcate holes in the road, open gutters, and people swerving all over the road to try and avoid the muddy puddles)…our guardian angles are definitely working overtime! We were welcomed to the campsite by a delicious hot meal, with home food…the perfect remedy to get a long day out of us and plunge us directly into a blissful sleep in the soft rain! After a leisurely breakfast, the rest of day 132 was again spent on the road south, past Iringa to the Kisolanza’s The Old Farmhouse Lodge & Camp. We did first venture into Morogoro’s towncentre to buy some necessities before Malawi, but it was more of a waste-of-time-exercise than anything else…we would’ve been better suited just driving on, as the 355km route of the day still took us close to 7hours to complete! This time we arrived well before sunset though, and after a hot shower, amazing hot chocolate & amarula and a lovely vegetable stew, we were more than ready to hit the bed with a movie – it is crazy how tiresome these driving days can be! The next morning we woke up to a bit of sunshine and temporary reprieve of the rain, and promptly decided to stay another day and do some much needed housekeeping, cleaning and admin…it is a never-ending job that both of us actually we happily “faffed away” in the sunshine 😊 We also bought some lovely veggies, fruit, eggs and bread from the Farmhouse…some of which Irene transformed into a royal feast that evening…along with some “melt-in-your-mouth” fillet from Simba Farm, and even more spectacularly…our last bottle of 2007 Swartland Shiraz that we brought with from home! This was our celebratory goodbye dinner to Tanzania, all its beauties and our incredible memories…we have so much to be thankful for! We got up early on the morning of day 134, ready for the long session to Malawi. It was a bit of a delayed start, as our neighbors first wanted to borrow our jack to change their tyre, and when we eventually got on the road, realized we left our coffee plunger at the washup area!! The plunger was an Aardvark present from Anria, and apart from the sentimental value, is also the main source of my fresh morning coffee (that Irene makes 😊)…so needless to say, we had to turn back to fetch it. So eventually, 2hours after schedule, we finally hit the road…just to encounter traffic cop after traffic cop on the final 400km stretch to the border. We were pulled over at least 6 times, and at 4 of those occasions the “officials” tried to impose trumped-up / scammed fines! Twice we were stopped just to ask where we are going and where did we came from after inspecting all our documents (all good, only a 5min delay each time), but the other 4 times was just unnecessary! We don’t believe in stoking the culture of bribery, so our approach has always been that if we are guilty of speeding or any other violation, to just pay the fine rather than bribe our way out. We have however been the victim of a scam or two, and after over 6 months on the road, a bit wiser to all the tricks. So when we heard comments like “my friend, in Tanzania it is a punishable offence to…drive with flipflops / overtake a truck in a 50km/k zone (we were doing 35km/h overtaking a truck on an official dotted line)/etc” we just refuse to pay. And usually after a long discussion we were allowed to proceed without paying the hoaxed fine. So when we were yet again pulled off by traffic cops, and showed a cellphone picture of Aardvark with the speed of 71km super-imposed on the bottom thereof, we asked to see the proof on the actual radar-camera (this is a well know hoax, where someone takes a cellphone picture of the car, superimpose a speed above the speeding limit, no radar involved, and then the local traffic cop that’s in on the scam insist on you paying the fine before giving your driving license back…we fell for it only once!). Anyway, they told us that the actual radar was 3km up the road, and we just have to pay. We insisted on our rights to see the actual radar reading, and next thing I was driving back up the road with a officer next to me in Aardvark, whilst Irene was discussing the scams that we’ve encountered throughout Africa with the officer in charge. Needless to say, there was no radar…not 3km down the road, not at the next village, not at the next bend in the road, not 7km further passed 4 different speeding zones…nothing! So we eventually drove off after refusing to pay the fine due to lack of evidence…we were “graciously allowed to leave this once” by the officer in charge…close to an hour later but with our morals intact and our stance validated! We eventually crossed back into Malawi after what felt like an eternity in a banking queue to pay the required road tax, and made our way to Floja Foundations’ campsite next to Lake Malawi. We stayed here during our last night on the way through Malawi as well, and if felt fitting to sleep here again…a kind of full circle if you like! Everything was green and buzzing with life, and it felt like we are really now slowly returning home! After an breakfast containing some of the amazing freshly baked bread from Floja, we again hit the road through Mzuzu to stock up (with some wine) at the local Shoprite as well as things like watch batteries / pro-biotics / airtime / yoghurt / niknaks / etc (all the small things in life!), and eventually made our way to our current campsite…and now we never want to leave again! For the first time in weeks we could make a fire on the beach and enjoy a glass of red wine (or two) late into the night… I’m writing this whilst sitting in a swimming pool and staring at the clouds over Lake Malawi…our campsite is right on the beach underneath a couple of massive trees…absolute heaven! We are going to go stay here at Kachere Kastle for another day or two at least, and then head straight for Mozambique’s coast whilst avoiding any large cities. So next week this time, I’ll be hopefully writing this blog from next to the ocean again, with a big R&R next to me! Till then. J

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