Lake Malawi, Malawi

STOP 22 | Day 67 to 70 |

Our day started early with a 5am departure as we had a 15 hour day ahead of us on the road. Today we were traveling from our overnight camp in the town of Iringa, Tanzania to Chitimba Camp located on the western shoreline of Lake Malawi. Although the distance was only 500 kilometers, the roads are incredibly rough (unpaved) alongside many villages which limits travel speeds to approximately 50kph.

Shortly after departing, the truck was pulled over by another of Tanzania’s notorious police stops. The driver was requested to step out of the vehicle and after about 10 minutes we knew something was up. The driver was presented with an image of the truck allegedly speeding on its previous route through Tanzania approximately 1-2 months ago. The driver was then given the options of going to court to face charges of $300USD or pay an “on the spot fine” of $100USD to proceed. The driver, being a man of few words and not particularly persistent, paid the $100USD and then we were on our way again. We later discovered, after discussions with other overland trucks this is Tanzanian police corruption at its finest! At this particular stop, the police officer has an inventory of doctored speeding photographs of trucks. When the truck passes back through on a return route, the police stop the truck, present the doctored image and request a fine to be paid.  Other overland trucks are catching onto this scam and have been more savvy with pushing back or call the police officers bluff of going to court – when this occurs the police officer backs off and realizes his scam isn’t going to work. It also made us feel like we got off easy with our experience of police corruption in Zanzibar (read about it here).

After a brief lunch stop, we arrived at the Malawi border. If you think some of the western world border crossings are slow, then you haven’t experienced the Tanzania / Malawi crossing!  The border crossing is littered with scalpers and people loitering, which makes it confusing as to whom is actually working the border. Our truck crew even used an agent to make the crossing a little more seamless (if that is even possible). In total we spent approximately 1.5-2hrs at the Tanzania / Malawi border crossing between getting exit stamps, on arrival visas and entry stamps!

Once we crossed into Malawi we were amazed with the view of Lake Malawi. At 29,600 square kilometers it looks more like the ocean with waves beating against the sand and water into the horizon. The lake takes up about a third of Malawi’s geographical area. Across from the lake there are views of the Kipengere Range, also known as the Livingstone Mountains which were highlighted by the glowing red African sunset. Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world, and with high levels of poverty it has been noted as one of the poorest countries in Africa.

We had decided to take it easy at the campsite the next day. Although the campsite opened onto the beach we were hesitant to take a dip in the lake as we had heard from a few sources that it contained Bilharzia. Bilharzia, also known as “snail fever” is a disease caused by a parasite that can infect humans who have direct contact with contaminated fresh water where the water snails live that carry the parasite. Most lodges around the area say it’s safe, but after seeing locals swim, bathe and wash clothes just off the campsite grounds we thought it would be wise to give it a miss. The campsite was popular with other overland trucks as mostly all companies make a stop here.

The next day we headed further south on the lake shoreline to our next campsite at Ngala Beach Lodge. On the way we stopped at our first grocery store chain in Africa located in the town of Mzuzu. Mzuzu is the capital of Malawi’s northern region and the third largest city in the country. We were pleasantly surprised by the Shoprite as it was the first western-like grocery store we had seen since we started our overland trip! However, the area around the grocery store was very rural.

The next day we awoke early for our tour of the village with a local resident by the name of John Howard. We started at 8ish with the aim to beat the heat, as temperatures were expected to reach high 30s during the day! We first stopped along the beach where locals were drying fish caught by the fishermen overnight. Most of the locals here are fishermen or have come to join the village to fish. After we headed to see the tour guide’s house. Along the way we walked by fields of cassava plants (also very popular in this region) and a staple food. We met our tour guide’s wife and 9 month old baby. He told us about the Ngala village, the chief and their lifestyle. We then made our way to the village orphanage where we were greeted by over 30 very excited children – J led them through counting from 1-10 and their ABCs. Sadly many of the children have lost their parents from malaria.  Organizations and the government have tried to stress the importance of sleeping with mosquito nets and being cautious against the disease. A charity organization even handed out free mosquito nets to all households but they found most of the locals turned them into fishing nets instead. One can see that it is difficult to prioritize disease prevention when they need to make a living and survive. Our next stop took us to the local market, where villagers come to buy, sell and trade fresh produce. After we headed to the local school, as it was Wednesday none of the kids were in uniform as they get one day off a week for laundry. The principal walked us through their system, we were astonished to find out that over 1,500 kids attend the school with only 15 teachers! Some classes had over 240 kids! We had brought a few pens and notebooks to donate to the school but it clearly felt insufficient. Our last stop in the village was the hospital, which serves over 10,000 locals with only 2 doctors and 2 nurses! That day they were offering free check ups for infants so there were lots of mothers and kids in the area. The hospital mostly does out patient care or deliveries with major surgeries being done at a larger hospital in town. The tour was very eye opening as to how the locals live. For lunch we enjoyed freshly grilled chambo fish from Lake Malawi. We also jumped in the pool for a bit to cool down from the high 30s temperatures and watched the blacked faced monkeys jumping around in the trees above. As like most of the campsites along the way the power and Wi-Fi were sporadic and often the lodge had to turn on the generator, which was usually saved until things got dark and turned off shortly after dinner!

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