Lucky in Lilongwe

15 Feb

What I’m looking for in Lilongwe:

1. US dollars – the Zambian and Mozambiquan embassy will not sell me a visa without them.

Mentioning that I need dollars and after having tried all the banks and beureaus, I would have to go to the black market to buy them at the standard inflated rates (withdraw 165MK p. US$ and buy at 280MK p. US$), an American girl offers to sell US$ to me at bank rates. Seeing as she could sell them on the black market for at least 260MK p. US$, I offer a better rate and accept her generosity gratefully.

2. A couple of nights out in the capital.

The first night in Mufasa Camp, Lilongwe, happened to be a Peace Corps party. After that 2 South Africans and an American turn up in a customised Isuzu jeep on an African tour at around the same time as Morna, a friend from Nkhata Bay. We head out in the jeep* to the Shack. It turns out to be a volleyball tournament / big party night on Wednesdays and after getting through a stash of sachets of ‘whisky’ (potable spirits and food flavouring, 15MK / 6p for a shot) we are bought drinks and cigarrettes by generous Indian men and don’t get back to cook dinner until around 2am

3. A T-shirt – The 2nd hand markets** in Malawi are great, donations from presumably the US and Europe make for stalls full of cheap vintage t-shirts.

Chris (one of the S.African guys in the jeep), Morna and I head to the market. Lined up along the walkways individuals are holding up individual items for sale. I’ve never seen anything like it. Dozens and dozens of guys with one shirt, one skirt, one screwdriver, one dress or one pair of shoes. Holding their lone item up all day. We all buy something, the rich mzungus in the market caused a stir and you couldn’t escape the desperation in the air, so after a bit of haggling I was comfortable paying a slightly inflated asking price for my Pink Floyd t-shirt (500KW – £2).

4. Lot’s of food – there’s a kitchen at the guesthouse and I plan on fattening up a bit before the imminent diet of nsima in Zambia.

350g of T-bone steak for 500MK? Dinner decided. Steak with chips and Morna’s guacamole. Steak with rice and veg. Steak with chips and mustard leaves. I ate a lot in Lilongwe. A couple of tubs of peanut butter, a few loaves of bread, a dozen cups of tea and coffee a day (free at Mufasa Camp) a couple of dozen eggs at least, samosas, fried chicken, pasta, loads of tomatoes and garlic and onions, mince meat, beef and veg curry, and, believe it or not, even a couple of apples and 500g of cheese. Not to mention delicious and nutritious Carlsberg, brewed in Malawi.

5. An idea of where to go next – i.e. research Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and the Garden Route.

Jimbo, a Japanese cyclist, now 2 years and 8 months into his around the world trip, arrives at Mufasa Camp. Jimbo has been cycling with Peter Gostelow, a British cyclist I’ve been in touch with over the last few months – www.bigafricacycle.com. They rode through the Congo together and they’ve got some great stories. After deciding to see Victoria Falls in Zambia  I am now hanging around for a couple of extra days to ride with Jimbo for a couple of weeks in that direction through the emptiness of Zambia.

6. 1 tent pole – not sure where I left mine.

Jimbo was given spares and was planning on leaving some behind at the camp. Tent poles aquired.

Morna and I took a trip to see Malawi’s rock paintings in Mphunzi. A mixture of minibuses, hitchhiking, hiking, camping and climbing got us there. We couldn’t find most of the rock paintings until we asked a guy who’d been hunting for birds with a catapult. He marched us around the maze of boulders that make up the mountain and showed us the 2000 year old drawings. Nice. Nice giraffe. Job done. Now let’s walk, hitchhike, and just get the 15km back across the valley  and drink sugar cane spirit in Ed’s Bar and watch Zambia against Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations final***, already.

Another stroke of luck! I’m in Chipata, Zambia now. I had to leave before Jimbo because my visa was running out.

Actually, it had already run out, the Malawian border post official informed me, and I should pay a 5000MK / £20 fine. I explained I hadn’t anywhere near that kind of money, having spent my last 40MK on a piece of beef. I would have to go the 110km back to Lilongwe and get the money then. Damn. Woops. I shrugged my shoulders a bit and explained I’d been cycling, I was a bit too tired to go back today. He invited me into his office and asked me a few questions about my trip, then we stared at each other a bit, waiting for some kind of offer from each other. Then he said he could assist me and took my passport back to his desk. He’d done it for free. I gave him some assistance too out of appreciation. Good old Malawi.

*Before we could head to the bar, it took an hour of scouring the capital’s petrol stations to find fuel.

**The army had been ‘moving on’ (with tear gas) street vendors while we were in Lilongwe. I was warned about certain areas but saw nothing but people hanging around in groups and a lot of military.

***Fell asleep before Zambia won the penalty shootout against the Elephants, who, up until then (for the second time), hadn’t conceded a single goal all tournament.

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