Wandering hippos, man eating crocodiles and Malawian markets
05.06.2008 - 20.06.2008 26 °C
Firstly, sorry this post is so long...internet access has been extremely limited during the past couple of weeks.
After leaving behind Victoria Falls, we continued to travel east through Zambia - staying for a night on the shores of the man made Lake Kariba. The next day the bus came to a halt due to engine failure. Consequently, we made an impromptu stop in the Zambian captial of Lusaka, where we enjoyed watching 1 of the many football matches of Euro 2008; supporting Holland has turned out to be a shrewd move!
A couple more days of driving later, along roads with pot holes the size of small cars (group members have suffered huge purple bruises having lurched from 1 side of the bus to the other) we arrived at the rarely visited South Luangwa National Park.
We pitched our tent in a tree house high above the ground and were entertained by the screeching monkeys in the trees. The campsite has no fences so hippos and giraffes wandered freely below us. After watching another football match, I walked back to the tent in the dark. I was in my own little world when I suddenly heard munching a few metres to my left. Unwittingly, I had almost walked into a grazing hippo! Desperately searching for the sanctity of my tree house, I ran up the stairs with a pounding heart to safety.
I obviously slept well as I was unaware of the screaming during the night. In the morning I was told how a thief had stolen someone's bag, been spotted by security guards, and the thief, having faced the choice of swimming across the river to freedom, or time in a Zambian jail, thought he had a greater chance of survival in the river (a barman later agreed he was probably right). The only problem was that the river is teeming with hippos and crocodiles and, in attempting to swim across the river, the thief was eaten by a crocodile. Clearly crime doesn't pay!
Once awake, we went for 2 game drives where we saw an incredible array of wildlife - from baboons to dazzles (groups of zebra), elephants to bush bucks. The highlights though were undoubtedly seeing 3 rare sightings of leopards (completing our viewing of the Big 5) and watching a pride of lions devour a zebra.
Following a brutal 18 hour journey, we left Zambia and arrived on the shores of Lake Malawi. The long beautiful beaches and warm waters made it a great place to spend the afternoon. Despite acknowledging my own limited swimming abilities, I couldn't resist swimming to an island 1km from shore. Taking twice the expected time to reach the island, I eventually washed up against the rocks - having swallowed half the lake and feeling as physically drained as I have ever been. Once recovered, I went cliff jumping before starting the slow swim back to the mainland.
I also went to the nearby village and visited the water pump and hospital. The trip to the school was particularly memorable because as soon as we entered the grounds, we were swamped by Malawian children desperate to hold our hands. We shared a packed class with 110 students as they sang and told us 'mzingos' (white people) of their English classes. According to statistics, Malawi is the poorest country in Africa - yet also the happiest.
My experiences would support this. During my second day by Lake Malawi we were joined by several excited 8 year old boys keen to play with balls we had bought made from rubber trees. After playing happily the stories of woe began, describing how each of the boys' relatives had died from a rare disease and that by giving them 50 dollars we could significantly improve the boys' lives. This is the unfortunate result of past tourists giving money, pens or other paraphanalia that enabled the tourist to feel charitable, having helped the 'poor villager'. The problem now is that there is a 'begging culture' - an expectation that villagers will receive 'assistance' not through hard work, but by sticking out their hands and telling tourists a sad story - true or otherwise. Indeed, when we pass children on the bus, warm smiles occasionally turn to scowls of resentment if we do not drop pens from the window.
Before leaving Malawi, we stopped at a large market where, in a rare lapse, I went on a spending spree - buying a shirt and a couple of ornaments, and exchanged my T shirt for a poster. Leaving Malawi behind, we arrived in Tanzania crossing tea plantations and mountain passes as we headed to sprawling Dar es Salaam, where we caught a ferry to Zanzibar. There was time though for a thumb sized cockroach to crawl up my chest before we left!