DOES IT REALLY RAIN IN AFRICA?
We are now in Lilongwe, Malawi and much has happened since I last wrote on this blog.
[*]A three day magicaL Safari
[*]The end country #4 (Kenya) and #5 (Tanzania) – It is very special to look at a map thinking that we have cycled all that way! But it is also very amazing how one can loose all sens of the time - I am unable to tell you date or day of the week!.
[*]Our entry in Malawi with its crown jewel - Lake Malawi!
[*] Experiencing rainy season and humidity with a leaking tent - ouch!
This is the land of friendly people, more dirt roads (ouch) and a magical safari!
The last time I wrote I was in Nairobi. We then had two/three days of riding in Kenya before we crossed to Tanzania through the town of Namanga. The border crossing was again uneventful and quite easy but my entry into Tanzania was the begining of a new love affair with … « Chai ».
I now know that one must fight hot weather with hot drinks (instead of these cold sodas....) and discovered the great taste of chai and chapatis as a second breakfast and also a second lunch... I am still eating like crazy!!!. Stopping for chai and chapatis is a wonderful way of meeting local people as women make chai and chapatis in little "cabanes"/ huts in the middle of a village. Chai is a spiced tea –with a blend of ginger, cardamon, cinamon, depending of inspiration of the moment PLUS a lot of sugar! A chapatis is a round flat bread cooked on the grill (origin in India) and I had some sugar to it when available (mium mium mium!). In fact, chai and chapatis are a staple in Kenya but my love affair started only in Tanzania. I believe that there is a say to the effect that short love affairs are the best – and mine lasted only the 10 days of Tanzania but it was quite intense .
The Tanzanian people were also an highlight of this country. Very friendly people in pair with the people from the Sudan. Actually with some retrospect, I would say that the kids and adults in Kenya were a little more aggressive towards muzungu (i.e., white person in Swahili) while people in Tanzania seemed much more relaxed and in some places one could look around without even being talked to or asked to buy something. More south in Tanzania, people and mostly the kids are again a little more aggresive when they see us - but it is all fine, just a different approach. The realities here in Africa are so so different from what we (or at least I) know!
We got to Arusha (capital of Tanzania) and left the next day for a two nights/3 days safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti Park.
The Crater is 20km wide and one of the largest calderas in the world (as per the Lonely Planet!!!). This is truly a very magical place both for the density of animals once can see all living together in a very peaceful manner and for the scenaries. The Serengeti Park is known for the impressive migration of wildebeests. We toured the crater and the Serengeti Park in an open roof top jeep (7 cyclist happy to be sitting in a jeep instead of on a bike seat!). I will let you imagine my head emerging from the open roof of that jeep looking with my eyes wide. Seriouly, I spent these three days in a state of pure amazement. I saw lions coupling just in front of our jeep (during the mating season , they can "get busy" up to 35 times per day. Although short (about 1 minute with not much foreplays involved ..., it seemed to be quite intense and two of them seemed really tired afterwards - Just my assumption!). We also saw a mama chetaw with her cubs killing an antilop a few feet from us, hyppos sunking in the water just like in a Nature channel program, tones of zebras, families of elephants (we actually saw little babies from very very close!!!), hienas, big buffalos, very elegant girafes (Nicolas - these are the most beautiful on earth !), monkeys, neat looking birds, a huge number of wilderbeest - although it was not quite yet the migration - and so many many other animals.... (Anik, Emmanuelle, Nicolas and Mom: you would have loved it!)!
And then we were back on our bike for a 5 days riding on dirt roads out of Arsuha in direction of the Malawi border through Dodoma, Iringa and Mbeya (the later being the border town where we crossed into Malawi). Through these 5 days, we crossed many women of different tribes/origins carrying heavy loads on their heads and back. It really seems like Africa is a continent of working women and very numerous unoccupied men (and that is me being diplomatic ). These women are wrapped in beautiful sarongs of all colors. The sarongs in Tanzania and Malawi are used for so many purposes including serving as a skirt/dress, head scarf to protect against the sun, to carry children, to wrap the peas and carry them on the top of your head, etc. There must be more than 101 uses for the sarongs and our group of Muzungus has also adopted the sarong to quickly get off of these bike shorts and heel our soar bums.. BUT I must say that not all the huys looks good in a sarong with no shirt on.... so the Muzungu from the Tour d'Afrique must not always be a pretty vision for the locals .
These riding days were also quite hilly. In the surrounding of Iringa and Mbeya, we had reached high plateaux – i.e., we often climbed more than 1000 meters per day - at one point we were as high as 1800 meters - and the evening camps were quite cold and very wet (yes, it was raining!!) - It felt like camping in Western Canada in June... Actually there were connifers in between what was still quite tropical vegetation - a funny thing to see.
The end of Tanzania and our entry into Malawi marked the begining of riding pavement – some of the cyclist actually kissed the pavement. From my side, I was a little sad to leave the dirt roads. I have come to really like these rides – challenging and fun. We have maybe about 10 days of dirt roads left in the trip (sniff, sniff). The entry in Malawi is also the begining of a much stronger cycling culture - men and women cycle everywhere. Not just in town but also in between diffferet town. In Ethiopia and Kenya - - people were cycling but mostly men and mostly in town. Here in Malawi and also in the south of Tanzania - bike is a must to go around. It is amazing to see how much the Malawian and Tanzanian people will carry on these bikes - we have seen one bike with a small cow on the back! very often bigs and chicken, piles of woods, piles of "charcoal", huge amount of water, and also "taxi bike" - with one person riding a nice long back leather seat (instead of the back bike rack)!
Malawi is also offcially my introduction to the rainy season in Africa. Malawi can go as much as 8 months without rain and they do some awarness work on conserving water - but in the last few days we have had a lot of rain! It is usually short rain periods - but yesterday in our rest day it rained almost alll night and a big part of the day. The last few days in Tanzania also presented some challenges for staying dry. There were a lot of humidity in the air when we woke up and the tents were as wet as if it had rained! I have discovered that my tent is leaking so that is a bit of a challenge for me :0 - yep Dennis I don't know why but I seem to be cursed with leaking tents! I will certainly survived but I am starting to shrink from being wet and humid as well as from loosing weight
We are being told that there has been some flood in Bostwana and Namibia in the last few days - hopefully it will calm down before we get there...
MALAWI – HILLS, HILLS AND A ITS LAKE
The first 7 days in Malawi have been very very hilly – One of the most amazing rides on this trip was between Mbeya and Chitimba beach. Pure tropical forest as scenaries with such an abundance of fruit trees of all sorts, tea fields, and palms trees. On that day, we rode through a major storm descending into a valley and we could hardly see anything for a few kilometres so much the rain was strong and the fog was densed but yet the sky cleared and we then saw this great vegetation and the various shades of green. Wow!
I am not about to forget that day descending and climbing in heaven all at the same time
Then we got the see Lake Malawi, described in the Lonely Planet as a magnificent shrade of crystal; water streching some 500 km along Malawi eastern border- well it is amazingly blue for sure! Our first beach camp since Egypt! I set my tent in the sun, I swimmed in the Lake (despite advises from travel doctors not to do it because of risk of catching some « bebites » - well this whole trip is about risk of cachibng something so one more or less . [Stephan, please don't read that part to Maman...]. The waves were high and the water almost as warm as body temperature – a real threat – even if forbiden . On thart rest day at the beach, I teamed up with two other girls with whom I often ride to cook a breakfast for the whole ghroup – french toasts, caramelized nuts, pear compote, fruit salad and chai – A very nice moment cooking for 60 hungry cyclists. Many of them helped us with cutting fruits and cooking the french toasts.
Malawi is ranked in the first 10 poorest countries and yet it is so full of contrasts (again). The average annual income is $USA 1000 and they are some data to the effect that more than 40-50% of the population would be affected by HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, this is a peaceful country, the roads are well paved, there seems to be a lot of foreign investment (the government wants to attract investment to develop agriculture, trade in cut flowers, auto parts, tires, etc), but also heavy international aid from European union in relation to agriculture, big adds along the roads for soaps, luxury products, loans, etc. And still, many families survive on one meal per day (if any) which will be made mostly from Qasaga (I am not sure of the spelling) like a white root (similar to potatoes but much less tasty). Food security in rural Malawi seems really an isssue in rural Malawi (28% of the population is said to leave in extreme state of poverty as per UNDP reports) and I am ashame when I think that I keep eating and eating all day when in fact many of the children I see on the road during the day may not even have had a meal! Not easy to deal with my conscience these days...
We are leaving Malawi tomorrow (we are not going south of Malawi...) to enter Zambia.. Another country and much more discoveries to come.
Missing you but liking every moments of this trip (well almost ).
Sonia (and Orimou)