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PANAFRICAN CYCLE PROJECT

Ten days of fun with Megan

  08/05/11 MALAWI ROUND TRIP OFF BIKES (Megan)

  - Distance cycled: 0km
  - Days off: 10
  - Number of beers consumed: ?

  I am writing this from the cafe of the Nairobi Hilton. I left
  Hannah and Reza late last night, and needless to say this is a
  very different setting to the ones in which we have spent our
  time together. Thanks to Panafrican Cycle, and Reza’s boundless
  generosity, I have discovered the beauty of Malawi and the joys
  of Africa. Ten days ago I landed in Lilongwe after nearly a
  day’s travel from Devon. The reunion in the airport was
  somewhat emotional and it took several beers to overcome the
  tears. And then the adventure began! Reza the expert haggler arranged the taxi to area 18A of Lilongwe, where Jeff, an American Peace Corps volunteer, was putting us up (this was my first couch-surfing experience – pretty cool!). There I met Andrea, the Italian cyclist and food enthusiast who had been pedalling alongside our Panaf’ team for the previous 3 weeks. After an expedition into the city centre to eat, we returned to Jeff’s to spend a quiet evening in the enforced candlelight of regulation electricity cut-offs. The city of Lilongwe is as I imagine most cities in Africa, or anywhere really – noisy, dusty, bustling. People here dress Western-style, and are friendly enough – but the real beauty of Malawi is not here. The next day we set off early. Jeff’s driver drops us off at the minibus station and we hop on a Salima-bound minibus. Which breaks down after a few miles. Either Hannah and Reza have this effect on motorised transport, or this is just what happens here, because Reza tells me he has yet to get in a minibus that has not broken down. We eventually make our way to Salima and then on to Monkey Bay (great name, right?) in a larger bus. We want to go to Cape Maclear, so we load up into the back of a pick-up alongside twenty or so locals, some standing, some sitting, all hanging on for dear life as the pick-up rattles and bumps its way along the dirt track. Cape Maclear is a little lakeside village built on either side of a dirt road. Stalls, restaurants, lodges and smiling faces welcome us. We settle in at Mufasa lodge, go for a swim and chill with a game of shithead and a couple of Greens (a.k.a. Carlsbergs). My first impression of Lake Malawi confirms Hannah’s description: similar to “our” lake at home (the lac des Sts Peyres), only much bigger, and warmer. In other words, pretty perfect. Add cold beer and great company and you get one happy Megan. Cape Maclear is where Hannah and Reza fell into cat-love and argued over who got to hold and stroke the kitten called Baby Jesus. Cape Maclear is also where we met Joe, a recurring character in this story. We also had the questionable joy of making the acquaintance of Strong, a.k.a. Jack Sparrow, who taught us the rules of Bawo (although not the correct rules) asked our names about ten times each, giving himself a new outlandish name each time. We sat on the beach while Joe played his guitar, Hannah and Reza and I tried to sing along (Oh Cecilia!) and Strong tried to accompany him on his drum. The result, if not quite melodious, was huge fun. We ate out once, at the Blue Cactus, under a canopy of tropical flowers, and otherwise relaxed, swam, and um... relaxed some more. I was introduced to Cocopina (coconut and pineapple soda, pure deliciousness) and Fanta Passion (yum). What I have seen of Malawi is extremely clean, and one of the reasons for the lack of litter is that the glass soda and beer bottles are on consignment and must be given back for recycling. Big thumbs up to organised recycling!

After 2 days at Cape Maclear, we head back to Monkey Bay to catch the ferry north to Nkhata Bay, where Hannah and Reza celebrated Hannah’s birthday a week previously. The ferry ride! What an adventure. We settled on 2nd class after much debate and deliberation between 1st class (top deck, expensive), cabin (completely out of our price range), 2nd class (padded benches!) and Economy (no padding). We caught up with Joe, who had opted for the relative comfort of the 1st class top deck wooden floor (but shunned the extra expense of renting a foam mattress). We were quite happy slumming it down the lowest deck. The docking, unloading and re-loading of merchandise and people, in the middle of the night, did make sleeping somewhat patchy, but the beautiful sunsets, amazing starlit skies and good company made up for any discomfort. On the second night we played Scrabble with Sam, a Malawian guy who completely smashed us (we will use seasickness as our excuse – concentrating on the small letters made us all a bit queasy, though seemed to have no effect on Sam). We also played a quick game of “Knock Knock” (Malawian equivalent of Crazy Eights) with John, who asked me if I wanted to be his white wife. I said no. I must mention the astrologer up on top deck (yes, we did sneak up there). With his laser pointer (I want one!), he showed constellations to a group of awe-struck backpackers. An impromptu talk followed, on subjects such as climate change, ice ages, evolution, Mayan calendars and of course, astrology. It was quite amazing.

Apart from one quick stop on Likoma Island (during which we had a beer and shot some pool at the White House), we were on that boat for just under 48 hours. Arriving at Nkhata Bay at 6am on Sunday morning, we were picked up by Mayoka staff, along with some other backpackers. Mayoka is pretty close to paradise on earth. Built on the steep lakeside ground, it is made up of one large open air building and many little huts scattered on the hillside and linked by stone paths and steps. The English/South African couple who own and run the place bought the virgin land 12 years ago and have been building and continually improving it ever since. Using stone and wood, and with plants and flowers bordering the paths, it blends in with the amazing scenery surrounding Lake Malawi. Attention and love have been given to every detail, and the bright and colourful deco is full of good energy. In the main part, bar, pool table, sitting and eating areas, extend to a wooden deck overlooking the stone oven, BBQ and sitting area, and of course, the lake. That morning we ate a finger-lickingly delicious breakfast and had a much-needed nap. Revived, Hannah and I started practicing canoeing in the dug-out tree trunks the locals use for water transport. A lot harder than it looks! Our inner thighs hurt for days from gripping the canoe so hard. But what fun! I am sorry to say the Panafrican team did not win the subsequent canoe race. Hey ho! Joe had shopped for food that afternoon, and we grilled fish and baked sweet potato for supper. We were pretty much ready for bed after that. But a few beers (and some of Joe’s dance potion) later, and we couldn’t help but join in the party that had spontaneously kicked off. Gift, one of the staff and more importantly one of the birthday girls that night, grabbed Hannah’s hand and dragged her onto the dance floor and the boogieing began. I did a little salsa, a little zouk and a lot of unique dance moves with Benji, another member of staff and an excellent dancer, like all the locals there. But maybe the most enthusiastic dancer there was a certain Norwegian girl to whom our friend Joe had taken a shine.. Much fun was had trying to nudge her towards him, and thanks to a great team effort they were chatting and dancing in no time. What an amazing first day at Mayoka!

The next day was spent chilling, swimming and taking the row boat out with Amber and Sarah, a couple of Texas girls living in Taiwan. And eating more delicious food. Sweet! Tuesday was the day of the boat expedition, which was another fun-filled afternoon. Leeman took 15 or so of us out in the motor boat. We started off with the fish eagles: Gift, the boat guy, called the bird by whistling, then threw fish impaled on small sticks into the air. The bird, named Tony Blair, swooped down and picked the bait out of the water with its huge talons. We puttered along to the next “attraction”, a rock face we could climb up and jump off into the water. Pure awesomeness! This was my favourite part of the afternoon. Followed snorkelling (lots of really cool stripy blue fish) and the beach where we had a long-jump competition in which Bjorn (the blond South African jock) came a close second to small, frog-legged Leeman, who just seemed to spring across the ground. Then the Mayoka team (most of the guys, and Hannah) played football against the locals and I do believe lost 4-3 to them. After all that activity an evening of philosophy, sociology and general banter with Hannah and Joe was the perfect ending to the day. Meanwhile Reza flitted between our deep and meaningful conversation and the ongoing pool challenge with Philip the bartender (I think they played twenty games that night alone, to a pretty close score).

The next day we parted ways with Joe and wrenched ourselves away from Mayoka, direction Lilongwe. After a smooth and uneventful bus ride back, and a day spent in Lilongwe, it was time to say goodbye. Tears again. Thank you so much for an amazing adventure, guys. You are great. I love you.

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