A lot has happened since the last edition, with our trip taking us through 4 countries culminating in trading the local transport for an overland truck. Starting from Mozambique to Malawi, bouncing through Zambia and into Zimbabwe. And, like any part of our journey it started with another interesting border crossing, from South Africa into Mozambique.
Pre-warned by the bus driver there would be issues at the border between South Africa and Mozambique, we assured him we were all sorted and there was nothing to worry about, to which he replied “I’ll leave you there if I have to”, “Hmmm, OK” was all we could muster. Thankfully a Mozambican with an Australian passport gave us the tip, slip the driver a few notes and he won’t be leaving you anywhere, except your desired destination. It proved fortuitous advice as we held up the bus for an hour and a half, tracking down someone to print of some documents, and waiting for the fairly relaxed customs officer to get started. Luckily, in Africa a delay of 1 1/2 hours barely registers, where in Australia we would have felt the intense dagger stares, or run the risk of actual daggers, Mozambicans just laugh and continue chatting among themselves.
Despite the bumpy entrance, we wandered around the capital Maputo taking in the warmth of the locals, with Portuguese inspired architecture, and more importantly, Portuguese inspired food, being particularly enjoyable. From the capital we headed North to Tofo beach for some rest and relaxation, swimming and attempting to snorkel with the giants of the ocean, Whale Sharks. The dive school, Peri Peri, had a policy that if you see nothing, you get to go again. Unfortunately for us, despite going out twice we saw nothing, only to find that the day we left they had one basically jump on the boat. While we seem to have very good luck with terrestrial animals, it doesn’t appear to extend to the aquatic. Our time in Mozambique was very relaxed, unfortunately we didn’t have as much chance to check out the country as much as we might like, due to the Cyclone Idai ravaging large parts of the center of the country.
Onward to Malawi we had booked a flight, due to uncertainty around the roads in the centre of the country. We booked to fly into Blantyre in the country’s south, planning a nice, logical route up alongside the lake. Blantyre airport apparently had different ideas, and 3 day before flying we found out we were in fact being rerouted to Lilongwe due to runway repairs, fair enough. After arriving, the biggest issue we faced was getting away from the airport, with extortionate taxi prices we mused out loud hoping one of the people there would take pity on us. Gratefully, an American on business did exactly that, paying our fare on the principle of “I’ve been there before”, which we happily paid forward to our equally satisfied driver.
One of the main attractions, or the main attraction is the lake baring the country’s name, Lake Malawi. On our way out of the capital we’d been warned to steer clear of the main bus station, unfortunately needing a bus away from the city sort of renders this advice useless. We immediately saw why with scuffles breaking out in all corners featuring all comers and even one Kung Fu style fly kick. Fortunately, we were able to watch open mouthed as this all unfolded from the relative safety of the mini van (waiting for 1.5hrs for it to fill up), the fact that it didn’t seem to bother anyone else told a story in and of itself. It seemed out of character for a country with the moniker “The warm heart of Africa”.
Thankfully, the warmth was on display everywhere else outside the fiery pit of hell that is Lilongwe Bus Station. Always smiling and waving their arms off, Malawians are indeed a generous endorsement of the nickname, and it was a constant as we made our way from Cape Maclear in the lake’s south, through Senga Bay, and up to Nkhata bay further north. Walking through the villages was always fun, and Mark became a sensation getting his haircut in one, much to the confusion of not just the locals, but the barber himself. Having never cut Mzungu hair before, the scissors appeared a foreign object, but we made it out unscathed as people popped their head in for a look. The hardest bit about Malawi is that in parts of the lake there is a parasite called Bilharzia, meaning that despite looking like paradise, its swim at your own risk. Luckily Nkhata bay is safe(-ish), so we could snorkel, kayak and paddle board to our heart’s content in the idyllic surrounds.
In Kande Beach we nervously approached the campsite where we were to meet our new travel buddies for our overlanding trip. We needn’t have, immediately as we put our bags down the others came over to welcome us and Mark was thrown straight into cooking duties. Only 2 days later in the Zambian capital another exciting moment, Mark’s sister Melissa joined us! Having been told she had too much leave (not a bad problem to have) she booked on to join the tour, and will go all the way to Cape Town. We moved quickly through Zambia and not long after we were in Zimbabwe.
Our first couple of nights we spent aboard a house boat on Lake Kariba, on the country’s northern border in surreal surrounds. Tying up we were alone watching a magical sunset, having some sundowners, watching a family of elephant grazing a few metres from the boat, and a great introduction to Africa for Melissa. The next night it was buffalo munching the grass by the boat, it was an incredible couple of days. When we weren’t spotting wildlife we were doing some “mean as bombs” off the boat. we moved to Antelope Park and did a game drive with a difference – on horse back – with giraffes towering over us and zebras looking curiously at these other horses with people attached to them.
Moving further south just outside Bulawayo is Matopos national park, which will be one of the highlights of our time in Africa. We were able to get out the truck and walk through the wilderness to track down some white rhino. To have a chance to see rhinos is a privilege in its own right, as we discussed in a previous post, rhino are facing a fight for survival, and losing. So to get to see them up close at their level while they slept and scratched on trees is an indescribable experience, despite being de-horned by the rangers for their protection they remain a target. At the moment we are relaxing in Victoria falls, nearly tripping over the local warthogs grazing beside the footpaths and taking in the raw power of the falls. The falls themselves are spectacular, and right up there with Niagara and Iguazu falls.
Zimbabwe, despite being in the throws of a severe economic crisis, meaning, among other thing that you never know what anything actually costs, and whose own currency is eschewed by the populous, is a beautiful place. So aside from confusion at the till, people are warm and friendly with plenty to do and see. From here we will move onto Botswana, Namibia and finally Cape Town, which will be the end of our African adventure. There is still a wealth of experiences to be had before then though.
Until next time.
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