Big Brother’s African Brother #37: Iringa, Tanzania to Chitimba, Malawi

Iringa, Tanzania to Chitimba, Malawi

Day 37: 3 September 2002 8:30 pm

The group are excited by the prospect of crossing into a new country, while Tom and Penny contemplate if they have a future on the truck (again).

(US $1 = MK 80)
To leave the truck or not to leave the truck – that is the burning question
as we head for Malawi. We were never to see the farmhouse in the light as
we had to get up at 5:00am in the cold mist to pack our tent away. It was
another interminably long drive to the border where we were granted a 14 day
Malawi visa (at no cost).

The only subtle difference that I have seen so far between Tanzania and
Malawi is the introduction of tea plantations and the thatched roofs of the
Malawi huts. Otherwise, I still felt as if we were in Tanzania. I was
completely wrong, as when we stopped on the roadside for lunch, we became
the primary attraction for every man, woman and child in the nearby
vicinity. It was like bees to a honey pot. I know now what it is like to
be stared at as if the Malawians had become the tourists.

On major concern with visiting Malawi is the news of the famine that was
sporadically plastered across news reports back home. It doesn’t seem very
ethical to visit a country that is teetering on starvation but at the same
time, is this the real story? I had heard about the controversial IMF
ruling over selling their food supplies which the IMF denies. The Malawi
government cites this as one of the main reasons for plunging the country
into famine. Would I still be welcome as a tourist in Malawi and would
there be food shortages?

A posting on the Lonely Planet Thorntree did reassure me and gave a few
positive things that tourists can do to improve the local economy:

“Mainly the local subsistence farmers that rely on their own crops for
survival have been affected. There is plenty of food in the markets, shops,
restaurants and hotels and tourists should not be affected but local
subsistence farmers and the poor cannot afford to buy food from here. News
reports tend to give the impression that the whole country has no food at
all and whilst it is a bad situation, tourists should not be deterred from
Malawi as tourist dollars can only help the country’s local economy. Where
possible, buy food and goods as low down the supply chain as feasible i.e.
buy from local or roadside sellers as the money goes directly in the
locals’ pockets rather than a supermarket.”

We stopped at the first major town (if you can call sleepy Karonga ‘major’)
and encountered our first Malawi hurdle, changing money. The only option
in town was the National Bank of Malawi and it closed at 2:00pm. We arrived
just before 1:00pm, approaching the first desk to receive a form from an
earnest young man who took an eternity to work out on his calculator the
rate for travellers cheques. After filling in a form, we were directed to a
long queue for ‘No 1′ desk, the only desk that could deal with ‘paying
money’ and it was heaving with locals.

Intermittently, another local would push in right at the front of the queue
so we never moved forward and the minutes ticked by. My only concern was
that we would not reach the front of the queue before the bank closed.
Luckily we did under the dawning realisation that African time is nothing
compared to Malawi time – the Malawi people are even more laid back than
their East African counterparts.

Tom was on cook duty, so he charged off to the only supermarket and local
market to stock up on food for the next couple of days. The selection
available was poor, particularly the local vegetable market that only had
potatoes, onion, tomato and bananas. In wet season, the variety available
is even worse. It was cheap though – Tom paid MK 10 for a bunch of 13
small bananas (approx 14 pence).

Life in Malawi is incredibly simple and slow paced – every day is spent
searching for firewood, collecting water, tending crops and cattle, trying
to scrape a living together. It is such a contrast to life back in the
Western world, so frenetic and complicated.

The journey to Chitimba on the truck seemed unusually stressful today. The
music was persistently loud, resulting in a splitting headache, resorting to
wearing ear plugs to block some of it out. We coasted into Chitimba to stay
at the aptly named Chitimba camp site on the coarse sand beaches of
northern Lake Malawi. As always, we only had enough time to erect the tent
and shower, before darkness and mozzies descended.

For once dinner was delicious and plentiful. I had three servings of
marinated chicken, salad in honey dressing and sauteed potatoes. The
chicken had been cooked in the new truck oven (an unsophisticated metal
box).

Philip had apparently discussed some important matters with the other truck
members and now needed to sound us out before giving our tour leader a
proposal as agreed by the group. It would appear that no one in the group
is keen to merge with the second truck down to Cape Town (I wonder why?).
Philip wants to ask our tour leader if the company would agree to run a
second truck instead of running the Aussie vet truck at full capacity. The
trucks merge at Victoria Falls and the general concensus is that no one wants
to be squeezed onto the other truck. Rumours abound of the Aussie vets
having a mountain of luggage with some members having two large back packs
each plus a mattress instead of a sleeping mat and this is without
additional souvenirs. This means that the storage lockers on their truck
are already overflowing.

We agreed to his proposal in principle even though we already knew that we
had decided to leave the truck and would break the news to our tour leader
tomorrow. Tom had already given me an ultimatum – get off the truck or
do the rest of the tour on my own and meet him in Cape Town. He made it
quite clear that if he spent one more day than necessary on the truck that
he would go insane!

We will never do another long-term, organised trip again. This is not a
reflection on the company or the tour leader; the problem lies with us not
being suited to truck life. We missed the freedom and flexibility of being
on our own and making our own choices, even if it means making mistakes.
Also, it was becoming obvious that a few of the optional excursions were
actually compulsory rather than optional. Belinda asked about the Okavango
Delta and discovered that it is two days of driving and only one day in the
mokoro. Unimpressed by this, she inquired what would happen if she didn’t
do the excursion and our tour leader implied that this was not possible as
‘everyone does the Delta!’

Positives: We will break the news to our tour leader tomorrow of our
impending departure. No doubt this will frazzle our tour leader’s nerves
further.

Negatives: We will lose the cost of the remainder of our tour as we are
jumping off before completing half of it. Never mind, the price of freedom
can never be under estimated.

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