Monthly Archives: November 2014

HOSP-SMOKALITY

“Give me five,” called out a voice from across the main road leading into Nkhata Bay, a beautiful little slice of paradise on the beaches of Lake Malawi.

“Five what?” I called back at the young local sitting in the shade of his gift-ware shop, escaping the midday heat. I immediately suspected that he suspected that he had a suspected business opportunity and would try to sell me some trinkets.

“Five fingers,” he grinned, “because when you shake my hand it makes ten.”

I like that.

This guy ain’t about business. He’s just doin’ what Malawians do best; greet, smile and have a chat just for the sake of chatting. I crossed the road and introduced myself, giving him five fingers to make ten as we shook hands.

“I’m Bom-X,” he introduced himself. “This is my brother, Lucas,” he indicated to the Rastafarian braiding the Rasta colours of red, green and yellow on a black background to make flip flops (also known as thongs).

We all pumped fists and tapped to our heart, one of my favourite ways to greet people.

“You like to smoke?” Bom-X asked, rolling a joint. “Here, we don’t have rizzla, so we roll with paper. Is it OK?”

Is it OK? I’d smoke from a flip flop right now if I could. “Not a problem,” I grinned. Is it OK, pff.

“Please, sit down. I invite you,” he indicated to the bench where I parked it. “Me, I’m from the village,” he began to dictate his autobiography, “we are very poor –”

“It all depends on your definition of ‘poor’,” I cut him off.

“What do you mean?” he frowned.

“If, to you, poor is being without money, then you are just financially poor.” Shit, I feel a rant coming on. “But if you have somewhere to sleep, something to eat –” How do I stop myself? – “and people to call family and friends that always surround you and help you, then, my friend, you are one of the most wealthiest people I know.”

His frown turned upside down. His eyes lit up and he pumped fists with me.

“I like that. Yes, I am a rich man,” he was laughing and Lucas was grinning.

I grinned back, pumping fists as I explained my penniless ways. “I’m working at Big Blue Backpackers,” – which was right next door to their shop – “in exchange for food and bed and I play guitar.”

“Lucas is a musician,” Bom-X proudly stated of his brother.

“Awesome,” I said. “Come down to Big Blue and we’ll jam.”

He grinned, pumping fists with me as Bom-X lit the happy stick. Back home it was socially customary to adhere to the puff-puff-pass rule. In Africa? Take your sweet African Time, hold that taste in, breathe it out slowly and enjoy the journey. No rush to pass it on.

South Africa had good cheese. In Namibia it was South African and Zambia’s local ‘erb just didn’t cut the cheese (see what I did there?). But in Malawi?

“Swaziland has the best weed in Africa,” Bom-X explained. “Malawi is second.”

Wow, I exhaled. He wasn’t kidding. “I’ll bring any guests we have to your shop,” I offered.

“Ah, thank you, bro,” he pumped fists. “You are welcome any time. Malawi is free. Just feel free.”

Indeed, I was feeling extremely free. I thanked the brothers for the smoke and headed back to the backpackers.

***

IMG_6408“Where are you going?” Bom-X asked a few days later, bumping into him on the street.

“Into town,” I said.

“I want to show you where I live, in my village,” he offered.

“Sweet, let’s go,” I grinned.

We walked along the road then down a staircase roughly carved into the rock wall, across a bridge that didn’t look like it might hold out for the next rains, up another off-road track, passed the government hospital – “It’s free, for everyone,” Bom-X played tour guide. “Even for you” – kept hiking up into the beginning of his village, Shindoza and then,

“We must stop and have a smoke first, OK?” he said as we stopped by a shaded thatched zula full of local men.

“I wish to be President of Zimbabwe,” Dave introduced himself, stoner eyes glistening back.

There was also Black Moses, Titus (who I renamed King Titus) and James. “I’m a bush doctor,” he said. “I sell ganja for medicine. I am Bom-X’s uncle. You are most welcome in Malawi. Please, feel free.”

“I have a long-running prescription,” I grinned as he laughed.

“I want to give you a gift,” he reached into a blue plastic bag and pulled out a little squared paper packed package. “Smoke it, welcome to Malawi. Feel free.”

This day just keeps getting higher.

“Thank you very much,” we pumped fists.

I was offered some local whiskey that is sold in a plastic sachet. The kind of stuff that you could run a car on and should avoid as it probably can burn a hole in your intestines. Then an extremely drunk local stumbled in. The kind you could immediately tell was looking for a fight. He picked on a younger fella and a scuffle started between them. Being stoned, most of the guys just lazily called out for them to stop.

Even I threw in an, “Oi! Come on now, guys,” but there was no way I was getting physically involved.

The scuffle ended and among the many warnings the man received I could make out one that might have meant, “We have a muzhungu guest here. Don’t embarrass us.”

Or it could also have been, “Touch the muzhungu and we’ll kick your ass.”

Or simply, “You’re drunk so just fuck off.”

I felt safe, even when the drunk picked on someone else outside the zula and you could hear every punch hitting a target with loud slaps from beyond the wall where a crowd gathered to watch.

“OK, let’s go,” Bom-X suggested

I hate violence. And it blows my mind how it’s obvious that alcohol just brings out the evil in some people. Never had a violent incident on marijuana (too stoned to do anything).

We hiked up the hill and I was introduced to his grandmother.

“Timon-eh,” I greeted her. “Mwe-uli?” I asked to her well-being. “Te-u-mam-pa,” I answered her question to mine. “Tawonga,” I thanked her in the greeting ways of the Tonga people that Bom-X taught me on the hike.

Then he yelled everything I had said to her, making it echoing clear that she was partially hard of hearing.

“Let’s go meet my sister,” he suggested.

IMG_6405is family is huge. On their land alone there were about 12 families, all related. Bom-X’s cousin scampered up the mango tree. He picked the fruit and threw it down to me. We went back to his grandmother’s house for my first traditional lunch in Malawi – nsima (which is Nshima also known as pap in South Africa) with a relish of rape leaves and usipa (small fish that resemble the Zambian capiente) cooked with onions and tomatoes.

After the feast we went back to his sister’s to eat the freshly picked mangoes.

“This has to be the best mango I’ve ever had,” I said, sucking on the succulent juices as I tore into its fibrous flesh, well aware that I’d be picking my teeth later but it was worth it on a level that no hallucinogenic drug could ever replicate. This was even better than the mangoes in town.

“How do you feel?” Bom-X asked.

“I feel amazing,” I grinned, my beard soaking up most of the juices as I used my teeth to peel away the mango skin.

“After we will go jump off rocks into the lake,” he casually stated.

This day can’t get any better.

IMG_6418After devouring three mangoes each, we hiked down to the boulders where I immediately demonstrated my infamous Aussie cannonball, leaping off a 9-foot high boulder into not-too-deep-not-too-shallow waters.

Repeatedly.

By four o’clock we had trekked back to town. I thanked Bom-X for a great day.

“Later we’ll go to Mayoka Village,” I suggested.

Mayoka was notorious for a great night out.

“You pick me up,” he pumped my fist as I turned to hop down 70 steps and reflect on the day’s high.

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DEVELOPING IN DEVELOPMENTS

The term ‘Third World Countries’ appears to have been replaced by the term, ‘Developing Countries’.

Developing Countries.

What does that even mean?

Who is anyone in the Western World to determine what nation should be classified as a ‘Developing Country’?

Because their highways and roads are only fit for SUVs and trucks yet they’ve perfected driving skills that would impress Kent Block and The Stig?

Because not everyone has the ability to finish high school? Indeed, primary school (for whatever reason) yet most laborers and tradesmen are more skilled in building, plugging and installing than anyone whose gone to study their trade for four years plus the few years of slavery – I mean, apprenticeship – that they’ve endured? That they can improvise better than anyone else in the Western World no matter what the job at hand is?

Because marriage and children are prioritized above all else? Even completing school?

So what?

They’re still the happiest bunch of people you’ll ever meet.

How developed is the Western World, when everything from climbing ladders to climbing corporate ladders needs a license and rules and regulations policed by feds and law folk who break the law themselves?

When kids are policed to not stay out on the streets for fear of bacteria to their love for video games.

I’m not trying to sound self-righteous (I know how self-righteous that sounds) but in the consumerism lifestyle we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the ultimate way of life, how can we declare that countries that don’t follow Western World norms are ‘developing’ and therefore presuming they are under developed?

We are so fixated in having the latest gadgets, the newest smartphones (even though your last upgrade was probably three months ago) and everyone is heads down in said smartphones and plugged out of the world surrounding them via headphones (supplied by said smart phones) that human interaction will soon be a thing of the past.

We’re brought up in such a competitive manner from the day we’re born – even between siblings – and told that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and to survive, you’re better to do your best to fuck each other over to get ahead in life.

No one even says ‘hello’ on the streets of the Western World. Try it. Walk in your city or town and count how many responses you’ll get from complete strangers (except if you go to a small rural town). Don’t be surprised if you get looks of ‘What are you crazy?’ and a possible police cruiser following you from behind.

In ‘Developing Countries’? People go out of their way to greet you with a smile. From lines like, “Give me five.”

“Five what?”

“Five fingers, cause that will make ten when you shake my hand.”

Where in the Western World would you ever hear a stranger say that without thinking, That the guy’s gotta be crazy. He’s not. He’ll even share a smoke with you.

These greetings are called at from across the street, from atop a hill, from the middle of a lake. Your arm will tire from waving so much. Your cheeks will be stretched from smiling all day. You’ll be shaking so many hands that, depending on the grip, it might be crushed by the end of the day.

Siblings are taught to share everything, and not just between them but between all the kids in the village.

Huts are small because people only use them to sleep in. They are always outdoors working, playing or even just sitting with their neighbours and friends by the side of the road, waving at cars and trucks.

George Carlin once said that, “Houses are buildings to put your stuff in. The more stuff you have, the bigger the house you need.” (I may be paraphrasing).

And why do we even need stuff?

Remember the outdoors? That place that’s just outside of your door? It’s full of stuff, the good stuff – nature and other people (I know I’m contradicting a little here by investing ‘indoor’ time to write this, but if it counts, I’m outside on the balcony of Big Blue Backpackers, overlooking Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay getting eaten alive by mosquitoes).

Who are we to judge that they’ve not yet developed to an extent that they’re happy with? Just cause they’re not as far-advanced in technology and corporate takeovers of every little aspect in life that we’re accustomed with?

No.

The ‘Developing Countries’ have it down pat. Sure, you get those that see the westerner as a walking bank machine but like everywhere, you get the good with the bad.

It’s just that there’s so much more good than bad in the places I’ve visited.

Where in the Western World would a taxi driver take you for free? And I’m not talking 2-3 K’s. I hitched with four taxis for free from Chipata, Zambia (20 K’s west of Malawi’s border) to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, a total distance of 200 K’s.

And every time I’d ask, “Are you sure it’s OK?” the response was always the same, a huge smile, a pat on the back followed with, “I’m just happy to help. Welcome to my country.”

Developing countries? I think they’re already developed.

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EBOLA-UTION

My arrival on the pounding shores of the African continent was coincidentally timed with the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus. My original plan was to head up the west coast of Africa, up to Morocco and then break east across the north by the Mediterranean coastline to reach the Middle East.

Upon learning of the Ebola outbreak when I was in South Africa sometime back in March, I re-routed my route and decided to head north to Namibia, break east across Zambia and Malawi before turning north-east to Tanzania and Kenya until shooting straight north to the Middle East through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

The countless messages of concern regarding my well-being and ‘watch out for Ebola’ has been overwhelming. Well, not really overwhelming. It’s mostly from my immediate family and then further messages passed on by other relatives and then a few friends registering their concern.

The media, as usual, has hyped the Ebola outbreak to extreme levels to make it seem as though the whole of Africa is under siege. A lot of people in the Western World who failed geography, seem to assume that Africa is one big country.

Well it’s not. There’s only one continent that’s a country and that’s Australia. Africa, like other continents, is made up of different countries housing different cultures, languages, dialects, food, nature and eco systems. There are deserts, rainforests, jungles, savannahs, pristine beaches and wild coast lines (same as Oz just that Australia is under one flag).

Africa is made up of 57 countries. Out of the 57, only four countries are affected by the Ebola virus to a point where travel there is not recommended: Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia.

4.

All in the tiny region known as West Africa.

And the Ebola outbreak, in its current locale, is closer to the European continental shelf than to the rest of Africa.

The hyped up media reports have made tourism drop significantly throughout Africa, which has a huge economic impact on this usually forgotten continent (until they’ll strike a huge oil reserve and then everyone will be Africa’s best friend). Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi – too name a few – are so far detached from the Ebola outbreak that they may as well be on Mars.

In fact, to give you some perspective, here are some of the biggest killers in Africa that will kill you without proper medical attention way before the Ebola will get you (according to http://answersafrica.com/diseases-in-africa.html. All figures are deaths annually):

Tetanus – 200,000 Africans.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) affects up to 30 million Africans and kills up to 300,000.

Measles – 242,000 Africans.

Diarrhea causes 8% of all deaths in Africa, I shit you not.

Malaria, a parasite passed via mosquitoes, is responsible for about 1.2 million African deaths per year, mostly because they don’t have access to the required medication that can rid your body of the parasite that most hospitals in Africa have.

AIDS\HIV kills about 1.5 million people in Africa. HIV is easily prevented through sex education and if the Catholic Church can get it out of their asses that condoms save lives.

Pneumonia – 800,000 Africans.

The Ebola virus – currently – has taken the lives of over 5,000 unfortunate souls out of the 15,000 that have been affected.

Why all these deaths? Due to lack of health care facilities. And it’s usually the poorest of the poor in Africa that are affected and subsequently die. Meaning, people that can’t afford airfare to travel and unwillingly spread the disease.

The Ebola virus is not an air-born virus (although future mutations might change the battle fields). It is carried mainly by bats that infect bush animals that in turn are hunted and killed and their meat consumed by humans who then contract the virus (posters and adverts in Africa suggest to avoid eating bush meat and bats).

Contraction is via body fluids and the blood stream.

So in the immortal words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype. Africa is safe. You stand a greater chance of getting hit by a car on any road on the planet than getting killed in Africa – a continent, not a country – and contracting any of the above-mentioned killers.

So if you’re about to plan a vacation for Christmas and New Year’s, I can recommend no better place than Africa to enjoy your holiday. The people are kind, warm-hearted, friendly, open and love to smile, sing, dance and laugh. The wildlife is everything you could ever dream of. The food is great and the weather varies from warm, hot to too fucking hot (depending on your locale).

And it’s cheap. Your dollar and Euro will be stretched for miles with beers at a dollar or less, spirits at $2, local food prices range from $2-$5 for huge servings. The fruit is fresh and grows on trees on the street. Most of the tap water in south and eastern Africa is safe to drink.

As with every travel destination, use your common sense, wash your hands, do your research and have fun.

Just don’t let the media kill off Africa. It’s a beautiful and magical place waiting for you to explore it.

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KIBOKO TOWN HOTEL

“You can have room 14 for free tonight and breakfast in the morning,” offered Desiree.

I had met a Dutch girl, Lia, in Koh Samui in Thailand last year and she mentioned that, “If you’re ever in Malawi, look up my friend Desiree. You could probably stay on her couch.”

So when Malawi appeared on my route I figured it was time to take up Lia’s offer and, via the social powers of Facebook, I was introduced to Desiree and met up with her in Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe. She just happened to be the manager of a funky little hotel called Kiboko Town Hotel.

IMG_6318

At first glance, the outside looks more like an old 2-storey office building. The downstairs entrance is a narrow corridor where Kiboko Safaris tours runs from (you can book via the hotel) and when you climb the stairway you reach a small sitting area where a corner desk provides the reception and a smiling receptionist to greet you.

The rooms are down a long corridor. Room 14 was by the book exchange, spacious plenty of cupboards and draws, a double bed, aircon, fan, mosquito net, cable TV and an ensuite bathroom that had a separate bath and shower, toilet and sink.

IMG_6317

The hotel restaurant has a friendly vibe to it, is kid-friendly with a small play area in the shape of a Landrover Defender shell, a slide and see-saw.

The food is made fresh with produce sourced locally. The hummus is made there as are the beef patties for the burgers. Prices are quite reasonable and all the staff are friendly and approachable.

Although Lilongwe didn’t feel like there was much to offer me (I only stayed the one night) Kiboko Town Hotel would defiantly be the place to stay.

http://www.kibokohotel.com/

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HITCH HIKING IN MALAWI – PART II

“We have come up with a plan,” announced Richard, the police officer at the roadblock in Salima, where it took the truck I had hitched a ride with three hours to travel 120 K’s. Not that the roads are bad. They’re better than in Zambia. It’s just that on every slightest incline the truck crawled to 5 K’s an hour. On the downhill, we were flying at 120 (I’m pretty sure we erased some villages off the map).
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“We will tell the drivers that you’re money was stolen,” he grinned with the genius behind it. Except,
“I don’t need to lie to drivers,” I laughed lightly. “I appreciate your planning but really, someone always takes me. Thank you though.”
After a relaxing, rain-pounding night at Kiboko Town Hotel in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, I had hiked about 2 K’s up the M1 highway to a filling station where I asked the attendant to ask drivers if they were going to Nkhata Bay and if so, could they take me.
Due to his lack of English, it took me about an hour to explain it with Charades. I stood by the highway and made sure my guitar was visible which helped me secure a ride with Ahmed.
“I don’t have money,” I began.
“Get in the car,” he grinned. “I stopped because of the guitar. I’m a drummer. I know you don’t have money.”
I laughed as he took me to, “Area 18. You’ll have a better chance hitching from there.”
I thanked him as we discussed music, the band he was in – “The Old Timers. We’re all over the age of 60 -” and hoped off to stop a ride with Alfred who, even though he was heading to Salima (120 K’s away), and even though I explained my penniless ways. And even though he agreed to take me (what I assumed was all the way to Salima) I was dropped off a few meters down the road at the intersection crawling with buses and taxis. I piled on my packs and guitar and decided to hike until someone stopped.
Ten minutes in and a truck slowed to a stop beside me.
“Where are you going?” asked the soldier who had hitched a ride.
“Nkhata Bay,” I answered. Quickly adding, “but I don’t have money.” I gave him my spiel (which was getting tiresome) and he relayed it onto the driver. The soldier looked back at me with a grin.
“OK, let’s go,” he said.

In the truck I explained to Steve, Francis and Mike the driver (who I christened Magic Mike) my bartering ways. Steve, the soldier was dropped off a few meters down the road, wished me well and I climbed into the passenger seat.

Magic Mike and Francis discussed the many possible ways of obtaining entry into God’s Kingdom.

“Isn’t the earth God’s Kingdom?” I asked. “If he, according to the bible, created it, then he created it as a kingdom for himself, no?”

The discussion turned quickly to the heavens and into Chichewe which resorted me to watch my first voo doo shaman (who resembled more of an Afrika Burn punter) dancing wildly by the road. Then we hit the first of many uphills that lead to my discovery of the truck’s 5 K an hour speed ability on a 3-degree incline.IMG_6336

I watched a group of kids run alongside the trailer, waving and screaming at me with laughs and smiles.

But it’s a ride and Magic Mike was taking me to a good hitching spot in Salima, famous for it’s honey-making farms. And it was here that I was dropped off and met officers Richard and his female partner, Blessings, at the roadblock.

And it was here that I declined their plan to lie to drivers to get rides. After about an hour and a half a blue-cabined truck pulled up.

“I’m only going 200 K’s,” grinned the driver who agreed to take me. I noticed a safari-styled Landcruiser behind him.

“Let me ask these guys and if they’re going further, I’ll go with them.”

“We are going just 40 K’s before Nkhata Bay,” said Engelbert (telecommunications engineer) and Ulli (anesthetists), an Austrian couple on holidays.

Agreeing to take me, four hours later I was dropped off at the roadblock 40 Ks from Nkhata Bay. Efraim, Jonathan and detective Happy were the officers residing. Having learned in Zambia that police roadblocks are the best and easiest way to hitch a ride I explained my travel methods. Although they couldn’t believe it, they helped me secure a ride, right after a dinner of fresh mango that Happy brought me (mangoes are in abundance on the streets and can be picked off quite easily for a feast).

Satega sells cigarettes and loves, LOVES Westlife, the Irish boy band of a decade or so back. Subjected to an hour of their, er-hm, music (?) I realised very quickly that Satega knew these roads by heart. He was the African Kent Block (even though he repeated track no. 19 three times, belting out along with the Irish boy band, he still rocked the roads).
As he was still on the job, we stopped nine times in various villages to pick up unsold cartons and to sell to those who needed to stock up. At one stop,a local drunk approached and asked for a cigarette.
“Don’t smoke,” I said surrounded by cartons of Malawian-made smokes.
By 20:40 (in Malawi they use the standard form of telling time rather than the Zambian method of ‘zero three’ or ‘fifteen’ for the afternoon) I was dropped off at the roadblock that had the road going right to Nkhata Bay or left to Mzuzu, some 50 K’s away.
“Is it safe to walk to Big Blue Backpackers?” I asked the officers. My map showed that it was just a 5-K hike.
“Not safe,” said one officer who appeared to be hushing me over the news coming on the radio.
“Can you help me get a ride?” I asked.
“We knock off at ten-” hour and a half – “We’ll take you.”
At ten on the dot, going against all African laws of time (declaring a time of departure\arrival and adding five hours to it) a police Landcruiser turned up and took me to Big Blue Backpackers, where I was to start my two and a half week stint working and playing music and kayaking.
Now, just to get down the 70 steps that weren’t in the brochure.
Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Malawi | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN MALAWI – PART I

IMG_6313Continued from HITCH HIKING IN ZAMBIA – PART VI

On the Malawian side I was stamped with 30 days for free.

“Extensions are $25 USD per 30 days for a total of three months,” informed the customs officer.

“Cool,” I said. Same as Zambia. My stomach growled. “Where are your toilets?” I was directed in the direction.

***

Much better.

I headed back out and hit the road. The road that was empty. Not a car insight. Indeed, not even a truck. The only cars were taxis.

The nearest town, Mchinji, was 12 K’s away. I hiked about 3 Ks, greeting locals that were staring at me, some laughing and pointing (the beard has its powers), before I reached a police roadblock.

“Uli bwanji?” I greeted in Nyanji (which is almost identical to Chichwei, the local dialect in Malawi. “Would you be able to help me get a ride to Lilongwe?”

“Wait,” said the commanding officer, the first African I met who didn’t smile. I plonked my gear down and watched as a taxi pulled up.

“Where are you going?” a wide-grinned driver asked me.

“Lilongwe,” I grinned back. “But I don’t have money.”

“No money?” his grin didn’t’ falter. “Not even a little bit?” he smiled.

I explained my way of living. He nodded, seeming to understand. Still grinning.

I took a chance. “Unless you wanna help me?”

Then he said those three magic words I’ve grown to love in Africa, “OK, let’s go.”

Gerald dropped me off in town at the bus depot where I had to fight off the bus and taxi drivers. This hitching spot didn’t look promising but, keeping a positive outlook, I stood by the road and attempted to flag down a car.

A taxi pulled up with a senior muzhungu woman riding shotgun.

“Where are you going?” she asked, her blue eyes looking through red-rimmed glasses while munching on a packet of crisps (also known as chips).

“Lilongwe,” I grinned.

“Well, come on then,” she said.

“I don’t have money,” I said, about to give my spiel when she cut me off with:

“That’s fine. Let’s go.”

Four free taxi rides all the way to my destination. I couldn’t thank Irene enough. She was working for an Irish NGO in the field of children’s services. Her driver was Nelson who stopped for a police officer who needed a ride.

“Our own private police escort,” I grinned at the officer who laughed.

130 K’s later I was dropped off outside the Kibobo Town Hotel where I was to meet Desiree, the Dutch manager who I met through Facebook through Lia, another Dutch girl I met in Koh Samui this time last year.

“If you’re ever in Malawi, look up my friend, Desiree,” she had said at the time.

And so the circle closed with Dezzi offering me a free night in a double-bedded room with an ensuite bathroom, cable TV, fan, aircon, mosquito net and breakfast (after she shouted me a Carlsburg – “Green” – and lunch) at the hotel she manages.

Malawi is my 13th country since I left on May 13th, 2013.

And they say 13 is unlucky.

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HITCHING HIKING AROUND ZAMBIA – PART VI

“Samson!”

“Huh?” I snorted to wake.

“Are you awake?” Max asked.

“I am now,” I yawned, not bothering to correct him on his mistaking my name while peeking at the time:

Zero-two-thirty.

“I am dozing,” he attempted focus as we bounced along the dirt road (an unfinished highway was not in the brochure). “You need to talk to me so I don’t have an accident.”

Max had picked me up about 12 hours before from the outskirts of Zambia’s capital. I was dropped off via taxi provided by Mojo New Media at a junction where I met Kelvin who, along with three other guys, were loading his truck with about a hundred 25-kilo bags of industrial lime (the powder, not the fruit).

“Are you going to Chipata?” I asked, referring to the border town 20 K’s from Malawi.

“Yes,” he said.

I gave him my spiel of moneyless travel and offered to, “Help load the bags in exchange for a ride.”

“Wait,” he said.

I did.

For about three seconds.

IMG_6273Then I took the initiative and helped load. And, like the other guys, got covered with lime powder. The guys were impressed (not by my getting-covered-in-lime. For helping. I think…). Apparently, they’d never seen a muzuhungu  do physical labour.

“So can I ride with you?” I asked, dusting myself off.

“I’m not sure if I have the room,” he said. “And I’m only leaving at seventeen. I’ll arrive in Chipata at zero-four tomorrow.”

I looked at my phone.

12:30.

“Shit,” I was hoping to reach Malawi by the end of the day but that wasn’t going to happen. “That’s late.

IMG_6279And that’s when Max rolled up in a Volvo truck carrying another, identical Volvo truck in his tray. He was practically cornered by ten guys persuading him to take me to Chipata, his final destination.

“He’s a good man,” they kept repeating (a little bag-handling goes a long way).

Max was worried about the police demanding bribes having a muzhungu passenger.

“You don’t’ have to take me if you don’t want to,” I said. “Someone else will help. Don’t feel forced.” I stepped back a bit as the guys drew in a little uncomfortably close. “Really, I’ll be fine.”

Max was cornered like a mouse and in the end agreed to cheers and backslaps from the crowd. One guy bought us sausage rolls and two drinks – a water and a soft drink – which I gave the driver as I don’t really drink softies (unless mixed with whiskey or brandy).

His other passengers were a grandmother with her 3-year-old grand-daughter (whom I offered one of the sausage rolls to) and Alec, a 32-year-old local. We had 574 kilometres to cover, according to Google’s map app and we were averaging 60 K’s an hour.

574 K’s.

We reached the first roadblock where the police pulled us over. Max was asked to present his papers at the station. He left for about 25 minutes returning a little flustered.

“How’d it go?” I managed to cough out nervously.

“Paid,” he said, clambering back on board.

Was that a bribe demanded because of…(insert dramatic music) because of…(slow zoom in, chokes back tears) me? “So is it OK?” I asked.

“No worries.”

I was getting weird vibes off Max. Nothing heavy but he began to open up and ask me the regular, “How do you survive without money? Why aren’t you married? How come you don’t have any kids? Have you never fucked a woman? (seriously) How come you aren’t married? (they tend to repeat) Are you gay?”

“What?” I tsk-tsk-tsk-ed to myself. “No, I like women I’m just not married.”

I was tired of explaining myself. Besides, it could cause tensions in the cabin. Sometimes I know when to shut up and sometimes I try my best to hold my opinion in.

I fail.

On both accounts, I fail.

“It’s not easy the way I travel,” I hoped to finish it.

He blinked at me and returned to focus on the road.

Great. It just got weird.

Just before reaching the Luangwa River, bordering Mozambique, we dropped off the grandmother and the toddler.

The police at the roadblock before the bridge fined Max for not having a red flag at the end of the truck as his load was sticking out (alright, alright. Don’t make it dirty). Once we crossed the bridge (where a soldier also demanded a bribe) the road went from sealed tar to a dirt track that had me bouncing all over the cabin.

IMG_6292As the sun set we stopped in a village where Max bought three packets of biscuits and two Miranda softies.

“Open one for me,” he said, “the other two are for you and friend over there to share.”

I took a couple of sips as I needed a sugar boost and knew that if I ate more than two biscuits my stomach would reject the contents via the back door (processed foods and I don’t mix well). Still, I was hungry and ate four.

As we drove through the last police roadblock (cop didn’t even see me and still demanded a bribe) my stomach began to growl.

Shit. I knew this would happen. Whatever possessed me to go for those last two?

Growl.

Shit.

Not now.

I clenched.

As we plodded along I noticed Max kept covering the gauges on his dashboard with a cloth.

“I want to focus on my driving,” he explained. “So I cover the petrol gauge so I don’t get distracted and worry about fuel.”

Huh. That’s… er… logical? He seems to know what he was doing.

I mean… at least playing the part.

We stopped to pick up a madala (term of respect for an elder man) who had cut branches at 6-9 feet lengths to take home.

On his push bike.

We happened to stop right in the middle of a swarm of white-winged ants that were aiming for every sleeve opening and wherever there was light. I was slapping about like a mad man. Nevertheless (he said with boasting chest), I helped pile the branches under the undercarriage of the truck Max was carrying. Then we heaved up the madala’s push bike to the tray of the truck where he positioned himself for the ride.

Ten minutes later we dropped him up the road then an hour later we dropped off Alec.

My stomach was slowly churning.

***

We were plodding along the unfinished road, eating dust from buses and trucks that were overtaking us [to close or open my window we needed to hook up two wires – the red to the metal on the door, the blue to the fuse in the fuse box.

“You do opposite to close,” Max demonstrated.

Or was it the opposite..?

I was too tired to focus on electrically pulsating wires on a bumpy road in a stranger’s truck so I chowed on dust and attempted sleep. My eyes were already closed, squinting against the thick, red cloud. Might as well try to get some shut-eye (while slapping at the flying ants that still flappered about in the cabin).

***

“I want to sleep with a white woman,” Max said after waking me at zero-two thirty.

Aaand I’m awake.

“For any specific reason?” I asked.

“I want to taste,” he said. “Maybe you can help. Ask one of your friends to travel with you and sleep with me.”

I stared at him as he tried to keep his eyes open. He was dead-pan serious.

Uh-huh. “Sure.” Not a weird thing to ask anyone. At. All. “Let me get back to you on that one.”

After an hour, when Max was no longer responding to my conversation. I suggested to, “Pull over so we can rest.”

40 Ks outside of Chipata, at zero-four, we parked and slept. As in, Max conked out. I tossed, assuming different positions failing to re-discover that one-and-only comfortable position which can never be replicated after being woken.

40 minutes later Max’s wife called, storing him back to life. Refreshed, he fired up the truck and we chugged off as the African sun rose on a new day. Kelvin, the lime-bag truck, over-took us with beeping horns.

Max and I waved.

90 minutes later, the announcement that, “We’ve run out of diesel,” didn’t surprise me as the truck rolled to a stop, the engine silently passing on. We debarked and broke off some green-leafed branches as was custom to place behind and in front of a broken down vehicle.

Parking on the side of the dusty road I sussed out my options:

Wait to get refuelled (which could be in the next five minutes or five hours) or hitch a ride to Chipata and make some head way.

As I contemplated my options I spied a ripe mango on the side of the dirt road.

Max declined my offer to share. The clock was ticking on the day. I was really hoping to reach Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, by lunchtime.

I decided to thank Max and, “I’ll continue hitching,” I said.

“Yes, it’s better,” he concurred. “It might be in fifteen minutes, maybe five hours. You know how it is.”

“Oh I know,” I grinned, grabbing my gear with his help.

Within 20 minutes Simba, a magistrate in a very old bakkie with massive cracks in the windshield pulled over and happily took me, squeezing me in the front seat with his daughter. He wished me well as he dropped me off at a corner where I began to walk, fending off taxi drivers when Kelvin, the lime-bag truck driver came after me on the street.

A taxi pulled up beside us.

“I don’t have money,” I said, explaining my chosen life style.

“I’ll take you to where you can hitch,” said the driver. “I’m happy to help.”

I grinned, hopping in. A few K’s later Samson dropped me off opposite Shoprite so I could hitch. I, “Zikhomo-”ed, thanking him and began walking past the taxis already parked, each driver trying to hustle me in.

“No money,” I said, pointing to my guitar. “I play music for food and bed.”

“I’ll take you,” said Gift (appropriately named), offering me a free ride as I squeezed in the front with him and another passenger, three more in the back and two bikes in the boot to the border post at Mwami some 20 K’s away.

I shook hands with Gift, “Zikhom-”ing him and fending off the money exchangers who rushed up to seek Zambian Kwachas in exchange for Malawian Kwacha. I was back in the mix of higher domination that made everything sound absurdly out of proportion (“5,000 Kwacha?” I’d laugh at an offer I’d later receive in Malawi for a 300 K ride.

“That’s about $10 USD,” Englebert would later convert for me off the top of his head on a hitch right after declining said offer).

My stomach reminded me that an impending force needed to be set free in the next ten minutes or Malawi would be the first country (and indeed, the first time since I was in diapers) that I might shit my pants.

A border post is not the place you want to look like you’re about to explode (in more ways than one). I breathed in deeply and calmly got my passport stamped out on the Zambian side and walked across the border, noticing that all the trucks were facing Zambia.

Huh.

Continued in post: HITCH HIKING IN MALAWI – PART I

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Zambia | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

GOT MY MOJO WORKING

IMG_6255Since entering the land of Zambia some three months ago, I’ve been rechristened ‘Jesus’ on the streets (see what I did there?). From Livingstone to Lake Kariba to Lusaka to Kasama and everywhere in between. I’d grin, respond with the occasional, “Yes, my son?” and play along with it.

I never thought it would get me walking with cheetahs, playing tennis, going on a game drive (all at Chaminuka Lodge, 40K’s outside of Lusaka), two weeks accommodation, food, partying, recording a track, voicing a radio advert and playing the man himself in a music video and an advert.

I had met John, owner of Mojo New Media, through his sister, Janet, who works in the sales department for Paratus whose manager, Marius (and one night at Jeremy’s), graciously hosted me for two weeks in exchange for assisting his installation team on installations (I know as much about installing IT services as I do about splitting an atom.

I cannot split an atom).

As soon as John met me at the Chit Chat bar (the night I helped our team win the trivia) he said, “I want to use your Jesus look. Let’s talk tomorrow.”

Initially, he had offered to pay for my talent.

“I don’t do money,” I said, giving him my philosophical spiel. “But if you provide me with food and bed I’ll do what you need.”

“How about also something off your list?” he added.

“Er,” I really needed a new guitar bag. I gave mine until the end of the month before completely falling apart (it’s not me, it’s weak material. I don’t wanna judge a certain country, China, but you could have put a little more effort in), “Would you happen to have an extra guitar bag lying around?” I pushed.

“We can manage something,” and then he offered me some gin.

***

A week in and I happened to offhandedly mention it to John that I’d completed a voice-over course and, “I can do some voices if you like.”

“Give me a cockney accent,” he requested.

I could only hope that my, “Oh-right ‘en guv’nah?”, would pass the impromptu audition.

“OK,” John grinned. “If you can produce it, as in, write it and get it recorded I’ll speak with Josh we can tick something else off your list”.

“A small backpack to replace my stolen one?” I put forward. “I’ll write it up tonight, get it done by the weekend. Monday the latest.”

“Done,” we shook on it.

I was housed with Stan (one of the photographers) who I shared his room with for the two weeks along with his two room-mates, Eddie and Evan. Eddie also works at Mojo and together with Evan is part of an a capella group called, 14.

Their neighbour, Daniel (whose welcoming me too the neighbourhood resulted in the consumption of four bottles of brandy and a blacked out memory) publishes Agriculture, a free magazine about – you guessed it – agriculture.

“I’m a writer if you need some articles or editing done,” I offered and then declined his offer to pay me. “I don’t do money. Happy for the exposure. Or a waterproof tent.”

“Lemme talk to my partner and I’ll let you know,” he said.

The next day we made borscht soup as both our mothers are from the Soviet persuasion (I’d never once thought that I’d end up make a traditional Russian soup in Africa). By mid-week Daniel returned with a better barter.

“My partner had an idea. We’ll provide you with a hat with our logo on it,” he said. “You take photos of it around the world and we’ll throw $200 your way.”

“Like I said,” I countered. “I don’t do money. But I would need a camera to take the photos with. My waterproof one just died and they go for about $200.”

“Lemme get back to you,” Daniel said.

The next day he came back to me with an incredible barter that I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.

“We’ll sponsor your visa fees for the African countries you’ll visit. In exchange, you do the photos with the hat and send us a story for each edition,” he stuck his hand out.

It would appear that my mojo was working over time.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CHISHIMBA FALLS

AG

Last time I came across waterfalls was in Thailand, around this time last year. Here’s my adventure in Zambia’s north:

http://africageographic.com/blog/an-adventure-at-chishimba-falls/

Enjoy.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Zambia | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING AROUND ZAMBIA – PART V

IMG_5735“We thank you for your music, your presence and know that we will never forget you,” said Chris as he drove me to Chazara, the entrance to Kasama on the morning of my departure back to Lusuka.

“Aww,” I grinned, “you guys are my Zambian family. Thank you for having me and helping me get healthy again.”

We hugged by the side of the road and Chris drove off to work.

It was just on zero seven thirty and the sun was beating down as though the world were missing some heat.

Jesus. Not even zero eight and it’s gotta be at least 30 degrees. Kids running by to school stopped to stare at me as I set up by the side of the road and stuck my thumb out.

When I first arrived in Zambia, I didn’t mind the stares. I figured the locals were contemplating whether I was in fact the Second Coming or just a crazy muzhungo (‘white man’ in Bemba) with long hair and an almost as long beard. But after two months in Zambia I was getting a little over the whole staring thing.

Sure, my caveman looks have made toddlers burst into tears – not of joy, mind you. Sheer fear. The mothers would laugh as would I. And then, to completely blow their minds, I’d greet them in Bemba or Nyanji (depending on the province).

The best reaction I got was that very morning on the side of the road in Chazara. A girl of maybe 13 years walked by carrying either her baby sibling or, quite possibly, her very own child. She was behind me and as she passed by she turned to look at me and stopped, her jaw hittin’ the ground runnin’.

A local that had decided to hang out with me even though he didn’t really speak English (I think he was enjoying the expression on the people’s faces) was looking at me looking at her looking at me.

“Moolishani?” I asked to her well being.

She gasped, as though I had just turned water into wine. She turned to walk away and then looked back at me, hand to forehead in absolute astonishment.

“Bwino?” I asked if she was good.

She nearly dropped the baby as she spun around, almost collapsing. She decided the best thing for her would be to walk off, muttering incomprehensibly. I shook my head, trying to grasp as to what had just happened, the local hanging out with me laughing.

I grinned at him as out of nowhere a road works crew pulled up, jumped out of the back of a truck and began to set up signs of road work. The traffic control girl with the red flag (who had the power to stop cars) decided, out of her own goodwill, to ask the passing drivers if they could take me to either Mpika (211 K’s south) or Lusaka (850 K’s south-west).

After two hours I finally managed to pull up a bukky.

“You don’t have money?” asked the driver after I explained my bartering ways.

“I play music for food and bed and ask good-hearted people if they can help me get to where I’m going,” I said. I could see the wheels in his head turning. I needed just one more line to make him laugh and I was in. “I have good stories.”

He cracked up, almost choking on the sip of water he had just taken. “OK,” he said, “let’s go.” My three favourite words in Africa.

He colelcted another hitcher, a local who sat in the passenger side. Since I barely slept a wink the previous night for reasons unknown, they conversed in Bemba while I dozed off for almost two hours. An hour later I was dropped off in Mpika. I was aiming to reach Lusaka by sundown.IMG_5662

It was just on 11:30 when I set up by the side of the road, sticking my thumb out. I said my ‘moolishani’s’ to the locals hitching rides and waved on the kombi buses that seemed to purposefully attempt to run me over. After two hours I knew my chances of reaching Lusaka by evening were out the window.

It was hot but clouds began to roll in, relieving me of the sun’s harsh African heat. Finally, just before fourteen, almost two and a half hours of sun-baking by the road, a truck pulled up.

“Moolishani,” I greeted the driver, “are you going to Lusaka?”

“Yes,” he said. “How much can you pay?”

“Here’s the thing,” and I explained my travel methods.

The driver stared at me then to the horizon. “Get your bags,” he finally said.

“What’s your name?” I asked him after climbing in.

“Everest,” he said, pulling onto the road.

“Everest?” I repeated. “Like the mountain?”

He laughed. His brother-in-law, Thomas, sat on the bunk, squeezed in between my guitar and North Ridge backpack and two huge sub-woofers that thankfully, Everest didn’t utilise at the ear drum ripping decibel that Africans have a tendency to play their radios. He had a great collection of reggae which I tapped along too.

As usual, Everest and Thomas struggled with my choice of lifestyle.

“You’re not married?”

“Nope.”

“No kids?”

“Nope.”

“When will you go back to your country?”

“Dunno.”

It’s as though its the most alien thing they’ve ever heard. And it just might be.

Along the way we passed through several police checkpoints. Just after the sun set, we reached one before Serenje. The officer climbed up to the cab and when he saw me asked, “Are you a Jew?”

I cracked up laughing. “No.”

“What country are you from?”

“Australia.”

“Are you sure? You look like a Jew.”

Stereotypes aside, I shrugged him off with a laugh and he let us ride through. When we reached Kapiri, the town where the Great North Road ends and we turn directly south to Lusaka, Everest asked me to run the paperwork to the window of the weighbridge station.

Approaching the nearest window, the girl behind the screen did a double-take at me and then started giggling that turned into laughter, mumbling something in Bemba.

“What is it?” I grinned, knowing it was my beard.

“She thinks you look like Jesus,” said her co-worker, smiling broadly.

“I am Jesus,” I said, winking. After the small exchange, getting the paperwork done was a breeze (maybe even a blessing).

200 K’s later, we reached Kapwe. It was twenty-thirty, still three hours outside of Lusaka when Everset stopped to chat with group of drivers from his company. He offered to buy me a sausage roll but I politely declined. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t feel like eating crappy food. He did insist on buying me a drink so I opted for a ginger beer substituting one crap for another (I love ginger beer. It’s the only soda pop I’ll drink by choice).

As we plodded along sirens flashed behind us. “What are you carrying?” I asked.

“Cigarettes,” Everest casually said.

A few hours before we had stopped in Mkushi, an out of the way town to collect some goods. I didn’t think about much of it until now, when the Tax Corruption Investigation unit pulled us over and attached a soldier to ride shotgun with his AK-47, forcing me to squeeze in with Thomas in the bunk.

I was quite tired by this point and had been dozing off peacefully, awakened only by the few bumps in the road. Even with a loaded soldier onboard, I dozed off, using his shoulder as a pillow (he didn’t seem to mind). We were lead to a parking area a half hour outside of Lusaka and it was here that we waited for the paper work to clear through, have the cargo checked and verified by calling in Everest’s boss.

Three hours later, at zero one in the morning, I was dropped off at the first police roadblock on the outskirts of Lusaka, just before the stadium from where I had first started my hitch hiking journey just over two weeks prior.

“Is there somewhere safe I can pitch my tent for the night?” I asked the police officer.

He kindly escorted me to the cop-shop, a tiny little building and, pointing at a slab of concrete that acted as a porch and said, “Here is OK.”

I pitched, slept four hours, awoke at zero five twenty (exactly 24-hours after I had woken up in Kapata the previous day) and somehow managed to hitch a free ride on a kombi that took me to the Lima Tower bus station from where I walked the 4 K’s to the offices of Paratus from where I am now finishing up this post.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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