Overland tour part 4: Malawi and Tanzania

Hi Everyone!

We made it to the border of Malawi early in the morning and made it through the formalities surprisingly fast. Immediately after crossing the border I noticed a major change in the scenery. Malawi is incredibly lush and much more mountainous then the other countries we have visited to this point. It made the drive go by quickly as I was enthralled with the scenery.

We continued on to our final destination, Kande Beach, arriving by late afternoon. Kande Beach is located on Lake Malawi which is the third largest lake in Africa. Chris and I headed to the white sand beach to watch the beautiful sunset. It was hard to believe what we were looking at was a lake, it is so massive it really fools you into thinking it is an ocean.

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The next day we woke early for a morning village tour with our group. We had a local tour guide who showed us us how they make bricks to construct their houses, gave us a tour of his house, and then we proceeded to the local school. The principal gave us a briefing on the school which goes up to year 8 and has 120 to 200 students per year. Chris and I were happy to see the Canadian Flag on numerous things within the classrooms, we were told 2 Canadians taught at the school for several years and were able to obtain sponsors for things the school required. As soon as we arrived at the school we were mauled by children wanting to hold our hands and climb on our backs. Luckily there was enough members of our group that were keen to indulge them that Chris and I weaseled our way out of engaging them. It just felt too much like they were trained to do this with every group. It caused me to stop and for the millionth time ask myself the age old question of whether traveling does more harm than good. As soon as any members of the group tried to hand out pens or paper they were overwhelmed with grabbing hands from all angles trying to snatch anything and everything. Is that a positive impact or negative? I always think back to what our tour guide Manda said when asked if we could give food to the local children or animals;

If we feed them today, who feeds them tomorrow?

The same applies to giving handouts of any kind. If tourists stop visiting the area, will they suffer from the interruption of the distribution of things from strangers? I haven’t come to any conclusions but I can’t shake the nagging feeling in some way I am negatively impacting the places I visit, even though I am not the one giving the handouts my presence still has an impact. I hope to have a clearer stance on this issue the more I travel.

Back to the tour: while observing the children I noticed one small child with a sweater that read “My roots are in Cape Breton.” What are the chances a child in rural Malawi would be wearing a Cape Breton sweater? I didn’t bring a camera with me but I do wish I had solely for a picture of that sweater.

After the school some people requested to see the church [it was a Sunday], and despite the principal trying to dissuade them as there was a service going on they got their way and we were brought to the church. Chris and I and one other couple kept a major distance from the doors of the church as we could hear the singing from outside which was enough for us. To our absolute disbelief some members of the group marched straight up the stairs of the church and proceeded to stick their DSLR cameras in the door and film the service. It was one of the most disrespectful acts we have witnessed to date. Other members of the group were much more respectful and asked to enter the church to observe the service [not just stick a camera in the door and hit record]. I am all for being a part of the church by attending the entire service, but to just show up and film a few minutes and leave is unimaginable to me. If I was at church at home and a bunch of tourists did that during the service I was attending I would be outraged! For the rest of the tour I spent it wondering how much longer there was left. It finally ended after a brief visit to the local clinic. We headed back to camp for lunch, and then Chris and a few others headed out snorkeling while I opted to stay back and relax on the beach. I did indulge in a swim in the lake even though I had learned in the course of preparing for my travel medicine certification that their is a risk of schistosomiasis by swimming. The water was just too tempting in the scorching afternoon sun. We visited a local pharmacy who provided us with praziquantel tablets to take in 6 weeks to treat ourselves as a precaution. A good experience for my own personal knowledge as a practitioner!

The next day we headed further north to Chitimba campsite which was also on the shores of Lake Malawi. We spent the afternoon browsing the local market where we were very tempted to buy a table and chairs. Unfortunately, it would be an arm and a leg to post them home and we are unable to carry them with us so we didn’t end up buying them. I settled for two bracelets that will perfectly match a necklace I bought in Ecuador. After the markets we had a game of beach volleyball before dinner and an early bedtime as it was one of our biggest driving days the following day.

Breakfast was served at the ungodly hour of 4 am and we left by 4:45 am. We made it to the border of Tanzania by 8:30 and I was happy to put my [very basic] swahili to use. It was a surreal feeling to be back so soon, I always knew I would come back but I expected it to be later in life. We made our way through Tukuyu tea and banana plantations to our campsite for the evening, Iringa Farmhouse. We arrived after dark and were exhausted after such a long day in the truck so we had quick showers, a quick dinner, and then it was bedtime.

The next day was yet another massive driving day as our destination was Dar es Salaam which was 500 km from Iringa. That may not seem that far but the road conditions, corrupt cops who stop you incessantly, and the horrendous traffic in Dar quickly made what would be a 5 hour journey in Canada to a 12+ hour in Tanzania.

I have described my time in Dar at length to Chris in the 4 years since I have visited and I was very excited for him to finally see things for himself. He couldn’t believe how mental it was, and how accurate my descriptions over the years were. We sat in traffic for over 2 hours trying to make it through one intersection. While waiting we witnessed numerous cars driving on the “sidewalk,” blocking the way of an ambulance for over 30 minutes. The hawkers weaved their way through traffic endlessly clinking their change in their hands to attract your attention. That is the one sound that dominates in my memory from my time spent in Dar. I reflected on all that has happened in my life since last being in Dar during our wait in traffic. When I first visited to volunteer at Pasada I had not truly traveled internationally and it was a very overwhelming and challenging experience that definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think I grew a lot as a person on that trip and it was part of the ‘spark’ that ignited the fire in me to continue traveling. Now here I am 4 years later, back where it all started in a way. It was a very significant moment for me and I couldn’t help smiling.

We arrived at our campsite and had a quick dinner before a group of us played a very fun game introduced to us by Miss Joy from Ireland. The game is called sardines and works like this; one person hides in a place and everyone else needs to find them, but when you find them you join them in hiding one by one until there is only one person left looking. That person loses the round and is responsible for hiding first in the next round. It is called sardines because inevitably you all end up crammed into one small little space like a tin of sardines. It was absolutely hilarious, a group of adults playing this game and having a total blast. Tiana and I won the best hiding site, we hid in plain site under a table in the bar. It took 15 minutes for anyone to find us, and over 35 minutes for the round to end. The bartenders laughed endlessly at us and probably thought we were a bunch of drunks, when in reality we were all sober!

The next day was yet another early morning as we were making our way to Zanzibar. We had to take the commuter ferry to downtown Dar and then make our way to the Zanzibar ferry terminal. I had taken the commuter ferry last time so I knew what a gongshow it was going to be. It didn’t disappoint and the others were a bit overwhelmed. We then commissioned a local bus to take us to the Zanzibar terminal, kicking all the poor locals off who were trying to make their way to work. When we arrived to the ferry terminal we only had to wait a few minutes before the chaos of Dar truly hit; we had to make it through the entrance gate, clear security and then board the boat. It was typical Africa with everyone trying to push in, butt the line, sell you things, or scam you in one way or another. We all eventually made our way onto the boat but were a little worse for wear. The crossing took an hour and a half and was relatively calm. We were lucky and had been upgraded to business class, meaning we had very luxurious and comfortable seats. Upon arriving to Zanzibar we had to have our luggage checked for plastic bags (they are banned in Zanzibar) and it was even worse mayhem than boarding the boat. I looked at the dismayed and frantic faces of my fellow travelers and was reminded what that feeling was like. At this point in the trip not much frazzles Chris or I, but it is a feeling that is etched in our minds forever so we could relate to our fellow travelers.

Finishing the formalities at the ferry terminal we walked to our hotel for the evening; The Karibu Inn. For $50 USD a night it was incredibly basic, it didn’t even have a sheet on the bed! Nevertheless, it was a bed and a very welcomed change from the tent. The rest of the day was free time, Chris and I opted to do none of the excursions as they were expensive and we really wanted a break from the group to do our own thing. We headed to a restaurant on the beach and ordered a snack platter and beers, sitting back and relishing the view. After a while Michael joined us, having his rubber arm twisted into having a few beers with us.

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After a few hours of relaxing we decided to explore the rest of Stone Town a bit. We had looked up a few things in a lonely planet book in a local bookstore and had read that a place called Jaws Corner had incredible local coffee and was a good place to mingle with the locals. We found it relatively easily and immediately located the guy selling the coffee. He had a simple setup; the used cups were dumped into a bucket of water and immediately refilled from a kettle kept warm over charcoal. Despite the questionable sanitary conditions Chris and I both bought a cup, and a round for the locals playing Dominos. The coffee was incredible, the best we have had in a long time. Michael was not to be persuaded in joining us for a cup, he thought we were absolutely mental. I had to agree after I witnessed the coffee man refilling his kettle from a filthy bucket of pre-made coffee. I still had a second cup.

Chris and I were very happy to be back on our own and interacting with the locals. As much as the tour is convenient it certainly is carried out in opposite manner to our traveling philosophy. It is allowing us to cover a lot of ground and see a ton of the continent, and we are taking note of our favorite places for when we return. When we do come back we will definitely rent or buy a 4×4 and travel on our own.

After Jaws Corner Michael, Chris and I browsed the markets and worked a smoking deal for Michael on a traditional game board. We then went on the hunt for the local spirit, Konyagi, to try before heading to the famous Forodhani Gardens food market. The Konyagi was very similar to gin, and we had fun with the group passing it around before going for a bite. I had oodles of fun bartering over the food price, I was determined not to get Mzungu (Western Person) priced. I was very successful, my best price was 1/4th the price of what the rest of the group paid for the same thing. Our favorite dish of the night was a freshly grilled beef “pizza.” It wasn’t anything resembling what pizza at home was like, but it was delicious. I was hoping to have some seafood but the seafood looked as though it had been caught a few days ago so I stayed clear. It was a really lovely evening, after finishing our dinner we headed to a few of the girls room and sat around chatting and joking for a few hours.

The next day Tiana, Raj and I hit up the local shops. I am proud to say I invested in two paintings – the most I have ever purchased! Chris and I decided we want a few travel mementos for our apartment whenever we return home. After shopping we headed back to the meet the group to leave to the north of the island to Nungwi Beach. The group was staying at one resort called Ammani Lodge, while Chris, Michael, Tiana and I opted for the cheaper option across the road. The price at Ammani was $90 USD per night per room, while ours was $50 USD. Zanzibar is not cheap and we wanted to save money any way we could. Our accommodation was basic but adequate, and even included a decent breakfast in the rate.

We only had an hour before it was time to head out on our booze cruise. 8 members of our group along with our guide and guide in training opted for the booze cruise. We were expecting a boat with a designated bar area, some tables and seating and lots of room to move. What we got was a traditional boat with very limited space considering there was 4 crew members and an entire band. We were skeptical there would be enough booze for all of us but we set sail and started into the Konyagi. We played a few drinking games before the band really kicked things up and we started a dance party. Things very quickly deteriorated as we smashed through 8 bottles of Konyagi (you calculated correctly, that is a bottle each). We had an absolute blast together, at one stage we took over the bands instruments and had our own sing along. The memories may be a bit foggy, but luckily there were lots of pictures taken. A very fun night!
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The next day we had a lazy start before heading to the pristine beach our accommodation was located on. We all had a laugh recounting the previous nights adventure before we decided it was time for a swim. Chris went first to test things out before Michael, Tiana and I joined. He gave us the thumbs up to say the water was nice, but as we entered the water he turned around and gave us two thumbs down. We thought he was kidding but when he reached us he was in rough shape. He had stepped on a rock that cut his foot and when he lifted his foot in pain a wave took him out and he fell onto a sea urchin. He turned around and showed us a massive clump of spikes protruding from his bottom. We quickly made our way back to the room where I attempted to remove them. They are very brittle and broke when I tried to remove them, leaving large pieces embedded under the skin. I realized I wasn’t equipped to deal with this so I ran to find our guide to see if he knew what to do. I couldn’t find him so I asked at our reception what I should do. They answered quickly and without hesitation.

You need a papaya and kerosene.

I was perplexed. I stated the obvious that I had neither of those things and even if I did I lacked the knowledge required to remedy the situation even if I did have them. The receptionist shouted to his friend (who I am confident didn’t even work there) who ushered me to follow him. He plucked a papaya from a tree and went to obtain some kerosene. I showed him to our room and gave him some privacy to work by heading back to the beach to collect our things. As I returned to the room he was leaving with a big smile on his face stating all was good. I asked Chris what happened and he said he stabbed the papaya to get the oil out, rubbed that on, and then poured a cap of kerosene over it. He then coated it again with the oil of the papaya. It was then a waiting game as it could take several days for the spikes to surface. Poor Chris could hardly sit down and spent a lot of the day laying in bed reading. The group, empathetic to his cause, lovingly nicknamed him prickle butt. I spent the afternoon playing volleyball and going for a swim once it was hightide.

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That night we had a group candlelight dinner on the beach. The food was acceptable but the setting was perfect. Chris and I had an early night and an early morning as we were departing Nungwi at 9 am. Our journey back to Dar was much easier than our journey getting there and we arrived without issue. My next post will cover the rest of our time in Tanzania!

Cheers!

*We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.