Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 13 July 2000
Well, after a very long email silence we have finally regained cell phone reception and are able to send email. We have been in Tanzania for four days having crossed the border from Malawi on Monday. Already the differences between Malawi and Tanzania are obvious. Once again, we are completely unable to communicate with anyone as not many people speak English and our Swahili is limited to "Salama" (Hello) and "Hakuna Matata" (no problem) (thank goodness for Disney and the Lion King) and so even doing the simplest things like buying bananas or ordering dinner has become a laborious matter of charades and hand signals. You can just imagine what is required to order the most simple meal of chicken and rice. The Chichewa we learned in Malawi is of little or no use here so we will have to set our minds to mastering some rudimentary Swahili as soon as possible. We have also discovered that travelling in Tanzania is going to be a lot more expensive than it has been in any of the other countries we have visited so far. The first shock came at the border when we had to dole out a cool US$110-00 for visas, road taxes and third party insurance. When we balked at the US$25-00 road tax (which, might I add, is valid for one week only!) we were assured by the official that the Tanzanian roads were in very good condition and exceptionally smooth and so we should not be concerned about paying for the pleasure of driving on them. I must admit, so far he has been true to his word and the roads have been the best we have encountered yet. Other price shocks have included diesel which costs about R5.30 per litre, Internet Cafes where surfing costs R100-00 for three minutes (and the phone lines are so bad that your connection cannot be guaranteed) and public telephones where two minutes to South Africa costs around R50-00. Then of course there is the small (or not so small) matter of the Tanzanian National Parks where entrance for two people and a vehicle is rumoured to cost US$120-00 per day. I must say that this is the most beautiful country, its efficiently run (by African standards) and people are very friendly and so we have not minded paying the exorbitant prices to be here (after the initial shock that is!).
The last part of our Malawian stint was very eventful! From Mount Mulanje we headed via Zomba to Lake Malawi and spent a couple of days at Cape Maclear, Senga Bay and Nkatha Bay before heading north to Livingstonia. The highlight was definitely Nkatha Bay where we ended up staying for almost a week. In our almost three weeks in Malawi we really got to know the quirky, idiosyncratic nature of the Malawian people. They are absolute sticklers for detail and formality. No deal is completed until there has been a laborious filling in of forms, ledgers and receipts. It does not matter whether you are changing money or paying for camping, every aspect of the transaction must be documented in duplicate or triplicate and everyone from the shop assistant or cashier to the security guard must inspect your paperwork and attach his or her signature to it to confirm that everything is in order. And then of course, there is the stamping. Nothing is official unless it has been subjected to a flurry of rubber stamps.
Signs are also very important in Malawi and wherever you go you will find that all the rules and regulations of the camp site (or whatever) are displayed on a sign outside the gate. Spelling and the grammatical content of the signs would seem to be of less importance, however. At Nkatha Bay we saw a sign for a lodge that promised "sturning" views, "testy" food and "flash" toilets. We were just too nervous to try it! At Cape Maclear, the sign at the gate warns visitors not to terrify the animals. Presumably just scaring them is okay. We were also "solemnly" warned not to walk on the Senga Bay beach at night to avoid attacks by hippos. Its absolutely hilarious! We have also found that one cannot be taken in when promised that a camp site has flush toilets and showers. More often than not, there are showers and toilets installed in the ablution building but they have not worked in a decade and often have no water pipes running too or from them. We have now taken to asking a complex series of questions before staying in a campsite for the night. These include "Are there toilets and showers?" "Is there water in the toilet?", "Does the water actually come out of the shower or do you need a bucket?" etc etc.
The climax of our immersion into Malawian culture has to have been the two days that we spent in Livingstonia. Livingstonia was the site of one of the first Presbyterian missions in Malawi. Its perched at the top of the escarpment and reaching it is exceptionally difficult. The narrow road winds from the lake to the escarpment for about 15 kilometres. Going is very slow as there is a series of some 20 hairpin bends. The incline is virtually vertical and there are loads of loose stones. Nev and I thought it was the most impractical place for a mission station (almost like putting it at the top of Table Mountain) but we were told that it was the third location tried by the Scottish missionaries and was chosen specifically because it was at such a high altitude and therefore was relatively free of malaria and tropical diseases. Our journey up to Livingstonia took about 2 hours and we reached the village just before sunset. We decided to stay at a place called the Stone House in Livingstonia which is one of the original mission houses built almost 100 years ago. The Stone House now doubles as a museum, guest house and the Presbyterian synod archives and is run by a super guy called Macdonald (who would seem to fill the roles of manager, accountant, part time chef, chief archivist, plumber and general factotum). As we were unpacking our car, Nev noticed that our fishing rod holder (a modified drainpipe which we (Nev) had attached to the side of our roof rack to hold our fishing rods, gas pipes and assorted paraphernalia) was missing. We could only conclude that it had sheared off during our trip and must have plummeted down the side of the mountain. This was quite a loss especially as it contained Nev's brand new surf rod as well as our bass rod and the pipe for our gas light.
While we were pondering whether there was any use in backtracking down the mountain in search of the pipe, Macdonald, after discussions with Genesis, the watchman, and Edward, the security officer, suggested that he spread the word that the pipe was missing and that he and Nev go back down the mountain early the next morning in search of it. Before long, the word had been spread to all parties concerned that there was a mzungu staying at the Stone House who had lost a pipe. The next morning, Macdonald woke Nev up at 5 am and the two of them set off in search of the pipe. Macdonald was integral to the whole pipe recovery caper as he was the only one who could communicate effectively with the locals and knew the lay of the land. Nev's first stop was the house of the local headman who, it turned out, also ran the local tea room. Macdonald conveyed the whole long, sorry story of the pipe to the headman and stressed that if the pipe was returned to the mzungu (Nev), a "gift" would be paid. Nev shuddered at the though! The headman promised to keep a look out and Nev and Macdonald carried on down the mountain stopping to ask everyone they came across whether anyone had seen the missing pipe.
About half way down the mountain, Nev and Macdonald encountered one Samson who claimed to be the local community policing officer who provided them with their first clue. According to Samson, the pipe had been found by someone in one of the nearby valleys. Nev loaded Samson into the back of the Landi and the three of them proceeded down the mountain. After a bit, Samson indicated to Nev to stop the car and he got out and hollered something incomprehensible down into the valley (Nev was only able to make out the words "mzungu" and "ipypie"). After much hollering, the response came back from a hut deep in the valley that the pipe had been found and was being held in the hut but that it would not be released until Nev had negotiated the appropriate reward with the two women that had found it. Unfortunately, the two ladies concerned were in the lakeside village of Chitemba so Nev had to continue down to the bottom of the mountain to try to find them. Nev (and Macdonald and Samson) finally found the two ladies who turned out to be local woodcutters and agreed to hand over the pipe in return for a reward and a ride up the mountain. Macdonald also had some groceries that needed to be taken from Chitemba to Livingstonia. Nev reluctantly loaded the two ladies into the front of the Landi (one in the passenger seat and the other on the console between the two front seats), Macdonald into the back and Samson on the roof along with a 70kg bag of nsima (maize meal), a bag of ground nuts and two pumpkins (amazingly there was no chicken). The poor Landi lumbered and creaked its way up the road to Livingstonia (which had been absolutely terrible the day before - with only two of us in the car!).
Half way up the mountain Nev was told to stop and the price was negotiated. The two chics insisted on being paid 1000 Kwatcha to give back the pipe and Samson reckoned he was entitled to at least 200 Kwatcha. Nev remonstrated and pointed out that, after all, the pipe was still his property and not res derelictae as they might think (this concept was, of course, way to subtle to be translated and communicated effectively). Eventually the price was settled at 600 Kwatcha for the chics and 200 for Samson. Once the price was paid and a group photo was taken to ensure that the event was properly recorded for posterity, the pipe was miraculously produced from the bushes and Nev and Macdonald set off on the long, arduous journey to Livingstonia. Surprisingly, and despite the drop of a couple of hundred metres, the pipe was still in tact and the fishing rods had not suffered any serious damage. Of course, by this stage, Macdonald had not yet been compensated for his efforts. When the whole pipe posse reached the village, Macdonald came forward with his request. As it turns out, he is learning to drive and wanted very much to try out his newly acquired skills on our Land Rover. Nev could do nothing other than move over to the passenger seat and give Macdonald a driving lesson. This was not all (as it never seems to be) we were also asked to contribute to Macdonald's driving school fund and to take another one of his relatives back to Chitemba on our way down the next day. Of course it was not just the relative that needed transport to the bottom, but the relative (a full sized adult male), a baby, a 50 kg bag of maize and a bag of vrot bananas (thankfully no chicken). And as if that was not enough community service for a whole year, Nev also soldered some electrical plugs for the local Presbyterian minister, we supplied Genesis (the watchman) with three pens to further his education, we made a contribution to the church maintenance fund after meeting McNaught, the local curate, we gave a T-shirt and old takkies to Peter (who was he again? I forget) and took photos of Macdonald's three daughters Mabel, Catherine and Linda. What a day. We were only too happy to wave goodbye to the Livingstonia community after copious hand shakings and promises to write to them soon.
There is really never a dull moment!
We are setting out for Dar' es Salaam tomorrow and will then push on to Arusha. The Kili climb is looming at the end of the month. On the training side, we have done two more hikes but I don't think anything can prepare us for the highest mountain in Africa. Hopefully the awesome beauty, promise of that sense of personal achievement blah blah blah etc will spur us on to reach the top. Or at the very least, lets hope we get altitude sickness within easy walking distance of the hotel. We have met loads and loads of Souf Efricans travelling in Tanzania. It seems like a popular destination.
Hope you are all well. Please send emails - we love getting them.
Lots of love
Penny and Neville