Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Great Northern Adventure! Part II

July 23
Gurue, ZambeziaàMandimba, Niassa = 317 km
The next day was not quite so pleasant. At 4:30 in the morning, Annie, Anna, Emily and I snuggled together in the back of a friend’s pick-up for the brief, frigid ride to the chapa stop in town. Bags in tow, we piled into the chapa and waited for it to fill complete up (chapas don’t leave until all 15 seats are filled with 25 people). After a few hours we were able to stretch our (now numb) legs in Cuamba before we got on another chapa to Mandimba, on the border of Malawi.  We arrived shortly after noon and went to the currency changing station (the place where the guys with huge wads of cash stand around and shout “American dollar! American dollar!” as you pass). The rate from the Malawian kwacha to the Mozambican meticais is about 10 to 1. The meticais to the American dollar is about 27 to 1. But if you didn’t know that, this would look incredibly impressive:
In Mandimba, we planned to stay with PCV Kyla. When we arrived, she said she was one town over waiting for a chapa to leave. So we sat down to have lunch and wait.
Lunch turned into afternoon snack.

Afternoon snack turned into dinner.

Dinner turned into late-night drinks.

And after countless games of King’s Corner, Solitaire, Snake on the phone, and anything else we could think of…we continued to wait.

It’s Mozambique. After three years, you just kind of roll with it.
Kyla finally arrived after 22 and we headed back to her place to crash on a mattress on her floor. Which was great because the next morning…

July 24
Mandimba - Cape McClear, Malawi = 129 km

When you don’t have a car at your disposal, you get really creative about modes of transportation. But by far the coolest mode of transportation in Moz: the bike taxi.

Which is exactly what it sounds like: you pay a guy (who hangs out in packs on the main street, much like the reputable money-changers) to take you somewhere on his bike. The bikes are perfectly outfitted for such endeavors – the metal square behind the seat normally reserved for transporting boxes of gin and goat is covered with a pad suitable (though not recommended) for sitting, and the pegs on the back wheel are reinforced to allow you to put your feet on them. While in transit, you are encouraged to hang onto your seat, or pretty much anything other than your driver. Biker. Whatever. And you comfortably sit and take in the view and try not to be offended when the biker starts huffing and puffing and having to stand up when you go up a slight incline. It’s really quite pleasant.
We said our farewells to Kyla and Anna and hopped on our respective "taxis." The ride to the Moz border took about 20 minutes. After having our passports stamped, we boarded our bikes again and crossed the gate into No Man’s Land, similar to the Demilitarized Zone between Romulan and Federation space. The ride between the two country’s gates took another 20 minutes, before we found ourselves getting our passports stamped again and surrounded by more (aggressive) bike taxis, money changers and people speaking what they claim is English.

After paying our taxis, we moved on to the next mode of transportation. Please note: we had very credible sources (other PCVs) advise us on traveling to Cape Maclear. One of the most important things they stressed was transport price “negotiation.” So when we went to the chapa (an open-back truck with a few people already on), the conversation went like this...

Annie: How much to Mangochi?
Driver: 1000 kwacha.
Annie: No, it's 500.
Driver: Ok, 750.
Annie: No, it's 500.
Driver: No, best price, 650.
Annie: It’s 500.
Driver: No, it’s 650!
Annie: It’s 500.
Driver: Okay, it’s 500.

And we get in and wait for them to drive the exact same 500 meter loop five times to pick up more people before we actually start in the direction of Mangochi.
The official languages of Malawi are Chichewa and English. Which means the government is run in English and everyone really speaks Chichewa except for when they see white people who they assume speak English and want something from them. However, in the back of the truck, we were pleased to find a Malawian that also knew Portuguese and amused ourselves by learning Malawian English.
Us: How do you say “capulana” in English?
Him: “Fabric.”
Us: Oh, wow! Fabric! What about “cobrador?”
Him: “Money collector.”
Us: Brilliant! And how do you say “boleia” in English?
Him: “Lift.”
Us: Whoa!

Unfortunately, we were also distressed to discover that they could also partly understand our English. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that Moz PCVs take it for granted that no one around them speaks English, so when we’re together we typically don’t filter our conversations as we should. (i.e., “Whoa, the man sitting next to me seriously smells like my latrine!” etc.) So, in this case, we simply reverted back to Portuguese. (i.e., “Epa, este homen ao meu lado cheira como minha latrina!”). It also made interesting reads along the way, as we passed the “God First Warehouse” and the “Fear Allah Market” and other such fun stores.
From Mangochi, we caught another chapa to Monkey Bay, and from Monkey Bay found a pick-up going to Cape Maclear. We arrived at the backpacker’s in the late afternoon. We put down our bags and stretched out for the view at our lodge on the shore of Lake Malawi.

July 25
Lake Malawi (Lago Niassa on the Moz side) is Africa's third largest lake and the eighth largest lake in the world. More interestingly, it's said to be home to more species of fish than any other freshwater body in the world. And on top of all that, it's absolutely gorgeous.
Cape Maclear is situated in a small peninsula on the southern end. The village is filled with backpackers and lodges along one main road, yet it’s still a relatively undiscovered and so doesn’t feel like a tourist destination. Walking along the beach, you’d pass the typical lodges with bars and wicker furniture and hammocks and landscaping – and then pass a fence and suddenly be in someone’s back yard, where women were busy washing clothes, dishes and children in the lake water. Alongside the kayakers, you’d see canoes made of hollowed-out logs and filled with fishermen and nets.
On one side of the road were the lodges with high fences and gates and signs that read “Guests only,” and on the other side it looked like the bush, with the addition of giant Baobob trees.

Another PCV characteristic is that we pride ourselves on not being tourists or just passing visitors – we live here, doggonit, and in Moz we expect you to treat us like any other Mozambican and address us in Portuguese (it’s a nice dream, anyway). So it was a little bit of a shock when we realized that people could speak pseudo-English to us, then turn to each other and speak Chichewa and we’d have no idea what they were saying. Oh yeah – suddenly, we were just more white tourists.
But we embraced it while walking around the small town and settled for learning “thank you” in Chichewa (“zikomo”). In the afternoon, we rented kayaks and snorkel gear from a nearby lodge and set out for an island less than a kilometer from shore.
After a lap around the island, we pulled our kayaks on shore and dove into the shallows. If you have never been snorkeling or scuba diving, I encourage you to do so. There’s simply nothing quite like hanging out in the water, alongside tons of gorgeous and brilliant fish, and just being a part of the underwater world for a while. Sadly, there are no pictures of this part.
After watching the sunset on the water, we returned to the lodge for potato skins and a chicken dinner before crashing in bed – around 9 o’clock.

July 26
Our final day in Cape Maclear was passed mainly eating delicious bean burrito-type dishes you can’t find in Moz and in perusing the jewelry and crafts in the countless stalls along the main road. One gentleman with a Bob Marley-type hat over his dreads tried to sell us his very own line of “Happy Pants,” and proceeded to sing us his Happy Pants Man jingle. I admire his marketing strategies, but got the impression his happiness had very little to do with pants.

In addition Malawi’s fine tourist-geared cuisine, we also sampled the country’s brew. One, Carlsberg, is a Danish beer bottled in Malawi. It’s light, refreshing, and sold for 250 kwacha.
The other, the true Malawian brew, is sold in 1-liter milk cartons for 150 kwacha and tastes like liquefied fermented dirty socks. And also vaguely resembles it. Called Chibuku, you are encouraged to shake it before drinking, and if you wait too long the milk carton-esque container starts to swell with the excess gas. We all took an obligatory sip and promptly chased it down with something else more fit for human consumption. Like, pretty much anything.
Overall, not a bad life on the shores of Lake Malawi.

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