Feast or Famine in Malawi…

Our days running the Chitimba Camp vary between those where there are only 2 guests and those where we can have 3 tour trucks with 10-24 people on board each, plus 2-3 groups of independent overlanders, and people coming in to drink or for lunch.   
Days are long. Up at 5.30am to organise the early shift and housekeeping; finish anytime between 9pm and 11.30pm once the bar has been closed up, restocked, cashed up, secured, etc. Then, fall into bed after a shower to wash off the sand – or the Lake Flies that come occasionally and stick like Lycra to skin made clammy by the humidity. 

Often it’s too hot and humid to sleep at nights (36 Centigrade during the day, 24 overnight). We’ve had very little rain so far, 3 hours total at most, so overnight temperatures are kept high by the lake and the sand. When the power goes out (which it does at least 4-5 hours a day), there’s not even a fan to stir the hot air around the room. 
Our days so far have been ‘feast or famine’. Mostly very busy and tiring but occasionally just lazing around, a bit bored (we can’t really get on with any of the building projects Ed has started as they need his input). 
Quiet days have been spent with the chefs (Remnant & Newton), experimenting with different dishes to use uses whatever local produce grows in abundance at certain times of the year.  
Mango Chutney seems to have been a real hit (guests especially like the spicy one). 

The Tomato Chutney we made was not so successful. After 2 weeks of maturing we checked the bucket in which the jars had been stored to find that 6 of the 10 jars had exploded. Back to the drawing board for that recipe.

The chefs’ Samosas have also been a hit. We’ve made up a simple frame to protect them and sell them as bar snacks before dinner. The guys here make very good shortcrust, samosa and tortilla pastry, in a very simple kitchen. No oven, just a couple of heavy pots on an open fire, with hot coals above and below.  

Other days have been spent crushing up the excess handmade bricks (used in building the new shower blocks) then loading them into the trailer… 

…and taking them along the track to the main road where they’re used to fill in potholes & ruts before the rains come, so that tour trucks and cars can get down to the camp gates. 

Occasional showers have brought out some scorpions & snakes around the camp: a small spitting cobra, brown-snakes and the occasional Black Mamba. That keeps everyone on their toes when they’re working round piles of stones, bricks and grasses! 

In any spare time, the staff are combing piles of cut grasses / reeds then sorting them into hundreds of bundles that will be used for re-thatching the bar. 

Helene has also been hounding the roofers who are replacing some of the thatch on the restaurant before the rains come, making sure they don’t leave it untidy, crooked or unfinished.  

As usual she always does it with a smile and a joke but she doesn’t let them get away with anything and has had them back many times to fix or tidy something she’s not happy with. She also chased the staff around the bar for days… 

 …to get the whole place thoroughly cleaned before she would let them put the Christmas trees up. 

Despite forcing them into ‘hard labour’ the staff think Bwana Helene is great. She gets local language lessons from them (I don’t think they’re swearing at her) and the day always starts and ends with a laugh and a handshake from each of the 22 of them.

We’ve had a real variety of guests over the first month: 
Generally 6-10 overland tour trucks (meat wagons) come in every week, each with between 8-24 people (couples and single 20-something’s) looking for cold beer, playing volleyball on the beach, whining that the Internet is so poor they can’t get on Skype / download movies. Most of these vehicles are large, rugged, 4-6 wheel drive converted trucks kitted out for full off-road overlanding. Occasionally though, we see something a bit unusual… 
We also had 25 middle-aged, overland motorcyclists touring with a film crew, getting their bikes stuck on the beach, followed by the ex-Lord Mayor of London and his Lady wife travelling with one of her ex-modelling girlfriends from the 70’s And her gold-mine owning husband. It’s amazing what you find out about some people – even when you don’t bother to ask!

The remainder of guests vary between backpackers dropped at the main road, looking for a bit of an oasis after braving the Malawi & Tanzanian bus system; a few overlanders like us in 4x4s with rooftents (not many at this time of year as the rains have come to Zambia & Tanzania); and occasional Peace Corp youngsters who walk up the beach from one of the local villages, looking for a cold beer and something familiar for lunch.
Interwoven with maintaining the camp and looking after guests, our time is spent with the normal issues of keeping the stores supplied. Tomatoes, eggs, milk, bread and cabbage are bought daily from the local village. Excellent fresh fish is brought to us by the fishermen on the lake. Everything else means driving to Mzuzu 150km away: from laundry supplies to light bulbs, toilet paper to toothpaste, bacon to baking powder, carrots to cheese. All of this can be made more complicated by anything from having to fill in behind the bar, to cooking breakfast for 20 overlanders on motorbikes when staff go off sick at short notice. 
Otherwise, it’s relatively relaxing: constantly topping up the water tanks from the bore-hole pump, dealing with staff issues, keeping attendance records, paying salaries, managing bookings, ensuring freezers are filled with home-made chapattis, samosas, tortillas, nachos, burgers, bread, vegetables, etc, dealing with PAYE taxes / pension payments, cashing up & dealing with 2 shift changes a day, getting the chef to hospital when he tried to cut his finger off sharpening a knife, attending meetings with the regional Police Chiefs to discuss what they are going to do (or more likely fail to do) about crime or community issues, ensuring the goat, cat, dogs, bushbuck and genet are fed, etc.  

That’s what makes it a 16-18 hours a day job, 7 days a week. 

Still, when we do get a chance to relax, in the ‘famine’ periods, what a great environment to do it in.
View from The Penthouse:  

 Often tiring, regularly frustrating and sometimes made irritating by the heat / humidity and occasional visiting swarms of Lake Flies that can arrive when the wind is in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, a wonderful place to be holed-up for a few months and, despite not having family around for Christmas, we managed to get our own little tree up.