Unwell…

We’d spent the whole day either out in the fields with the Wells For Zoe team or ferrying them around the muddy clay valley. They were going for dinner at Pine Tree Lodge and asked if we wanted to tag along. A really good steak, chips and salad – in good company. $6 each plus beers.

Early evening, they left en-masse to head down to Kande Beach (where we’d just come from) on the lake for Easter weekend. We left not long after and found they had settled up for us as a thank you for the help. Unnecessary, but most welcome.

By the time we got back to Illala Crest Lodge, on an elevated position just outside Mzuzu town, there was a huge storm – and an odd red glow in the sky. It took us a while to work out that it was a fire in the town centre market. The fire burned for 3-4 hours and at its peak the flames must have been at least 20-30m high.

We heard later that evening that the news stations had reported the Police had moved in and used tear-gas to stop looters. Many people’s livelihoods severely damaged by the fire. Apparently no one hurt and this happens at least once a year.

As we left the next morning there was considerable damage to the market stall area but people were setting up again and the place was mobbed – business as usual.

The storm meant that most of the power was out in town and, as the lodge’s Visa machine was out of action I had to use most of our cash to settle up. We needed shopping and fuel before moving on but there are plenty of banks with ATMs in town to get cash.

After driving round 11 ATM we finally found one that was a) working and b) accepted international VISA cards and we finally got away around lunchtime.

We drove broadly north and then Northwest along the edge of the Nyika mountains, heading back towards the lake. Having been at the lake most of the time in Malawi (altitude 400m) up here at 1,300m the environment was cooler and misty.

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The landscape on the edge of the Nyika Plateau is beautiful. At times the road passes through huge rubber plantations on either side of the road.

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For the smaller farmers, the local cash-crop around here seems to be tobacco and the hillsides are littered with small share-croppers growing it…

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…and drying it ready to be sold at the local community markets.

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Just before the steep drop back down to the lakeshore we came across another police roadblock. Here we go, I thought, another fine for the reversing light not working. This time it was about 12 officers living in tents either side of the road, all wearing “Immigration Officer” uniforms. Friendly, but they scrutinised our passports and visas at length.

Given that we’ve seen no more that a dozen travellers on the roads and we’re at least 250km from any border, I’m not sure who they’re trying to catch out with incorrect paperwork. We passed muster and were allowed to proceed, arriving about 45 minutes later at Chitimba Camp on the lakeshore.

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Chitimba is run by Ed (the Viking) and his wife who’ve been there about 15 years. A friendly place that reflects Ed’s quirky, arty nature.

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The best thing about the camp is that the people are friendly, it has a huge beachfront and the pitches drain well after the heavy rain that can dump 3-4 inches of rain in only a couple of hours. Unfortunately the camp doesn’t have hot showers or water for wash-up facilities / laundry.

Even though the showers are cold, you need to be prepared to share them…

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On the beach Ed has built a ‘Honeymoon Suite’ called The Love Boat.

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It’s mounted on old Land Rover springs and has a ship’s bell on a rope -presumably so that everyone knows when it’s occupied!

The lakeshore is a huge resource for the small settlements dotted along it.

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It’s used as a thoroughfare…

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…to launch the ancient log-canoes that both men and children use for fishing…

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…and by the village women to wash the kids and the laundry.

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We had our own housekeeping to do.

They say that Malawi is ‘a land built on ants’.
They’re everywhere.
Particularly in the Land Rover.
They even climb the ladder onto the roof-tent.
Have you seen the excellent film called ‘Mousehunt’ with Lee Evans? Imagine what he went through tracking that little blighter down and substitute 1 mouse for 500-600 ants.

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We do our best to travel light. Not like the guys on motorbikes though, or our pals Jules and Li cycling to Australia. How do they cope without all this lot? (and this is just the rear load-area of the car!)

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The next morning I noticed an insect bite on my ankle, which had come up as a bit of a messy blister. Didn’t feel it happen and don’t know when, but it flared up really fast – hopefully it will disappear as quickly.

We left later that day to go just a short distance up the mountainside to an old settlement called Livingstonia. It’s only 17km away but a challenging track when dry and impossible when really wet.

The first 6-7km are not too bad, dry and reasonably flat.

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The remaining 8km though are pretty interesting.

Steep and twisty in places the track rises about 900m over the 8km length.

Low-range 2nd & 3rd gear all the way with rutted, wet, clay & gravel hairpins on steep drops that test both the Land Rover turning circle and your nerve.

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Our destination, Lukwe Camp, on the mountainside is worth the drive in any weather. The camping pitches are on terraces in the trees and the bar is on poles over the edge of the valley.

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The view of the Nyika foothills, Lake Malawi and the mountains across the lake in Tanzania is certainly one of the best we’ve seen since arriving in Malawi.

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By the next morning, my ankle was swollen, very painful and had got worse rather than better (I hope you’re not eating as you read this….)

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Auke, the owner of Lukwe Camp, told me I needed to get up to see Dr. Lynne at the hospital at the top of the valley in Livingstonia village (Helene told me that the previous day, but naturally I didn’t listen).

We’d had a lot of rain but fortunately the remaining 4km track to Livingstonia at the top of the valley is better than the lower section. It’s a very small village where a mission & hospital was established in 1884 by Dr Robert Laws from the Free Church of Scotland.

This is still the main building, completed in 1910, and probably hasn’t changed much since.

When built it was the biggest hospital in Central Africa and it still has the best reputation for many hundreds of km.

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Amazingly, using the power of the Manchewe river and waterfalls (4km away) they built their own Hydroelectric system in 1905 which ran until 1986, when the Malawi Government put mains-power into the village and told them they couldn’t use the falls any more.

Hydro. In Malawi. In the middle of nowhere. In 1905!

We were seen by Dr Lynne, who runs the place. Given the number of babies and children been seen to by her assistants, I felt guilty dragging her away – but I’d been told by Auke to ask for her specifically.

I said that I hoped she wasn’t in the middle of something important. “If I’d been in the middle of something important, I’d still be in the middle of something important” she replied.

She’s also a missionary, from Ireland. She and her husband took over 3 years ago and she plans to stay “…until they don’t need me anymore, although I’m going to retire back to Ireland in 15 years one way or the other.”

She inspected the bite (and my groin?) and thinks it’s most likely either from a tick or a spider. Probably when we in the overgrown valleys round Mzuzu looking at the wells. She dressed it and gave us a weeks supply of horse-pill sized antibiotics. Total charge 1,600 Kwacha (about £2.30 / $3.50).

“It’s pretty nasty” she said “don’t plan on going anywhere unless you know they’ve got a good hospital and know what they’re doing”.

Oh well, rather than leave for Tanzania as we’d planned, it looks like we’ll be at Lukwe Camp for a few more days.

That’s certainly no hardship.

In the meantime ‘Donkey’, as we’ve affectionately nicknamed the car, is also unwell. Back at camp when we returned from the hospital I noticed a larger than normal puddle of oil and there was oil sprayed all over the propshaft etc.

Nothing registered on the dipstick so I put 2 litres in. Still nothing on the level. Another 2 litres. That barely registered.

Eventually I put in 5.5 litres (the manual says it only takes 6 from empty)! This is pretty serious.

We found where it’s leaking from – a mysterious bolt-on part on the side of the engine, just behind the lift pump. It looks like the outer seal has gone.

I couldn’t find anything in the engine section of the manual that looks remotely like it or any mention of any part that should be in that location.

Nothing else for it – take a photo on the phone, email it to ‘International Rescue’ (Frank & Liz in Cyprus) and hope they have some idea.

Once again they came up trumps. Instantly. It’s the Vacuum Pump for the brakes and, of course, all the info is in the Brakes Section of the manual.

Well… the engine took nearly 6 litres to refill it after travelling only 100km or so. I’ve got 2.5 litres left. Auke has only got a litre here at camp. The next fuel & oil he knows of is 15km back down the mountain and 100km away up the lake.

Oh well, I’m not allowed to go anywhere for the next few days so we’ve got a while to think it over.

Although, the clock’s ticking – our visas run out in 7 days.