Farewell to Malawi

Due to the lack of Internet in central Mozambique, we’ve been unable to bid a timely farewell to our time in Malawi. Given how rough the last couple days were, I already miss Malawi. In comparison to Tanzania and Mozambique, travelling in Malawi was a breeze.

The biggest difference between travelling in Malawi and neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique is the roads. The roads in Malawi are downright luxurious in comparison to Tanzania and Mozambique. Because of Japanese investments, the conditions of Malawian roads are improving at a rapid pace. In contrast, Tanzanian roads are poorly built and rarely maintained, often times you can see the road cave in because the road was not built on a proper foundation. The problem is exacerbated by Tanzanians’ unhealthy obsession for giant speed bumps. As for Mozambican roads, my first impression was “how did this happen?” How did potholes get so big, so deep? How are there so many? I hope they don’t bust my suspensions.  Having done most of my driving in North America, good roads are something I take for granted. Now I see a properly sealed road as an engineering marvel.

In addition to the roads, widespread English fluency, and surprisingly developed tourist infrastructure made our journey across Malawi exceptionally smooth.

The awesome staff at Mgoza Lodge in Cape Maclear

From Malawi to Tete

After 4 days of lounging, sea kayaking, and snorkeling in Cape Maclear, we made our way south to Zomba – Malawi’s old capital – to visit Jen, a friend of mine from college who just moved to Malawi for a fellowship. After 3 nights in Zomba, we headed for the infamous Tete Corridor in Mozambique.

As recently as 10 years ago, the Tete Corridor – the small strip of Mozambique separating Zimbabwe and Malawi – was considered one of the toughest drives in Africa due to poor road conditions and banditry. Although the recent mining boom in Tete has made the Tete Corridor safe for travel, it doesn’t make visiting any more inviting. One travel writer described Tete as ‘hot, humid, and dusty’ – a combination I didn’t even know was physically possible – while another described it as ‘malaria infested.’ Kind of like when a movie’s review is so bad it makes you want to see it, I am definitely intrigued to see Tete in all its crappiness.

After our unfortunate mandatory stay in Tete, I can confirm that Tete met all of my lowly expectations. The city is indeed hot, humid, dusty, and mosquito infested, not to mention grossly overpriced.

Even though I still have more to say, it is time to call it a post . As those of you who follow me on twitter already know, we are currently in Beira. It is time to get some rest in preparation for a long day of driving tomorrow. Off we go to Vilankulo.

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Kisolanza Farm, Mufindi, and Kyela

Our campsite at Kisolanza Farm

I apologize for our absence from the blogosphere the past week. Our wanderings have led us to a part of the country where Internet connection and electricity lies somewhere between spotty and non-existent.

Since my last blog post from Iringa, we’ve spent a large portion of our time at Kisolanza Farm exploring the nearby area. The beautiful setting, hot showers, spotless facilities, and fresh meat and produce available for purchase made it incredibly easy for us to keep extending our stay.

We made (attempted) a day trip to the Mufindi Escarpment after reading Lonely Planet author Tom Hall’s raving review of the place: ‘the view from Mufundi Escarpment near Iringa – it’s quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’ We wanted to decide for ourselves the validity of that statement but locating the viewpoint at the Mufindi Escarpment proved as difficult as finding one’s way into Mordor.

Mufindi Loop Road

The directions to the Mufindi Escarpment in the guidebook was simple, make a left turn from the Dar-Mbeya highway onto the Mufindi Loop, then make a second left turn 40km in onto a small road to the viewpoint. Easy Peasy. What the map did not convey is that the Mufindi Loop is 40 kilometers of punishing corrugated dirt road that takes us to a maze of narrow, winding, forking rural roads thru tea farms after tea farms.

The sight of these tea farms sprawling across the lush rolling hills of Mufindi was stunning, but navigating these unmarked roads thru them proved impossible. These roads are not marked on any map or GPS. Local farmers we asked have never heard of the viewpoint. After many hours of searching, we decided it was prudent to give up and try to find our way out with whatever little daylight is left. That night we were told by Jason, the manager of Kisolanza Farm, that it is nearly impossible to find the Mufindi Escarpment viewpoint without a guide: what a great piece of advice it would’ve been 12 hours ago.

Tea Farms at Mufindi

After Kisolanza Farm, we made our way west out of the Eastern Arc Mountain region to Mbeya in the Southern Highlands, then south from there to Kyela and Lake Nyasa. Kyela was not on our radar as a destination but Nathan, a friend of Eugene’s from Technoserve, is currently working there so we fell compelled to visit. Despite his exquisite company I cannot bring myself to forgive him for luring us to Kyela, as it is truly the armpit of Tanzania. Making matters worst was an unusual influx of visitors in Kyela at the time of our visit; acceptable accommodation (our standards are fairly modest) was non-existent (our room came with lots of mosquitoes and no bed net; we had to pitch our tent on top of the bed to protect ourselves from mosquitoes). At first light, we bid farewell to Nathan and head for the greener pastures of Matema, a beautiful beach town on the Northern shore of Lake Nyasa (i.e. Lake Malawi). After three days at this tranquil, secluded lakeshore town, we’ve yet to find the motivation to go anywhere. Looks like we will be here for a few more days.

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With all this…

On the road to Morogoro

With all this talk of us ‘getting the car ready’ and ‘leaving tomorrow,’ it came as a bit of a shock when we drove past Mlimani City Shopping Mall today that we are actually leaving Dar es Salaam and not going to there to buy that one safety pin we forgot to get.

We ultimately decided that the 8 hour drive to Iringa was a bit aggressive for our first day, so we opted for a much more manageable 3 hour trip to Morogoro. Aside from getting pulled over for going 57km/h in a 50km/h zone by overzealous policemen looking for a small gift, the first leg of our journey was exceptionally smooth.

Today’s drive, which brought us from Morogoro, thru Mikumi National Park, up into Tanzania’s Southern highlands, was simply spectacular. Driving across the vast rolling landscape with the lone baobab tree standing at a distance with families of baboons gazing at the ‘purple people eater’ while pumping Toto’s Africa out of our 3 working speakers was a surreal experience. It was one of those rare instances where the reality of my travel meets the expectations of my imagination.

The loud music blaring from Pub +255 next to our decrepit hotel in Iringa will challenge my self-proclaimed ability to sleep anywhere tonight. Hopefully I can get a restful night of sleep before exploring the forested highlands around Mufundi tomorrow, which one Lonely Planet writer claimed as ‘quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’

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Journey begins…Tomorrow

My supposed two-week stay in Dar Es Salaam is slowly approaching its one month anniversary. Since we are on Africa time, the delay of our departure should come as no surprise as one thing after the other has delayed our departure. On the onset of our planning we realized mechanical issues will likely be an issue for a 14-year-old vehicle at some point but getting off the start line was more difficult then we imagined.

Things began to go wrong on June 16th when we made a day trip to Bagamoyo – the capital of colonial German East Africa, an hour north of Dar. On our way back from Bagamoyo, a ‘tutt-tutt’ sound began to emanate from under the hood. Although we weren’t overly concerned at the time (it is easy to hallucinate strange noises with old diesel cars) we asked our mechanic to have a look as precaution since we do have a 20,000km+ road trip to make. Over the next 20 days I was given a comprehensive tour of Dar’s automotive industry.

So far, any progress we have made with the car has almost certainly been accompanied by corresponding setbacks. Here are some of the lowlights of our tour that included over 20 separate visits to different shops and mechanics:

–       Cracked piston

–       Cracked water pipe

–       Mechanic accidentally cut a different water pipe while trying to replace the broken one

–       Burst AC pipe and lost gas

–       Four visits to the roof carrier shop before our custom made roof carrier was fitted and functional

–       While trying to fix the spotlight, the electrician wired the headlights directly to the car battery so it stayed on permanently.

While the price for replacement parts are on par with the rest of the world, thankfully labour is dirt cheap (a multi-day job replacing the pistons cost $50) so the repairs were much less painful on our wallet than it would’ve been back home.

Now that the car is finally good to go and our stuff all packed, we are all set to leave tomorrow (for the 5th time this week, this time is for real) for Iringa. The itinerary page will be continually updated throughout the trip to reflect our actual itinerary.

The smart money is on Andy Murray choking in front of the home crowd at the Wimbledon Finals tonight.

Follow my odyssey on Twitter @AlpheusChan