04-08-2007, 12:05 PM
Joined: Jun 2005
Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa
Like I said, the tar stops at Gurue. We hit the road and for the first 100km it follows a train track, crossing over every now and then. Problem is, the tracks never cross at a 90 degree angle. It crosses at something closer to a thirty degree angle. When I hit the first one I compress the suspension just before so that it unloads when I go over. I look back expecting to see my wife rolling in the dust, she makes it however. Hmmmm.
When we take a break later on I mention that I got quite a fright when I hit the first track. She appears not to be aware that there was a problem. Ignorance is bliss. And a good bike will forgive some of your shortcomings.
The route we follow on the day does not appear on our maps and for the first time I need to use the GPS. The road gets more and more interesting as the day progresses and later we're following a single vehicle track that connects small villages.
Taking a break under a Baobab tree.
The further we ride the more we find that the locals here are not used to motorcycles. I ride in front and as I pass bicycles they flee the road, several fall off. Mrs Jockey behind has a difficult time as those who stay on their bicycles look back at me and then swerve all over the road as she approaches.
The trusty GPS leads us unfailingly right to Cuamba. This is the last town on the border of Malawi. Here we have lunch in a nice open cafe and are surprised to find it is Sunday.
We draw just enough money to pay for fuel as we will be passing through the border post soon. We take a pic at the Madonna statue, all roads to and from anywhere leave from here. If you want to ever leave Cuamba, you had better find her.
Sunday is washday. This kind of scene plays itself out at every river we cross.
We finally make it to Malawi and after fucking endless hassles with money changers in the blazing heat we head down to the lake. As the sun heads to the other side of the earth, we pull into the first resort that looks clean and get our sore asses out of the saddle.
I'm elated to be here again and we immediately order two Carlsbergs.
It has been three hard days riding. Across the table from me the eyes are not smiling.
The message is clear. There had better be a rest day coming up and it WILL be tomorrow.
The money changer thing is actually quite interesting. Every single African country has it's own currency. For instance South African Rand, Mozambiqeu Metical, Malawian Kwacha, Zambian Kwacha and Botswana Pula.
Many of these currencies are useless outside of their country of origin, as other countries refuse to buy the currency.
This means that by the time you get to a border post you need to have spent what currency you had or keep it for ornamental value. Also, as soon as you enter a new country you need to pay all kinds of fees such as temporary import duty, road tax and third party insurance. Sometimes payment will only be accepted in the currency of the host country.
This is where the informal money changers come in. Bureau de Change are normally in towns, and you need to clear immigration and customs before you can make use of their services. The informal money changers renders a service at these border posts. They will exchange your now worthless currency (and /or dollars) for substantially below the current exchange rate. They have you by the balls after all. You deal or you don't enter.
In every country this informal currency exchange is illegal, so you are forced to deal with criminals. They have a large arsenal of cons worked out over years of preying on tourists. I have been caught out before. Properly. But so you learn.
Basically the bottom line is that every time you use their services you lose. There is one exception though. Zimbabwe. This poor country have been driven over the financial cliff by it's President, Robert Mugabe. It's economy have been in freefall for several years now with annual inflation in the 1000th percentile. It's official exchange rate is about 200% lower than the black market rate. It's a heartbreaking country to visit. We avoid it on this trip.
Sunrise on the lake the next morning.
Where we stayed.
We pack up again to do the 80 odd kays to Cape Maclear. Cape Maclear is close to Monkey Bay and is a small village on the lake surrounded by a nature reserve.
We pull into Fat Monkeys. I'm glad to be back.
We get a room for R65 per day ($8).
We stay three days doing very little.
The view from the bar.
We rent a kayak and explore the islands.
Snorkelling here is quite an experience. The water is clear as glass and when you are thirsty you just open your mouth and drink. There are thousands of different species of cichlids here (colourful aquarium fish) and they have no fear. You can watch them up close as they feed on the rocks. Some species only feed on vertical surfaces and others only on horizontal surfaces.
It's like swimming in an aquarium. I even had a small shoal following me around for a bit. If you are interested in this kind of thing the south end of the lake is the best place for it.
There are fish eagles all over.
The beach in front of Fat Monkeys is kept clear and the villagers are not allowed to approach guests to do business here. This helps quite a bit because every single person is either an artist or a jeweler or wants to take you on a boat trip or wants to sell you carvings or prepare a meal for you or just about anything else you may think up. The best way to get some peace from these hawkers is to stay more than two days so everyone gets a chance to try to sell you something once. They are always friendly and courteous and will still leave you with well wishes even if you buy nothing. They just want you to have a look before saying no.
The people are really exceptional, very poor, yet peace loving, kind, soft spoken. And this is one of the countries in Africa with the highest population density, 105 people per km2.
I get the local painter, Richie, to do his magic and add some flavour to my bike.
Here's a close up.
The part of the beach that is not in front of a 'lodge' has the normal villlage life scenes of washing, mending nets, drying fish etc.
On our last night we have a kampango braai on the beach. Kampango is a catfish species, but unlike our barble it doesn't live in mud and tastes pretty good. Chamba and Simon are our hosts.
We are also subjected to the local school band. Check out the instruments.
We have an interesting conversation with an afrikaans woman who settled in Monkey Bay and now owns a backpackers. She's been there seven years. She says she can live on R10 (less than $2) a day which includes her electricity. Good to know that if push comes to shove one can retire here on an income of less than R500pm.
We hit the road again and move up the lake. It's a long lake, 560km. Have a look at the size of these carvings.
We pull into Makuzi Beach Lodge. On the way in Mrs Jockey loses it in the sand again, luckily no trees close by this time.
It turns out to be the most wonderful place. Private, far from any towns or villages and the most beautiful beach.
What's interesting about the lake is that it does have crocodiles and hippos, but they only keep to certain areas. So generally you can safely swim without worrying too much.
The view from our room.
Our dinner table.
Fresh fish for dinner being brought in.
And so another tough day in Africa comes to an end.