Tag Archives: Malawi

Reflections on Africa

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Well, the dream is over and the adventure is nothing but a memory. I’m back home in Australia, it’s about nine degrees, and I can’t help wishing that I was still exploring strange lands on the other side of the world. My two months travelling through the Dark Continent have come and gone, and the astonishing landscapes and beautiful people of Africa are now thousands of kilometres away, but the things I experienced and the people I met will always be a part of me.

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Africa was never a place I really wanted to visit, largely because the Australian perception of the continent is one of death and violence and chaos. Even leading up to my trip, I kind of felt like it was a place I should visit, rather than one I was actually passionate about seeing. That changed the moment I stepped foot in Africa. For that reason alone, it was the most surprising place I’ve ever been to – and my journey through Africa turned out to be the most enjoyable overseas trip I’ve ever had. If you’re tossing off up about going, just book a flight over there and go for it. Where else can you climb a mountain, dodge a carjacker, get chased by a lion and get smashed on great beer in the same afternoon?

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I was very aprehensive about what would welcome me in Cape Town, and was worried about even making it from the airport to my hotel. The slums that slid past the bus window as I stared out in wide-eyed wonder did nothing to ease my apprehension, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the city. It’s certainly troubled, but it’s also overflowing with incredible hiking trails, lovely beaches, top restaurants and pubs, and some truly special women.

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They call Cape Town the gateway to Africa, and it was the perfet entryway to the place. After renting a shitty Hyundai that even a sex offender would be embarrassed to drive, I found the rest of SA to be even more incredible. The rugged coastline, the misty mountains, the freaky animals, the beer, the dried meats, the gigantic fruit – dude, the place rocks. And despite having a reputation for being knob-jockeys, I found the Saffas to be the kindest, most helpful people I’ve ever met. Of course, I’m not black, which might have something to do with it.

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Through the remote mountains of Lesotho, across the rolling hills of Swaziland, past the wild waters of Zimbabwe and shambling dead of Zambia, the beating heart of Africa entranced me and caused me to fall madly in love with the place. It’s no wonder that people have been travelling around the world to explore the wilds of Africa for so many years. It’s the sort of place that draws in the adventurous, the open-minded, and the lost.

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In Malawi I found a special place surrounded by mountains, where the water is crystal clear and full of neon fish and lethal parasites. On the beaches of Cape Maclear I found peace and happiness in a place where few people have ever been. I visited so many memorable places in Africa, but the Cape tops them all, and the memories of the week I spent there will always bring a smile to my face.

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After living amongst poverty and desolation, it was strange to end my journey on the tropical beaches of Zanzibar and Mauritius, where most people are most definitely tourists and not travellers. It would be wrong to call these places let-downs – they’re incredibly beautiful and I highly recommend both destinations – but it was disappointing to be back in civilisation, having given left the remote backwaters and interesting people that are inevitably drawn to them.

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It was a privilege to cross paths with people having their own adventures in strange lands, and I cherish the friendships I made with people I’ll probably never meet again. It’s surprising how strong the bonds between travellers can be – when you’ve got nothing and no one to tie you to your normal life, that dude or dudette you bumped into at the hostel can feel like a lifelong friend. And that’s what travelling is really about – meeting people from different backgrounds and becoming a part of their life for a day or two.

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Oh, and what happened to Prince Imotep, the Nigerian royal who sent me an email asking me to help him move his millions, thus kicking off this who adventure (before promptly being forgotten)? I dunno, let’s just say he came through, sent me the money, and I’m now so rich that I own a helicopter and one of those fancy Japanese sex robots. How that for an awesome through-story with a satisfying and believable conclusion? I really should be a Hollywood screenwriter or something.

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I wandered through Africa for two months, but it’s only since returning home that I’ve truly felt lost. There’s a line in the Third Eye Blind song Deep Inside of You that goes, ‘I’d walk with my people if I could find them’, and I think that for a while I was in-step with people I have something in common with.

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Oh well, there’s no time to wistfully ponder my time in Africa – I’m heading to Bali in a few days for a month of paragliding, drinking, and being awesome. What can I say, it beats sitting in the office.

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Take the Lilongwe Home

Malawians have a wonderful saying regarding their capital city; you can live life the right way, you can live life the wrong way, or you can live life Lilongwe. I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, but it rhymes, so I guess it’s kind of beautiful and poignant.

The ride there from Zomba was a nightmare and took around 11 hours, crammed into a bunch of different buses with squealing babies and assorted farm animals. I was stoked to find climb aboard a fairly new-looking coach in Blantyre for the second half of the trip, but then it sat by the side of the road for more than two hours until it was overcrowded enough to leave. Are the Malawians getting public transport advice from the NSW government or something?

Lilongwe is an unusual city. There’s no real city centre, with the 700,003 inhabitants sprawled across a massive area. Parts of it feel more like India or southeast Asia than Africa, with tuk-tuks running everywhere and curries bubbling away. Like most African cities, there aren’t a lot of tourist attractions, but dodging the countless gaping holes in the footpath is an interesting way to pass the day.

There are also heaps of signs for witch doctors, offering to do everything from bringing back lost lovers to finding dogs. Most of the signs are about penis enlargement, so I stopped by one of the witch doctors to see what he could do to make my doodle bigger. I was slightly disappointed when all he did was hand me a copy of Penthouse and point me towards the nearest toilet, but it definitely worked for a few minutes.

I’m writing this at the airport, waiting to fly out to Tanzania, and I’m genuinely sad to be leaving Malawi. This country is stunning, frustrating, exotic, backwards, cultured and wild, and the people unbelievably kind and friendly. It’s been a huge week with brilliant new friends and challenging experiences. I feel changed for having been here and reluctant to leave, knowing that I probably will never be back.

I’ve spent time with interesting people who are walking completely different paths to my own, and it was a privilege to walk beside them for a moment or two. Meeting cool and inspiring people is the best thing about travelling, but constantly saying adios to them is probably the worst. Ah, I’m getting sentimental. Or maybe it’s just the bilharzia talking.

Zomba!

I have a history of hooking up with attractive European sheilas whilst travelling and then disrupting my plans in order to look at their pretty hair and kiss their pretty faces, so it should come as no surprise that it’s happened again. I had the option to spend a few more days by the water, or follow an Austrian chick into the middle of nowhere before heading off to Tanzania. And that’s how I ended up in Zomba for a couple of days.

Zomba? Where the fuck is Zomba? It’s a crumbling village in southern Malawi that’s barely on the maps and a long way from anything resembling a tourist trail. There’s a couple of nice hills nearby to walk up and that’s pretty much it, so Zomba won’t be replacing Paris and San Francisco on lists of the world’s greatest cities anytime soon.

With Amilcar along for the ride, we were able to keep the Kool Kayak Krew (KKK for short, although we might wanna rethink the acronym) together for the 200km bus trip. Now, you might think that Malawi has a world class public transport system, but you’re wrong, because it’s rubbish. The journey was a six-hour nightmare of overcrowding, breakdowns, chickens, crying babies, street food and third world shenanigans.

The next day, with the Ggermans and Austrians off making the world a better place, me and Amilcar decided to check out the delights of Zomba. Alright, so there’s a bank, a supermarket that sells food even a goat wouldn’t eat, and a bus stop. I dunno, there might be a 300m-tall statue of a robot that shoots laser beams out of its eyes, but I didn’t spot it. The town is bustling but feels safe, and provided a good look at genuine African life.

Bus stops are usually a good place to find drug-addicted prostitutes, but rarely a decent spot to get a quality feed, but Zomba is an exception to that rule. We bought chicken, chips and rice from a tiny restaurant hidden in the smog, and the food was tops. We even met some blackfella who decided he was coming back to Australia with me, and made sure I had his phone number, email address, home address, university address, parents’ names and date of birth written down before I left. I’m surprised he didn’t offer me he dick size and the age of his pet goldfish.

The closest thing to a tourist attraction in Zomba is the Zomba Plateau that stands proudly above it, so me and Amilcar found something that almost looked like a track and headed straight up. It was very bloody steep, but by the time we got near the top the view was phenomenal. Zomba’s landscape reminds me of southern China; surprisingly green, with mountains that reach for the sky. Before long the heavens opened up and I welcomed the first rain since I left Australia more than six weeks ago.

And that was pretty much it for Zomba. Well, you know, as far as the sightseeing goes. Now it’s time to say buenos dias to Malawi and head to the tropical delights of Tanzania. I wonder if there are any European chicks up there looking for a handsome Aussie to keep ’em company for a few days…

Chicks dig dudes with exotic tropical diseases, right?

Lake Malawi looks glorious, but shortly after arriving I decided not to swim in it because it’s full of flesh-eating bilharzia parasites. My mind was quickly changed when a decorative 24-year-old Austrian sheila begged me to share a kayak with her for a trip around Thumbi Island. Shit, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a European stunna in a bikini, so a shortened life expectancy and the likelihood of my intestines squirting out my arsehole in the near future was a small price to pay.

Also along for the ride were Amilcar, a crazy 53-year-old Brazilian and Lucas and Celine, a couple of Germans working at a charity in the wilds of Malawi. All we needed was a Jew and an Irishman and we would’ve had the perfect setup for a joke.

The view from the back of the kayak was fuckin’ excellent (and the scenery wasn’t bad, either), with the wide, open lake giving way to immaculate mountains on every side. The water is crystal clear and as blue as an Aryan child’s eyes, making for a grouse place to splash around and have fun. After strapping my snorkel on and plunging into the sparkling water, I was welcomed into a world of astonishingly colourful cyclid fish, who swam and danced before my eyes.

After that we jumped off some rocks like people on a Coca Cola commercial and lost most of the flippers and snorkels (thus depriving some innocent Malawian dude of his livelihood), before heading back to the beach for about a thousand cheap cocktails. I figure the alcohol in them will kill most of the parasites. I even had a crack at my Austrian friend’s paraglider, and amazed the locals with my groundhandling skills (alright, more like gave them a laugh with my ability to put a wing in a tree).

That night we all headed along to a concert by some local Malawian reggae band called the Black Misionaries at a dive bar in Cape Maclear’s rundown fishing village. The place was absolutely packed when we got there, with rastafarians bouncing around in the sand and pissheads punching on in the dark. The wacky ‘baccy was being passed freely around and most people were holding hands or cuddling. It was a good vibe, even though the band kept ignoring my calls to play some bloody Chisel.

Being a handsome chap with a bit of a bad boy attitude (with a heart of gold that means your parents will love me), it wasn’t long before I drew the attention of the local lovelies. Alright, ‘lovelies’ might be stretching it – I was swarmed by a bunch of humans of indeterminate gender and unfathomable weight, who kept pinching me on the arse and trying to grab my dick. I scurried off into the crowd to escape their clutches, before seeking refuge in the toilet block. That was even worse, because what passes as a toilet in Malawi is a filthy, shit-filled hole in the ground. I decided to spruce the place up by pissing in the corner and snuck out of there, back into the maddening crowd.

Upon returning to the group, I was greeted by the highly unusual sight of Amilcar holding hands with a very tall, very thin black man, and busting out some crazed Ricky Martin-inspired moves. He was obviously enjoying himself, but I was shocked when he left to visit the toilet with the black man, returning several minutes later to dance some more. I was also devastated that no black men wanted to hold hands with me.

I was feeling rubbish the next morning when I rocked up to breakfast, but things were about to get stranger. Abud, a socially-awkward creep we’d met at the concert waddled into the restaurant shortly afterwards, hand-in-hand with a statuesque African woman who looked like she’d had all will to live fucked out of her by an obese Syrian the night before. The big fella gave me a high-five and then settled down to scoff a mountain of food. Amilcar staggered in a few minutes later, wearing only one shoe, no shirt, and looking confused.
“I do not know what happen,” he said to a pot plant. “One minute I have fun dance, drink beer, and the next I wake up in bed with two black people. One man, one woman. I am so ashamed.”

And what happened between your drunen hero and the Austrian? A gentleman never tells, but it did lead me on a strange and unexpected journey… but more about that next time.

The Marvelous Mountain Man of Malawi


With the stunning-to-look-at-yet-infested-with-parasites Lake Malawi threatening to kill me, today I decide to head for higher ground where I might be a bit safer. There are some awesome mountains around Cape Maclear, so I put on my walkin’ boots and went for a strut. Little did I know that I would’ve had less trouble drinking utant snails straight out of the river.

The main hiking track starts just out of town, next to the graves of the long-dead missionaries who founded the village. Thankfully, they didn’t come back from the dead and tear out my throat. It quickly climbs up the side of one of the monoliths and just keeps on ascending, proving to be a tough hike that offers enough peeks back over the bay to make every step worthwhile.

It takes about 90 minutes to reach the main lookout, and the view over the town is monumental. I could see far out into the massive body of water that is Lake Malawi, all the way to the imposing cliffs on the far side. The vista is bodacious (what? It’s still a word!) but I wasn’t really able to enjoy it because of the massive swarm of flies that decided to assault me. And I thought the hawkers on the beach were annoying!

If you decide to take this walk, be smart and turn around once you hit the lookout. The path to that point is easy to follow and makes for a top day out. Don’t be an absolute fuckin’ gronk like me and scramble further up the mountain in a pointless attempt to find the summit. There’s no real track, only a series of ambiguous symbols spray painted here and there on rocks and trees, and it wasn’t long before I was exploring uncharted territory crawling up boulders to get to the top. I made it and for some reason my clothes fell off!

Not for the first time, the point where I took off my shorts was where the fun stopped. I did my best to retrace my steps to the lookout, but I soon got turned around and ended up in the middle of the rugged bush with no idea where the path was. With the sun setting I knew I couldn’t mess around, so I faced the village far below and bush bashed down the mountain, knowing that I had to get out of there one way or another. It was a bloody steep trip and I slid down half the way, cutting myself on rocks and slamming into trees. I was starting to think about my options if I had to spend the night out there in the wild, when I heard the sweet sound of a woman singing.

I crashed through the thorny thicket towards the sound, praying it wasn’t my imagination. Eventually I stumbled into a clearing where a woman was collecting sticks, and she just looked at me like I was some sort of monster. I was sweaty and bleeding and close to tears, so maybe that’s exactly what I looked like. I did my best to communicate my desire to return to civilisation, and after a while she pointed towards the beautiful, wonderful, glorious path. I was so stoked to see it that I wouldn’t have been happier if it was lined with naked women and free beer.

Alright, that’s a lie. Once back at the beach I cracked open a brew and sat back to watch another mesmerising Malawian sunset. The going down of the sun was a terrifying prospect when I was lost on the mountain, but something soul-enriching whilst relaxing with a cold one in my hand (but enough about my penis!).

Cape Maclear and the Curse of the Killer Snails

In my endless quest to find remote, barely-heard-of paradisical wonderlands (that may be populated by decorative backpackers), I pointed to a random point on the map and ended up in the isolate lakeside village of Cape Maclear, Malawi. As well as being a day’s travel from the nearest place that could be called civilisation, it’s incredibly beautiful, and also shockingly dangerous. Yes, just like 90% of hot women worldwide, this place is pretty and deadly in equal measure.

Cape Maclear is 270km from Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe, a journey that took around four hours through desolate and sparsely-populated landscapes. I barely saw anything of note the whole time; a few scattered villages, some bulbous baobab trees, some goats and crushing poverty. I was heading far, far away from anything I’m accustomed to, but towards something pretty special.

After hours of watching the dusty brown monotony slide past my window, it was suddenly replaced by vibrant green rainforest and we rolled into the fishing village of Cape Maclear. I caught glimpses of the legendary Lake Malawi through palm trees, but it wasn’t until my car pulled in at my hotel and I climbed weerily out that I was able to appreciate the true greatness of this massive body of water.

One of the biggest lakes on the planet, Lake Malawi is 560km long, 75km wide and up to 900m deep, meaning it’s a shade smaller than Matt Preston’s arse. It’s a lot prettier, though, not just because of the magnificent mountains and golden beaches that surround it, but because of the glittering array of tropical fish that live under the surface of the water. It sounds like the perfect place to splash around in for a few days – except for the fact that swimming in the water could kill you faster than a funnelweb with a shotgun.

That’s because the lake is absolutely swarming with bilharzia, a terrifying waterborne parasite that burrows into the skin of unsuspecting swimmers and destroys their intestines and (gulp) the wee-wee tract. It’s passed on by evil mutant snails that live in the lake and spend their time trying to murder anyone who comes near them. It’s a shame because the water looks incredibly inviting and would be perfect to wade around in with a beer in hand.

The symptoms are fucking horrible – an explosive bout of blood-stained diarrhea matched with pissing razorblades and excruciating abdominal pain is just the beginning of the nightmare. The longterm effects are even worse, with liver damage, kidney failure, infertility (which admittedly has the benefit of making it easier to convince chicks to do it without a condom), bladder cancer and severe brain damage. It’s quite a price to pay to watch some pretty fish swimming about.

While wandering the beach I was swarmed by half-a-dozen small, naked boys, who wanted me to pay for them to dance for me. While the offer was certainly interesting, that’s the sort of thing that gets you placed on a sex offenders registry, so I told them I wasn’t interested. I’m not a pervert or anything, but I couldn’t help noticing the size of the schlongs on these toddlers – they’re fucking massive! We’ve all heard the stories about black men and their monumental meat (and I’ve researched the topic further through some educational movies), and I can tell you it’s all true. These toddlers’ cocks hung halfway down their legs, and I was honestly terrified that their wangs would smack into me as they scuttled around me.

Cape Maclear is an easy place to take it easy, and I plan on spending the next few days sitting around, drinking beer and doing as little as possible. And if I smash one too many bottles of Kuche and decide that going for a skinny dip is the best way to win the heart of a fellow traveller, I’ll spend the rest of my time here spraying the walls with rancid, bloody shit. That should be fun.