Lilongwe, Malawi: (Day 5) Dec-15-2013

After a very warm night I woke up before my alarm--just like I have been doing every single morning since arriving in Africa (except for my first day).  I stayed in bed till 5:00 listening to the wildlife around me.  I heard some hippos nearby.  I got out of my tent to wash my face and brush my teeth and saw a large baboon about 25 feet from me, across the pool, just sitting indian style.  There was a monkey nearby in the bar as well.  They seemed completely indifferent to me.  After having camped for two nights I had quite a bit of stuff that needed to be repacked.  I packed my bag for the day and then the rest in my overnight bag.  I repacked my sleeping bag inside my waterproof stuff sack and loaded that in the bottom of my bag.  My toiletries and electronics went on the top.  I carried my sleeping mattress over to the truck and put it above the seats in its designated holding space.

I very much dislike folding and repacking both the tent and rain fly all the time.  By the time I finish loading the truck with my tent and supplies I'm filthy--hands covered in rust and every other part of me covered in dirt from the tent/fly and their fabric covers.

Another day of burnt toast...toast without butter?  Yuk!  I forced myself to eat half a slice along with a few handfuls of unfrosted 'frosted' flakes.  A few gulps of tea go down just so that I get some H2O in my body.  After emptying and cleaning out the dish washing basin I took my seat on the bus.  I reviewed a few photos I took from my trip.  Honestly, I'm not overly impressed with them.  I love my camera, but it just can't compete with a full sized DSLR with a high mm lens w/ large aperture.  Taking photos at 200mm with 6.4f-stops just has its limits.

We're stopped right now taking a bush break.  We are on our way to Chipata for supplies, then we leave for  Lilongwe Malawi.  I loaded up on water and some chocolate treats.  Oh, and their apples have been absolutely delicious.
Getting Supplies in Chipata, Zambia

We arrived at the Zambia/Malawi border and stamped out out Zambia, walked over to Malawi through an iron gate that was slightly ajar and filled out some forms in the Malawi immigration office.  There was no visa required and also no fee...although we did need our Yellow Card (Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate).  The 2 women from Costa Rica needed to provide an extra visa they applied for through South Africa to gain entry into the country.  I asked her why she needed it and she told me "I guess Costa Rica and Malawi don't have the best foreign relations".  I told her, "That's weird because I don't have ANY relations with Malawi and they let me in".  We both chuckled.

Conversion rate is ~410 Malawi Kwacha to $1 USD.  In Zambia it was ~5,700k Zambian Kwacha to $1 USD.  However, in Zambia, most places accepted USD but equated 5,000 Kwacha to $1.  Beers at most of the bars in Zambia have been ~10,000 Kwacha (or $2 USD), ciders were 15,000, wines 16,000-19,000, cigarettes were 5,000-10,000 Kwacha.  At the supermarket cigarettes from local brands were as low as 5,000 Kwacha for a two pack.  That's less than $0.50 per cigarette pack.  US branded packs were ~$1/per.  Beer was between 5,000 and 6,500 kwacha for local brands and imports were around 8,000 to 9,000 kwacha.

I'm not sure if I stated this before but the sun tan lotions were very expensive...where everything else was at a discount compared to US standards, the sunscreen held hefty premium.

After we crossed into Malawi we stopped at some ATMs so that some of the people to could take out some local currency.  Godfrey also arranged for a local to come onto our bus to exchange money.  His rate was 410 Malawi Kwacha to $1 USD, if using bills larger than $20.  For $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills the rate was 350 Kwacha.  I tried to negotiate with him but he wasn't going to move so I went Kwachaless (as I did while in Zambia).  I learned that on the street larger bills are worth more than lower bills, thus the difference in the conversion rates.  My 500 Kwacha Calrsburg (Danish beer) was $2 since I was paying with smaller bills and they always round up to the nearest dollar.

We stopped at an animal sanctuary outside Lilongwe where they took in injured and poorly treated animals and helped them to recover.  Some of these animals were set free but the majority of them will live out their lives at this sanctuary.  It was like a zoo, but the animals had much more room and there was nothing artificial introduced into their environment.  They had quite a bit of monkeys/baboons. There were also owls, turtles, porcupines, 3 types of antelopes (bushbucks, impala, ?), a 5m (17') python, a few birds, crocodiles, and a female lion.  The lion had previously been sold to Romania where she was put on display and treated very poorly.  People had been known to burn the poor animal with their cigarette butts.  They showed some photos of the lion living outside during a winter, covered in snow....this was obviously not the animals natural habitat.  The lion's mate and child had died there.  The lion had two diseased eyes, one that eventually went blind.  Through international efforts the animal sanctuary was able to bring the lion back to Africa where she currently resides.  The center is currently trying to get another lion for her.

The lion was so beautiful...huge!  You can tell she wanted to play--she would rub her body against the metal fence, we were so close to the fence we could probably reach out and pet her.  She was trying to reach us and show her affection.

Afterwards we loaded back onto the truck--after putting all our rain gear away as it had just poured--we drove over to our camp site.  Along the way I immediately noticed how wealthy Malawi was (w.r.t. Zambia).  Many buildings looked very similar to those found in the west.  Roofing panels, inset windows/frames, proper foundations, etc..  There is clearly more money here than in least from what i've seen so far.

<I am writing this on June 27th, 2014:  I have since learned Zambia and Malawi are both VERY poor and any difference in perceived wealth had to do with the areas that we drove through and this was not representative of the country at large>

Placing a Bug Net On My Bed
We arrived at our campsite and they had no rooms for us to upgrade.  They offered for us to stay in this house-like place.  It was where they had their reception.  I believe it was a house for the owner/manager but likely hasn't been used for a while.  There were two bathrooms and two showers, though neither had curtains and only one bathroom had a door.  Some beds were missing mattresses and the fans didn't work.  However there were multiple TVs, though plugging them in would prove fruitless as it would just be static.  There were multiple rooms, maybe 5 or 6?  Stephanie took a room, I took a room, and the Couple (Debbie & Vincent) took another room.  I had told the person working at the campground that I will only stay here if they install a mosquito net...they complied.  The place was decked out with a sun room, fireplace, multiple couches, a scattering of African art, bongo drums, cabinets, dressers, and shelves.

They asked for $10 apiece for us to stay there and we all agreed.  Later on Godfrey had said that was a very good deal because these parts of Malawi "are getting very expensive"

I spent an hour (probably more) trying to get my phone to register on the Airtell Network, but it kept wanting to return to the TNM Network.  I think it was due to the fact that TNM has much stronger signal than Airtell--Airtell worked better though.  I learned that just because a phone has a strong signal does not ensure you can make a call (3rd world lessons).  The 4 bars--of service--I had on TNM just meant I had a strong connection with a TNM tower.  But if that TNM tower has poor 'service' or their 'broadband' is too low than having a strong signal from this provider is useless....Lesson learned!

I finally was able to call Kelly and we chatted for 30 minutes.  I had to eat dinner and I told her I would call her back.  We struggled getting a good connection so we just said goodnight and I promised to try to call again when I was able.

Dinner consisted of ground-beef topped with thick slices of boiled potatoes, and grilled vegetables.  I talked with Caralina and Sonia after dinner.  Sonia has a basenji and she thought the dogs in the local villages strongly resembled her dog.  I chatted with the group for a while and then with Tabby.

Tabby's real name is Umptabisee (sp?) and pronounced uump-tah-bee-see.  He was telling me how there is a tribe in Zimbabwe that is legally allowed to grow and smoke marijuana.  Otherwise, penalties for smoking marijuana can be fairly steep, though it depends on many things.

A Photo of the Two Bags I Traveled With
Tabby is 38 and is christian, but he has said that when we was younger he had never heard of Christianity.  In fact he said no one in his village knew about it.  It's fascinating how quickly christianity has been spreading to the south/eastern portions of Africa.  It's quite sad if you think about it.  I'll spare you a diatribe on the sucky-ness of Christianity and speak solely on the cultural impact.  Currently, there is very little, if any, cultural history remaining in these african countries.  There no longer exists traditional burial rituals, clothing, singing, etc.   Christianity has done more damage with their missionaries to the people of Africa than  I could ever have imagined.  It's one thing to ruin a persons mind, but quite another to erase generations and generations of tradition.  Only 3 years ago Tabby said Christianity was largely unknown and now it's gone completely mainstream.  He said the people chose Christianity because it's easy...."[all one has to do it pray to god and that's it, much easier than before]".

Ok, I'm back, had to throw up a bit. Just kidding!

Now we see burial sites with tombstones covered in crosses.