Malawi, 8 August 2007
The Nairobi broken frame saga made us stay longer than planned. The stay was made comfortable and directions given to the best repair shops by Chris at Jungle Junction, who also allowed me to bodge weld up the errant pannier frames and generally abuse his workshop for free. So we can't really thank him enough for that. I have to stick by our mantra that mechanical woes can provide some of the most interesting travel situations and, though finding out that the bike was near mortally wounded was a huge pain in the arse, the welding shop in downtown Nairobi was a gem. The elderly Indian / Kenyan owner, croaky with tracheotomy, was dewey eyed at the sight and sound of the incoming Bullet and through the repair he regaled me of his tales of riding a Triumph Thunderbird from Nairobi to London back in '61. He had gone through Uganda and then the South of Sudan before there were any roads to speak of there at all. As an arch bike enthusiast he had taken part in street circuit racing in Nairobi back in the 50s and 60s with a Manx Norton and earlier on had raced an Excelsior-JAP in local speedway.
Heading North out of Nairobi into the highlands towards Lake Naivasha we had any final illusions that Africa is a continent of sunshine completely beaten out of us by incessant drizzle, fog and general coldness. Our quick diversion North before heading South was mainly down to the possibility of seeing hippos by the Lake and to have a stroll around Hell's Gate National Park. The hippos didn't disappoint but the stars of the show were a rowdy bunch of Marabou Stork, clacking their beaks and revelling in their status as possibly the ugliest creatures in all creation.
With time pressing us to get to Jo'burg for Sascha's flight home we decided to ride straight on through Tanzania to spend a little while in Malawi before motoring on again. Hitting the main asphalt roads through we probably didn't see the best of the country. Big distances and straight, smooth roads didn't make for exciting travel. Our plans to miss the rainy season were pretty much spot on for Tanzania but what no-one had told us is that the rainy season is followed by the windy season and we had four days of battling against morale sapping headwinds. Of course it wasn't all bad, the road took us through Mikumi National Park. It's the only National Park in East Africa that you can officially enter by motorcycle - having a major highway carve through it they can hardly stop you. Our first sight of elephants had us hopping off the bike for photo opps. Then we were told off by a passing warden. On the face of it fair enough as you can't really have people wandering around when lions are on the loose, but were we mauled it could have provided some good 'stupid tourist' stories in papers local and worldwide.
The ying of frenetic pace through Tanzania has had to be tempered with a yang of langour in Malawi. The lure of beach life lakeside has been too much to resist and we have found ourselves staying at the same village by the lake for nearly three weeks. The time hasn't been totally wasted as we've completed a dive course and Sascha has fullfilled an ambition to see cychlids (the freshwater tropical fish found only in Lake Malawi) in their natural habitat. Our stay here has also seemed to mark the end of the 'gappers' season as they have finished their placements and now loll on the beach all day and get rowdy in bars by night. This temporary importation of young Wills, Harrys, Anushkas and Francescas seems like it may actually be Malawi's biggest source of foreign trade balance. Whole 'upper sixes' of the nation's Public School output seem to be in the country at once busily adding to their curriculum vitaes before entering St Andrews or Durham Universities. Kids pay for their placements and bring the wealth of daddy's credit cards to the country but it's hard to see what benfit they bring in front of training up locals to do the same job.. For the UK however the temporary export of over-confident teenagers can only be good.
Malawi so far has been hugely enjoyable. On the bike the old 'waving' muscles are being heavily exercised once more and saying hello to everyone on the street and going through the niceties of 'how are you', 'fine thanks and you' means progess through crowds can be slow. Great as it is, with one month now before Sascha flies home, we must press on to Mozambique asap and then to Jo'burg. A stop both rider and machine are eagerly awaiting as we will be hitting the workshop and transforming a slightly twisted, wrong steering and rattly pup back into the gallant steed she once was. Hopefully the next blog will contain glorious before and after shots, and hopefully you will be able to tell the difference...
Posted by Richard Miller at 01:05 PM