3/10/05. Karonga, Malawi.
I meet another overland truck at the last petrol stop in Tanzania. Expectations go guts-up - they're enthusiastic and friendly! Wow!
Kuche Kuche, at 3.7% ABV, is an all-day-long beer along the lines of Senegal's Gazelle, and similarly priced at 30p for half a litre. Slurp. Someone in Zanzibar told me that a packet of fags in the UK is now over 5 quid. Jayzuz.
The beach at Karonga ain't all that. The naked Malawian women bathing in the lake are upwards of 25 stone (each), so the next morning I push on for Chitimba.
4/10/05. Chitimba Beach, Malawi.
Me & Roy. Drunk.
The beach campsite is run by Roy, a lunatic and splendid chap from SA, and the lovely Adila from England. There are exactly two things to do here;
1. Swim in the lake.
2. Drink beer.
So I stay for 6 days. The moto gets a mini-service, and I get to read a book* by Maureen Lipman, which has me grinding my teeth and muttering swearwords by page 5. One night some fat boys arrive and dress up as ladies. You know - for fun.
Oh come on - it's just a bit of fun!
It's the kind of place you could accidentally spend a month, but there's a lot to see in Malawi so eventually I head off for the internet cafes and ATMs of Mzuzu.
*You Can Read Me Like A Book. Geddit? It's a book! D'you see?
9/10/05. Mzuzu, Malawi.
No beach here, but there is a place called Mzoozoozoo where you can stay in a 1970's beige caravan. It's very Terry & June/Carry On Camping except that there's no rain or mud.
Plenty of amusing people pass through as one night becomes three. The owners, Gerrard (Swiss) and Jennifer (American), are as keen on drinksh as I am, and nights in the bar are lively experiments in how many times we can listen to Exile On Main Street in a row, and how often Gerrard will let me and Jennifer listen to Neil Young without assaulting us.
12/10/05. Nkhata Bay, Malawi.
The bar at Mayoka Village, a campsite/hotel built into a cliff on the lake, has got to make it into the Top 5 Bars In Africa list. Great food, a good mix of tourists and locals (usually shouting chummy abuse at eachother over the pool table), and Lake Malawi where one might normally expect a wall. Seven more nights slip by.
19/10/05. Selima, Malawi.
I stop in Nkhotakota at 2pm thinking I might have a night here in the cheapish-looking motel on the main street, and discover they're charging $20 US for a room. So I order some slightly bloody chicken and slightly underdone chips and scoot for Selima, in easy reach of Lilongwe, where I find an equally cheap looking place for $4.
20/10/05. Lilongwe, Malawi.
A strange mood descended on me just after the first anniversary of leaving the UK. Months 1-12 were (on the whole) just a barrel of larfs. Then Month 13 turned weird on me.
Suddenly I got bored of explaining for the millionth time where I was going, why, and where I'd been. I had to restrain myself from taking a deep breath and exhaling "Moroccomauritaniasenegalmaliburkinafasoghanatogobeninniger
nigeriacameroonchadethiopiakenyaugandatanzaniamalawi", in response to the inevitable.
I developed "Oh Bloody Hellllll" syndrome, in which any minor setback - no paper in the toilet, somebody approaching me with obvious begging intentions, warm beer, a useless shower, a shop that only had menthol fags - produced a deep, mournful inward sigh and a craving for cheese on toast in a centrally heated room in wintry England with a PlayStation close at hand. (Even now that sounds good).
At the height of Africa Fatigue, I floated in Lake Malawi, surrounded one one side by mile-high escarpments and on the other by, er, lake, under a cobalt sky, at 11am on a Tuesday morning, and thought "So what?". Then I thought "You twerp", and by the time I was halfway to Lilongwe today I was over it. Malawi is a ridiculously beautiful country (if you like mountains and lakes), it's dirt cheap and everyone speaks English. So it's Month 14 and Africa Fatigue is a thing of the past.
Surely it must be time for a toilet anecdote...
If you ever find yourself staying in the Thirty-Thirty hotel in Manhattan, and while dawdling in reception you overhear the phrase "Jose! Code 55 in room 309!", you may be interested to know that a "code 55" refers to a toilet that is so irretrievably
blocked that it requires professional assistance.
I know this because - shamefully - I created just such a horror-show myself once. In my defence, I had eaten not one but two Benjy's omelettes, as a form of intestinal dare, 2 days before I flew to New York. Londoners will be aware of the colonic impasse that even one Benjy's omelette is certain to produce. Others will have to trust me.
"Why must he fling this filth at us and our children?" I hear you complain. Well, you see, I'm writing this with a pen I stole from the Thirty-Thirty. So there you have it.
Stealing, ladies and gentlemen, is profoundly wrong. But then so, in some peoples eyes, is going to the lavatory...
Who's up for a "Lilongwe to Tipperary" rally?
Sick of your knees not stinking?
Would a malodorous shin be a welcome change of pace?
Fret no more. Simply purchase a pair of Alpinestars pseudo-waterproof motorcycling trousers and neglect to wash them for seven months.
Now the bottom 66% of your legs can reek more pungently than literally any other part of your body within 30 minutes of donning these miracle pants.
Your guarantee of satisfaction? This amazing garment takes 3 days to dry, so you'll never even bother to rinse it.
Only $200 in all good motorcycling accessory shops.
Vile smelling legs at your command. Who'da thunk it?
Amusing products you can buy in Malawi:
1. Ars - a mosquito deterrent.
2. Toss - a soap powder.
3. Happibotti - a yoghurt poultice for haemorrhoids.*
Petrol in Malawi is cut with 20% alcohol. The moto seems to handle it fairly well - it feels a bit lumpy when the mixture has been allowed to stand, but OK when you've done a couple of miles and mixed it up again. It's very bad news if you have a fibreglass fuel tank I'm told - the alcohol melts the fibreglass which clogs everything up quite nicely. (I've tried Malawi Gin and it doesn't appear to be 20% petrol).
I get a soaking on the way back to the hotel today. Fluffy is not happy. A new coil and plug cap is on it's way from the UK. I hope it works...
*made that one up
22/10/05. Lilongwe, Malawi.
If you spend a year travelling across Africa, at some point you really are going to have to go for an HIV test. That's just the way it i-i-is. Some things will never chaaange. Why are you looking at me like that?
On Friday I located the Seventh Day Adventist health centre and confirmed that
a) Yes, they do HIV tests, and
b) They're shut until Monday.
Fine. What are they gonna know anyway?
So today (Saturday), I step into the Medicare centre and, with just a hint of a wobble in my voice, ask if they do The Test. The receptionist sniggers. In London she'd be sacked on the spot. But yes, they can do it, and it only takes 10 minutes.
I enter the surgery.
The needle goes in.
The blood squirts out.
There is no mention of counselling.
I am instructed to return to the waiting room and sit with the women, all of whom appear to work here.
Nine minutes crawl by as I imagine the worst of all possible scenarios.
The doctor appears and hands me, silently, a piece of paper.
On it is written my name, the date, and the words "Non-Reactive".
"Does that mean No?" I ask.
He nods, smiling.
The ladies in the waiting room burst into applause.
Bic! Oh Bic!
Everything you make is perfick! For example;
Disposable razors. Gilette disposables rust on contact with water. No good. You can get at least four shaves out of a Bic disposable.
Pens. All Bic pens work until the ink runs out. All other pens work in the shop and die in the car park.
Lighters. Never buy anything other than a Bic lighter in Africa. (No, of course you can't get Crickets or Zippos.)
How many of these things do you think you can get in a supermarket in Malawi?
My best guess was none of 'em.
1. A wash bag to keep your toothbrush, soap, razors and deodorant in.
2. A soap holder to stop the soap adhering to the toothrush in the bag.
3. Nail clippers.
The answer is all of them. One amazing day.
If you're reading this and you happen to be a beggar, here's a word of advice; don't come up to me while I'm in the middle of an oil change and say "Give me money!". My response is likely to be perfunctory at best.
While we're at it, don't try and sell me food as I waddle, burping and in obvious discomfort, out of a pizza house; and don't try and sell me a pair of sunglasses while I'm wearing a pair of sunglasses. Simple tips that may make your day and mine that little bit brighter.
iPod disco nite at Chitimba
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