Malawi Gin- Mbeya to Lilongwe April 23 2014
Throughout our journey border towns are always interesting experiences. There are herds of men trying to persuade you to exchange currencies, people selling drinks and food, and of course tons of buses traveling between countries. As a cyclist you can get confused in the process. Which buildings you need to go in to get an exit stamp and then where you need to go in order to get a visa. In Malawi the confusion was no different; men, women, children and foreigners in bike shorts and helmets entered into Malawi immigration. Some people had no shoes or shirts and were dancing in immigration to the great music that was playing! Welcome to the Malawi Gin section of the TDA.
Our first stop was at Chitmba beach on Lake Malawi! The beauty of this lake was incredible, surrounded by lush green hills and fishing villages. The campsite we stayed at was right on the beach. It felt so nice to have my feet in beach sand and go for a quick dip in the lake.
Some of the great sights we saw in this section were many local cyclists. They carried lots of produce on the back rack of their bikes. Whether it was livestock: goats, chickens, a pig, or local produce: tomatoes, lettuce, squash or maize bikes were loaded and often too heavy to ride. Local riders would whizzed passed us in full sprint on their single speed Phoenix bikes! At times, the riders would also draft off us in order to get more speed.
One of the other sights I witnessed along the roads in Malawi was a lot of agricultural fields. Many families are earning a living selling their produce at local markets. There is also a large timber industry and lots of deforestation occurring. Many men are seen in the distance cutting down trees and women are moving the extremely huge logs on their heads, from where they have been cut into piles that are then loaded onto trucks.
I also saw signs for international development agencies helping different towns and villages in Malawi. One of the projects seen frequently was promoting the end of human defecation in villages. Signs were created to identify villages that were “Open Defecation Free Area”. Not sure what the opposite of this sign would read? We found there was a cultural of shaming people who use the bush for a toilet. Children and adults made lot of noise when they saw foreigners or anyone else headed to squat in the woods. Clearly this made some of our camping areas a bit challenging when one needed to pee and there were no toilets to be seen, just a lot of children in view!
I also saw lots of friendly, curious children in Malawi. They would often say hello, but the translation in Chichewa sounds very similar to Money, which is still a soft spot for TDA riders, after the experiences in Ethiopia. Many times as we were parked on the side of the road trying to change tires or have a rest, children came in herds towards us shouting Munzgo! As in many other countries, on the tour, children love to come stand by the campsite and watch what the riders are up to. One morning outside of Lilongwe the children were up waiting around our tents at 5:30am.
Personally this section was a noteworthy experience of excitement to meet my boyfriend Justin in Lilongwe, but it also meant I was going to lose my riding partner Mateo. I had arranged with one of the restaurants in Lilongwe to have a table ready for about 25 people in order to have a farewell party for Mateo. However, there were over 39 riders who showed up and the manger, a 60+-year-old British man, was run off his feet! The food and company was terrific!
Leaving Lilongwe with Justin riding with me was amazing! Being born in Lilongwe meant that it was extra special for him. Even though our first day on the bike he had 5 flats and we crossed into the Zambia. This was the start of the Zambiez Zone of the tour! Another country under our belts also means we are quickly encroaching onto the last few sections of the tour. I cannot believe how fast time has flown by.