Category Archives: Malawi
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” ~ Tim Cahill, Travel Writer
We live in a beautiful world. In our daily experience we are only seeing a piece of the magic it has to offer. It is but a slice of the pie. If one were to travel forever it would only be to soak in the faintest image of daily life. Seasons and times change. Places degrade in their authenticity and never seem as wonderful as they once were. We are but players in the ever-changing reality that is our planet. The world is a magical place because of that very fact. Things are only the way they are once and we are only ourselves in that moment. Years later we are different people with alternative preferences, ideals and goals. We change in the way we see others, our world and most importantly ourselves. Looking back on those nostalgic moments it is important not to forget how the present space only happens once and we are only going to have that chance right then. We have this one moment. Don’t waste it.
I awoke on the Tanzanian side of the border and my tire had gone flat in the night. On the downhill towards Malawi I had repaired two spokes the day before. I now had two more broken spokes and a flat tire to take the wind out of my sails right from the beginning. However, I wasn’t going to let it dampen my spirits, for I had a new country to attend to, Malawi.
“I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.” ~ William Kamkwamba, Malawi Author
I quickly found a shop on the Tanzania side, spent the last of my money by fixing the spokes and bought an extra tube. My tubes were starting to look like the dreadful patchwork I was once used to. By mid-morning, I was off on my own in Malawi. The terrain was flat for the first time in months and I sped along quickly. After a few miles I caught up to a group of retired Germans and their Rastafarian guide. They were cycling from Kilimanjaro to Victoria Falls. I chatted as we rolled to the first town. During our search to find a cheap guesthouse we were separated when I went to the bank to get some Malawi Kwachas and find some food for dinner. I curled up under my mosquito net with the power cut for most of the evening.
The following morning I started very early, due to the time change between Malawi and Tanzania. I made good ground and camped near the beach of the beautiful Lake Malawi. It is one of the largest lakes in the world and home to the most diverse selection of freshwater species. Beautiful, peaceful and pure. I eventually climbed up into the mountains, where the temperature was significantly cooler, especially in the morning. I camped out at a hostel in Mzuzu for the night. The next morning I was off after a ridiculous incident involving myself, the owner of the hostel and a toaster. Needless to say I ended up eating my stale bread on the side of the road.
All was soon forgotten with a long downhill that took me through the morning all the way to Nhkata Bay. I took a long overdue day off and relaxed by the water. Days off when you’ve been going for many in a row are usually not that relaxing, but filled with annoying little chores like ever dirty clothes, getting plenty to eat and catching up on a long list of e-mails. I do set aside time to enjoy myself a bit, take a few pictures and in this case float around in the complementary kayak the hostel had to offer. Beautiful waters and a clear sky.
After a rest I shoved off early and put in a very long day through a wavy landscape and strengthening headwind. In Malawi, there was always a wind from the south. Sometimes faint and others soul crushing. I pulled in late to a campsite near the lake to spot a familiar tandem cycle. It would seem I had met up with my old friends David and Steve once again. They had taken a train through a section of Tanzania, but I had caught them here. We were headed the same direction and rode together through a very windy road the following day. We had ‘eggy bread’ (French toast) for breakfast and it kept us going most of the day. At one point we all had a stock of very chewy maize to chomp on as we pushed along. I felt like a local as I grinded through the tough barbecued corn while riding. Finding a cheap guesthouse we collapsed for the night. Still hungry after dinner, Steve and I went out exploring for a bit of fried chips. While searching we found barbecued mice with the fur still intact, tails and teeth. I settled on some spicy chips at a different stand.
“Gold is a debt we can repay, but kindness not till our dying day.” ~ Malawian Proverb
Eventually, I would say goodbye to my friends from England after a final dinner at their wonderful friends house Emmanuel in Malawi. The father and son rode from Mombasa, Kenya to a small town near Lilongwe on tandem. I was proud to share the last day of their journey with them. We are all players and actors in the stories we take home with us. For the people we tell about our journeys they are only names and photos. For us on the road they are our brothers, the people we camped next to, battled winds with and shared a bit of food. This is what we will remember.
The next morning Emmanuel offered a lift to the capital and it was hard to refuse considering a full day uphill ahead. In Lilongwe I quickly procured a Mozambique transit visa and was off climbing up again towards the Mozambique border of Dedza. It was a full day as I rolled into a hilltop campsite. I camped out back of a guesthouse that was way too nice for me. I walked inside to charge my annoying and always dead gadgets. While I waited I listened to the next table joke about Hyenas in the area. Funny stuff for them sleeping safe in their beds. That night I had a terrible dream about Hyenas outside my tent. When I woke to pack my tent in the morning my bike had clumps of fur all caught in the chain and bolts. Was I dreaming? Was it just some stray dogs? Or were there really Hyenas outside my tent? I’ll never know.
The following morning I turned a curve and dropped down into Mozambique. As I caught the downhill I’d been dreaming for days I had time to reflect on Malawi. Rolling on I thought about the peculiar and endearing moments I was witness to amid the bouts of solidarity. Daily dinners on my own with the same old pasta I’ve been making since Sudan. The peaceful nature of Malawian people. A bicycle nation. The general poverty and heartbreak of the developing world. Begging of children on the side of the road, but in a sort of playful manner as opposed to Ethiopia. A nice conversation with a man at a local stand. Litchi soda. Kachumbani salad or ‘relish’ (see receipe HERE). And of course, bicycle taxis.
Who could forget the bicycle taxis? Malawi is among the top ten poorest countries in the world. Due to the recently withdrawal of foreign aid from western countries, because of governmental corruption, it has sunk even lower. 42% of their yearly budget came from foreign aid. Mind-boggling when you think about it and the subsequent implications for an already struggling people. This of course hurts the poorest of the poor much more than those who already lined their pockets. Which returns me to the bicycle taxi. When people cannot afford cars or motorbikes to get around, the bicycle taxi is the next best thing. Nothing as fancy as the Indian rickshaw, but simply a bike with an extra seat on the back. Some are decorated nicely and others are a simple work horse. They wait in queues in small towns for passengers to climb aboard. On one occasion, I recall following one of these taxis with a women and her baby on the back. The baby starred at me for miles strapped to the mother. All I could see was his face with his body stuffed into a bright cloth. He starred at me and I starred right back. It was mesmerizing.
“Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water’s calm.” ~ Malawian Proverb
From the border my bike rolled on with Malawi at my back. Across another imaginary line into a new world. I felt the same old feeling of those first strides into new territory and the excitement that goes with it. The feeling of starting a new job, seeing an old friend again, Christmas morning and a long weekend. The knowledge that anything is possible. The canvas is blank and we are the painter. Savoring these first moments is one of my favorite parts of the ride. I’m fortunate, I know, to have this opportunity. This piece in time where it is just me, my bike, 4 bags and a tent. The open mountains beckoned me forward and the wind gave me a welcome burst to let me know it was still there. I pushed onwards not knowing where I’d lay my head that night, then cracked a smile knowing it would be just fine.
*Thank you to all the recent donations to my charity with Free the Children. Because of your contributions we are now less than $2,000 away from meeting our goal for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. I would like to specifically thank my friend Linda for her amazing and most recent contribution, it all blows me away. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**This week on Thursday is WeDay Toronto. A grand gathering of youth using their power and voices to help other youth. To learn more about WeDay CLICK HERE.
***The stories I share, the people I mention and pictures I post are only just slices of a bigger idea. When I write down my thoughts it is a constant struggle to choose the moments. There are endless pages in my notebook of kind people and amazing sights. I hope I’m able to share it all one day. Pictures that go on for days and memories to last a lifetime. Piece-by-piece. Thanks for following!
“There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.” ~ Tennessee Williams, Playwright
On the road there are few things that separate you from the raw forces and energy of the Earth. The bicycle puts you down on ground, where human ingenuity and nature collide. You feel every bump of the road and gust of wind. The calls of encouragement from strangers and heckles of mockery. There are no steel barriers or gas pedals to speed away. At times all the world seems to come down on you. It seems to trap you between two lines and a space. You are but at the mercy of whims will. Solitude is found in the wild places. Peace is found in quiet moments that pass and those idle spaces in time. When I unzip my tent, the window I gaze upon is but a static piece of canvas with familiar shades. It knows me and I dream to know it better. My legs can take me anywhere, but it is my mind that waves the green flag to carry on.
I crossed over into Tanzania from Kenya late in the afternoon. After filling out yet another immigration card. This one actually asked what Tribe I was from, I put Rideau Ferry. When I returned to my bicycle I noticed my tire had a puncture. Tired and irritated I found a dive of a guesthouse to curl up in for the night and called it a day. When I woke in the morning I made my way to Arusha, through a stunning though terribly windy landscape. A nice man named Erik and his family had agreed to host me. I shared stories of the road and found some welcome company. The following day we met up with another long distance cycling tourist named Peter Gostelow and had a bit of lunch. Chips Mayai for myself, which is basically eggs fried with potatoes, awesome stuff. (Read about Chips Mayai and get the receipe HERE) Nothing better than talking about the road behind and ahead with 3 passionate cyclists. To read more about Peter and his adventures, follow the link to his website HERE. He is currently riding from Uganda to Oman via South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Should make for some interesting stories Peter!
When I left Erik’s place I felt that same old feeling I always do. That sneaking little pull the fills my heart when I depart from a good place and nice people. The bonds you form on a trip like this are numerous and daily. The memories come fast and flicker on repeat as the long miles roll onwards. The next day it is someone new. A new city, new faces and new memories. They jumble around in your head as the moments form before your eyes. Old thoughts pushing to the front for brief dances of remembrance. A bite of food or a familiar sign, can bring back thoughts from continents ago. That nostalgia is something no one can ever take away.
“To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.” ~ Tanzanian Proverb
Sometimes people ask me, do you not get lonely? For me, I am almost never alone. On quiet nights all I have to do is think back. I have my memories. The hundreds of amazing people I have met over the last 14 months. Those moments are what carry me forward. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is about the giving nature of our people. The beauty of humanity. That unfailing selfless attitude we all have the ability to give to one another. When I finish my ride it will then be my turn to give back. I will spend the rest of my life paying back the debt the world and our people have given to me. I will share, help and smile onto others, just as others did to me.
The day I left Erik’s was very special. I had the opportunity to ride by Kilimanjaro on a clear day. The tallest mountain in Africa and a landmark of our planet. It was beautiful as the sun shone on the snowy peaks. I rode into Moshi and camped out at a new hostel with Kilamanjaro in view. Here I met more good people and smiled again. All was right on the world. Kilimanjaro was just a point on the map, but what I will remember most will always be the people in between.
From Moshi I turned my back to Kilimanjaro and made my way to the coast. Over a scenic but rough road the ocean finally appeared after a few days. I arrived at sunset and took a breather for a day, setting up camp on the beach. After a nice day of relaxation I hit the rough road once more and headed for Bagamoyo as the ocean peeked along my left. I left too late in the morning and had a tire puncture that wouldn’t hold. I wasn’t making any progress and stopping every few kilometers to try and fix the patchwork that was my rear tire. Not to mention I was breaking a spoke almost everyday for sometime. My bike was a wounded animal.
It was getting late in the day when I ran out of glue for my patches. A ridiculous error on my part. As I stood pondering my plan of action I heard some voices coming around the corner. Two shapes appeared on a tandem cycle pulling an extra trailer. I did not expect that. David and his son Steve from England had appeared just in nick of time. They helped me get my bike back on the road and we found a cheap guesthouse and prepared to cross Saandani National Park the following day. I couldn’t have been any luckier, not to mention having a bit of company for a change was nice. Little did I know they would become a bigger part of my trip than I knew.
After a few days of riding terrible roads together we said goodbye, as I headed for Malawi. I flew down a rocky road and stopped for a large and very cheap lunch. When I jumped off my bike the village drunk immediately started to harass me. I was completely rude to him and the other villagers laughed as I ate my lunch. One thing that bothers me more than anything is finally taking a break from riding and having someone there to bother you. Hot, hungry, sweaty and tired is no combination for a conversation with a stumbling man drinking alcohol from a little plastic bag at noon. I enjoyed my meal regardless in the end.
That same day I bumped into an American named James from Texas doing work in one of the smaller towns on the road. In fact he was setting up a gym for the local guys in the area. He was extremely taken with my story and insisteted on paying for a guesthouse that night for me as well as a full chicken dinner. I was blown away as usual by the kindness of people I had just met. It is these little moments that have compounded to make me feel like I could never possibly repay the amazing nature of our people.
“Everything you see is the product of someone’s imagination or dream. What is your imagination? What is your dream?” ~ Reginald Mengi, Entrepreneur/African Media Mogul
That night I had a rather terrifying dream. For some days now the thought of riding my bike through Mukumi National Park had been weighing on my mind. The main road through the country towards Malawi goes right through the park. It was supposedly 50KM of wild animals with lions, hyenas and unruly elephants. I dreamt of being surrounded by lions and pulled off the road. I awoke in my guesthouse in a cold sweat and a little unnerved considering I’d be cycling through lion territory later that afternoon.
Later that day I reached Mikumi and crossed over into the park. A sign warning of wild animals for the next 50 kilometers appeared as well as another sign dictating the cost if you hit one of those animals with your car. The elephant topped out at $15,000US while the lowly baboon went for $125. One guy in a big transport truck slowed down as he bumped over some rollers and yelled, “Don’t see a lion!” As he picked up speed and laughed out his window. I just starred back at him and thought it must be a joke. If he had seen a lion coming through he would have told me. Wouldn’t he have?
There was a strong wind in the air and I was on my toes. It was actually the most excited I have been in months on my bike. I wished I had someone with me though. I was motoring along with my head on a swivel. For the first while I only saw a few warthogs and then my personal safari adventure began. I saw a lone buffalo near the road and stopped to take a picture. After one shot it started making a break for me. I threw my camera back in the bag and hightailed it out of there. After about a kilometer I heard a quick pop and the air instantly went out of my front tire. I picked a two inch thorn out of my tire. Panicked about having a flat at this point I had two options. I could frantically flag down a car and hitch a lift out of the park with my tail between my legs or man up, fix the puncture and get on with it. I had biked hundreds of miles out of the way to get here, I wasn’t about to let a little thorn ruin my day. It was the quickest puncture I’ve ever fixed and people drove past me looking as if I were crazy. I would be lying if I didn’t say every time the wind ruffled the bushes, I jumped a bit.
When I was rubber side down again, I was pedaling hard. After a few short hills I was glad I stuck it out. Zebras, elephants, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests and impalas all made star appearances. Taking a picture of a giraffe near sunset I felt one of those amazing moments of peace. The kind of feeling you can only get from coming all this way on your own. As I gazed upon the tallest land animal on Earth I thought about all the miles it took to get here and I welled up a bit. I felt the gravel under my shoes and the wind in my hair. I saw nature and nature saw me back. We both gave a wink and went on with our days. That evening as I lay back in my tent, I had no trouble sleeping and no bad dreams. It was all games of the mind. Too much thinking and a little too much time.
“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed
The following days were met with some big climbs as I made my way to Mbeya and onto Malawi. At one point I took a lift when the road turned into a very narrow and busy stretch of highway. No shoulder and a lot of out of control buses made me feel very uneasy. The road though beautiful is known for some big accidents. From Mbeya it was finally downhill all the way to the Malawi border. It was one of those days that lives in a cyclists memory forever. Speeding downhill at amazing speeds for long periods of time is a wonderful feeling. I raced a local guy down the a long hill at 50 kilometers an hour. We were neck and neck, until he lost his hat. Coming to a stop at the end of Tanzania, I thought back on my days there. It took me a great deal of time to cross the country. The landmass of Tanzania is huge, diverse and beautiful. There is so much I still have to see there and many wonderful people to meet. I went to sleep that night, knowing my broken bicycle and I had another country ahead of us the next day. New surprises, people, language and money. A new game and a glorious lake waited on the other side of that imaginary line. I breathed one of those long tired satisfied yawns and went to sleep.
**Thank you to all of my recent donors to my charity with Free the Children. Together we giving children the hope of a proper education. Currently, we are well over halfway to reaching our goal for the new school in Esinoni, Kenya. Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***I apologize once again for being terribly slow and behind on my posts. Thanks for following along!