Saturday, April 12, 2014

Too Many Rules!

Malawi is an itinerary buster. We ate up an entire month camping at various spots along her “calendar lake” so named because Lake Malawi is 365 miles long and 52 miles wide. Every mile is scenic. Across the lake lies Mozambique. The Livingstone Mountains rise sharply up from the shore and remind us of the Napili Coast in Hawaii.
The sand in Malawi is soft and white and the water is clear. The roads are the best we’ve seen – few potholes, scant vehicles, and no spring-busting speed bumps. Even the road up the escarpment to Livingstonia, dubbed by our guide book as “the most exciting road in Africa” for its 20 precariously carved switchbacks, was better maintained than most roads in Uganda or Kenya.
The police are friendly and the children all wave. A woman holds the highest office, President. Billboards proudly proclaim vast areas “Open Defecation Free” and others demand the end to child trafficking. It seems like a country that is doing the right things.

We started thinking there was no good reason to leave Malawi so we extended our visas.

Then the rains that had driven us out of Tanzania caught up to us. Eventually Zambia, South Luangwa in particular, lured us away from Malawi’s pristine beaches and good, cheap gin. But not before our chance meeting with some very cool overlanders, Kirsty and Gareth. I adore them.
Kirsty and Gareth are a year into an expedition from Australia to London in a 1989 Toyota Landcruiser. Not as old as our Landy but charming nonetheless and in much better shape. Kirsty and I discovered we shared the same birthday, happening the very next day. We hugged. We cried. We were home sick. If you are planning an Africa overland trip, their blog is the best of the bunch. Here's Kirsty's post about Malawi and when we met.

I had almost forgotten how much I love Zambia. Her charms start at the small border when we ask where we go to pay the road tax and are told, “See the man under the mango tree.” After crossing the border we arrive 15 minutes later in the town of Chipata where there is a Shoprite and a Spar market. So it's Gordon’s Gin and beef stroganoff for dinner. A few hours later we arrive at South Luangwa without a single broken car part, bruise, or speck of dust. The once infamously organ rearranging Chipata-Mfuwe road has been completely paved. The rainy season has just ended. Everything is green and lush. Fluffy clouds make for dramatic photos. It’s not too hot. I am at the Gates of Heaven.

And then we are at Flatdogs, a place we keep coming back to again and again since we first camped on a platform high up in a tree in 2005. Flatdogs has since gone upscale and there is no more camping so we splash out on an en-suite riverside safari tent for 4 nights. Elephants cruise through camp and sometimes stop for a long drink from the pool. Hippos pull up like Colorado River rafts at the shoreline and bellow and wait for dusk – their cue to rise up out of the river and feast on the new shoots of grass that have appeared overnight.
We listen to their rhythmic chomp chomp chomp throughout the night. In the morning I sit on the bank of the Luangwa River, one of my favorite spots on earth, and watch as sunrise turns the colors of the opposite bank from glowing orange to the color of weak hot chocolate. I am in Heaven.

I want my family here. I want them to experience a game drive where they might see the Big Five, or lions sleeping the afternoon away on their backs and elephants browsing unhurriedly because after the rains there is plenty to eat and drink.

I want them to see a leopard in the classic pose, draped over a tree limb with full belly and be lucky enough to see one of the few remaining rhino in the wild. I want them to experience the cold hard stare of a Cape Buffalo.

Then I want them to go on a walk in the bush so they can come to know the Little Five – the ant lion, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, and buffalo weaver bird. I want them to learn about all the bushes and trees and bark that provide traditional healing.
If they are really lucky, they’ll see a painted dog or spot a chameleon clinging to a leaf.

Hippos will come to us when we sit around the campfire at night. Chomp chomp chomp, closer and closer until the night watchman shines his torch in their eyes encouraging them to dine further down the bank.

There is still time for my family to come and enjoy Africa with me because the family renting our home have extended their lease. I’m very grateful for that. Now we have time to do more of the things we love. There’s time to visit the orphanage in Zimbabwe that is supported by the efforts of a woman in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now I have time to visit the 93 children who live there and I can send her photos of the new home that will be built with the $34000 she raised during her recent Run For Zimbabwe Orphans. I feel so privileged to be able to do that.

Scott will continue in his endeavor to fly here in Africa. It hasn’t been as easy as we thought for him to find a plane to fly. It’s not how it used to be. We were told that during and just after colonial times, "Every European male seemed to know how to fly and there was access to planes and airfields all over Africa." Such is not the case these days. Now with the extra time, we will be able to return to Dar es Salaam to help a friend finish building her plane in exchange for the chance to fly. I have never seen Scott as happy as he is when he is flying.

These are some of our big picture dreams. The day-to-day in Africa is not so easy. Some days I witness so much struggle that I end up covering my eyes and crying. Young girls carry too-heavy loads of wood or water on their heads. Men push impossibly huge piles of charcoal on bicycles. They aren’t riding the bikes. They are pushing them with all their might while sweat pours off their bodies. Dogs get hit by speeding vehicles and are left to rot on the road. Oxen and donkeys are beaten. “Too much suffering!” I cry regularly.

“You say that almost every day,” says Scott shaking his head. He adds, "In fact, there is a list of 5 or 6 phrases that you say every day."

“You repeat yourself everyday too ya know!” I tell him. Thus we have a weird phrase bingo going.

 According to Scott my list of daily phrases include: 
-"What's that smell?"

-"Don’t park under that tree. Snakes might slither onto the car."

-"Don’t park here. There might be snakes hiding in the tall grass." 

-"If I’m not back in twenty minutes come looking for me. I might be snake-bit."

-"Are there snakes here?" (asked of camp staff.)

-"Look out for that snake (child, goat, chicken, pothole, speed bump, ditch….) in the road!"

Meanwhile I can rely on Scott saying almost every day:

-"Is there a power point available?" (asked of camp staff – Gotta keep that gin cold!)

-"The solar panels are really keeping the fridge nice and cold!"

-"Is the red key on?" (When switched on the red key charges the extra car battery that keeps the fridge cold. This spare battery lives under my seat.)

-"When we get to camp I’m going to charge up the rechargeable batteries for the headlamps (camera, computers, spotlight…)"

And last but not least,

-"Too many rules!" Bemoaned head in hands after I’ve uttered any one of my six bingo phrases.

In a year Scott and I have learned a lot about each other. I’ve learned that he is beyond exceptional at keeping batteries charged and gin cold and that he is untidy.

He has learned that I have too many rules about snakes and parking.

Scott and Tris

South Luangwa, Zambia

                                                  Too many rules, but I love you anyway.
                                                    On the banks of the Luangwa River
                                      Imprint of sleeping elephant seen on a guided bush walk
                                            Sleepy lionesses too tired to move off the road

                                                           Zen lioness. Ohhhhhmmmmm


  1. I want to see a photo to go along with Scott's famous African phrase --- "No Naked Farting"

  2. Get a lighter ready for the naked farts, lol.