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Early rains bring more adventures

Day: 179

KLMS:  26,435

After Balaka, it was time to head north up the lake where we found a complete paradise at Mkuzi beach about half way up. Not only was the setting one of the best yet, we were also excited to be meeting up with fellow overlanders Chris & Jules (osiyeza.net) who are travelling down to Johannesburg from London. Having been following each others blogs it was great to finally meet up and swap stories about where we’d been. We had an awesome few days catching up on each others adventures, as well as making the most of having someone else to talk to other than your own partner. With Chris and Jules both being exactly the same age as us  the boys relished some time to chat cars and gadgets and the girls relished talking about everything other than cars and gadgets! We also bumped into 2 other couples we’d met previously, so there was a fantastic vibe at the camp.

Sundowners on the lake with Chris and Jules.

Sundowners on the lake with Chris and Jules.

 

To my delight, one of the best stables in Africa just happened to be down the road so I jumped at the chance to finally go horse-riding in Africa. A fantastic experience to ride through the Malawian forests and villages ending with taking the horses out into the lake for a swim to cool off. It was very therapeutic to be back on a horse again, but I’ll be walking like John Wayne for weeks!

Riding past the local school caused quite a stir!

Riding past the local school caused quite a stir!

Refreshing swim in the lake to cool off

Refreshing swim in the lake to cool off

After a few days, it was time to hit the road again. It’s always hard getting back on the road again after a break, and we were all quite sad to be leaving each other’s company.

Continuing the journey north, we headed inland into the mountains travelling the 70km mountain pass road towards the remote mission of Livingstonia. That morning the clouds had begun to build in the sky and the wind had picked up, it felt like rain but the locals assured us that the rainy season was still a month away. But surely enough about an hour later the heavens opened, the first rains of the season had arrived. The top layer of dust on the hard packed clay road became a slippery muddy mess within minutes and trying to keep the car on the road was like watching Bambi on ice. The slippery mud, combined with steep hills created impossible driving conditions and things took a turn for the worse pretty quickly. Coming down a long steep incline, the car began to slide sideways and we ended up completely sliding off the road and into the bank. Fortunately it was slow enough not to cause any damage, but with the rain bucketing down and the road worsening we didn’t want to risk driving any further and so decided to find somewhere nearby to stay for the night. We drove on slowly and were so relieved to see a school just round the next corner. We drove in, both looking like muddy drowned rats and asked the head teacher if we could camp in the school and wait for the rain to clear. The wonderful headmaster, Pickford greeted us warmly and said we could camp in the school no problem.

Camping in the middle of the school

Camping in the middle of the school

 

By this time, school had already finished for the day, but we were told to expect an audience of 350 children in the morning! That night, the rain continued to fall, the sound of it pattering on the tent roof tormented me all night, imagining the muddy road getting worse and worse. If it continued to rain how long would we be stuck here? I finally fell asleep reassuring myself we would wake up to blue sky, but alas, the next morning we awoke to more rain. We were up early, keen to be up and about before the children began to arrive at 6.30am. At 6am Pickford came over to invite us in for breakfast, the building of the school, funded by the UK government also included simple brick housing for 6 teachers, so he was keen to show us his home. His lovely wife Mary, prepared sweet milky Malawian tea and buttered bread which they only buy as a special treat once a month on payday, which just happened to have been the day before. Mary sliced and served the entire loaf and made the biggest flask of tea, the generosity of people who have so little is unbelievable, we felt so guilty eating their food but Pickford kept eagerly topping up our tea and refilling our plates, he was so excited to have international guests. After breakfast we followed Pickford out to the school where an excited group of children had begun to gather round our car which was parked in between their classrooms. They were called to assembly, where it looks like Pickford introduced us but warned they had to keep their distance from the car as in-between lessons they would come and stand quietly in a circle a few meters away from us, staring at awe at the Muzungos who had taken up residence in their schoolyard. We were taken round the school, which caters for ages 5 – 13yrs. All the classrooms were simply equipped with desks and benches, but with bare walls and little light it was a far cry from the bright and colourful classrooms we grew up with. We sat in on a ‘leadership’ lesson which is taught to the older children in English. But with no exercise books or pens to make notes the children’s attention was quickly lost. The teachers work tirelessly, but with only 3 full time teachers and 2 assistants for 350 children it’s an impossible task. Richard took over the last part of the lesson, using the world map to talk about our trip which seemed to get their attention. A Muzungos giving them a geography lesson! Despite being able to understand English they couldn’t understand our accents. So Pickford had to ‘translate’ alongside Richard repeating the same words but in his African accent, they finally understood.

Mr Morgans geography lesson

Mr Morgans geography lesson

 

After the lesson, we decided to walk to the road to see how the conditions were. A couple of trucks had been through in the night churning the road into what now looked like a ploughed field, we puzzled over what to do. The rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon, but we didn’t want to sit in the school for more days. As we were discussing the options we could hear the sound of another car coming up the hill and could not believe our eyes when the white land cruiser of Rui and Jean (Ruje Tour) came chugging round the corner. We jumped up and down waving at them, so happy to see friends, what timing! Thankfully they saw us, initially wondering who these crazy NGOs were jumping up and down, and pulled into the school, also happy to have a break from the terrible road. The children by this point were beside themselves, two big 4WDs and 4 Muzungos in their school, it is clearly not something that happens here very often! We agreed that we would buddy up and tackle the remaining 25kms together and to Pickford’s dismay we began to pack up. I think he’d begun to hope we would be there for a few days so before we left he insisted that we must all have lunch, as his wife had already started cooking nsima for us. So the 4 of us piled into his tiny home, where we were filled with nsima and vegetables. Again, another extremely generous lunch, which we were all so grateful for. We had certainly picked a good place to be stranded for a couple of days and made sure we left good donations for the school as well as packets of crayons which we had bought with us.

Lunch at Pickfords house with Rui and Jean

Lunch at Pickfords house with Rui and Jean

Children came to wave us off

Children came to wave us off

We nervously left the school and began the final treacherous 25km to Livingstonia – it took 2.5hours! We slipped and sided, thankful that we had each other’s company, but finally we made it safely to a beautiful campsite on the side of the mountain, Lukwe. The past few days had certainly been an unexpected adventure but the experience had given us a confidence boost in both ours and the cars ability. The view from the camp was magnificent, looking out across the lake, we could see all the way to Tanzania. Livingstonia itself was established as a mission in the late 1800’s to escape from the mosquitoes and tetse flies that plague the lake shores. It’s a beautiful little town perched up on the plateau with an interesting mix of colonial era buildings which we explored , including climbing up the church tower for excellent views across the lake.

Tackling the muddy road the next day

Tackling the muddy road the next day

The view from Lukwe

The view from Lukwe

We then headed back down the mountainside, this time on the notoriously steep 20 hairpin bend road and onwards to the Tanzanian border. Thankfully we only had to pass one oncoming vehicle, passing was treacherous with sheer drop offs down into the valley below. Richard had to do a few three point turns to get round the corners, the car getting precariously close to the edge, but at least it had stopped raining at this point and despite the reputation of the road we found it rather enjoyable after the muddy journey up!

Exploring Livingstonia

Exploring Livingstonia

Tiny and Kylie in Livingstonia

Tiny and Kylie in Livingstonia

The M1 was never this much fun in the UK!

The M1 was never this much fun in the UK!

 

Sorting tyre pressures at the bottom drew quite a crowd!

Sorting tyre pressures at the bottom drew quite a crowd!

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Distributing mosquito nets in Malawi

Day: 171

KLMS: 25,655

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who has donated to Against Malaria Foundation, and sorry it has taken so long to post! We ended up raising over $1,200 which funded over 400 nets! It was a great feeling to join the distribution team in Balaka and see all the nets we’d funded with your kind donations. We were only able to join the distribution for a short time, but what we saw in that time was so impressive and reaffirmed why we chose to support Against Malaria Foundation – we can promise you, your donations have gone to an extremely important and valuable cause.

The NGO debate is a big one in Africa, just how effective is aid relief and does it do more harm than good? To be honest, we’d become quite sceptical having seen a number of poorly implemented projects, resulting in either huge amounts wastage or harmful impacts on local economies so we were keen to see what the secret was to AMF’s success.

Firstly, the AMF select a local distribution partner, in this case Concern Universal, harnessing their local knowledge to better understand the needs of the local people as well as being able to form strong relationships with the different villages,  particularly their chiefs who were the key to ensuring the successful continuation of the project post-distribution. Six months prior to the distribution,   a pre-registration phase is completed whereby each villager must register themselves and include details of how many people are in their household and how many sleeping spaces they have. Based on this information the distribution team are able to create a database for each village and allocate the correct number of nets.

On distribution day, we met with the team early and drove out to a remote village in the Balaka district. By 8am the mercury was already in the late 20’s, it was going to be a sweltering day! By the time we’d arrived, villagers from the surrounding area were already waiting for us, it was time to get the show on the road! Firstly the villagers were given talks about Malaria awareness from a local health officer, what it is, how to prevent it and why the nets are so important. Demonstrations were then given, to show how the net needs to be installed and villagers then had a chance to discuss any issues or questions. The educational part is vital to ensure that they understand why they are receiving nets and deter them from mis-using the nets for fishing, clothing or protecting crops.

Demonstrating how the nets need to be hung

Demonstrating how the nets need to be hung

The distribution process itself ran very smoothly and very quickly, despite there being five different villages and over 1300 nets distributed in one day (and this was only a small pilot to check that the process was working!) We took the nets  out of their packets (to prevent them being re-sold) and the villagers were then called up in small groups to collect their nets providing a signature or finger print to confirm they have collected it all under the watchful eye of the village chief to ensure people were, who they say they were.

Getting the nets ready for distributing

Getting the nets ready for distributing

The nets all ready to go

The nets all ready to go

All nets provided by Against Malaria Foundation

All nets provided by Against Malaria Foundation

Villagers provide signatures using finger prints

Villagers provide signatures using finger prints

We were so impressed with the efficiency of the distribution and how well the key project managers Nelson, Chimwemwe and Hazel had organised everything – the work they’re doing here is outstanding and their results are proof of this – over 80%  of nets are still installed 6months later and in some areas they are reporting over 50% drop in malaria rates.

So thank you again to everyone who donated to this very worthy cause, you’ll soon be able to see photos of the net distribution against your donations on our fundraising page as confirmation the nets you funded have been successfully distributed. And of course a huge thank you to everyone at Against Malaria Foundation and Concern Universal for allowing us the opportunity to come and work with you!

And of course, if you haven’t donated yet, there’s still plenty more nets needed across Africa! You can still donate to our fundraising page http://www.AgainstMalaria.com/morgansafari

Busy handing out nets

Busy handing out nets

The village chiefs watch closely over proceedings

The village chief (RHS) watches closely over proceedings

Happy Villager with all her nets

Happy Villager with all her nets

Richard with Concern Universal Project Managers, Nelson and Chimwemwe

Richard with Concern Universal Project Managers, Nelson and Chimwemwe

The whole Universal Concern team

The whole Concern Universal team

Help us raise money for Against Malaria Foundation

So here we are in Balaka, Malawi, taking time out of our travels to lend a hand to our chosen charity, Against Malaria Foundation as they begin their next mosquito net distribution. As part of our travels, we were keen to find a way of giving something back and helping out where we could. We chose to support Against Malaria Foundation, due to its simple but very effective methods of protecting people against Malaria through the distribution of mosquito nets. Every net is carefully logged and allocated to heads of households who have registered to receive a net. The nets are then taken by distribution teams to the villages to install the nets correctly and educate people about Malaria prevention. We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to come and help out, but also to see the charity in action.

Through our fundraising page we have already raised over $1,000, which is 326 nets! However, as with all charitable efforts, we would love to raise more! So if you’ve been enjoying following our adventures, it would be great if you could show your support and take a moment to make a donation, every net counts! Just click the link below!

http://www.againstmalaria.com/morgansafari

The most effective means of prevention of Malaria is sleeping under a mosquito net Specifically a Long-Lasting Insecticide treated Net (LLIN)

Each net costs $4/€3/£2.50
Malaria kills more than one million people every year and over half a billion fall ill:
70% of the deaths are children under 5
Malaria is the world’s single largest killer of pregnant women
90% of the deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa
Malaria is totally preventable and treatable. Nobody need die. Prevention is better than treatment.

.

Malawi – The Warm Heart of Africa

Day: 165

KLMS: 25,155

Despite being one of the poorest African countries, Malawi is known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and also ‘Africa for beginners’ due to the laid back and peaceful people. However, our first 24hours in Malawi, was not quite the ‘Warm heart’ we were expecting! The border crossing at Chipata was easy enough, however we knew we’d have to face the necessary evil of our first money exchange on the border as we needed to change remaining Zambian Kwacha into Malawian Kwacha. Having read numerous accounts of the money changing scams on borders, we went into our first negotiations feeling prepared. We were only changing a small amount, but still we were both determined not to fall for their tricks. Having already established the correct exchange rate and a number that we wanted for our Zambian Kwacha we soon entered into negotiations with one of the money changers. Gradually he was joined by more friends and soon there was a group round us. The negotiations were frenetic but we finally managed to agree the amount, a bit too easily as it would happen, as money was counted and went back and forth the well-practiced money changers had soon confused the situation enough for us not to realise that we were being completely ripped off. By the time we’d re-counted the money to check that we had the right amount, the money changers had scarpered. We lost $17, Bastards!

We headed into Lilongwe and found a camp in the middle of town, both feeling tired and furious about being ripped off a big argument erupted as to who was to blame and how we needed to handle it the next time. A pointless exercise, but from time to time when tensions are running high, being confined in a box together is not a good thing. But as with all dark times, there are silver linings and as a peace offering, the next morning Richard removed the beard! It’s fair to say, that the gesture and hair-free face made things instantly better again.

Friends again we set off into town to stock up on supplies and parts for Kylie before hitting Lake Malawi. We had 4 jobs we needed to do but after about an hour in heavy, chaotic traffic we had managed to achieve nothing. Getting frustrated with the traffic, Rich decided to turn-around and try another road but as we completed the U-turn, a policeman flagged us down saying we’d just committed an offence of ‘careless driving’ and must pay a fine of 3,000 Malawian Kwacha or $10USD.  The day was not getting any better. We decided it would be best to try and get out of the main centre and try our luck further out, as the traffic was just too much. We headed for the main Lilongwe bridge that separates the two halves of the city only to be confronted with buses and cars being driven erratically towards us with all the drivers tooting and shooting. Needless to say we couldn’t work out what was going on. Soon the locals on the side of the road were yelling at us to turn around also. It was total chaos as we did another u-turn, this time across 4 lanes of traffic, all the cars and vans beeping and trying to force their way round. We had to drive back the way we had come, so we took a side road and parked up. No one seemed to know what was causing the traffic chaos, so we decided to just get the supplies we could and leave as soon as possible. Rich jumped out and left me in the car while he went off to sort out a sim card, he’d been gone about 15mins when from the end of the street the sound of a huge crowd began to grow. I got out of the car to try and see what was happening, but couldn’t see anything, except the noise was getting louder and louder and closer and closer. The Indian shopkeepers in front of me suddenly started to close up their shops, turning off the lights, pulling the shutters across the windows and grilles down over the door. My heart started to pound as I realised that something bad was happening, I shouted to the shopkeepers, to tell me what was happening. ‘The vendors are coming Mam, get back in your car’. As I looked back down the street I can only liken it to the moment in the Lion King, when Simba the lion cub, all alone in the valley looks up to see the herd of Wildebeest coming towards him. My jaw hit the floor and eyes were as wide as saucers, as hundreds of  bare-chested men brandishing sticks and throwing rocks came running round the corner towards us. I was in a full scale Riot! This was a sight a never hope to see again.

Feeling like a sitting duck in my foreign car I quickly grabbed what I could and ran after the Indians. ‘I’m not staying in the car, I’m coming with you!’ We piled down a small alleyway, the Indians saying we could escape to their flat above the shops if we needed to. Richard was nowhere to be seen.   It was probably the most frightening few moments of my life as we watched the carnage unfold in front of us. Fortunately the focus for the men seemed to be the next street over, so as they levelled with us, they turned off again, leaving us all breathing a huge sigh of relief. Rich, who had been down the road in the Telco shop, had had to force his way out of the shop after they’d barricaded him in. Rich was worried about me and came running towards us alongside the tail end of the mob. Despite being the only 6’ 6” white man on the street he somehow managed to get back to me without drawing too much attention. It was such a relief to be back together again, and we decided to make a break for it. We jumped into Kylie just as the mob backtracked down the side street towards us. As we sped off we dodged rocks and other missiles hurled at the car, which fortunately missed, we didn’t stop until we were far out of the city. So what had it all been about? Apparently the Government seem to have an ongoing battle with illegal street vendors who clog up the main road out of town. Every 6 months or so, the army arrive to clear the vendors by burning their stalls. In retaliation a few days later, the vendors then riot through the city causing as much damage as possible. This time however, the main market stall holders were fighting back and it erupted into a huge street fight. All very unexpected for a country that is one of the most peaceful in Africa.

A photo of the riot from the local press

A photo of the riot from the local press

The army arrive to disperse the riot

The army arrive to disperse the riot

After the drama, we were very relieved to be on the road heading out of town and onto Cape Maclear where we have now been for the past 5 days. Lake Malawi is an impressive sight, it’s hard to believe it’s not the ocean. The water (off-shore) is the clearest I’ve ever seen, and the water is full of the most amazing colourful fish (cichlids). We’ve been out snorkelling and swimming by the islands, but unfortunately the water by the shoreline (apart from the areas in front of the lodges!) is filthy and full of litter, and if you wondered where all those charity donation clothes went after the Salvation army or Oxfam, it’s here in the lake! We’re staying at Fat Monkeys, which is right on the water’s edge and right next to the village. It’s been a real eye-opener being so close to village life, watching how people go about their daily lives on the shoreline, amazing to see a lake not just being used for leisure but for living. The shoreline is heaving with people bathing, washing clothes and pots, fishing, not to mention the chickens, ducks, goats and dogs that wander up and down. It is not a peaceful setting by any means, but we’ve met some great people and enjoyed being part of the hum-drum of village life. We’ve also officially qualified as ‘Muzungos’ for the first time on this trip, and anytime we talk a walk on the beach or into the village we are mobbed by children who just want to come and hold our hands or stroke our skin. We walked back the other day, with a child on each finger, it’s exhausting to go anywhere but it’s hard to say no to so many pairs of big brown eyes. They also love the camera and having their picture taken so they can see themselves on screen, most of my pictures generally turn into complete chaos as more and more children arrive, all trying to push to the front of the picture.

It’s been a great few days, so nice not to have to drive anywhere for awhile! But tomorrow we’re heading south to Balaka District to meet up with our charity, Against Malaria Foundation and spend a few days helping with net distribution. More on this in the next post!

Rich - the Pied Piper!

Rich – the Pied Piper!

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Local butcher - goat anyone?

Local butcher – goat anyone?

McDonalds!

McDonalds!

The busy shoreline

The busy shoreline

 

Sunset on the lake

Sunset on the lake

Feeding the Fish Eagles

Feeding the Fish Eagles

 

My buddies, Kevin and Samuel who became my faithful bodyguards!

My buddies, Kevin and Samuel who became my faithful bodyguards!

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