Friday, 2 April 2010


We are now entering the 6th country since we departed on January 16 in Cairo. Malawi is a tiny place, the size of a French province and famous for its lake which is the third biggest in Africa. With a length of about 600 km, lake Malawi covers 20% of the country. It feels more like a small sea with sand beaches and big waves. Malawi is highly populated with 12 million people for such a small country and is one of the poorest in the world.

Border crossing between Tanzania and Malawi was a pleasant surprise, easy and efficient. When you read stories of past travellers going through borders, it seems that parts of Africa are starting to get their act right in terms of border crossing, at least on some of the big routes. It was the easiest and fastest border process so far in the trip and within minutes, Gabriel and I were enjoying our first pedal strokes in Malawi.

The first thing that surprises you is the amount of children along the road. It immediately reminded us of Ethiopia. Malawi is poor, very poor and it does not take long to understand it. These were the first cases of malnutrition we witnessed. Half naked children running towards us with their big tummy and tiny bodies. They all screamed "gimme money, gimme money". Some of these kids are pretty exited, almost aggressive insisting in getting our attention and running at us for begging. So we immediately had to switch back to Ethiopia mode where you pay a lot of attention to these kids and try to avoid them physically as they run straight at you, making it dangerous for you and for them. The best, like in Ethiopia is to engage in loud "hello hello, how are you?" conversation while waiving at them. This seems to make them happy and often stops them for running too close to the bike. You can see that these kids are desperate. They are wearing dirty rugs and look pretty filthy. The ratio adult to kids is just as shocking, so many kids and so few adults, especially old people, there are hardly any. The life expectancy here is only 42, so that may explain.

The other things that we could not miss were the humidity and the heat. We had just descended over 1500 meters and were now at an altitude of about 400 meters. It felt like being in a sauna. I was sweating so much that my cycling shirt felt as heavy as a wet mop. The vegetation is so dense that unless there is a rice field, you can't see far. It is green everywhere and the noise from the millions of insects that live here complete the exotic ambiance. Talking of insects, we are now in the most risky malaria area and have Ben told to be careful with bites. Easier said than done, these flying things are just everywhere and if it is not a kid trying to steal your bike computer, it is a mozzie trying to suck your blood when you stop for taking a picture. Here the kids are so poor that they do make desperate attempt to grab things from you. At one of my many photo stops, I got surrounded by a group of 5 or 6 young boys. Nothing new, as it is always the case along these roads, but suddenly they all tried to grab my camelbak and steal it. Luckily it is strapped around my shoulders and they could not get it, but it was a good warning, we are now in a "grab and run" territory where any loot is worth a lot to these desperate children.

Malawi is also full of wonderful people. Most adults Malawian I met the next day were friendly and easy to approach. As a matter of fact, Malawians approach you. They are all very keen to find out where we are going on our fancy bicycles. Malawi is bicycle country, there are few cars here but plenty bicycles. They all look like they come out of the same factory, which they probably do. I investigated and found out that the Malawians living here are all purchasing their "made in India" bicycles from Tanzania for about 100 dollars a piece, a fortune for a Malawian. Here bicycles are used to transport anything from live pigs to huge stacks of grass, full water tanks, wood, etc etc... Bicycle taxi is also the most common way of transport as it costs the equivalent of 30 cents for a short ride. A bicycle taxi can take up to 3 persons for that price. This makes it very easy for us to meet the locals as they love riding next to us and engage in conversation while we ride. I suppose that the guys in the front of the race are so fast that they miss completely this opportunity to engage with the Malawians.

I am riding slowly enough for them, so let me tell you about a young man named "Maroun" who rode with me the first 35 km of yesterday morning between camp and the city of Karunga. Maroun was on his way to town on his bike, an 80 km return trip like he does almost everyday to purchase food and other items for his family. Maroun is 18 years old, he is a young farmer. He was 16 and had to drop out of school two years ago when his father passed away (most likely from AIDS as he described it as a long illness) and since that has been in charge of the family farm. Being the oldest son of 4 he inherited half the family farm, so exactly 1,5 Ha whilst the remaining 1,5 Ha went to his 3 other brothers. Maroun's English was good and he was already speaking like an middle age adult, obviously life had forced him to take short cuts in his teen years.

Maroun explained to me that life as a farmer was good at the moment. He cultivates rice and maize which bring monthly revenues of about 2 to 3 hundred dollar plus gives him and his family enough food for each day. He was quite happy about the fact that the price of rice had gone up, but he also told me that his biggest expense were chemicals which prices were also going up fast. Maroun told me that his biggest fear is drought with disastrous consequences especially for rice. It takes him 6 months from start to harvest for rice, so Maroun and his family are living on a 6 months plan and the hope of no drought. He told me that he only wanted 3 children and that his wife was already expecting their first baby soon. Maroun was a brave young man who had me thinking a lot yesterday after I met him. I wondered how many 18 years old kids in Europe would have been as matured and as courageous as Maroun. Life is not easy here and meeting him had just reminded me once again how lucky I was to have been born in rich Europe were I had received free and good education for as long as I wished.(actually, I am the wrong example, I didn't wish it for that long...)

The 120 km long stage was magic, giving us again amazing landscapes and allowing us to meet so many new people. Malawi is really an easy place to make contacts. The roads are full of people who are either walking or riding bicycles. The road sides here are also used for many other purposes than just a road. All along the roads you see white patches of maize being spread on the tarmac for drying. You also have plenty of women using the road side to dry their goat cheese on the sun. In between are often cows tied with a rope to a tree and children playing. The Malawian roads are full of life sounds and smells, they never get boring it seems.

Today I have been enjoying a quality rest day along the shore of lake Malawi in a tiny lodge which has only 6 huts. It is run and owned by Marc, a very friendly English guy. A couple of years ago Marc had the surprise to meet Ewan Mcgregor and Charlie Boorman from "The long way down". They stopped here for a night and loved his place so much that they stayed 3 days. Well, unfortunately I am on a bicycle so 3 days is not possible, but I have enjoyed my rest day here and have recharged my batteries for the next 500 km taking us to the capital city of Malawi, Lilongwe. We will be there in 4 riding days. We have been told that we are now going back to the African plateau and this will mean a 1000 meter climb in our first 10 km tomorrow morning. So I'll have double desert tonight....

                                    In Malawi, they transport anything on bicycles, even bicycles...
                                        This bar offers "Whiteman TV shows" as entertainment...
                                             The fishing boats are made from one tree trunk
                                   The kids were very exited by our presence and by my camera.
                                   The young boys immediately started to display some warrior moves
                                       My bike happlily resting along the shore of lake Malawi
                                               Local kids very exited all wanted to be in the shot
                       Tired, but happy... I have finaly reached lake Malawi holding to my EFI status
                                       I managed to take this shot of this young boy just before
                                      50 more rushed into the scene and tried to be on the photo as well...
                                                  The lake has fishes of all shapes and sizes
                                     Fishermen collecting the fishes of the nets before selling
                                     them straight on the beach to awaiting women. The
                                     women process the fishes immediately on site
                                  These sardine looking fishes are called Lusipias. They dry them
                                  and smoke them for conservation purpose

                                           Woman preparing lunch with freshly caught fish
                                    As we walked towards the fishermen, a crowd of kids
                                   started following us. These kids are vey poor and as you
                                   can see some of them suffer from bad nutrition
                               If we didn't see pigs up to now, we are suddelny surrended by them
                                 Coke stops are a bit like in Ethiopia here, within minutes crowds
                                of kids surround us and we have to be on the watch for our bicycles.
                                This morning two bike computers were stolen at camp
                                  Finally a bit of quietude. This is Sangilo sanctuary along the shore
                                  of lake Malawi. Ewan Mc Gregor and Charley Boorman stoped
                                  here three days during their "Long Way Down" I will enjoy my
                                  rest day in the very same hut where they stayed...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerald It is Kate here from South Africa. Thank you for this blog, it really keeps me updated with what is happening with you guys and the pics are great. I admire you guys for your courage and I am thrilled to see that it actually looks like you are all enjoying the tour despite the hardships. Please give my special regards to Peter and hope you guys have a wonderful second half of the tour.