Across Africa on 4 wheels | Part 3

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

 

We made an early start and headed to the Zambia/ Malawi border, stamped our passports and off to explore another country in Africa. As we entered  Malawi, it was as if we had warped into a slow motion zone where the speed limit was 60km/h. Slow down was the common word for driving through Malawi. We found out very quickly that Malawian police take their road rules very seriously. After we drove through 3 countries with our buffalo head attached to the front of our car which covered our number plate, we got pulled over at one of many road blocks in Malawi and had to pay a fine, and of course we had no money on us. While we waited for another Put Foot team to come to our rescue we removed the buffalo head along with the remains of bugs that were splatted all over it. We jammed it between 2 people, a potjie pot, beers and about 5 different types of party hats, but it somehow was able to fit. To be honest it wasn’t a bad thing driving slowly. It gave us time to examine the surroundings and we were surprised at the little details that were tucked away. We witnessed true African culture where whole families; moms, dads, big kids and little kids all worked hard in the fields, and women and children collected water from the nearest borehole. Malawi is the nation of bicycles and this got me so excited (I felt left out driving in a car). Bicycles are used for transporting almost everything. All the bicycles come with a built in passenger seat for the ladies or used as a boot (trunk for the Americans) to transport huge loads of coal and maize meal, probably 5 times the width of the bicycles, I have no idea how they stayed balanced.

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When we got to Livingstonia we met up with all the Put Footers who were already there, running around in their costumes in the middle of 30°C winter. Livingstonia was absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful. I stood on the beach with my toes in the sand and the cool water around my ankles. All I could see was bright blue water, on either side of me, in front of me and below me. The glowing blue sky cast a glow over the churning waves as they reached out for me and got pulled back into the huge body of water that seemed to have no ending. Don’t be fooled, I wasn’t standing in the ocean, I was standing on the beach of Lake Malawi, yes a LAKE, approximately 600km by 80km. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t the ocean. Lake Malawi is everything you love about the sea but without everything you hate about the sea; No salt that stings your eyes, no sharks and no humid air, it is just perfect! We set up our tents with team ‘Lone Strangers’ who had already set up camp in the most perfect spot on the beach with their tents facing the lake, its not the sea, so we didn’t have to worry about the tide coming in.

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Our first day in Malawi was planned for Braaiboy’s potjie competition. Finally we got to use this big black, round heavy pot with 3 legs that did not fit anywhere in the car. We had driven for 15 days across Africa with the annoying pot rolling around on the back seat, it was about time we used it. (For those who don’t know, a potjie is Afrikaans for a small pot of food, Potjiekos. The potjie has been part of South African culture for centuries and brings everyone together to prepare a stew like food that cooks for hours on hot coals in a round cast iron, three legged pot.) The potjie was scored on appearance, tenderness, taste and gees (Afrikaans for ‘spirit’, you know, the type that cheerleaders have way too much of!).

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Time to prepare for the potjie competition, and for South Africans that means one thing, drinking beer while standing by the fire watching food cook. And potjie’s take a long time to cook, which equals more beer drinking which equals more gees. Our food preparation started as we used our charm to get a section of team ‘4bees’ hot coals for our poitjie and by the afternoon the whole campsite was filled with the wonderful aroma of various potjies, carefully nursed by the teams. While our food was cooking we headed down the road to restock on beer from the shebeen, while we were there we saw men sitting at the bar drinking what looked like milk from a cardboard milk carton, but it was the local beer, Chibuku Shake Shake (because you have to shake it before you drink it). Chibuku is a commercial sorghum beer with an alcohol volume of 3% to 5% (because it is drunk while still fermenting in the box). We bought 2 boxes and headed back to the campsite, everyone gathered around as we took it out of the car. We shook it and smelt it and quickly took a step away as if something was going to jump out and bite us as we cringed our noses. Before tasting it, we sent it around for everyone to smell, people quickly scattered to avoid the next step of tasting it. I can’t quite describe the taste but imagine taking a sip of beer and eating it. It is like drinking alcoholic porridge in curdled milk that fizzes on your tongue. The first sip it quite a shock but it did get better, although we still pulled a face as we took each sip and the more we drank the soggier the cardboard got, which did not make the experience any better.

After we were done fizzing our taste buds with Chubuku we then set up for the potjie competition. We set up a table on a perfect section of the beach where the table was placed firmly in the sand towards the romantic view of Lake Malawi alive in the wind. The table was decorated with a carefully picked out beach towel as the tablecloth and 2 headlamps that glowed red light to add to the ambiance. 2 metal plates and plastic wine glasses were carefully placed in front of our guests. On our menu was “The finest Zambian Nguni bunny chow with shallots and tatties in a pampoen jus served with a king kapenta garnish and paired with a 2013 Fat Bastard (and some wine). Rounded off with a slice of Gees!” Upon our 2 judges arrival, they were offered a glass of wine with a selection of cork for texture. They nibbled kapenta while we entertained them by singing ‘Oh Potjie pot’ in the tune of ‘Oh Christmas tree’ just to get them in the mood. They were then served the bunny chow where we carefully nibbled out the inside of half a loaf of bread and inserted our potjie meat and vegetables that had been brewing in our pot for 5 hours with a few dribbles on the side. We then brought out our gees written on a freshly baked green cake, because everyone loves green cake! We did have a glitch with our gees because our teammate who is Canadian thought we told him to bring geese, so out popped 2 pink blow up geese that honked as we squeezed them. Even with our geese we made it to the semi-finals where our judge was Braaiboy. Unfortunately he didn’t like what he ate but at least we were his entertainment for the evening. The rest of the evening was spent gathered around team ‘Band of beards’ where they performed for us and later on other teams joined in with whatever musical instruments they had. The day ended in a perfect “Summer of ‘69” way, drinking, singing and laughing on the beach.

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After breakfast we all jumped into a big wooden fishing boat with its peeling paint and semi-rotten boards with tiny fish scatted on the floor. The boat was  thrown back and forth by the waves while it waited for us. Once everyone was ready, the boatmen started the engine and headed towards the island on the horizon. The front of the boat flew in the air and slammed down as the waves hit. We rocked up, down, up, down until we escaped the rough water and landed into the calm glimmering blue water. Once we got to the island we climbed out of the boat and stood on the rocks on the shore. I got my snorkeling gear and climbed into the water. I floated while I stuck my face under the water and looked down into its depths. At first all I saw were rocks beneath me but after my eyes had adjusted I saw little fish darting about. I swam along the edge of the island as I breathed steadily through the plastic tube. It felt as though I was staring at a HD television screen at the nature around me. The view from above the water was spectacular but the view from below the water was breath taking (Literally). After we were done stalking fish we then started to mess around in the water. We swam back to the boat which was anchored  a few metres away from the island. We climbed back into the boat; well we didn’t just climb in (it was much higher than it looked). I held onto the boat, pulled myself up as far as I could, threw one leg over while one person pushed from below and the other pulled any body part they could as I ungracefully flopped over the edge of the boat. Now that all the hard work of getting into the boat was over, It took us a split second to jump, bomb, back flip and belly flop back into the water.

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We swam back to the shore and shuffled through the trees and over rocks to the highest point of the small island. From the moment I arrived at Livingstonia I was taken aback by the gorgeous, pristine view of Lake Malawi, but it was nothing compared to standing on the small island and looking out at the flat lake that stretched in all directions. All I saw were scattered twinkling diamonds across the surface of the bright blue water. The calm water had so many different hues of blue, reflecting the bright blue sky. Near the shore it was pale blue and as it got deeper the light blue changed to dark blue.

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Once we got back down we swam towards a huge boulder that was submerged in the crystal-clear water. Everybody thought it was a great idea to climb up to the top of the boulder just so they could jump off it. I enjoy cliff jumping but everything in me hates taking the leap. I especially hate that moment when I almost jump but then don’t because my trembling legs send a signal to my brain that says, “This is a bad idea.” Only after I launch myself out and realize that I am at the point of no return, I actually enjoy myself. I kick my legs as I fall through the air and everyone cheers as I wait for the water to swallow me just to spit me out again. Once I pop my head up above the water I get a sense of pride that I was brave enough to follow all my friends.

That night checkpoint number 3 got underway. The sun-bleached sands of Lake Malawi played host to one of the most memorable parties I have ever been to. It started with big colourful buckets of punch and ended as the last piece of firewood turned black. Checkpoint 3 party was the lumo beach party, we put on our retro lumo outfits and covered ourselves in glow sticks. For that night we could be whoever we wanted to be and no one cared. Half way through the night Jason and I went to use the lava‘tree’, when we were done we climbed up onto a rock under the dark night sky and were immediately absorbed into the peacefulness. The night was dark and the air still. All we could hear were little ripples and the flickering of the moonlight as the faint wind brushed against the water’s surface. We sat away from the party and let our senses take over as we observed the energy and excitement of the group. I got absorbed into the happiness and joy that filled the air and it felt as if I was living in a childhood imagination world. I sat there with a smile on my face as I experienced one of those little moments of true joy and satisfaction. I looked towards the life of the party and it looked as though there were millions of orange, yellow, pink, and green fireflies bouncing around and dancing on the beach and everyone of those little fireflies let out the sound of song and laughter that echoed down the beach. In front of us was the sound of flickering flames around the burning wood of the campfire that drew more glowing people in. While it was great watching the party, it was even better being part of the aliveness, the energy quickly pulled us back in and we turned into one of those fireflies dancing and singing on the beach.

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The next morning I woke up to the most amazing view of lake Malawi through the open door of my tent. While still covered in glow sticks I climbed out of my tent, ran down the beach and dived straight into the sea, I mean lake. After a fun filled 2 days in Livingstonia we then headed to Monkey Bay where all the teams kept to themselves to recover from the night before. Our last night in Malawi began with the most beautiful sunset, all sunsets in Africa are beautiful but this one just pulled on our heartstrings as the glow of red and orange reflected into our tired eyes. We walked along the shoreline and the suns rays spread across the sky and lit up the clouds. The reds and oranges of the sunset sparkled in the lake with the silhouettes of the local people cleaning their boats from the days fishing trip and the kids playing soccer on the beach in front of it.

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Malawi came at the perfect time of the Put Foot Rally trip. We became reunited with the Put Foot family after been scattered around Zambia for a few days. It was really nice to get a break from the car seat and stay in Livingstonia for 2 days. Before setting out on The Put Foot rally, I didn’t really read any guidebooks or search the internet to get a glimpse of what I was supposed to experience. I came into this adventure with a completely open mind (The only research we did was Wikipaedia the country as we drove towards the border). I never imagined how great an experience Malawi could be, but I have fallen head over heels in love with what they call “The heart of Africa”. I absolutely loved the constant view of the lake that I kept referring to as the sea. I loved the whole vibe of the country, I loved driving through the country as I dodged everyone on bicycles and I loved sitting on the beach as the sun set and thinking to myself “Life doesn’t get better than this”.

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