Monday, 21 January 2008

Back from vacation!

I just got back from a bit of an extended vacation. My boyfriend Mike arrived on December 27, having left Canada on Christmas day (but at 11pm, so he was still able to do all his traditional Christmas stuff!). So, soon after I returned from my Christmas celebrations at the lake, I was off to the airport to pick him up!

Mike was here for just under 3 weeks. We kept ourselves quite busy with some adventures in Malawi, a trip to Zanzibar, and a safari in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

We started off his time here by visiting a couple of different places in Malawi. Since I stay in Lilongwe, the capital, I wanted him to at least get a taste of a smaller town in Malawi, so we headed off to Dedza, a town just south of Lilongwe. It is known for its pottery (there is a large pottery workshop just outside of town) and the mountains and forests in the surrounding areas. We took a particularly uncomfortable minibus there, and, sure enough, it broke down en route. At least he was getting an authentic experience!
Photo 1: Our broken down minibus, somewhere between Lilongwe and Dedza.

We checked out the pottery place (and had some of the cheesecake it is apparently known for - quite yummy!), went walking around the rural areas and hiking up Dedza mountain, wandered around town and visited with a local family. Mike also got to sample some typical Malawian cuisine (some very tasty fish!).
Photo 2: Cute goat
Photo 3: Row of shops in Dedza

We continued on to Blantyre, where we spent a bit of time before flying to Zanzibar Island, just off the coast of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. We spent a week on the island, splitting our time between Stone town and by the beach on the north shore of the island.

We arrived in the evening and our first stop was Forodhani Gardens, where a long line of food stalls set up each evening. They serve such things as fish (including king fish, red snapper, barracuda, swordfish, etc) and meat kebabs, grilled seafood, samosas, chapattis, falafels, root vegetables, etc. You fill up a plate with what you want and they grill it for you. The prices are great and the food tasty! For refreshment, you can get a big mug of freshly (right before your eyes in fact) pressed sugarcane juice (spiced with some ginger) – delicious!
Photo 4: A table of food at Forodhani Gardens

Stone Town is a recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is quite an interesting place, blending Middle Eastern, Indian, Swahili and Moorish traditions and architecture. We spent days wandering around the narrow streets and busy markets, visiting the sites and doing a lot of eating!
Photo 5: Central market

Photo 6: Background – Anglican cathedral built over the site of a former slave auction floor, from the East African slave trade. Foreground – a “dala-dala,” which are converted lorries used as the main public transportation vehicles on the island

Photo 7: A beautiful door in Stone Town – many of the buildings have elaborately carved doors, adorned with brass studs

We spent New Years in Stone town with some friends of mine who visiting from Zambia. We had dinner at Forodhani Gardens, appetizers at a beautiful beachside restaurant, and drinks at a New Year’s Eve party on an ocean view patio – no champagne, but still a pretty fabulous way to celebrate!
Photo 8: Our table right on the beach (Ka-Hay, Thulasy, and Mike)

We then moved on to spend some time staying at a beach resort. We stayed in a beachfront bungalow on the North Shore of the Island. The beach was probably the most beautiful I’ve seen – beautiful fine white sand and a gorgeous blue sea. Just lovely.
Photo 9: Sitting on the beach
Photo 10: Beautiful sunset view from right outside of our bungalow

Photo 11: Mike and I on the beach

Mike got his scuba certification while there, so on our last day at the beach we went on a couple dives together. The diveshop used specially converted dhow sailing boats, made by local ship makers, to transport us to the dive sites, which was pretty neat!

After a magical time on Zanzibar island, wandering around Stone town, lounging on the beach, and eating amazingly well all the time, we had to make our way back to Malawi.

In an effort to save a bit of money, we decided to take a coach bus from Dar Es Salaam to Lilongwe. I know others that have made the journey, and it didn’t sound too bad. The trip was to take between 24 – 30 hours total.

Long story short, the trip was a bit disastrous. Due to breakdowns, border chaos, and other ridiculousness, it took many more hours than anticipated. If you're ever making this same trip, whatever you do, DON'T TAKE Mohamed Coach lines! In fact, at the Tanzania-Malawi border, we ended up jumping ship , and found alternative transportation to Lilongwe, getting ourselves there at minimum 12 hours before that god-awful coach bus would have arrived.
Photo 12: Coach bus from hell – it even looks a bit evil, doesn’t it?
Photo 13: We don't look too bad for having spent the past day and a half on a bus! (The view is of Lake Malawi in the Northern part of the country, when we had to get off the bus for it to manoeuvre around a tight curve because of a breakdown)

We had to quickly recover from our journey, as after a day of running around Lilongwe, we headed off on safari in Zambia. We went on a 4 day safari to South Luangwa National Park, which is widely regarded as one of the finest wildlife reserves in Africa. It was kind of nice to spend a few days where all details were taken care of for us, though we did encounter a couple hiccups right off the bat. First, Mike had to bribe a Zambian border official (who are generally known to be difficult and corrupt) because he lacked a yellow fever vaccination card – the Zambian official claimed it would have been fine if he was simply coming in from Malawi, but it was a problem since we were just in Tanzania (oddly enough, the health official when we were entering Malawi directly from Tanzania had no beef with him…). In any case, the bribe was much less than the vaccination would have been, so, it wasn’t the end of the world. Soon after this, our Land Cruiser broke down in the middle of nowhere after we passed through the border. That’s right, our 3rd breakdown in as many weeks. It took quite some time to get us going again, but we managed!

The safari itself was just great! Despite it being the rainy season, we didn’t get rained on once, and the game viewing was fantastic! We stayed in a lodge just outside of the park, right on the river where we could hear hippos grunting, and lots of baboons ran around the property. On the first night we had a hippo come strolling through the property, which was neat.

There were four of us on the safari and we went on 2 game drives a day for 2 days, one in the morning from 6-10:30 and one in the evening from 4 – 8 (a night drive for the second half). We drove around in a specially modified land cruiser, which was open at the back with 2 rows of seating.

I took a ridiculous number of photos, but here are a select few:
Photo 14: Giraffes, Impalas, and Zebra – oh my!
Photo 15: Hanging out with some giraffes during a tea break

Photo 16: Hippos messing around
Photo 17: 2 Lionesses and their cubs, lounging on the road

Photo 18: Elephants!
Photo 19: A hippo mum and baby emerging from the water during a night drive

Right after returning from the safari, Mike and I headed to the lake for a quick visit. We relaxed and ate some fantastic food, and it was a good wind down from the trip.

Now, Mike is back in Canada and I’m all by my lonesome again. It has been a bit of an adjustment settling back in my old routine again! It was wonderful having him visit me here. While we spend much of our time outside of Malawi, I think Mike still got a good glimpse into what my life here is like.

I now have to start trip planning for my next visitors – in a couple months my parents will be coming to Malawi to visit!