Northern Kenya Pt. II

I was just going to append this to the previous entry, but since “tomorrow” was a long time ago, here is the rest of the story:


I had just enough time to eat a shitty breakfast at Jey-Jey’s restaurant before we pulled out of Marsabit. Soon I was speeding over the rock-strewn road in a cushy 4x4 with ten other locals.

If the landscape between Isiolo and Marsabit is desolate, here it takes on an other-worldly isolation. The five-year drought has done away with all but a few tufts of the most hearty desert scrub and the nomadic Borana people have almost all moved north into Ethiopia in search of greener pastures. Even some of the famous old “singing wells” are no longer yielding water. What remains of the great plains of northern Kenya is a series of oppressively hot dust bowls punctuated by a few small volcanic peaks. The road, which has never been paved and barely exists in some spots, cuts a nearly straight line through the fields of black volcanic boulders.

Every once in a while we would pass through a tiny village. None of them could have been home to more than a few dozen families, all living in a state of poverty that puts them just a notch above mere survival. Aside from a shop or two with nearly empty shelves, a cluster of round thatch huts roofed with plastic rubbish and maybe a restaurant catering to the few passers-by, there is nothing. The only signs of life outside these outposts are the occasional herds of goats.

For the first three hours of the drive I thought the other passengers were just really friendly - the driver stopped the car for them to chat with every person they saw - but he eventually explained to me that this was a shopping trip for them. In two days there was to be an important ceremony, for which they needed to purchase and slaughter a goat. Unfortunately they didn’t find a suitable one at the right price so I didn’t have the pleasure of spending the rest of the journey in the cramped back seat with an angry goat. Too bad.

We rolled into the Kenyan half of Moyale at around 2pm. I was instantly reminded of the Cambodian town of Poipet at the Thailand / Cambodia border, but even that doesn’t describe the absolute “edge-of-the-world” feeling of Moyale. Generally speaking, border towns tend to be filth and sleaze magnets, and Moyale is no exception. I walked a couple of km’s through town toward the border, trying not to attract any more shady touts, crooked money-changers, prostitutes, begging children or random dodgy characters than was naturally unavoidable.

I have walked across several borders, in Africa and elsewhere. Its a pretty routine procedure, provided you’ve sorted out the paperwork, and is usually quick and painless. The one part, though, that will always make me anxious is changing money with the black market traders.

The situation is always heavily weighted against you: you’re often tired, sweaty and dirty after a long bus / truck ride, you’re naturally ill-informed about up-to-date exchange rates, and you have to concentrate on working out the mathematics of a fair exchange while the pushy, shifty-eyed changers do their best to confuse you. Then factor in the pack of sticky-fingered children hovering around your bags and even the most level-headed traveler can hardly help acting like a paranoid schizophrenic.

Ethiopia presents an added complication: since there are no ATMs in the country which accept Mastercard-branded plastic, I was forced to carry a large wad of cash into the country. I’m happy to report that I did well at the Moyale border - I managed to get slightly better than the official rate while changing $300 worth of Kenyan Shillings into Ethiopian Birr - although it was a stressful experience.

On the other side, the Ethiopian immigration official was a bit confused by my passport and initially told me I couldn’t enter the country.

“I scanned it into computer, says ‘nationality not found.’ Maybe you need new passport?” He indicated the worn out cover and frankenstein hack-job the US embassy in Cairo did with the new set of extension pages. “Maybe you can try again?” I suggested.

He kept trying, but eventually had to make some phone calls to work things out. I finally got my stamp and went on my merry way…

The Ethiopian side of the road is a golden paradise compared with Kenya’s half. Well, not exactly but I felt immediately at ease walking the much calmer streets. I found a cheap hotel and had my first Ethiopian meal: injera, doro wat and a kiddus giorgis beer. After weeks of fried chicken, eggs and chips in Kenya and Tanzania, the food in Ethiopia is indescribably good. Slow-roasted meat, spicy sauces, fresh fruit and vegetables… variety! I slept like a baby and left at 5:00am the next morning for Awasa.

Shifta and Miraa: Northern Kenya

I’ve traveled about 800 km over the past 72 hours. That may not sound like much to those of you who haven’t been to East Africa, but trust me, when those 800 km stretch across the arid, lifeless no-man’s land between Isiolo in northern Kenya and Awasa in southern Ethiopia, you’re glad to have them behind you.


The ride from Nairobi was pleasant. Just 5 hours in a decent coach on good tarmac roads to Isiolo. Dave, Becky and I walked around, searching out a hotel for the night, and before long we were approached by a pair of helpful locals. They showed us to a hotel, all the while giving us advice on how to proceed from Isiolo to the north and warning us about the “bad guys” around town who offer to help and then demand money. Then they asked us for money.

We quickly realized that almost everyone around town was zonked from chewing miraa (also known as qat or chat in other parts of the world, namely the Middle East). Miraa is a mild narcotic, enjoyed by chewing the leaves and young stems of a plant which is endemic to northern Kenya, most of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is very popular in Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and is a highly profitable crop. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, it is the second largest export, after coffee - bundles of the stuff are loaded onto express planes and shipped daily to the Arab peninsula. Isiolo is a major local trading post for miraa, and everyone around seemed to be constantly stuffing the thin green stems into their mouths.

In the morning, Becky and Dave, my travel partners for most of the past two months, backed out of the plan to visit Ethiopia. I was sad to see them go, but had to push on. I had a long way to go yet.

I ended up stuck in Isiolo for two more days. Isiolo is a weird place. It is the “end of the road” in northern Kenya - and not just figuratively. There is no more public transportation available north from there. The only way up is to get yourself a spot on a truck carrying livestock or delivering goods. I wandered around asking anyone and everyone about these trucks. I hardly ever got the same answer twice.

“I just heard that one is coming in an hour.” “Be patient. They always come around this time.” “One just left! You missed it!” “No trucks today, there was an attack last night.” “Hakuna Matata. Have some tea.”

I spent most of my time in Isiolo sitting by the road, drinking tea and chewing miraa with the locals who seem to have little to do besides sit by the road and drink tea and chew miraa. When you’re stuck there for a while and have the time to just sit and watch, Isiolo becomes a very interesting place. It is a meeting point and trading post for many tribes of the area - Maasai, Turkana, Borana, Samburu, Rendille and others - each chatting away in their native languages and showing off their distinctive tribal hair styles, jewelery, clothing and weapons. I had plenty of chances to chat with all sorts of people, from students to tribesmen to farmers.

To my surprise, almost everyone wanted to talk about the American presidential race. And they’re generally very well-informed. One guy joked that he was “Obama’s campaign manager here in Kenya!” They all wanted me to know that Obama’s father was Kenyan. “He’ll do good things for Kenya.”

In the meantime, I had already tried and failed twice to get a place in a vehicle headed north. Every time one would arrive, it would get mobbed and the driver would speed off in panic / frustration without picking up anyone. Later on, I almost made it into a cushy land rover that was carrying a Kenyan businessman and his two armed guards, but that fell through just like the others. I was beginning to lose hope.

There is a good reason for there not being any public transport serving the road from Isiolo to Moyale: shifta. Shifta is the Swahili word for bandits, and the roads of northern Kenya are known for being their territory. Killings are not as common these days as they used to be, but some vehicles still make the journey as part of a guarded convoy. The shifta are usually after trucks carrying cows and tend to avoid causing trouble with tourists. Everyone in Isiolo was quick to assure me that everything would be fine. I was more worried about being able to get on a truck in the first place.

I had paid two guys to stay by the road on lookout for me when I went to eat my meals. When a truck full of salt, soap, empty barrels, buckets and loads of random crap pulled in at around 8pm, they ran into the restaurant and rushed me outside. It was headed to Marsabit - only half way - but I didn’t want to wait any longer. I paid 1500 shillings, which I knew was too much, but I didn’t care - I was finally on my way! As the truck was being filled up with passengers, I got lucky - a big bundle of boxes landed next to me and ended up making a fairly comfortable little bed and I had some room to stretch out.

Between Isiolo and Moyale lies 580 km of barren, dusty wasteland. It’s rough and inhospitable - there hasn’t been a drop of rain for 5 years and the road is nothing more than a wide rocky dirt track. As we bounced along through the night, I gazed up at the stars in the cloudless sky through the uncovered top of the truck. When sunrise came, the temperature went from bearably cold to positively roasting in about 15 minutes. Luckily we rolled into Marsabit only a few hours later.

My luck persisted in Marsabit - immediately after hopping off the truck I found a shiny new Land Cruiser with a seat available. 1000 shillings to Moyale - I took it! I had just enough time to eat.

I have to run now. Check here tomorrow for the rest of the entry.


From Arusha we hurried directly to the border with Kenya and through to Nairobi. I wasn’t sure what to expect with all the dire news about the current state of affairs, but the scene was calm. Driving through the countryside on the way to Nairobi treated us to views straight off the pages of National Geographic - small Maasai villages full of robed, bejeweled men and women tending to their herds on the dusty plains.

In Nairobi we recieved plenty of warnings about wandering into the wrong parts of town, even during the day. The attitude of the locals was reminiscent of some i met in South Africa. No surprise considering the similarly bad reputations of Nairobi and Johannesburg. We didn’t have any trouble.

Nairobi is incredibly expensive compared to the rest of East Africa and even South Africa. The three of us split a triple room in a budget hotel for $30 a night. Trying to eat around downtown on the cheap proved futile as well. This, plus Nairobi’s reputation as “Nairobbery,” didn’t exactly endear me to the city. We stayed just long enough to secure our Ethiopian visas from the embassy (very nice staff, same day service, $60 for a 3-month multiple entry tourist visa) and then took a bus to Isiolo.

On the way out to Isili to get the bus our taxi almost drove us into the middle of a brick-throwing mob near Kenyatta Ave. I asked our driver what was going on.

“The street vendors. The local council wants to move them all into an indoor shopping complex where they will pay taxes like everyone else. Today was the deadline. They are fighting with the local police.”

We drove off as a couple bricks sailed across the intersection, smashing into a parked car. I was glad to leave.

Northern Tanzania

After Zanzibar, the group split up again. Dave, Becky and I decided to head north up the coast and then cut westward toward the mountains further inland. From Dar es Salaam we caught a bus to Tanga.

Tanga is Tanzania’s third largest city, although you’d never guess as much even after seeing number one and two, Dar and Arusha. Completely lacking the tall office buildings and bustling streets of the larger cities, Tanga feels like a quiet little town. We stayed for three days, long enough to see some sights in the area: the ruins of an ancient mosque and some bat-filled caves. We also managed to get horribly lost walking around the countryside trying to find the famed sulphur hot springs. After a couple hours walking in circles, the “springs” - no more than a stinky, muddy stream - were a huge let-down. Next we caught a bus to Lushoto, the starting point for treks around the Usambara mountains. We organized a guided 3-day hike with the Friends of Usambara organization, a group which uses their proceeds to initiate local development projects and fund schools. Less than $30 a day covered all of our food, park fees, guide and accommodation.

The hike was excellent. Highly recommended. We walked through several villages, under rainforest canopies, over scenic mountain passes and ate and slept well along the way. At every village we were met by small crowds of giggling children. The bold ones demanded to be photographed - “Mzungu! Mistah! Pikchah!” - while the shy ones just fled in terror. Our guide, Amril, told us that some parents warn their kids to stay away from the white folks.

“They say that the mzungu will snatch them up and put them in their backpacks and take them back to Europe!”

The hiking wasn’t too strenuous but still took us up to some stunning viewpoints. From one we could just make out the hazy sillouhette of Mt. Kilamanjaro. If I had had more time to spend, I would have enjoyed adding two or three more days to the trek and exploring more of the Usambaras. But just before the hike I had laid new plans for the next couple months:

The great Gartholomew J will soon be leaving Bulgaria to return to the USA. He is set to go before I will able to reach eastern Europe so visiting him in Sofia will sadly be impossible. Instead, we’ve arranged to meet in Cairo on April 27 and spend two weeks adventuring around the Sinai peninsula. That means that from this point in northern Tanzania, I have about 2 months to travel more than 4,000 km through at least 4 very large countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt).

I convinced Becky and Dave to join me in Ethiopia. Their original plan would have had them wandering slowly up to Nairobi to make their flight back home to England. Our new plan meant several days of punishing travel: sprinting all the way across Kenya to the Ethiopian border at Moyale.

Before leaving Tanzania, we visited Arusha, famous among travelers as the “trekking capital” of Tanzania. Being the biggest city within close range of the country’s most famous attractions - Mt. Kilamanjaro, Mt. Meru, the Serengeti - it is the best place to book safaris. We were hoping to find a good deal on a trip to visit Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano near lake Natron, but unfortunately we learned that the volcano is currently erupting and is too dangerous to climb. Some tour operators offered to take us, but warned that the park authorities “strongly advise against it.” We opted to skip it.

Arusha is also tagged the “Geneva of Africa” due to its having been chosen as the location for the UN tribunal on war crimes commited during the 1994 war in Rwanda. Visitors are allowed to sit in on the open sessions. We listened to the cross-examination of a Hutu woman. She described leaving her home and going to live in a bus station with dozens of others until she was able to flee. She told of soldiers who tossed grenades into buildings full of people, and of the segregation of the Hutu from the Tutsi for group executions. These trials have been going on for many years - many of those responsible for the atrocities carried out during the genocide have yet to be brought to justice.


The border crossing from Mozambique into Tanzania was exhausting - not the crossing of the border itself, but the transportation there and away. Following a night of fitful sleep in an overpriced, rat infested pensao in Mocimboa da Praia, we boarded an empty pick-up at 3am. By the time we finally left there were 25 people crammed into the bed of the tiny truck and the sun was starting to beat down on us, the morning air clouded with flying termites and dust. Not long into the ride, I was forced into an awkward and very uncomfortable spot by another passenger - the only asshole of the bunch - who continued to talk shit (in Portuguese) throughout the whole trip. I eventually gave up fighting for the 6 inches of sitting space and settled on top of the giant pile of luggage over the tailgate. The bumpy road was tossing me around, sometimes I came down hard on the bags. Occasionally I would hear a loud crack as one of the suitcases, a giant plastic one at the bottom of the pile, crumbled underneath the weight.

Eventually the owner of that suitcase, an older “traditionally built” (read: very large) mozimbicana, took notice and started hurling abuse at me in Portuguese. I tried to move away from the luggage but the damage had already been done and my fellow passengers wouldn’t (and couldn’t) give an inch of space. She realized that the suitcase was broken and demanded that I pay for it. I refused, claiming that it was the fault of the driver for overstuffing his truck and packing the luggage poorly. I offered to trade seats with her, even though that would have been impossible - she was twice my size. The argument dragged on and soon came to involve the entire truck. Everyone was shouting at each other in English, Swahili, Portuguese, Makua, Makonde, Arabic and I don’t know what else. Opinion on the matter was divided. I was resolved not to pay for the suitcase and there were at least a dozen other passengers standing up for me.

After about 5 hours under scorching sun, of muddy rutted roads and heated argument, we arrived at the Mozambican border post. The border itself is a river, so each country operates a post on either side, with about 3km of “no man’s land” on each shore. Getting stamped out of Mozambique was a breeze, but crossing the river was a little less pleasant.

After exiting Mozambique, we piled back into the truck and disembarked again the shore. A mass of frenzied, screaming people surged forward, all trying either to shove their way onto the truck we were unloading or to be the first onto one of the small boats waiting to ferry us across to Tanzania. The three of us (Vicky, Daniela and I) made it onto a boat along with about 20 others and set off for the other side. The river is quite large - our boat traveled about 1km in total. Money was collected as we putted across. There was a lot of confusion over currency; I overpaid hugely because I had no Tanzanian shillings yet. At one point the engine died. We all sat in silence for a few minutes, the boat taking on water, as the driver tried to fix it. He finally got it started again, but then refused to land the boat due to an argument over someone’s fare. He threw down the anchor defiantly and shouted for about 10 minutes until some kind of agreement was reached. Then, on the shore, the same insane frenzy scene was repeated. We rode to the border post in another truck and obtained our Tanzanian visas. $100 now for US citizens! Ouch.

A pair of officers at the customs shack called me over while I was waiting on my visa. They wanted to “inspect” my backpack. They gave it a half-assed once over and were about to send me off when they saw a little bundle of Mozambican meticais (cash) that I was carrying - I planned to change it shortly.

“You can’t take that to Tanzania,” one of them said, “It’s illegal. You should give that to us.” “No,” I told him. “Why not?” “Because that sounds like extortion!” I smiled. “Extortion?” They chuckled and waved me on.

The Tanzanian border officials were very friendly and the rest of the crossing was easy. We sat on a bus for a few more hours and spent the night in a small town (I’ve forgotten the name) before catching a fast coach to Dar es Salaam in the morning.

I decided to head straight for Zanzibar on the ferry and sort out accommodation for the festival coming up in a week. I spent the week exploring Stone Town and relaxing.

Stone Town, Zanzibar’s largest city (town?) is a fascinating place with a vibrant history. Many of its abundant colonial-style buildings are left-overs from its former role as one the most important slave markets of East Africa. Nowadays Zanzibar has embraced tourism as one of its major trades and the old Portuguese, Arab and Indian shops and homes are being actively restored and preserved. I got lost in the narrow streets and alleyways nearly every time I set out from my hotel.

Zanzibar boasts its own unique culture which draws upon African, West Indian and Arab influences. Even the Swahili spoken on the island is peppered with words and phrases from several other languages, including Arabic and Gujarati. Particularly impressive are the beautiful ornate carved wood door frames, usually featuring elaborate Arabic inscriptions. The island is predominantly Muslim, but is also home to a small Hindi population.

Becky, Dave, Daniela, Darlene, Serena and Oezlem all showed up over the next dew days. Before the festival started, Becky, Dave and I went along with their friend Debbie on a tour of the spice plantations and out on a boat trip to swim with the dolphins off the east coast of the island. I almost touched one!

The music festival (Sauti za Busara) was great, made 100 times better by the reunion with my friends from previous travels. The musical highlights included a band from Mali (Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba), a Fela Kuti cover band (Bantu Afrobeat Academy) from Nigeria, and a sort of afro-fusion band (Yunasi) from Kenya. After the 4 night festival, we spent a couple nights at Matembwe beach on the east coast and then returned to Dar.

So much more to write, but I’m out of time for now. Coming soon: northern Tanzania, the long journey across bandit-country in northern Kenya, and my first week in Ethiopia.


I’ve been taking Mefloquine as a malaria prophylaxis for a couple of months now. Occasionally I experience wild and vivid dreams, especially on the nights that I take the pill (its taken once weekly). Not nightmares but generally intense dreams. From the wikipedia article about Mefloquine:

Mefloquine may have severe and permanent adverse side-effects. It is known to cause severe depression, anxiety, paranoia, nightmares, insomnia, seizures, peripheral motor-sensory neuropathy,[2] vestibular (balance) damage and central nervous system problems. For a complete list of adverse physical and psychological effects — including suicidal ideation — see the most recent product information. Central nervous system events occur in up to 25% of people taking Lariam, such as dizziness, headache, insomnia, and vivid dreams.[citation needed] In 2002 the word “suicide” was added to the official product label, though proof of causation has not been established. Since 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has required that patients be screened before mefloquine is prescribed. The latest Consumer Medication Guide to Lariam has more complete information. In the 1990s there were reports in the media[3] that the drug may have played a role in the Somalia Affair, which involved the torture and murder of a Somali citizen whilst in the custody of Canadian peacekeeping troops. There has been similar controversy since three murder-suicides involving Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the summer of 2002. To date more than 19 cases of vestibular damage following the use of mefloquine have been diagnosed by military physicians. The same damage has been diagnosed among business travelers and tourists.

Malaria still sounds worse than the side effects I’m experiencing, but neither option is very good. I didn’t take any prophylaxis during my travels around southeast Asia where malaria is also common, but the number of travelers I’ve met around southern Africa who have contracted malaria during their time here has made me stick with the pills.

So for now, Sunday nights = crazy dreams!


As I mentioned in the last post, I was just in Mozambique. My first impressions took me back to Brazil - not only do they share the same language but also some other reminders of the former Portuguese occupation. Old cathedrals and colonial-style buildings can be seen throughout the country, as can lots of people with mixed African-European heritage. It was fun to be trying to speak Portuguese again - I think traveling there would have been difficult without even my very light grasp of the language. I found the people of Mozambique extremely friendly and happy to help this clueless estrangeiro get around, which was a challenge at times.

In Mozambique, the days start early - well before sunrise people are piling into overcrowded chapas, trucks and buses headed for work, school or the market. The roads are mostly unpaved and in bad shape, so travel times are extraordinary. For the best chance at arriving at your destination at a reasonable hour, you have to catch the earliest bus of the day. Sometimes this means getting out of bed at 2:30am to get yourself on a chapa; a seat on a chapa usually means a cramped spot in the back of a truck or minivan stuffed beyond double capacity. Sadly, most of my time in the country was been spent in transit this way. I was in Mozambique for only 8 days - enough time to stop in two places: Ilha de Mozambique and Pemba. I opted to rush into Tanzania because Mozambique turned out to be far more expensive than I had expected.

Ilha de Mozambique was well worth the effort of getting there. It is a small island off the coast of northern Mozambique famous for being the first European settlement in East Africa, set up by the Portuguese. In fact, it is where Mozambique got its name - the country is named after the island. It became a very important naval base and a key trading post, handling goods from mainland Africa, Arab traders and other Portuguese colonies including Goa, India. The colonial architecture on the island is well-maintained thanks to UNESCO and its a beautiful place to spend a couple days wandering around. The island is tiny - only 3km long and 500m wide - so its easily explored on foot.

From the island, I continued north to Pemba and spent a couple uneventful days there before doing the mad overland border crossing into Tanzania…


Never before have I been to a country where the backpacker trail is so small and cozy. At every destination in Malawi I found a familiar face. I was able to travel and hang out with many new friends for more than just a couple days. At one point I stayed with a big group of friends for almost 3 weeks in Nkhata Bay. We celebrated Christmas and New Years Eve together in proper style: a giant dinner including a whole roast pig and goat at Mayoka for Christmas and an improvised costume party for New Years Eve.

After the holidays in Nkhata Bay, I ended up setting out on an adventure to the Nyika plateau with a big group of friends (Darlene, Becky, Dave, Sandy, Oezlem, Mary, Emma, Adam, Craig and Michael). Nyika is normally very difficult to access without your own wheels, but is said to be one of Malawi’s most beautiful and unique spots, so I eagerly accepted Darlene’s invitation to make the trip in her Land Rover. As we all learned over the next couple days, though, the 20 year-old landie is no longer up to the challenge of Malawi’s rough roads. In the middle of the night, a third of the way up the mountain road to Livingstonia, she stopped and refused to start again. We made the climb on foot up the mushroom farm, the lodge that Darlene currently manages, and contented ourselves with being stranded there for a whole week before the car was deemed roadworthy again. Sadly, a few people had to leave before the journey could continue - I had to say goodbye to Oezlem, Sandy, Michael, Mary and Emma.

It was not much more than 48 hours before she broke down again, this time leaving us about 14 km from Chelinda camp in the middle of Nyika. Four of us opted to walk back while the rest waited patiently for help to be sent back. It came in the form of a tractor which towed the car to camp to be fixed. Most of the next day was spent dealing with the necessary repairs, so we set off that afternoon, fingers crossed, for the mushroom farm.

The unpaved roads in Nyika have fallen into disrepair since much of the facilities in the park shut down earlier in the year. The car inched up several of the muddy hills before we had to make a routine of getting out and pushing it up each one. It eventually died and would not start again. We resigned ourselves to the idea of camping out in the wilderness until help could be sorted out, but a pick-up truck came bouncing up the road, miraculously, at just the right moment. It was headed to Mzuzu with no cargo so Terry, Michael, Karen and I hopped in and sped off. Darlene, Dave and Becky stayed with the land rover and ended up spending another hellish night stranded in the bush before help arrived.

My plan at this point was to catch the Ilala ferry at one of its stops on Lake Malawi and ride it to Cobue, where I would cross into Mozambique. I realized in the truck that I might be able to get all the way to Nkhata Bay in one shot and spend the another couple days there before I left, so thanks to the helpful truck driver, I arrived that night at Mayoka for a surprise visit. I ended up missing the ferry (it only runs once a week) and enjoying 3 more beautiful days in Nkhata Bay. My justification for missing the ferry was news of disastrous flooding in Mozambique - I quickly formed a new plan to go instead to Tanzania via Karonga in the north. So I said goodbye again to everyone at Mayoka and stopped in Mzuzu on my way up and ran into none other than Miss Terry-Lee Quail and Mr. Michael Constantaris, friends from the earlier ill-fated adventure in Nyika. They told me of their plan to spend a few days hiking around Mt. Mulange in the south before returning home to South Africa, so I spontaneously decided to join them.

One marathon 2-day traveling session brought us to Mulange via Blantyre. From there we hired a guide and one porter to accompany us on the 4 day trek. We were prepared for, and expected, heavy rains throughout the trip, but luck prevailed and we stayed dry almost the whole time. In all, it was a fantastic hike and we were treated to some beautiful mountain and forest scenery. On the third day we met Julian, a biologist who lives and works in Mulange. He shared some wild stories about his experiences on scientific expeditions in Africa before leading us down the most treacherously steep mountain path I’ve ever seen for our return to Mulange. The next day, with Julian’s help, I set off early for the Mozambican border at Mulange/Milange and made my way east towards the coast.

Nkhata Bay (Lake Malawi, Malawi)

I’ve been busy these days doing absolutely nothing in Nkhata Bay. Or more accurately at Mayoka - a beautiful lakeside backpacker haven. They’ve got the best food I’ve had since Livingstone. Every day I swim across the lake (about .5km) to pick mangoes on the opposite shore, then swim back in time for dinner. I’ll be here until Christmas, then I’ll catch a ferry to Chizimulu Island and stay there through New Years’.

I’m still getting used to the practicalities of independent travel in Africa. Trying to live by schedules, published routes and timetables is about as fun and easy as building igloos in hell. A lot of time is spent waiting for buses to leave, waiting for the electricity to come back on, waiting for the cows to come home, etc. I’m happy to be here, though, and never in a rush. My plan is only to keep going north - back to Cairo the long way.

We spotted several clouds of lake flies on the lake this morning. Lake flies are a special species of fly native to Lake Malawi. When they form breeding swarms, they make giant dark funnel clouds out over the water. Very impressive to see knowing how small they are - about half the size of a normal mosquito. They can be quite a nuissance when you get caught in a passing cloud, but are also apparently a delicacy. Locals sometimes stand outside when the flies pass and catch them by waving nets around. The flies are then pressed into patties and fried up hamburger-style (flied fries?). I haven’t tried one yet.