Another amazing African day. Breakfast early and then through Lilongwe rush hour to total chaos of bus staion. Buses off to all corners and touting for business. Jumbo spotted an already full Axa bus destined for Mzuzu. The rule of thumb in Malawi is that if the bus is full get on it, don’t get on empty buses. Full buses are ready to go, so we squeeze on and end up in the froint seat with three small and startled children who had rarely seen a white man before. Jumbo was quickly unfazed by everything and proceeded to put the little girl on his lap, she didn’t seem to mind, and the parents behind didn’t seem to mind either. So we trundled off with about 70 people on board and an evangelist preaching in Chichewa and leading the passengers in singing choruses, Alleluia Jesu. Rather surreal but totally captivating. Bus continued to fill, one person off three on. Ladies with babies tied to them in colourful slings and with bundles on their heads, amazing sense of balance to get on a bus. Larger wicker mat, four audio speakers, chicken, people standing, bus careering along a narrowish road which isn’t quite wide enough for two vehicles to pass and is fringed all the way by pedestrians and cyclists. Stops at scruffy trading places where produce, mostly bananas. Nearly left one mother behind at one stop with baby still on the bus. “Give her to the police” said one passenger as the driver moved off. Driver ignored the advice and mother eventually caught yp – ladies the same all over the world with their shopping. Wonderful wooded country as we climb through the Vyphra national park. Reminiscent of Scotland with wooded hillsides wreathed in mist – Africans reaching for their coats. Loads of timber on the roadside, wooden houses perched precariously on hill-sides. Still the passengers board the bus with all kinds of bundles. Speakers nearly fall on conductor who is busy counting the takings – a great bundle of 500 Kwatcha notes- from 100 passengers. After 6 hours After 6 hours on the road we reach a muddy Mzuzu – it has just been raining heavily and the minibus drivers are touring furiously for passengers. We go to the bank to get yet more fistful of notes. At least the bus and in house entertainment was cheap. 200 miles for £5.
Eventually settle on a private vehicle and settle down for 75 mile journey north west to Rumphi. Furious driving, loud Christian music, we get to Rumphi and the lovely Matunkha eco-lodge, lovely chap meal. Fabulous starry sky, never realised that there were so many stars in the sky. Miracles of modern technology linked me up with Frances 6000 miles away, nice to hear all the news. Also have Rosie’s Father’s day card on my desk. Only 2 ½ days in Africa. Jumbo is exhausted so we go to bed early.
20.6 Woke up to the liquid piping dawn chorus after an unsuccessful night-time battle with a lone mosquito. Bird song sounds like flutes being played, beautiful birds zipping round. Sat on the verandah and watched a red, thrush-like bird, with white eye-strip. Tiny blue birds the size of wrens. Nice breakfast and then hunt-African style- for suitable transport to Vwarza Marsh reserve. Silly price from the folk at the Lodge so we walked into Rumphi along a busy dust track pasta mixture of people going to church and folk selling a variety of things such as sugar cane, pts and pans and dried fish. Jumbo’s cousin met us with a promise that he would be back shortly with his car. Ominously no price mentioned, breaking the first rule that you nail the price to the floor before setting off. Choice of transport heading to Vwarza including open pick ups precariously loaded and too dangerous for us. No cousin appears. So we go with the pick up, having knocked ‘Prince’ down from 12000 to 8000, £48 to £32, which still seems a bit steep for a 30 mile round trip until we encounter the horrendous track to the reserve with huge potholes. Apparently the road goes on into the mountains for 50 miles, nobody seems to mind, what it must be like in the wet season!! June through to October is very dry and already the country is turning dust brown colour and the leaves are falling off the trees. Very poor as we head along the road. We stop at a filling point with lots of people milling around. I think that I stand out from the crowd!
Matunka is the ’white man’ and my presence riding regally in a battered pick-up made me glimpse the amazement Livingstone must have caused when he came to these parts 140 years ago. I doubt if the smiles, openness and friendliness have changed, nor I guess the poverty. The mobile phones might have been a bit of a surprise.
We bounce to the Reserve. Prince disappears to deliver someone somewhere.. Disinterested Government official at the gate. She points us off to a central compound to wait for a ranger to show us around. I expected a busy place a bit like Yorkshire Wildlife Park, but nothing stirs. Jumbo stops a young boy who comes up to us and goes down on one knee and bows. Jumbo tells me that they are taught to respect elders at school. Eventually a neat ranger – Webster Banda- appears with a gun. Still no Prince, so we head off into the reserve. All very low key. Immediate elephant poo! Separate for male, tidier collection for females, we have hit the jackpot, the elephants are in the bushes!! Apparently you can stay at the Reserve for days and not see them but they are in the bushes!! Impala and hippos are making a show in a kind of parkland setting with a big lake. Lots of little simple holiay lodges dotted about and behind, happily munching on whole branches are elephants. W can see their trunks and ears, not a clear view but goodness!, this is untamed Africa. We spent an enchanting hour sitting quietly on some steps waiting for these huge animals to emerge from their cover. Webster Banda the ranger, is just lovely, and obvioulsy in love with his animnals and his job. He chats away with Jumbo who is a Nabuko speaker too and therefore instantly accepted, very useful for the matunka. Our two hours with Webster is nearly up when nine elephants calmly break cover and stroll to the waters edge and wade en masse across a creek. Jumbo is ecstatic, he lives just 30 miles away but has never been to Vwarza and had never seen a elephant. You could see his horizons open up. The Malawians are wonderful peope living in a wonderful place, perhaps a little more ambition?
To finish our Vwarza experience a yellow baboon starts leaping around the little village as we pay our dues - and a nice tip to Webster. Paying is a very solemn exercise in Malawi and the writing of receipts requires awed and hushed concentration reminsicent of scenes from the Botswana lst ladies detective agency.