The Great North South Expedition

Due to lack of resources the parks roads have virtually disappeared – Em and I explored a small length last week putting it on the map.

There’s a need to travel them to assess the condition of bridges etc, many of which are burned by poachers. So Kennedy and I planned a trip – nobody had driven these roads for over 8 years and although its the dry season we still had river courses to plot. So off we went travelling north first section is open for a few Km’s then it was axes out to cut routes round trees, make routes to cross rivers, climbing over logs, all good Landy stuff although Emma squealed quite a bit.

We recorded defects on GPS as well as route. Made it to North boundary and stayed at a rangers camp there. Emma made friends with local kids while I looked at houses. Set off next day having been warned the new anti elephant fence erected to protect villagers had been erected in the middle of the track meaning we would have to go through the bush for “ about 100m” this turned out to be a huge under estimate and Kennedy and I chopped routes all morning, bloody hot (40c) plus tsetse flies everywhere. These are like horseflies except they chase cars being triggered by movement so you learn not to jump out too quickly when you stop. Emma was chief killer and the car looked like a massacre had taken place inside by the time we got home – blood splatters everywhere.

The boys at work Kennady using great african axe with removable head for transport

Elephant drinking spot and bathroom. The rangers use this as theres no water for 30k. They get dropped off then walk back through the bush up to 50k – pretty hardcore!!

Tree climb – emma squeeled

We could not find the other route south – long overgrown so we circled round the park on an outside road that is the Zambian border. Entered the park at mid point on west ( say 9 o clock and travelled along another unused track to the north, again much tree cutting etc. Finally broke out on the top track putting it back on the map. Decided to turn round go back down the track the further and again uncharted. This was most difficult as in most places it was simply a very small path/ game trail Finally made it to the other side of a river we had got to previous day and wild camped in the middle of the Park. Kennedy and I did a scouting expedition on foot next morning where we found a place I thought we could cross – bit more chopping and digging and a bit of wellie and I got down across and up the other side. emma not happy as if we get stuck theres no help.

Only a couple of hours back to the main camp so we saved several hours. Nobody can believe we have opened two north south routes which means rangers can be dropped off to patrol back and after repair works to bridges etc tourists can use them again. Filthy wasn’t the word when we got back – only to find no diesel for generator/ pump so I donated 20 litres – still no water till next day but also meant all the people ( except us!!) had electricity for a few hours.

All jolly exciting if very hot and itchy stuff.

 

Since we’ve been back, our Elephant friends have become even more matey since they’ve got used to our presence and come up very close indeed,but in a very gentle and cautious way,including babies, which the mother’s don’t feel they have to protect to the same extent, all we can do is stop and watch in amazement.

view from our door step

they seem to like us

 

Vwaza

Last week,we went to a very interesting talk,given to the wild-life trust of Malawi,by Geoff &Patsy,the Nyika trust managers, all about the work they do up on the plateau, including,controlled burning,bridge and road repairs. Two of their guys also spoke which was brave of them as they had never done anything like it before. Well attended meeting, Michael showed them a few photos of vwaza – I think they were impressed by the number of animals we are seeing so hopefully word will spread which is good.

 

 

Spent last week-end visiting Nkhata Bay (Lake Malawi),roughly three hours drive from where we are now staying. Rather bizarrely,when almost there,another Land-rover flashing it’s lights as it came towards us,turned out to be Luke & Shelley,from the UK, whom we had spent time with in Brazzaville,Congo, whilst trying to obtain our Angolan Visa’s…….a small world considering the amount of miles travelled between us.(they’ve been to Cape Town and back) As it happened they were coming to visit us, but sadly we were heading in the opposite direction,however we parked up on the side of road and had a good old chin-wag,by the time we said good-bye at least fifty villagers had gathered around !

Found a lovely little room at Mayoka Lodge,built into the very steep hillside,overlooking crystal clear,turquoise waters ,perfect for swimming and snorkelling. This is definitely “The Happening

place” with many back-packers/volunteers staying,we had a good chat to two lovely Israeli girls who are volunteering in Zomba, Southern Malawi and had just come for a break. Seeing all these young people made me miss our girls all the more,but we did have some good long-distance chats at the w/e.

We ate some delicious fresh fish from the lake…..actually we ate far too much the entire week-end !

about 8inches long with sting like a scorpion i am told.

Returned to Vwaza,for the working week to commence, Michael’s been busy,measuring up more staff houses with George 2 and having meetings with George 1, in his spare time he likes to make catapults and bread.(I know I’m meant to be the cook and I do all the other stuff,but he does rather fancy himself as the master baker…….you can imaging ,I’m sure !!) The catapult is definitely needed though,as the monkeys constantly want our food. I know I packed ours for Africa ,but can’t find them anywhere.

the “masterbaker”

Michaels been assessing the park workers housing so we can put a work programme together. In one of the outlying camps the women walk 3 to 4 kilometres every night to collect 40 litres of water which they carry back on their heads – try it, that’s over 80lbs. One got bitten by a snake last week and is in hospital. Michael and Geoff were not impressed as the water system is all there and has been for 4 years all it needs is a solar panel and a pump – a firm kick is required ,we think.

 

Emma told me to do this bit.

Visiting the camp office last week, Kennedy the senior ranger called me over and showed me two local hand made guns – brilliant examples of African ingenuity. These are made by local poachers using water pipe and are essentially flintlocks.The detonation is carried out by the hammer hitting a small primer pipe filled with match heads, this then triggers the main gunpowder charge which is made using fertiliser. All done by guys who have never been to school using hardly any tools.

 

African Flintlocks

Corn cricket – none seem to be classified. Quite big though

 

Nyika and Vwaza

 

Arrived at Vwaza Marsh wildlife reserve, having stocked up on supplies in Mzuzu. A lovely scenic spot ,one of Malawi’s best- kept, game viewing secrets apparently, over-looking Lake Kuzuni. Many Elephants already there to greet us,plus a few grunting Hippo’s in the lake. Set up camp,made an enormous curry, to keep us going in the coming day’s,finally sat down to relax,when lo and behold , 4 extremely noisy and irritating,fellow campers,decided to park up and camp virtually on top of us where they proceeded to make a terrible din,such a shame in what is such a peaceful scenic place, finally, Mr Angry had to tell them politely(not) to keep the noise down,which didn’t seem unreasonable,given,it was 11:00 pm and the average camper/tourist is asleep by 8:30 pm !

Next morning we made a visit to The Chigwere Orphanage,to deliver all the lovely toys, clothes,school items,that many of you have donated and have been sitting in our roof-box for the last six months.

Children In unfinished school

The orphanage team

Some of the orphans and children

To say they were delighted,would be an understatement,they particularly loved all the farm animals, puzzles, books and foot-balls.

 

Sophie,the nurse from Liverpool,who raised the funds to build the school,which is part of the Orphanage,should feel very proud as they are clearly benefiting,from all her hard work,however,the building is still incomplete and they need another 200000 kwacha

(£400),to finish it,including laying a floor,plastering the walls,etc,etc.

http://mischiefandmudhuts.webs.com/

The children ,themselves seemed so happy and smiley,despite having nothing, most having lost both parents to Aids ,Malaria or other illness.

We were treated to some wonderful singing and at the end chanting Father Mikey, Father Mikey,which made me smile(and I’m sure will amuse our girls!)

The committee spoke out,in particular about Sophie and how grateful they are and to urge her not to forget them,but to please keep on trying to help and indeed if anyone else feels like donating,fund-raising,don’t hesitate to ask for details.

Finally, many photo’s were taken,including,some on “The Polaroid” (pressie from our girls) which enabled us to give them some snaps,which they loved, you just wish you could do more for them.

Left Chigwere,drove 100kms on a rough,very dusty road to Nyika. Arriving at Chelinda and warmly greeted by Geoff and Patsy Wooles from New Zealand the current Trustee managers of the park, a lovely couple,who have clearly been doing an excellent job here and have put in enormous amount of time and effort.

Two of their five(yes five) daughters are visiting at the moment,who also made us feel very welcome. Cups of tea and freshly made bread with honey(made by Nelly,the home help) and the loan of the shower,were much appreciated.

Denhams says Mike – No Stanleys says Geoff – both says the book end a lot of confusion name seems to depend on where you live.
Area speciality and increasingly rare

Having rather lost touch of time,we awoke yesterday morning, realizing it was September 4th and that we have been married for 30 years. We celebrated by having baked beans and eggs on the camp fire ……who would have thought we’d be living in a Land-rover, all those years ago ! If nothing else it certainly puts your marriage to the test.

We’ve been on some amazing drives on the plateau,the landscape is stunning here,with huge variations,millions of tiny flowers,like a carpet covering the mountains,it is as spectacular , as we always thought it would be. And its not even the best time of year .

 

Got invited by a local church group to their choral presentation, very good it was too, you wanted to clap but as it was religious, not really appropriate. We were treated as honoured guests which was a bit different and made to sit in the front with the chief evangelist – did not get converted though!!

 

Nyika is not noted for its animals especially the plateau but there were plenty of Roan antelope around, it has one of the best populations in Africa. We had seen photos of them “swimming” in the dams but on watching them, it became clear they have learned to eat the floating algae,walking along skimming the surface before chewing up a mouthful – Michael says he not heard of this behaviour before.

Algae eating Roan – very odd

a bushbuck helper

Plenty of Reed buck in evidence also very tame bush buck around the camp which are very pretty, but the males have a reputation for being dangerous – serious spiky horns – so the local kids run away when they turn up. Also saw zebra – a subspecies known as Crawshays zebra which only live here and in neighbouring Luangwa valley in Zambia.

 

Today,we piled some guys into the Land rover did some serious off-roading,finally arriving at the bridge,which was is a serious state of disrepair,the guys then set to work…and they certainly know how to work,Michael helped too,which made him feel useful. I was photographer and nurse. The maintenance of these roads and bridges is never-ending, but crucial to the future of the park, no roads and bridges,means no tourists and in turn no money for the local people, that said the roads immediately surrounding Chelinda are good, but the main road, which is the governments responsibility, needs some serious work.

Bridge in Progress

 

Our Malawian visa’s needed extending and we had run out of food after a few day’s on Nyika, so we headed back to Mzuzu,to the immigration office,this took up much of the day…..oh what joy,we then came back to Vwaza Marsh wildlife reserve,as this is where we shall be staying for a while, getting various projects under way, like staff housing,repairs to roads and bridges and to generally try and get this beautiful place back on the map.

 

We have set up camp,using both our roof and ground tents and storing all our belongings in a rather run-down chalet. This is actually great,as we’ve been able to unpack a bit,even the toothbrushes have a real home now…..even if there is no water or flushing loo, oh well, you can’t win em all,we do however have the most wonderful view you could wish for, with Elephants passing many times a day,and Hippo’s snoozing in the lake right in front of us,also plenty of Monkeys,Baboons, Impala,Kudu and Warthogs, not to mention a vast array of bird life. It is like sitting in your own National Park,and without any-one else around. (perfect)

 

Had our first meeting as such with George Banda who manages the Vwaza Park, the office, being in an amazing setting hippos ,elephants etc a few yards away first project is doing up local staff housing then I think the airstrip, hangers etc and roads. Made a trip by ourselves logging defects along a stretch on the GPS, that not been used for a while skirting around fallen trees in the bush with Emma shouting” you will get us stuck” every few minutes – no faith!!, saw a large heard of Buffalo at close distance plus a heard of Roan which is good news. George has some good sounding plans and now we have some funds , maybe we can put something in action. The potential here is huge I think it could become the best park in the country if funding is available. We saw more wildlife on that one drive than we did in Liwonde the supposed premier park.

Our House and office

Emmas thinks the bedrooms a bit too close to neighbours

 

Finally got some water – (Michael has a theory about the problem but the trouble is there’s no diesel to run the generator to test the theory). Godwin’s (who works in the camp)wife walked about half a mile with a huge bucket, probably 40 litres on her head to bring us some –a strong woman and she’s only small, as are most of the people here. The locals are all Tumbuka, originally hunter gatherers who were kicked out of the parks by the government in the 1970s .

Buffalo are regular vistors passing very close to the tent sometimes

 

Had a tour of staff buildings with George, clearly there’s lots to be done,from the provision of toilets to,more importantly the pumped water supply and the drainage system. Came up with a simple design ,to improve the extension of kitchens, which can hopefully be afforded, many houses suffer from smoky fires due to poor chimney design. Emma held the tape measure,as newly appointed surveyors assistant,although not always at the right end( ie the one with the numbers on )

Returned to camp,where we watched a procession of over a hundred Elephant’s from the” office window”,followed an hour or two later by a very big herd of Buffalo.

A few hours later, we heard a series of loud bangs a mile or two away,as the park rangers scared the Elephants off neighbouring farmers land, back into the park, Twenty minutes after that the Elephants came charging past us , dust flying, a very scary and awe inspiring sight, you would not want to be in the way of that lot !

Elephants in rapid retreat – awsome spectacle – this is only a few of a massive herd

A rather different first day at work !

Angry flap necked chamealeon – note black stripes after being picked up

He calmed down in a minute or so and black stripes are gone

 

 

 

Malawi

I THINK THIS MIGHT HAVE NOT GONE UP _ITS WHEN WE CAME TO MALAWI

Entered Malawi at last, drove to capital Lilongwe, stocked up on supplies but shops still limited ,in what’s available,spent the night in Sanctuary Lodge, rather strange as you are only a kilometre outside the capital as it,s in a patch of virgin bush and surrounded by a wildlife sanctuary with monkeys squawking and the odd lion roaring.

Headed south to Liwonde NP on the Shire (pronounced Sheeray) had our usual run in with Elephants on way in -we do seem to attract them ,followed by our sixth puncture, large chunk of wood through the brand new tyre. Pit -stop repair by Safari guides ,who stopped to help,gave their tourists something to watch! Michael did help a bit. Ended up on lovely camp complete with Warthogs and our Grey friends.

Completely different scenery,varied all the way,from gigantic Baobabs, Palm trees, Fever trees to beautiful woodlands.

Baobab

Next morning went on a boat trip. After getting on boat and untying, the guide pointed out our first point of interest, I turned around and saw an almighty Crocodile, which we just had not noticed, he had clearly and luckily for us had ,had an enormous breakfast and was dosing quite peacefully on the bank. I have to say I nearly pooped my pants- Michael laughed a lot.

Big Lad

 

 

 

 

 

He had had a bit more than a full english breakfast as you can see

Then we discovered that,a South African research team had netted one that measured over 17 ft and 27 people had been eaten by croc’s last year. Birds and beast’s everywhere on banks of river, Hippo, Elephant and Crocodiles in particular

 

 

Headed North to Cape     Maclear(Lake Malawi) Africa’s only marine national park and world heritage site, found a beautiful camping spot right on the beach,had a great time ,watched a local football match in the sweltering heat,obviously a huge event, with many spectators.

Notice narrow slit – you sit on the edge of these ones – stops the waves coming in but does your bum no favours

Michael went fishing in a Dug- out Canoe,failed to catch our supper and ended up with a serious stiff neck the next day from all the paddling !

Fishing Village Cape Mclear

Amazing sunsets, a very chilled and peaceful spot.

We are loving Malawi,especially the people,who are very warm and friendly and the extraordinary variations in scenery,which we hadn’t been expecting. Now heading for Nyika.