October was a whirlwind of emotions and impressions.
I love Africa with all my heart, but I think the “I want to be home, where I can feel normal” feeling finally hit me.
After an action-packed September where I got to climb an active volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I began making my way south to Malawi, covering almost 3000 kilometers by public transport.
And man, that was hard. I am not often the one to complain about lack of comfort, but I got to a point in Tanzania where I couldn’t handle it anymore – there was one bus journey in particular where I got a seat in the very back and the bus kept bumping its way through the country. I lost count of how many times I hit my head against the metal on the roof. Every day was a new bus journey, followed by a short, almost-unholy amount time to sleep in dodgy guesthouses wherever it was that I managed to get to before it got too dark to deem it safe to proceed.
A ROUGH ARRIVAL TO MALAWI
I was happy when the immigration officer stamped my passport and I inched my first step into Malawi. I was finally here! I still had a good 750 kilometers left to go, but I had plans to cross a few of them by boat.
I hopped on a mini bus to Mzuzu, where I would find another bus that would take me to Nkhotakota, a town where the Ilala ferry to Monkey Bay was soon to leave from. And even better so – my friend Karo was on it! After a full week of loneliness, I was finally going to see a familiar face and drink our way through Lake Malawi together.
But alas, the mini bus driver decided to make a myriad of different stops along the way. Which meant I arrived in Mzuzu after dark. I was exhausted and decided to stay there. I was in such a dreadful mood that day that I wanted nothing more than to close a door behind me and forget my surroundings.
The next morning, I awoke ready to put on a better face to whatever came my way. The ferry had left, according to its schedule, so I would have to get south by road.
And then Karo messaged me. Apparently, they were loading and unloading produce from Nkhotakota and the ferry was bound to leave at least until 2pm. I could still make it!
I rushed to the bus station and caught the first one I could find that would take me to this oddly-named town where a ship was awaiting me.
Five hours, a crowded ride, a few scams, and an unsteady fisherman road later – I made it to the infamous Ilala!
It didn’t leave at 2pm – it instead left after 10 in the night, two hours after it was scheduled to arrive to Monkey Bay. But so is Africa, the only place where you can arrive 7 hours later to something and still be goddamn early for it.
We remained on the boat and at last, we made it to Monkey Bay the following afternoon. We both slept with one eye open on the deck as cockroaches attempted to walk over our cold bodies. We chain-smoked cigarettes and talked of nonsense after nonsense. The drinking water for sale on the boat ran out and the food at the restaurant became redundant. It wasn’t meant to be an enjoyable journey, it was meant to be an adventure, after all.
We parted ways again in Monkey Bay. Karo went north to Cape Mclear, and I went south to Nkopola.
Malawi hadn’t greeted me nicely. My arrival here was a silent remainder that I was human, and it was okay to break down once in a while. It is okay not to enjoy every second of your travels, it is okay if every moment isn’t story worthwhile. It is okay to feel scared and fed up sometimes.
But Malawi soon began smiling at me.
I had the chance to visit a local school where I was taught permaculture for the week. This was all an assignment of mine as a photographer, but of course I took up on the chance to learn all I could while I was there.
I also soon found out that Malawi is a paradise for a budget traveller when it comes to wildlife! The entrance tickets to national parks are actually reasonable unlike its neighbours. I got the chance to go on a one-day safari with new friends to Liwonde National Park where I spotted huge herds of elephants going about their days and got so close to a hippo it wasn’t even funny.
The car I was in broke down, unfortunately. And we were suddenly stranded just a few meters away from a hipopotamus and no signal. I had to walk to the nearest “road” to attempt to hitch a ride to the nearest camp and try to get some help. It all worked out in the end, of course, as it always does.
A RETURN TO ZAMBIA
I crossed the border to Zambia to meet up with Karo in Chipata. We made our ways together to the capital.
Karo had previously suggested to me that we should head north to a chimpanzee sanctuary she had read about. It was about nine hours away from Lusaka, but we both had the time and energy for one last adventure – one last African sunset to contemplate at from the bush.
The Copperbelt region in Zambia is often unvisited, and this is because there isn’t actually much there other than copper mines and unimpressive landscapes. We took an early bus to Chingola, from where we caught a mini bus to the junction that connected to the sanctuary. And what an adventure that was – the sky was darkening, our signaled were nulled, the road was just dirt, and we had no idea whether we were going in the right direction or not. The women on the mini bus had decided that they would be our guides, but as we looked out the windows for any sign of life, we were laughed at in a language neither of us could comprehend. There was virtually nothing around and the sun was setting quickly. In silence, we were both plotting where we would spend the night and whether or not it’d be safe to pitch our tent on the roadside.
But as it always does – things worked out in the end. We made it to the sanctuary safe and sound, cooked our dinner in the fire, and slept soundly until the next morning.
Next on our schedule was the reason we had actually come so far. We got the chance to meet the legendary Sheila Siddle, founder of the sanctuary and to see chimps in the flesh. I was so amazed at their human-likedness that I began dreaming of becoming a primatologist. Since I was little, I always envisioned myself working with wild animals. Could this be a sign? Don’t be surprised if I slow down on my travels and enroll in university again, as this thought has not be able to leave my mind ever since my visit to Chimfunshi.
OUT OF AFRICA
And suddenly my time in sub-saharan Africa was coming to its end, for the time being at least. We hitchhiked to Ndola the following morning, where we caught a bus back to Lusaka. I hopped on the TAZARA train to Dar Es Salaam the next Tuesday. A last journey, I thought. The ride took three days, one more than originally planned, but I was sad to alight the rusty train once it parked in Dar.
I met a group of Brazilians, also travelling in second class and we quickly became partners in crime during the odyssey and we were all quite down when it was all over.
I stayed in a dodgy hotel nearby the airport awaiting my flight to Cairo and often went into the city by dala-dala to explore Dar, a city with a terrible reputation. I shopped second-hand clothes at Karume and gazed at the colorful kitenge sold near Mnazi Moja.
I was sad to leave Africa, as it left its imprint in me. You can’t spend six months somewhere and not feel at least a stint of nostalgic sadness when leaving, but this last days in Dar Es Salaam were a remainder that my time was over. I felt uneasy as people raised their eyebrows at a white women riding public transport, and the whole scenario at Karume was just ridiculous – I was barely unable to walk as the street was so crowded it resembled a Justin Bieber concert at the peak of his career.
A DISAPPOINTING VISIT TO CAIRO
I had a 22-hour-long layover in Cairo before my flight to Amsterdam that I just had to take advantage of and go see one of the places in my list of must-sees-before I die. I was put up by the airline for a free night in a fabulous five star, all-inclusive hotel that served as the perfect way to end the trip – to take a proper shower, catch up on e-mails and relax at my fullest.
But, instead of doing that, I went to see the Pyramids of Giza. Why, I was in Cairo, after all. However, all I am going to stay is that I would have rather stayed sun-bathing by the pool in the hotel. I found the pyramids heart-breakingly disappointing. I do realize that is a bold statement, but remember this is my blog, and I am just sharing my opinion – you are free to disagree with me, of course. I might have just had too many high expectations for them, but I felt a bit bitter after the day was over. I had imagined the Sphynx to look humongous and it was rather just a tiny kitten and oh, the whole site was surrounded by buildings and a Pizza Hut when I had rather thought it would be somewhere in the middle of the vast desert.
I would have regretted it if I hand’t gone anyway, so I might just conclude that I made the right decision by going.
I landed in Amsterdam to be met by my boyfriend. After almost three months of not seeing each other, it felt home being by his side again. It is somehow funny how, no matter how much time we are apart, once we are back together it feels like we were never separated.
We drove home to Germany from Holland and it was as though Africa never happened. The order in the highway, the lack of hastening markets, and the shortage of loud music made it all seem like a dream only a lunatic could ever make up.
It was here and then when it all started to sink in over the following days – the number of impressions, the crazy journeys, the lost adventures, and endless flavors suddenly belonged to only I. All at once, it was only up to me to digest it all and tell my mind that it did indeed happen and I find myself unable to articulate it – to tie up into words the instances I felt with all my being and the hurricanes of emotions that flushed my body every second.
Countries visited: Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania (again), Egypt, Netherlands, Germany
Number of buses: 20
Number of cars hitchhiked: 3
Number of trains: 1
Number of planes: 2