Ngala to Nkhata Bay
Ngala to Kande 63km
We got off to an early start with the “Overlanders” this morning. We ate cake, eggs, and coffee as the sun crept up over the horizon. We felt oddly lucky to be enjoying such a nice spot, and not quite sure what we have done to deserve such good fortune.
The weather was cooler during the night, and we briefly enjoyed an unusual westerly for the first hour or so. After a short sandy section, we hit the trading centre at Ngala for supplies. We had a game of “camera” with the local kids, and as we were about to set off, it rained for about 2 minutes…a real shock at this time of year. Almost immediately, we were pedalling through clouds of flies. Obviously activated by the rain, they disappeared after just a few minutes, but not before we were caked in flies, fishing them out of our eyes and ears.
Before too long the grill was on full again and the day, once more, became crazy hot. Even though this was to be a short day, it felt like every kilometre was hard earned.
We arrived at Kande Horse at lunchtime and pushed our bikes through deep sand to the campsite. We found some shade under big trees, and cooked up some pasta. But what do we say? “Trees mean monkeys!” so we had to pack all the food away carefully.
For those who may be thinking of travelling along this stretch of the lake, there are no coolers anywhere along the route to get a cold drink, or buy water, so carry enough.
We had a great evening at Kande with Frankie, Digby, and friends, and reconnected with Andy and Beth, – our saviours from the sunstroke day.
Kande is a vegetarian place that will also cater for vegans, and the food is better than we have a right to expect in Malawi. Thanks to Francis the chef, we dined like kings once again.
After a glass of wine or two, we retired to the tent far too late and had a restless hot and steamy drift into sleep…it wasn't to last!
Kande to Nkhata Bay 61km
Today, we didn't have the best start. There was a storm in the night, and the trees that shaded us during the day, were a concern during the storm. They were huge, and a stray branch could easily have finished our trip. When we got up in the night, we were blasted by sandy wind and rain, and the tent was plastered with wet sand and leaves.
We were a bit bleary eyed as we packed up, but as we headed to the kitchen, we were delighted to find doorsteps of fresh toast with real butter, and coffee so thick you could drink it out of a sieve. I couldn't help but grin…thick toast, with real butter. I couldn't remember a treat like this.
This was a stretch of road we were looking forward to – it is one of our favourite rides… up and over the hill through the rubber plantations before dropping dramatically into Nkhata Bay.
As we fiddled our way up to the plateau, we gradually entered thick forest with giant ferns and creeper vines. It was like cycling through Jurassic Park.
As we turned the corner, Jurassic Park became Lord of the Rings as we were greeted by a scene like Isengard after Saruman had been at work raising his Orc army.
The beautiful forest was cleared, and scattered fires burning made it seem apocalyptic. Of course this was no apocalypse, it was just capitalism. The whole hillside had been cleared for rubber production, and it was probably only sad to us, who don't have to eke out a living here. It is one thing reading about the Amazon in the Guardian, but another thing altogether to see it with your own eyes. It produces a sort of visceral reaction.
Deep into the older forest, there were ancient paths that looked like they've carried animals and people for aeons. Exciting narrow trails snaking into the dark interior, overhung with vines and creepers. Not any more though.
Nevertheless, in in instant, we were sobered by the realisation that our shoes were soled with rubber, and of course we had tyres on our bikes and elastic in our underpants (fortunately). We are part of the problem, not the solution. We were saddened by this; we try hard to do our bit for the planet, but it’s simply not enough.
As we rode through the rest of the plantations, we saw a mother and daughter carrying firewood along the roadside. The daughter looked no more than 4 years old and was carrying a log about 2 metres long that looked as if it would give King Kong a bad back. We flinched as she dropped it on her foot, not strong enough to throw it off. She let out a mighty howl, and we realised that she must have broken her foot. There was nothing to do but ride on, slightly depressed, into Nkhata Bay.
Our day brightened though, as we came across a shop selling “the best bread under the sky.” That was an offer we couldn't refuse. Armed with the best bread under the sky, we cruised, grinning maniacally, into Nkhata Bay to test it scientifically…using only our mouths.
Then I fell down the stairs!
Nkhata Bay to... absolutely nowhere 0km
The staircase I fell down leads directly to the bar at Aqua Africa. Luckily, there was a nurse in the bar as I rollocked and rolled almost directly to her feet. Within literally a couple of minutes there was a lump the size and shape of an egg poking out of my ankle. I've seen this sort of thing before, when a tyre-wall goes rogue, and the inner tube tries to escape.
Luckily, there was little sympathy on offer from the nurse, just sound medical advice. Ice was produced, a bandage miraculously found, and the damage limitation exercise started in earnest.
She was a paediatric nurse, so I was hoping for ice cream, or at least a glove puppet. There was none of that though, just faint disdain that I’d been stupid enough to attempt a Malawian staircase in reading glasses.
It was obvious I was cycling nowhere anytime soon. To date I've been nursing the ankle for two days here at Aqua Africa, and it is responding well. Swelling has reduced, it is colouring up nicely, and I'm able to walk... after a fashion. I've adopted the walking gait of a Chimpanzee, and it seems to work. I'm currently trying to peel bananas with my feet. Still a way to go with that one though!
The company is good, the food is excellent, and Debbie and her crew are making us feel at home. There are far worse places to be stranded!
All in the ups and downs of a cycle tour, I guess.