Africa Trip - 2014

This page describes a trip that Faye and I took to visit Claire who is doing pregnancy malaria research in Malawi. There's an equivalent Facebook album that has the same photos in the same order, but imbedded in the Facebook format with text descriptions where it is easier to see the images first. We left Saturday evening October 4th (just as the Giants beat the Nationals in game 2 of their division series - in the 18th!) and I returned Sunday evening October 19th. Faye stayed a while longer with Claire.

In Africa the sun is red
   but also is the soil instead.
People go their busy way
   that is not what I see today.

So far away (the earth between)
   from all we've on this visit seen,
and yet my blood and flesh is there
   so land of red my thought and care.

Faye and I flew through South Africa for our trip to Africa. Of course I couldn't resist a first African handstand photo in Johannesburg. We then flew to Blantyre, Malawi where we waited some time in the airport before connecting up with Claire. We finally did connect and then made our way to a lovely hotel with nice beds, a nice dining area, and even an unusual gargoyle.

The next morning we went off to tour Blantyre. We crossed a small bridge and visited the local market where we took in local activity to help kids grow. As Blantyre is the financial capital of Malawi it's only natural that we saw some investment businesses there like: Kendia Investment and Kabul Domestic Investment.

We headed out of Blantyre by bus, with a couldn't resist handstand at the bus stop. Here is a view from inside the bus of bundles waiting to load and a bus selfie of all of us. They really pack their buses with people, packages, sacks of grain and even the odd chicken, making it rather difficult to get in or out. Notice the black straps on the bundles. Those seem to be the plys pulled out of radial tires. More on them later. At every stop commerce happens through the bus windows.

We arrived in Liwonde at Bussman Baobab's where even right in our compound we saw warthogs. Elephants weren't far away and could be seen from the observation tower. Africa also seems to have plenty of Lizards, this one a striped skink.

Our first afternoon at Bushman Baobab's we went for a jeep ride into Liwonde National Park proper. There were plenty of hoofed animals to see like the greater kudu (who didn't like being disturbed), waterbucks, and sable antelope. The African chesnut and the python tree were unusual forms of plant life. There are termite mounds everywhere in Africa - even in front yards. We also saw quite a number of interesting birds on this jeep trip, including these splendid starlings. There were quite a number of elephants close by. Sunsets in Liwonde could be spectacular. I don't think I've seen that redish sort of a "V" under the setting sun elsewhere.

Our first night at Bushman Baobab's was quite eventful. While we were sitting around a camp fire elephants entered our camp and trashed a lot of the shrubs. The owner said that he deliberately planted trees and shrubs that the elephants like to eat. Well, they were munching and stomping all around us. In the morning you could see the broken shrubs and elephant droppings along with their large footprints. One interesting tree at Bushman Baobab's is the impala tree that reportedly on the impala can eat. From the observation deck you can often see interesting birds like this hammerkopf, these helmeted guineafowl, and these cardinal woodpeckers.

Here are the activities and rates at Bushman Baobab's. We decided to go on a canoe ride to to see what we could see. We met some local fishermen on the trip. We also saw some birds like this african jacana and this cormorant getting ready for takeoff. Along the shore we saw more elephants, impalas, and yellow baboons and warthogs. It was a treat to get close to the hippos who were out in the Shire river in large numbers. We also saw a crocodile going after a dead hippo, but he was too low in the water for a good view. During our meals at Bushman Baobab's we were often watched by local critters like this yellow baboon.

In the morning we left Liwonde by minibus. Such trips are often eventful as they can pack 15-18 people into a minubus and often wait until they are full before leaving the bus stop. If they pass a police checkpoint with more than the legal 15 in the minubus, no problem as the fine is less than a fare and they can pick people back up further up the road. You never know what you'll see from a minibus. There are lots of interesting vehicles on the road. Vendors like this fish monger along the roadside are common.

After arriving in Mangochi we traveled by bicycle taxi, past the ubiqutous Mvilla Tafika that is conveniently near the main bridge out of Mangochi across the Shire River. We unwound a bit in the hotel, but soon headed north toward the village of Lungwena. Along the way we passed the historic St. Paul Seminary, over a number of British built bridges, past a historic church with this plaque where we got our first view of Lake Malawi.

We arrived in Lungwena in the late afternoon to see the clinic and Claire's room. Claire thought it would be fun to go for a swim in the lake. Since there are parasites along the shore she hired a fishing boat (notice the entourage along the shore - lots of people wanted to see the white people go out swimming in a fishing boat) to take us out into the lake for a lovely sunset swim. Upon our return our entourage was still waiting on shore. The kids where lots of fun. We returned to Shaibu and Jureka's home where we had dinner as Claire did some needed paperwork and Faye tried carrying Umbumu. We also saw a light colored gecko on the wall of the clinic.

The next morning we saw some early morning commerce by the clocktower. We walked past the Mangochi Police Station into town where we saw some colorful local markets and a food market. We got as far as Claire's favorite market where we saw local businesses like the Mangochi Ice Factory, the Moe Beauty Centre, a tech center, and the local nail center next to D and M Investments.

There had been a recent election in Malawi, so there were some political billboards still in evidence.

We headed out later that day for Cape McClear via minibus. Along the way we saw goods moved by foot, by bicycle, and by truck. Remember those black straps I mentioned earlier? This is what they look like hanging by the side of the road for sale (I think). I was surprised by the casual way money was often exchanged in Malawi, such as this passing of currency that was sight unseen. There are those black bands again... We passed briefly through Monkey Bay before arriving at Cape McClear to head out to "Paradise Island" - Mumbo.

Here is the boat that we took out to Mumbo Island. Here is what the resort looked like as we arrived and walked ashore. Of course I couldn't resist a beach handstand. Here is a wider view of the beach and a map of the island. We were shown to our tents, had our meals at the restaurant (where they call you with this frog) and settled in for the night.

In the morning, after checking out this southern tree agama lizard, we checked in with the dive master and started with some snorkeling, including to this local cave. The underwater views from the herocam of the snorkeling, including those of the colorful chiclids that Lake Malawi is famous for, didn't turn out so well. Oh well, it gives the idea. Claire and I had a fun "These are the feet" experience while shorkeling that I describe in this "These are the feet Facebook album". We also did some SCUBA diving on the far side of the island and later went kayaking around the island where we could get the best view of the sunset. Faye and Claire were uncomfortable staying out so late so they scurried back to camp while I stayed for the sunset (no green flash) and came back in late. They have nice lighting for the tents. While on Mumbo we also got to go on some walks around the island like this one to the fig rock view.

On our boat ride back from Mumbo the girls chatted with our dive master Holly. We rode in a rented car back to Blantyre. That was white knuckle most of the way. I did snap this photo of a pretty large old baobab tree along the route. However, most of the way I was hanging on for deal life while things like hubcaps fell off the car, people jumped out of the way as we did 45 in 25 mi/hr zones and zoomed back to Blantyre. Thankfully we made it safely. On the way out of Blantyre to the airport in the morning we saw these guys on bicycles bringing charcoal, their primary source of heating, into Blantyre from 20-30 miles outside the city where it is produced from limbs cut off trees.

Our flight to the Quirimbas off Mozambique took us first south again to Johannesburg. On the way we flew over the Zambezi river where I took this photo. I later matched it up with this image from Google maps - lest there be any doubt that we were indeed seeing the Zambezi. Interesting the variations in the views, but clearly the same area of the river.

On our way up to Maputo I took a photo of this controlled burning which seemed pretty common in Africa. Here we are arriving in Maputo where we had an evening meal at a pretty reasonable restaurant - better than anything we'd found in Malawi.

We spent the night in Maputo at a pretty low cost backpacker's place, "The Base" (after a bit of confusion), where I of course picked up a Maputo handstand photo. Claire and I also walked around a little in the morning before our flight to Pemba, including this view from our hotel and this mural from their back porch. I also found this soda can enveloped in a tree of interest. Claire and I had breakfast at a local bakery and brought something back for Faye.

On our flight out of Maputo I took this shot of the memorial in the Square of Heroes where Samora Machel and other heroes of Mozambique independence from Portugal are celebrated. Interesting country Mozambique.

We arrived in Pemba and almost immediately took off in a Piper Cherokee for Ibo Island with Claire in the co-pilot seat. I believe Faye acted as co-pilot on the return flight, but sadly I wasn't on that flight.

Arriving on Ibo Island was momentus enough that we thought it deserved two handstand photos, one of the Piper that we arrived in (nice pilot) and one of Ibo International where you can see some of the kids who helped us with our luggage. Here is what our beds looked like our first night there. Here is Claire relaxing outside our room, "Jewa". We went on a little tour of the island that first afternoon. We saw things like the breakwater, some views from an old fort like this one to the water and this one with standing in one of the defensive positions. Plants growing out of buildings like these flowers and these trees give Ibo Island the feel of a ghost town.

We also visited a larger and more modern Portugese fort that still has some canons from the days of the slave trade. The sun was setting by the time we finished our tour.

One fun thing about the eating area at the lodge we stayed in is the weaver birds nesting just behind the restaurant. The front of the restaurant looks out on the water as this handstand photo with some of the appearance of danger shows.

Our second day on Ibo we started our dhow adventure. This is what the lodge looks like from the water as we headed out. Here is a shot of Claire and me on the dhow. We started our diving at the Lighthouse reef where you can see Faye and our dive master, Lorraine, getting ready to drop back into the water. Here are Faye and Lorraine just before we headed down. This is Faye and Claire on the left and Lorraine barely visible at the right. All of our dives were drift dives with the boat following us via the float the Lorraine pulled.

The diving was spectacular, with a huge variety of corals and sea life to see. Unfortunately my minimal hero cam was unable to focus adequately or pick up the colors without processing. Still, here are a few frames from the videos to give the idea. Here's Claire pointing at some corals. Here's a bubble coral, a giant clam, a blue starfish, and some some colorful fish where at least you can see the numbers. When we finished our dives we were picked up by a line behind the dhow.

The whole Quirimba area is beautiful. Here is a typical small sandy islet. Our first camp was on a larger island where the facilities were terrific. We slept in tents, had nice showers and very nice meals of mostly local seafood. We did some playing around like this by the girls and this by Claire and me. We explored a bit seeing things like this beautiful green crab and picking up many shells. Here's a shot of one of the girls relaxing in the water with the dhow behind.

The next day we dove our way to another island, Mogundula. Here we are arriving (where we could actually bring the dhow up to the beach) and doing some early exploring on the beach and in the water, looking for shells and things like hermet crabs. These are what our tents looked like on Mogundula Island. There was a nice dining area, a shower, and a fire pit that we enjoyed while star gazing, etc. Of course I enjoyed pointing out the Magellanic clouds to everybody. The sunsets were typical Africa beautiful.

The next morning we had some time for more exploring, including some bird watching like this mangrove kingfisher. Finally it was time to head back to Ibo. We were also able to bring the dhow into shore to step off Mogundula with even a bit of playing around. You can see that another couple (from Sweden) had joined us on the way to Mogundula for snorkeling and sailing.

On the return sail we passed another dhow going out, caught a fish for supper, and Lorraine even saved a green turtle via some complex politics with the World Wildlife Fund. Here is one of our last moments on the dhow and some of the crew who supported our trip.

For our last nights on Ibo I had a large bed to myself in a separate room. We also got a chance to take a kayak trip into the mangroves. Here are the girls with our Swedish friends heading out. Here they are deep in the mangrove swamp. On our last night on Ibo a brief rain came in. The next morning we had to sadly part as Faye and Claire headed back to Malawi for the rest of their adventure and I headed to South Africa for the first leg of my journey home.