Chui, our big yellow truck can seat 24, thankfully there are only 13 of us in the back so plenty of space to move around, lie down and sleep and spread out our belongings. There is also the beach- an elevated day bed at the back of the truck where the roof of the truck comes off so you can kneel and poke your head out to watch the scenery unfold ahead of you. I'm writing this from the comfort of said bed, looking out to the Udsungwa mountains, rising majestically from the otherwise flat plains, straight ahead.
We left our bush camp, where we sat around the fire and star gazed last night, taking in both the northern and Southern Hemisphere skies due to our proximity to the equator, at 7.30am and drove slowly along the main road which passes through the Mikumi National Park where from our vantage point, we easily spotted elephants, zebra, buffalo, baboons, wart hogs, wilderbeest and not so easily spotted, giraffe. Now before coming to Africa, I always imagined giraffes with their long I necks to be rather easy to spot in the wild...not so. They are very very well camouflaged.
We also had the prime position of watching out truck being pulled by the police for driving too fast. We all thought we must have been stopped for driving too slow as we had crawled past the animals and unless you are paying the park fees to game drive, you have to drive at a minimum speed. But no, the police chose to stop us for speeding. Now being stopped for alleged driving offences in Tanzania is not uncommon. As soon as we entered Tanzania from Kenya just over three weeks ago, the bus we had taken was stopped twice, in the space of about 4 mile on the pretext of checking we all had seatbelts on, and then that the bus carried breakdown signs. It's not that the Tanzanian police take a very strict approach to road safety, they are just very interested in the chai, or bribe. This time 30,000 TSh/ £9 was paid, and that was after much arguing between Alan and Often, (guide and driver) and the 4 police officers. We were an easy target- a truck full of muzungus and they said as much, telling Alan he had a lot of money.
We're driving 250km or so today, to Iringa. I'm on cook duty so I'm heading to the local market with Often, to buy vegetables as I am cooking a roast dinner for 15 people on the two gas burners and some charcoal fires. Unfortunately I think I'll struggle to procure Yorkshire puddings so it will be limited to roast beef, roast potatoes with garlic and lots of veg.
Some people don't like the days where we have hours of driving. I don't mind them. I either look out of the side of the truck, with the tarpaulin windows rolled up, or at the front sat on the beach, taking in Africa life; waving to the children or young men on motorbikes who wave a friendly hello to us, looking out to the shack after shack selling baskets of the same fruit or veg- developing a USP doesn't seem to be a concern, watch the children fetch pails of water in the morning from the river or local well and watch the women in admiration, wondering how they carry such heavy weighs on their heads, often not even holding their wares in place. Developing this posture and core strength is still something that alludes me despite frequent Pilates and yoga classes!
Others prefer to play cards, battleship, scrabble or charades or read, which I also enjoy and am half way through my third book in 4 weeks.
Sun 23rd August
We've been on the road for nine and a half hours with no stop other than quick loo stops at the side of the road and the border crossing from Tanzania to Malawi, which was efficient taking only one hour and far less chaotic than our Kenya to Tanzania crossing. For lunch I've eaten 8 of those little doughnut things, half a huge avocado and a couple of passion fruit. Cutting the latter open with the pen knife resulted in tony slicing his finger open..... Who said I was the accident prone one?! Yesterday we had to fish out an eye bath from the first aid kit for him.
I figure that the amount of veg I consumed last night as part of the roast dinner I made makes up for the appalling diet when we are on the road.
We've passed through more mountains and increasing verdant landscapes in southern Tanzania, passing tea and banana plantations. Malawi from the few miles we've seen is beautiful. Not only the very rural countryside but the people too. In Tanzania the children would wave, smiling and shouting 'muzungus' but here everyone waves. The woman carrying babies, the woman working in the fields, the men walking along the road pulling their donkeys and the young boys riding their bicycles, daring to lift one hand to wave even as a truck passes next to them. And the children of course, who positively shriek with excitement when we wave back.
Whereas in Tanzania, young boys would loiter on their motorbikes, and there would be at least one motorbike repair shop in each tiny little village, here the mode of transport is the bicycle. I haven't yet seen a motorbike and only one car on the very quiet, very flat road.
We're en route to Chitimba at the Northern end of Lake Malawi. I'll write again in a few days. I will no doubt end up posting a few blog posts at once as Internet isn't that reliable throughout Malawi.