If you can't stand the heat.....
Trip Start Feb 24, 2011
40Trip End Nov 24, 2011
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I wake up about 5am on the plastic mattress in my tent, to find that I am already soaked in sweat. I don’t know if there was, during my slumber, a time when I wasn’t but I know that from my first stirrings of wakefulness I am sweaty. There is no luxury in a lie in when you are stuck to a plastic mattress being bitten by microscopic ants so I peel myself from the plastic to which I am stuck, try to unzip the door quietly and leave the tent to fight through the mosquitoes for a cold shower. For about 5 blissful minutes I am cool. The tepid water shocks my scalded skin into wakefulness and I luxuriate in not sweating for just a few minutes of the day. The water runs out and I am left soapy, to dry myself on an unwashed, worn towel and to put sweat-stiff, stinking clothes back on my clean body. I step out of the shower and the dirt sticks to my wet feet. Breakfast is stale branflakes and warm, full fat milk, if we are lucky there will be stale bread and peanut butter, jam and a cup of tea. If we are not then we will have to chew our way through the bran flakes.
We are camped next to turquoise blue, crystal clear waters of lake Malawi and we watch in envy as the locals backflip into the cool waters whilst we are tortured by the heat. We are not supposed to swim. When you watch how the local people use the water, you understand why. They live in the lake. They work, play, wash and go to the toilet in the water, as a result it is full of parasites that will enter through your skin and slowly devour your liver. Seems like a fair price to pay at this point.
Once we have packed up our tents (by which point my face feels swollen and sweat is running in rivulets down my body) and put them in the truck we are on the road again. We stop for lunch of tinned cheese and stale bread but there is no shade. I find myself pacing in circles, apparently trying to outrun the heat, too tortured to sit still. Local children don’t take long to find us, they run over, "give us sweets, give us pens" we give them nothing and they give us the finger. So much for 'the warm heart of Africa’ -although the warm part was right at least.
About midday, I run out of sweat. Our friends on the bus are red in the face and limp. Even the truck with the windows open is no respite. The roads are so bad and we are so tired from not being able to sleep at night that we are thrown and jerked through the potholes of the day in a kind of zombified zone that may be what hell feels like. The roadside stops to the shout of ‘bush toilet’ are ok, if you don’t mind a few local children watching you go. Better at least than the gag inducing petrol station cesspits.
At our next stop we are told that the water is clean enough to swim. We know that this is most probably a lie but no one is about to question it. Within 2 minutes we are up to our necks, bobbing on the waves. What bliss. The water is a comparatively cool 28 degrees Celsius. Renewed, we tuck into life with gusto, and spend the evening drinking ‘big 5’ whisky and dancing on the bar, we even manage to hum along to ‘we are the champions’ karaoke the drifts over to our tent at 4am and manage a wry chuckle when other campers wake us from our precious sleep by opening the wrong tents. Spirits are lifted, moods are improved, the branflakes taste less chewy.
Our final stop in Malawi is a hill station. We arrive as dusk is falling and instantly notice the difference. The air is cool, cool enough to need a jumper. We have a delicious dinner in a cosy thatched restaurant, we sit on low stools in a bar by the open fire, we shiver with delight as we walk through the mist back to our tents and snuggle into fleecy sleeping bags for just one nights reprieve from plastic sweaty hell.