More Than Just A Lake


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, April 24, 2004 was originally posted on April 28, 2004.

DAY 189:  If you look at the cover of any recent Lonely Planet guidebook, you’ll see that on the bottom they write a catchy subtitle relative to the destination that is being covered inside.  For Malawi, the subtitle reads, “More than just a lake.”

With my limited time — and my affection for cycling — I signed up with Chimango Tours, the only tour company in Nkhata Bay, for a one-day mountain bike tour around the nearby sights other than Lake Malawi.  After sunrise and breakfast, Anel and Maia came along with me and we walked into town to meet our guide Davie at his office, along with his friends and support crew, Martha and Wiseboy.

“WHAT IS AN ARSE?” the Mexican Anel asked.  She was reading the book of comments written by previous clients.

“It’s British for ‘ass,’” I informed her.  Apparently many Brits wrote about the sore arse they all got from the bike tour — but they all seemed to say it was worth it. 

THE FIRST PART OF THE BIKE TOUR was definitely worth the pedaling uphill from the market.  Although it wasn’t a part of the standard tour, Maia, a Brit going for her masters at university in Sweden, thought it’d be cool to check out the church scene since it was Sunday (even though she had been raised atheist).  We sat in on a mass that had just begun in the local Presbyterian church, which was something out of a Broadway musical.  Voluntary choirs and soloists put their names on a list in order to sing in praise of the Lord, and when it was their turn, they’d start singing in their pews (sometimes away from each other), stand up and walk to the alter and join together like performers onto a stage. 

Despite the humble concrete building, the acoustics reverberated the harmonies of the sopranos, altos and basses singing in the native Tonga language to African spiritual melodies.  It’s a shame I didn’t have any of the audio recorded; if I were a talent scout, I would have signed one of the groups right up.

AFTER ESCAPING A QUICK PASSING DOWNPOUR in a local shop and a quick stop at some carving stands, the six of us continued on our two-wheelers on the main road, passed the mini-vans and trucks of people driving by, to the Pundu mud baths, the brainchild of Davie when he discovered the local hot springs might be of some interest to tourists — he knew that some people spend up to $500 on full body mud treatments in the U.K.  The baths, literally formed from mud dug up by villagers, was heated naturally by underground hot springs to temperatures so scalding it was impossible to swim across without feeling like you were cooking in some sort of big muddy stew.  We spent a good hour there caking ourselves in mud, letting it dry and then rinsing it off in the colder water of nearby fish farm ponds.  Davie said the water had been tested by a doctor for diseases and infestations, but I suppose that’s something that will be confirmed in time should I catch anything.

With softer skin — and possibly a parasite or two — we pedaled on a dirt road through the Kalwe Forest, a rainforest reserved protected by the Malawian government since 1948.  The road led us through little villages, passed local villagers going about their day and the kids who’d run up to the side of the road to see us and repeatedly greet us with “Hello!  Hello!”  We stopped at the Mkondezi Primary School for a toilet break and to buy some bananas to keep our energy going.

WITH A TROPICAL LANDSCAPE WITH FERTILE SOIL, one would think that rice would be a cash crop as it is in other tropical countries.  According to Davie, his people, the Tongas, were too lazy to do such a thing and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Malawian government invited the Chinese government to start it up.  Rice fields were developed in the areas west of Nkhata Bay, irrigated by the power of a man-made waterfall built by the Chinese in 1985, which distributed water from the Limphasa River, a nearby river where fishermen baited for catfish.  It was at this waterfall that the six of us stopped for the cold pasta lunch Davie made for us that morning.  Despite the boost of carbs, it didn’t prevent Anel from falling down on a hill when we were riding on a narrow path on high ground.  Her sudden stop in the flow caused me to fall down the hill too, and it was clear that the two of us just had a habit of falling on bikes as well as canoes.

After encountering the rare sighting of a chameleon and playing with him before he tried to bite our fingers off, we struggled up another hill until we arrived in a rubber plantation, owned and operated by the Vizara company.  With 1,600 employees, it is the second largest rubber plantation in Africa and produced tons of first- and second-grade rubber which would eventually be molded into tires, catheters and the rubber balls the kids played with in the streets.  As Davie explained rubber extration from the trees, I noticed that the shells of the tree seeds would make good whistles, the way the tops of oak acorns do in the oak forests back home.  Wiseboy and Martha were totally amazed at the whistles and grabbed a bunch to practice with.  I had a feeling that in a year’s time, all the artisans in the craft markets would be selling them.  However, I was surprised that when we stopped in a village and we showed the shell whistles off to the children — they weren’t nearly as in awe as the adults.  No, they were more impressed and excited with seeing themselves on the screen on my little digital camera after I took their photo (picture above) over and over again.

THE SIX OF US RODE UP another steep hill and arrived at the processing plant where rubber from the trees was formed in rows, mixed with chemicals, sliced, diced and compressed into 35 kg. blocks to be shipped away.  Surprisingly the production looked (and smelled) like it was that for mozzarella cheese.

“My arse is hurting,” Anel said when she mounted her bicycle seat again.  The British term was quickly added to her repertoire of favorite jargon.

“Just get some rubber from here for padding,” I joked.  But the only thing we got was free rubber samples that were still warm enough to mold into bouncy balls.  If we had had the means, we should have molded it into a new rubber inner tube because I got a flat tire on the way home.  Wiseboy, Davie and I patched it up while the girls went ahead up the biggest hill of the day.  We eventually rode up after fixing my bike and caught up with them at the craft markets.  With gravity finally on our side, we zoomed down the paved hill like X-Games racers back into town before the sun set completely under the mountains.

Maia, Anel and I went to the grocery store to get a bottle of wine and brought it back to Mayoka for our dinner while a duo of local musicians played a set in the corner.  We ate and drank under candlelight and told our cycling adventures of the day to Maaike.  Yes, there existed a Malawi other than the lake, and seeing it by bicycle was definitely worth the pain in the arse.

Next entry: One Last Lake Day

Previous entry: Tummy Aches

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Comments for “More Than Just A Lake”

  • I apologize if these latest entries aren’t up to par in terms of style and pacing; when I have a bunch to do, I sort of rush through them just to catch up, with not much time for edits and rewrites!

    Sorry I don’t have time to reply to you individually, but thanks for the comments!

    UGH… I’m so behind and the connection TOTALLY FUCKING BLOWS here in Dar-es-Salaam…  don’t be surprised if entire stanzas in the recent entries are incomplete… I have no idea how it is happening and I’ve spent over an hour trying to troubleshoot it… 

    Hopefully more to come… this really blows… plus I maybe NIZ for another two weeks.  GRR…  I can tell you right now I HATE THE BLOG!!!!  (Sorry just venting).

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  12:56 PM

  • Aaah… in a different internet cafe… it’s air-conditioned!  The connection is must faster, and I think I just corrected all the incomplete paragraphs… 

    MARKYT:  QA, please…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  03:22 PM

  • no worries erik. i’m enjoying whatever you put up, whenever.  it beats work anyday.  keep it up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:23 PM

  • all latest links work…will read later today…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:31 PM

  • E. We appreciate the the blog man keep up the good work ... beats our “arses” stuck in cubicles .

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  05:00 PM

  • Erik -
    You rock for doing it - and for keeping up with it! I know that all of us appreciate it - as sim and cheryl said - beats working.
    THANK YOU!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  05:59 PM

  • Hey Erik - it’s perfectly okay to slack off a bit now and then so don’t sweat it too much - I like to think of the blog as one big collective work, not several hundered mini-masterpieces. And try to think of the upcoming 2 week NIZ as a temporary vacation from the blog.

    Posted by dunlavey  on  04/28  at  06:55 PM

  • NIZ is good for those slackers to catch up… I know of a whole bunch…but they still don’t catch up…


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  07:08 PM

  • Mozzarella cheese eh?

    That’s probably where this one pizza place here gets it’s toppings from - you could chew it forever!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  07:32 PM

  • It’s OK Erik I am grateful for any little blog entry!  Don’t worry about it.  I still think your blog is like reading a great adventure book - but you are only allowed to read one page at a time!  (unless it’s NIZ time)  It helps make work tolerable on a dull day…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  07:44 PM

  • Blogging in bunches is fine by me. As much as I miss it when you’re NIZ, half the time I’m too busy to check it everyday anyway.  I tend to catch up in bunches. That’s when the comments flow…. I agree with DUNLAVEY, it’s one big work, so there’s no need for every day to be a literary masterpiece. Don’t be so critical of your work, some days are more interesting to write about than others. Yet you do manage to turn even the dull days into something worth reading about.
    BTW, the kids were adorable.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/29  at  10:09 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
One Last Lake Day

Previous entry:
Tummy Aches


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