Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Skip this opportunity? Don’t be silly!

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Outside of Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital) it’s hard not to feel like I’m in a remote place compared to the western world I’ve just left behind. The countryside vistas vary as we drive around the mid country; seemingly stereotypical, grass-roofed African villages are located everywhere with the occasional aluminium shelter shining in the sun. The dry, sandy coloured mountains fall and rise in the hazy distance with sporadic, massive, black volcanic boulders strewn around the almost invisible sloping landscape. Bush lands stretch to the horizon like giant’s sandpaper rolled out on the floor; it’s rough, dusty, and covered in stunted, unassuming and neglected trees on the edges of each village or cassava field. The odd, huge baobab thrown in to remind you that this vast landscape was once green, lush and mostly wild, very wild forest. Towards the opposite horizon, the lake shore is licked by white caps French kissing the beach. The deep fresh waters roll and rock into a vast, unique ocean (more on the uniqueness of Lake Malawi later). What’s left of the wilderness is considered some of the last, genuine, struggling habitat in Africa and some have recently described it as the hidden gem or secret paradise of the continent. Wonderfully, Malawi IS still relatively wild; just as Bjorn and I like it.
For all of our projects, we’ll be located far away from most of civilisation as you know it, and even away from the developed areas in Malawi. Anything remotely humanitarian; emergency medical care or transport, phone signal or wifi, a shop, modern housing, or even anything man-made will all have to be enjoyed before we disappear off the grid. Granted we won’t be removed from humanity the entire time we’re here. Malawi has its human hubs and its cities. It even has a few annual events, famous world wide, such as the Lake of Stars music festival (which I’m told is on the agenda in a weeks time). We however, are a little more interested in what’s beyond the horizon. At some point we’ll be under threat from volatile ivory poachers and the dangers of obvious wildlife – elephants, hippo, big cats, venomous snakes, evil-looking spiders, combative scorpions, curious centipedes and numerous nibbling creepy crawleys. Disease, sickness, infections and injuries are all a high risk anywhere in Africa and the temperatures of the Malawian bush are a constant threat to dehydration and heat stroke. As always, my main fears are the invisible ones (animals and disease which I can’t see coming) – I’m ok watching snakes slither around or scorpions bumble between boots, but bugs/flies and bacteria that come with all kinds of horrific illnesses or fatal ends (tsetsi flies and sleeping sickness, putsi flies who’s larvae eat you from the inside after they lay eggs under your skin, balhazia-carrying water snails who’s disease kills you six months after being exposed just to certain parts of Lake Malawi which they live in, and malaria etc etc). All the almost invisible, irritating goblins which, if go untreated can be utterly unpleasant and commonly lethal. Malaria is rife and even with easily available medication, it’s a threat that needs to be considered. I’m severely aware of the dangers that we’ll be combatting, but people live in Malawi, things survive in Malawi, tourists like me visit Malawi and have been completely fine. This is Africa! So, skip this opportunity? Don’t be silly.

It’ll be my first time in the African bush without a vehicle for any extended period of time. The fact that I’m fairly well prepped and own the appropriate gear is maybe another reason why Bjorn asked me to help.

Bjorn has apparently found it difficult to find someone suitable to help him on these expeditions. He needs someone to be able to cope with outdoor living and bush survival for a couple of months if necessary, and understandably, there is a cost. On top of this, he wants someone who can document the experiences creatively but informatively for various outlets. Some of my notes will be useful for Rangers, the police, anti-poaching units, wildlife park personnel, possibly game counts, and tourism operators. It’s often easy to find an expensive journalist who will come and write a story and stay for a few days, but it’s hard to find someone who is willing to do it for bare minimum expenses, be prepared to live in a wild environment for two months, without internet or phone connection, and lacking a regular shower. With the dangers in mind and with a few possible outcomes from what we will be working on, our very flexible pipeline of ideas and projects is already developing as we speak. Bjorn and his close friend, Charlie, have been planning one of the expeditions of this summer for over 5 years. I guess I’m now useful as an intrepid, willing candidate, and hopefully one that will be able to deliver on aspects of the projects that aren’t quite their forté. At the very least, I can throw my opinion in the mix. Either that, or he thinks I’m an expendable and cheap date… I’m going into things with an open mind as usual and if I’m honest with myself, this is Africa, anything could happen.

fire, bush

The expeditions and (loose) goals are…
(I’ll keep things simple here. We do have future ideas and plans beyond these boyish adventures):

Expedition I:
Visit Kasungu national park, explore its amenities and wilderness, and join the anti-poaching unit.
This is a military-style outfit, run by foreign volunteers (who collaborate with local rangers in the park).
We want to find out how much poaching is occurring in the region and help the local anti-poaching units in their efforts. We are interested to see how the park has developed since Bjorn used to run his safari trips here some years ago. There may be possible future projects on offer here, depending on the park’s current operations.

Expedition II:
Hike from the village of Ruawe on the north western shores of Lake Malawi to its source (in the jungle at altitude).
As far as anyone knows, this is unchartered territory. Locals have not ventured here and there is no documented trip up this wild river. Only viewable on Google Earth, the source is hidden under forest, bush and jungle. The river source is not obvious. It is extremely remote and access is difficult. We will go as far as we can up stream.
Bjorn has bought hilltop land near to Ruarwe and has future projects here. Charlie also owns land and a remote lodge next to the river and lake. It is land which they would like to utilise and turn into a forest and nature preserve.
We want to loosely map the area for future projects and find out what/if any kind of poaching or deforestation is happening nearby.
It’s almost impossible to go places in the world where man hasn’t already been, so as excitable, intrepid lovers of the wild, we also want to be the first to venture into this overgrown and unknown habitat.

Expedition III:
Cross Lake Malawi on the only ferry, to the shores of Mozambique and explore on kayak, the (possible lakeside villages and) wilderness. The possibilities of future projects here are open for discussion, but it’s also something Bjorn has wanted to do for many years. It’s relatively unexplored, especially the protected park area that has been created.

We will have time to explore a few other Malawian hot spots and as with all adventures, plans normally change. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a sweaty, wildly risky and exciting adventure. I’m heating up like a cheetah with the meat sweats in a sauna full of distracted antelope.

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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, I’m now mainly in Malawi.
Go Untamed Safaris is now up and running.
Between work days and in the rainy season (December to April); I am planning some expeditions and seek out some experienced individuals keen to be involved.
I am normally available in the U.K. January to March.

For safari and expedition details:

email: info@gountamed.com

http://www.gountamed.com

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