Not your average travel blog
Miniature-stealth scorpions and Schwarzeneaggar-esque Jiminey crickets, hypnotic millipedes and flesh-piercing ants. Nothing in the bush is ever bug proof and whether it be stabbing you with a sting, munching through your skin, shooting some kind of acid onto your skin from its arse or mouth, latching onto your urethra when you pop for a piss, or merely just laying eggs under your skin while you sleep so younglings can feed on you from the inside, everything has its weaponised way of surviving. Thankfully, we (technically) only have to worry about scorpions, tics, centipedes, tsetse flies and mosquitos. Tsetse bites are the ones that carry the sleeping sickness. Essentially, they make you an insomniac. When deprived of sleep for so long, people go crazy, lose their minds and one way or another, die. It’s quite horrific and it isn’t uncommon. Mosquito’s go without saying although there is a two week gestation period for malaria. I’ve only just given the antimalarials a rest, so if I’m to succumb to the disease, it’ll be two weeks from now that I fall ill (unless the drugs don’t work).
At least we don’t have to concern ourselves with bilharzia (from the worms that live in the faeces of water snails). It isn’t found in the north, but it is in the south end of Lake Malawi. Should you wander along the wet sand or go for a paddle, the faeces of the snails contain microscopic eggs and worms which penetrate the skin and infect the intestines, urinary system, and blood stream – merely from contact or ingestion of fresh water. This inevitably makes you very ill and you end up with egg-laying worms swimming around your body – and then yes, you’ve guessed it, it is very possible you may die from things such as kidney failure and/or a few other nasties. We have drugs for that sort of thing now which I’ll be taking 6-8 weeks after my trip (the approximate gestation period of the eggs). After being in the south end of the lake, there is very high chance I will need to take them to save my life, or at least to stop being unpleasantly ill. It’s common practice and really nothing to worry about…
Spotting these things and being expose to them is part of the process of being outdoors. Without thousands of people dying already, tortuous experiments and the developments of human health, we’d be sitting ducks and probably wouldn’t last five minutes in the most foreign of cultures or wildernesses. Thankfully, we now have modern science on our side. I’ve been fortunate so far. Apart for a few nasty ant bites, plenty of oozing reactions to hundreds of mosquitos, a termite or two, being dive bombed by an angry seagull and in North America having my tent burgled by a squirrel who didn’t understand the meaning of personal space, (although having a couple of very nervous moments with large mammals and a slithery reptile), I haven’t had any serious incidents with lethal creatures. The worse things to worry about (especially here) are the things you can’t see. They’re naturally everywhere. It’s best not to worry at all…
There are numerous praying mantis, arachnids, stink bugs (I’ve named them myself), strange buzzing bits and camouflaged shells zipping around the place and occasionally slamming into us. Thinking you’ve been hit by a stone, you then see them take flight in a drunkenly-dazed fashion. Monstrous ants that seem to be on their way to a fancy-dress party dressed as Batman. Goliath wasps and oversized extras from sci-fi movies about mutated, poisonous crickets. There is plenty to focus on. Most things are actually pretty nasty and while on holiday, being bitten would not be on your “list of things to do”. However, although occasionally painful, very little is lethal. This isn’t Australia! There are however a plethora of small snakes and darkness-loving scorpions who try to hide in our shoes overnight. No doubt assuming they’ve found lovely, new, aromatic places to dwell.
Here, the least lethal creepy crawly of all is the most annoying. The mopani fly (it’s actually a miniature honey bee) swarms towards body heat. They can’t help but congregate and land on your face every two seconds. Completely harmless but much like a stadium of screaming girls in front of Elvis in the 60’s, these bees just can’t keep their hands off us. Sometimes they get in your eyes and in your mouth, but worse of all (for me) they fly in my ears. I have a real aversion to unwanted ear-squatters! It turns out, ear plugs aren’t just to help me sleep. While we sat upon our rock for dinner, our fish sandwiches being thrown into our faces, I thought the guys might decide to mock me a little over my ear stuffings. However, as we kept asking each other to repeat ourselves, I see they’d all used pieces of wet bread to fill up their aural canals! I’m not the only one who can’t stand bees in my ears and at least I haven’t had to block myself up a damp sandwich.
I’ve only been here about a week and being dropped into the Malawi heat straight from the Alaska chill, today has taken its toll. Apart from acclimatising much quicker and being a little fitter, I feel like there was not much more I could have done. Throw into the mix that my footwear was stolen before I arrived, replacing appropriate shoes for bouldering up a river here can be a little tricky. Today has been hard. Although I’m not admitting how hard to the rest of the guys. Seeing as I’m going to be doing most of the expedition bare foot, I’ll just have to suck it up. I’m sure we all have our own stresses; Bjorn’s shoes are falling apart and letting in loads of mud, Charlie is borrowing Bjorn’s old shoes which don’t fit him at all, some of our dry sacks today took beating on the rocks and thorny trees and are now leaking water, which is a problem. The dry sacks are no longer dry. I think what makes me feel slightly more ill-prepped, is that Matt is an ex-paratrooper and now an anti-poaching “soldier”. Bjorn is a whipper-snapper of a South African safari guide who is carrying absolutely no body fat whatsoever and Charlie has even less body mass than Bjorn and has been living in this climate for years. For him, a stroll in the heat is no harder than me taking a stroll along the beach in the Arctic, which I have just recently done. I think I’m just currently out of my temperature zone. I know I’m here for a reason, so I’m sticking to my role….and that includes making them feel stupid about having bread in their ears.
Past the water pipe, through a few cassava gardens and over the first few hill sides, we climbed around washed-down rock slides and up some small waterfalls using our trusty ropes (and sturdy vines). Near to the lake, a few of the hillsides have been illegally deforested. However, the further we go, the more difficult it is for anyone to conveniently transport out, any illegally-cut trees. Although there is a law to protect the river banks, there is no one to police it.
Breaking from a few bends in the river, the dry, tall grasses and arid bush areas are perfect for leopard, servil and possibly caracal to hunt small prey. Bush pig are quite delicious, apparently. We have seen some evidence of them (or possibly warthog in the forest) in the streams and muddy squelches where they have bathed and congregated. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see one, although bush pig can be shy during the day. Bouldering further up the river and avoiding the low hanging trees, we steadily head deeper into the wild. I pierce my rucksack through a thorny tree and I’m thankful it was my bag and not my ribcage.
After a few hours of clambering fairly hard, we find a decent camp spot and then relax by the river. We throw in a few lines with some shiny bait on to see if we can bag us a catfish, but I’m glad we brought some supplies. The Frenchman cooks up a storm.
Charlie’s dog came with us on day one and even though Gondros is a tough old bird, she couldn’t hack today and made her way home by herself (we hope). She has pretty good instincts and there isn’t anywhere to get lost on her way down stream. Her only real enemy would be a snake or a leopard. Even though she was getting tired, she just simply couldn’t miss out on an adventure either.
We make our second camp another kilometre into the bush – it’s slow going as when we’re not in the river, we chop our own pathway). Tired and full of Matt’s delicious concoction, we relax for the evening in the shade, and bathe in the river’s pools.