A final update on the 2012 trip:
I spent a very enjoyable 3 weeks in Malawi on and off the bike. After a couple of days in Livingstonia I cycled to the Vwaza Marsh Reserve on the border with Zambia where I camped on the edge of a lake full of hippos and visiting elephants.
Following that I spent 5 days up on the Nyika Plateau, a vast area of wild grassland, zebra, bushbuck, viewpoints and great biking trails!
Then I stayed for a couple of days in Mzuzu before heading down to the lakeshore via the Chikangawa forestry road, an old road from the colonial days that zigzags down from the highlands to the lakeshore through pristine indigenous forest. On my second night I found my favourite camping spot of the trip: in a wood beside a lake full of loud birds during the day and insects and frogs at night.
I visited my old school at Bandawe, where I had volunteered for 7 months in 2006. All of my old colleagues had transfered to other schools or other jobs, but the school itself was in good shape, well equipped with a new science lab and computer lab and girls’ dormitory, all provided by the good old EU.
And to finish off my time in Malawi I went up to Ruarwe for a few days, a village I had visited before that can only be reached by a hot 11 hour boat ride. It was on that boat ride that I randomly bumped into Cuthbert – one of my old students – who was on his way home from university, so I had a chance to visit his family’s farm perched on top of a hill overlooking Ruarwe bay.
The best thing about being back in Malawi was seeing my old students again. The great thing about Facebook is that I’m back in contact with a lot of them, after a 5 year gap in communication. It was nice to hear that they had the second highest grade in the whole Northern region in the JCE (Junior) examinations the year after I left Bandawe and that now most of them are studying in 3rd level education. It’s difficult for students from a rural background to study in university because of a lack of scholarships or bursaries, but the government (and their donors) have recently introduced ‘bonded study’, paying the way for hundreds of budding nurses and teachers through college who then must work for the government for 3 years at a reduced salary.
Finally, it was onto a bus to Johannesburg to catch my flight home, where I’ve spent my time with family and friends at home, skiing in France and at my grandfather’s 90th. Good to be home! It was quite a trip.