We returned to camp in the late afternoon and lounged around in the hammocks overlooking the lake, and then we set off for a local dinner in the village. We sat outside under the stars, on mats normally used for drying cassava. The first pot that was brought out contained pumpkin soup, which was surprisingly tasty and boiling hot. The main course was simple: rice, beans, spinach, and cassava bread. The cassava bread was really more like ugali, a starchy white substance that is part of the staple diet throughout much of Africa. The rice was well cooked, but required careful chewing due to bits of gritty stone or sand that were missed when the rice was cleaned. After dinner, the children of the village sang and danced for us. As we walked back to camp afterward, the children were literally hanging onto our arms incessantly begging for water bottles, backpacks, money, anything we had on us.
It was about a six hour drive to Lilongwe, the modest capital of Malawi. The city is quite attractive with its relatively clean streets and modern buildings. Before dinner, we paid a visit to the house of the British high commissioner (ambassador), whose son is an acquaintance of someone in our group. Each of us signed the official guest book and then walked through the mansion to the back veranda, where tea, scones, and cake were spread out attractively on a table. The back yard was lush green, and a croquet course was set up. I walked down to the tennis court and played for a while before going for a swim in the pool. The showers in the changing rooms by the pool were an absolute luxury – it was the first truly hot, high-pressure shower I've had for weeks. Finally, I played a bit of ping pong before heading back to the house. The American ambassador had dropped by for dinner, so we got to visit with him briefly before leaving the ambassadors to their dinner. It was fascinating to hear first-hand accounts of the issues affecting Malawi and Africa in general, and it was so refreshing to have an evening of such civility – a welcome break from weeks of camping and cold showers.
This morning, I set out with a few others for town. We ate lunch at Nando's, a South African fast food chain that specializes in chicken. The food was great, but the service was even worse than in American fast food joints, if that's possible. Once we had ordered and sat at a table, I had to repeat my order about three times and go up to the counter once or twice to ask where my meal was. I eventually got all the parts of my meal, but it was quite a hilarious ordeal to get them all. After lunch, I browsed the curio stalls by the Lilongwe post office, firmly ignoring any vendor who hassled me too much. I would say, "I'd like to look at your carvings, but if you keep bugging me, I'll buy from someone else." That seemed to work pretty well. I bargained hard for one piece, but the vendor let me walk away – even though I felt it was a fair price, he could probably get a much higher price from another tourist. You can't win them all.
This evening, we had a farewell bash for Deepa and Neerav, who are leaving the trip at this point. The 73-day trip that I am doing is split into several segments, so we occasionally lose and gain passengers when a new segment starts. Deepa and Neerav have been with us since the beginning, and we're all sad to see them go. Good luck guys!