Thursday, January 06, 2011

January 6, 2011 Our Trip to Monkey Bay

It is hard to believe that for the last few nights our sleep has been disturbed because the room was too cold. The reality is that the air conditioner is very difficult to control. It blows directly on me and I have been sleeping in that clammy, sticky, cold state that for me at least is very uncomfortable. So last night I turned the a/c way down and wore a long sleeved t-shirt.

We had made arrangements to leave with Fredson for Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear right after breakfast this morning. Incredibly I made the room too comfortable. Despite being in bed at 9 p.m. we didn’t wake up until almost 9:00 a.m. and the phone rang – Fredson was looking for us!!!

Monkey Bay is the major port on Lake Malawi. It took about 45 minutes to drive the 42 Kilometers. To say the least they are not set up for tourists – other than the admission charge of first 500 kwachas but ultimately 1000 kwachas a piece. But the scenery is beautiful. We had a guide and he walked us around the port and took us for a tour of the ferry. Three classes of travelers – take my word for it you don’t want to travel 3rd class on this ferry – first class didn’t seem so luxurious either. It is a six day journey fro Monkey Bay to Mulanga with many stops in between.

They told us that the monkeys come out in the cool of the morning but retreat to the trees and bush for the heat of the day – smart monkeys. It was very very hot and humid – clouds moving in and out threatening rain – it rained intermittently all around us.

Cape Maclear is one of the places where Livingston stayed. It actually isn’t that far from Monkey Bay – by water – it is on the other side of one of the mountains surrounding Lake Malawi so the trip by car is some distance. Fredson was a bit concerned about the road but he asked some folks and they assured him that it was ok. The main road is asphalt, is fairly narrow but reasonably smooth. The road to Cape Maclear is dirt – think a dirt grid road but in serious need for upgrade.

Cape Maclear is a land protectorate – sort of a national park – and it cost 300 for Fredson and the car and 750 each for me and Helene. There is a museum there and an aquarium. Some boys wanted to take us by boat to one of the islands to see eagles and fish but we regretfully declined. We spent a few minutes in the museum reading the posters and listened to our guide tell us about the fish in the lake – many varieties of Mbuna fish – none of course were in the aquarium – this is Africa.

The scenery was spectacular overlooking the beach and the lake. We were told that this part of the Lake has the cleanest water and the largest variety of fish. The history of the area is interesting culminating in an attempt to have a luxury hotel between 1948 and 1951 – access was by water planes – but it didn’t last long. Evidently the flies and malaria had an effect on the clientele.

The drive back to the Sun ‘N’ sand was uneventful and lunch was predictable – fish, beef (which may or may not be beef) chicken (I’m starting to recognize the pieces), Nsema, rice and something green that had been boiled (I hope)

I spent a good part of the afternoon sitting in the back of Margaret’s simulation and then had a short nap. Helene is determined to ride a camel. They have 6 camels and a herd of donkeys right next to the reception centre. It all contributes to the atmosphere –odour and all!! We have been trying to get a ride for the last three days – 1000 Kwachas – but they need three people and there has only been one young fellow – so we watch them, take their pictures and leave. She won’t be riding camels this trip – we’ll just have to come back!!!

We had hoped to go back to Club Mac for dinner but it looks like our participants want to have a cocktail party at 7 so its likely we’ll stay here tonight. Tomorrow – off to Liwonge Barradge to catch the boat to Mvuu – let us all pray for clean sheets.

Jan 5, 2011 First Day after Workshop

Last night was an early night. We were in the room around 9 and lying on the bed watching TV. It would be nice to sit outside but the bugs swarm even in the dark. This is to be expected as we are at the lakeshore and the rains have been fairly regular – hard and heavy for an hour or two every day.

We lay on the bed as we prefer not to sit on the chairs despite the fact that the bedclothes may be dirtier than the chairs. But I’ll write about that later.

Thank you Steve Jobs. I listen to music and podcasts and read e-books (I’m just about through the complete Sherlock Holmes) when I wake up – I am usually awake between 4 and 5 – at first I thought it was thinking about the workshops I am doing but this morning I realized that I’ve already had 7 or 8 hours sleep by then which is more than I usually sleep at home.

Breakfast as usual this morning and then I sat in on the first hour or so of Margaret’s workshop. She is doing Program Validation and her approach seems to fit nicely with the work I did on Monday and Tuesday.

Then Helene and I spent an hour in the Business Office getting a solid 20 minutes of connection time in – electrical failures and internet drop offs are frequent and the wired connection is slower than my wifi at home. But I did get to send a few emails, post some blog entries and upload some pictures to facebook.

We want to go over to Cape Maclear and to Monkey Bay and we asked if we could use the driver from the Poly (we offered to pay for the petrol) We didn’t get a clear answer at first so we approached the desk manager who called into Mangochi to find out how much it would cost – 16,000 kwacha – around $110. Fortunately we got permission to use the Poly driver if we provided 5000 Kwacha for petrol which we gladly did. Fredson is a nice man and knows the area very well. We are going tomorrow morning right after breakfast.

Helene wants to ride a camel so we went over there but there weren’t enough minders to let her ride – perhaps tomorrow.

I decided I’d have a nap in the middle of the afternoon and slept from 3 or so until after 6 – I will never fall asleep tonight.

When we met Margaret for a drink before dinner she told me that many of the participants were sick and hadn’t attended the afternoon session. They will normally go in and out of the room as their cels ring or as they feel they need to make a call but this afternoon was unusual for the number of people not attending for the whole time.

I have some serious concerns about the arrangements made for this week. I asked why we were not ding the workshops in Blantyre and was told that because these folks are busy they would be in and out checking in with their offices, etc.

Well we are out in Mangochi and they are in and out of the sessions with their cels anyway. And now many are sick and it is pretty clear what is making them sick. The food is deadly – I don’t mean just yucky or tasteless I mean it is sickening. It is pretty clear that the food on the buffets (and that is what is available to us) is being recycled – we are offered fish, chicken and meat. The only time we can be sure of the meat is when they barbecue (only twice so far) and then I ask for a burned piece. As I am paying for Helene’s food it is a little disappointing that for 3000 Kwacha ($20) a meal there is very little that is edible.

The rooms are spacious but filthy. Surprisingly the bathrooms are lit well and almost clean but showering is a challenge and no one – not even the Malawians walk barefoot inside their accommodations.

The resort is physically beautiful but looks like it hasn’t been maintained for months. There is a new general manager and a new food services manager – very new – we’re talking weeks – it is clear that they haven’t yet had a chance to get themselves organized.

Which brings me back to my question of why are we at this resort at all? The Mt Soche had meeting rooms and I am sure they could have found a classroom we could have used in Blantyre. The attendance would have been as regular as it is here.

Perhaps I’ll lose a pound or two