Yum: Hanoi’s Addictive Street Food
Oh boy, where do I begin? Northern Vietnam had hands down my favorite cuisine of the 20+ countries we visited over the past year (note: I do not feel it would be fair to include Italy in the running for ...
Cat Ba Island: Taking the Plunge
With our time in Vietnam running a bit short, and having gotten our exposure to the countryside and mountains on our motorbiking trip, and to city life with a few days in Hanoi, we decided what was missing was some ...
Motorbiking in Northeastern Vietnam
Before visiting Southeast Asia, we weren't big motorbiking enthusiasts; in fact, Claudia's motorbiking experience consisted entirely of a few anxiety-ridden hours in Europe many years ago, and mine consisted of crashing a small toy bike into a fence in Portland, ...
Monkey Business: Ziplining Through the Jungle in Laos
Our first stop in Laos was a three-day adventure in the Bolaven Plateau in the southern part of the country. After an all day bus trip from Phnom Penh (Cambodia), we crossed the border and arrived in Pakse, a sleepy ...
- Wishing everyone a safe and merry Christmas, whether you are traveling or staying at home! #
- Thanks for all the congrats!! It was an incredible experience, and the toughest physical challenge we've ever undertaken. Very sore! #
- Luckily we are not in Dar es Salaam: 23 dead in #Tanzania flooding http://t.co/zt6Nd4NE #
- We did it! Yesterday morning we stood on #Africa #039;s highest point: Uhuru Peak of Mt. #Kilimanjaro (5895m above sea level) #
December 25, Christmas Day, marks six months that we've been on the road, and we thought we'd mark the occasion by sharing our thoughts about the time behind us, and what still lies ahead.
We've had a fantastic and nearly surreal time so far. We've been to so many places we never thought we'd see in our lives, experienced so many incredible things, spent time with some amazing people, undertaken and overcome some personal challenges, and had so few setbacks that they hardly bear mentioning. We feel incredibly lucky that we're able to have this experience each day that goes by.
One of the biggest surprises for us has been how short a year actually is (or maybe we're surprised at how big the world really is). Everywhere we go we find places that are worth spending much more time in than we're able to, and places we promise ourselves we'll return to. Many people see our pace as a fast one, but it's working for us; we're not bored or tired of exploring, not getting on each others' nerves too much, and, frankly, we often get itchy if we stay in one place for too long. One person we met described our approach as "window shopping", and we think that's apt: with this plan we're able to experience a tremendous variety of different environments, landscapes, cultures, food, music. It's hard to describe, but as we see more places and do more things, the similarities everywhere we go become much more apparent than the differences.
The hardest change from our "normal" lives has not been an adjustment to comfort level, language barriers, or the inability to find luxury items such as good beer and cheese; it's our friends and family that we miss most. We absolutely love to hear from you and how you're doing, and there is nothing that brings a bigger smile to our faces than receiving an email from our loved ones. We're lucky to be traveling in an era where long-distance communication (email, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, etc.) can make 10,000 miles feel much shorter. We know many of you are reading about our experiences, and some of you often email us after reading a post to tell us what you think of our latest adventure. We love receiving comments on our posts, whether it's because you have a question about where we've been, a reaction to what we've written, or just want to say hello. So please keep up the communication, or drop us a line if you haven't before.
At the halfway point of the trip we'd like to ask what we can do better, and what you're curious or interested about. Are there are any questions about our trip we can answer? Is there anything you've been wondering? What parts of the trip should we talk more (or less) about? Please, we'd love to hear what you think!
Here are some of our favorite memories from the first six months. Thank you all for reading!
Upon arriving at Gombe Stream National Park, you get the feeling that you are landing at a research station more than a park. There's a reason for that: this is the site of the longest ongoing study of any animal population in the world, the study of chimpanzees that Jane Goodall started in 1960. The park is tiny by Tanzania standards at only 52 sq km, and is located right on lovely Lake Tanganyika. There are no roads into or inside this park; the only way to get there is via "lake taxi" from the nearest city of any size, Kigoma, which is about 3 hours away. The lush forest here has made a great habitat for these primates because of its natural boundaries: the lake to the west and the high wall of the rift escarpment (rising about 750 m above the lake) to the east. This small park is packed with 16 valleys containing streams that flow year-round. Besides the chimps, there are several other primates, including red-tailed, red Colobus, vervet, and blue monkeys, but these are harder to see, because they are scared of humans since they are occassionally hunted by the chimps. Baboons are everywhere as well, but we've grown to think of these guys as the racoons of the primates; they're always scavenging around humans trying to steal food, and on one occassion during our stay they succeeded in sneaking into the rest house, running up the stairs, and grabbing a whole bag of bread from a woman who was eating her breakfast!
We had heard from another traveller that tracking the chimps here is just as rewarding if not more than the gorilla tracking that is famous in Uganda and Rwanda (and to a lesser extent the DRC) and it is one-fifth the price, so we decided to include it on our Tanzania itinerary. Chimp "tracking" essentially involves going into the forest with a guide (you are not allowed to enter it without one) who is communicating via walkie-talkie with the researchers to find out where the chimps are hanging out. Then the hard work begins: climbing through thick vegetation on often muddy ground, up and down the steep, humid valleys until you reach the playful primates. There are three populations of chimps in the park, the Mitumba, Kasekela, and Bwavi. The Kasekela are the ones who live in the area closest to the center of the park, where all visitors arrive and most sleep, and where the researchers and staff live. They are therefore the most habituated to humans and the ones most commonly tracked.
We arrived at the park on a Friday afternoon, and we hadn't even been there for an hour when one of the park staff came to our room in the rest house to tell us to come outside because a bunch of the chimps were hanging out nearby. We hadn't been expecting to see any until the next morning when we were going tracking, so the scene we walked into was a wonderful surprise: about six to eight male chimps were sitting right outside the staff and researcher housing, some just lounging, some climbing the trees to snack on leaves, and others grooming each other, an act that we would see a lot of the next day as well. Essentially one male sits behind the other and looks for bugs and ticks in his fur and picks them off. Grooming serves a social purpose, as well as a hygenic one, as it defines and reinforces the community's social heierarchy. We watched them from about four or five meters away for about half an hour or so before they left the area.
The next morning, we set off with our guide and one other visitor. We had only been walking through the forest about one hour when we reached a group of chimps and researchers, and so began our morning of chimp tracking. We followed them as they swung from the trees, stopped briefly to eat, then ran off to their next destination. After about a half hour of following them (not incredibly easy, as they take routes over, under, and through thick brush that we can't nvaigate), they finally settled down and stayed in one place for awhile. We sat about four meters away from them while they groomed, ate, played, ate some more, and even mated! We were lucky enough that this group included an absolutely adorable seven-month-old chimp, who hyper-actively and clumsily played with another young chimp, swinging from trees, jumping on other chimps, and occasionally falling off the branches.
It is hard to put into words how incredible these primates are and what a special experience watching them in their natural habitat is. I'm sure most people have seen them in zoos, but seeing them in their own environment is a completely different story. They are our closest relatives--we share 98% of our genes with them--and this fact is apparent in the way they move, sit, lay down, interact with each other, and in their facial expressions when looking at each other or at us humans. They walk on all fours, but stark differences between us and chimps end there. At one point one of the males was laying on the ground, simply relaxing with his arms folded, fingers intertwined behind his head and legs crossed, ankle over knee, gazing up at the tree canopy--much the way you'd see a human lounging on the beach. They are completely aware of the humans who are watching them, but are unphased by it and carry on as if we were not there. We loved watching the way they groom each other, the way they make loud noises and whoop-whoop calls to communicate to each other where good food has been found, and of course the playful manner in which they interact. We saw happy, scared, and relaxed facial expressions that reminded us of ourselves. Even the way they simply scratch themselves or put an arm around a fellow chimp looked so familiar. We were surprised to see a male and female mate twice, mere meters away from us! Unfortunately, the act only lasted about two seconds-- not long enough for us to switch the camera to the video setting. We were also amazed to see how four younger males ran up to a larger, older male as he approached the area, put their arms around him and led him to a clearing where they sat him down and started grooming him--he is clearly a well-respected elder and therefore carefully and lovingly taken care of. We sat in awe and observed scenes like this for almost 90 minutes (visitors are only supposed to spend an hour with the same group at a time, but our guides clearly lost track of time...) until the chimps gradually moved on to another area.
I'm not sure the photos or our description does the whole experience justice, but it was honestly the most incredible wildlife experience we've ever had. We can definitely understand how Jane Goodall dedicated her life to these awesome creatures, and are so humbled to have been able to spend some time with them here in their home.
A boy walks up to your bus trying to sell you a mousetrap, razor blades, wallets, and watering cans. A woman walks down the highway carrying an infant on her back and the largest sack of potatoes I've ever seen on her head. A truck drives by with several large, dead fish hanging off the side mirrors to dry. A man pulls up on a bicycle with six live chickens tied to the back of his seat. The captain of the boat that was supposed to leave at noon tells us at 2:30 pm that it's looking like we'll probably leave around 4:00 pm because one of the passengers is still running a few errands. The power in town has been off for three of the last five days, but no one's complaining and business goes on as usual...This is Africa.
"This is Africa" or "TIA" is a term we learned almost immediately upon entering Mozambique. It's the phrase that's tossed around whenever an explanation simply doesn't exist for why or how something is happening in Africa. You shrug your shoulders and simply state "TIA". I don't want to make sweeping generalizations, and can only speak to a small part of southern and eastern Africa that we've seen so far, but there are commonalities among the countries we've been to. It's a region of beautiful vistas, but the landscape is often littered with plastic bags as far as the eye can see; a place where some work incredibly hard round the clock with neverending perseverence and others seem to sit around and wait for handouts; a continent where it seems that most villages don't have electricity but almost all villagers own a cell phone. Things happen at their own pace and get done in their own way. It can be challenging for a mzungu (a Swahili word literally meaning European but used to describe any white person) such as myself to make sense of it all.
The ability to at least try to put aside any expectations of sticking to a schedule, especially when it comes to transportation, is quite possibly the most important trait you can possess in order to survive--and more importantly, enjoy--a visit to Africa. Time has a much different meaning than what we are used to in the US. I'm not going to pretend that I haven't had my moments of frustration when "African Time", lack of personal space, being charged twice as much as the locals for a bus ride, or hearing "hello my friend will you please take a look at what I want to sell you" when I really don't want to has gotten the better part of me. In Nkhata Bay alone we spent three days in a row waiting for a ferry that never came, and then another boat that kept postponing its departure time until it decided not to depart and we finally decided to stop wasting our time waiting (unfortunately, due to logistics, this caused us to leave Malawi five days earlier than planned). Scheduled departure times-- heck, even scheduled departure dates-- are loose estimations, and no one but the mzungus seem to be upset when they end up being off by hours or days. On public transportation, there is no such thing as having your own seat, or any personal space, for that matter. I am not exaggerating when I say bus rides in Africa make the Paris subway smell like a flower shop. Your face is the color of a tomato, you're sweating profusely, armpits are centimeters away from your nose, babies are in your lap, chickens are held like hand luggage, bags of food are sitting under your feet: This Is Africa.
While travel in Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania has been the toughest we've experienced, we try to remember to appreciate the experience for what it is. I have learned to take a deep breath, look out the window, and take it all in: the dozens of brightly-clad women and children running up to the bus as it pulls into a town to sell us bowls full of ripe mangoes, avocadoes, pineapples and bananas, the man holding a chicken who's been standing in the aisle next to me for the last four hours, or the many women walking dangerously close to traffic speeding by them (there are no sidewalks), balancing anything from huge baskets of fish to a bucket of water to a broom on their heads. It's nuts; it's chaos; it's kind of beautiful in its own way.
- so great to see DC friends &climb #kili w them starting tmrw! be back in a week, hopefully having summitted the highest mountain in africa! #
- Visited the site where Stanley uttered the famous words "Livingston, I presume?" Can you tell we're bored out of our minds in #Kigoma #
- Accidentally watched The Butterfly Effect today thinking it was Mothman Prophecy. Worst movie I have seen in a long time! #AshtonKutcherfail #
- getting to see chimps up close in their natural environment was by far the most rewarding wildlife experience we've had #Gombe #Tanzania #
We made the executive decision that things were not meant to be between us and Lake Malawi (or maybe just between us and boat departures?), and with mixed feelings, we left Malawi for Tanzania the day after leaving Nkhata Bay. The journey was long and trying--we'll spare you the details of the many buses we took--and it took a full day to reach Mbeya, the first city of any size in Tanzania. We had 15 days until we needed to be in Moshi (in the northeastern part of the country) to meet our friends, so we decided to take the very long route and visit Lake Tanganyika, which forms the western border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and is the world's longest (670 km) and second deepest (1470 m) lake, holding 17% of the world's freshwater!
Tanzania is a large and generally peaceful nation. Tanzanians are about 40% Muslim and 40% Christian, and speak Swahili. Many men wear a kofia, an embroidered linen cap, and women wear kangas, brightly-printed cotton wraparounds, often with a Swahili proverb. There is a heavy Arab and Indian influence, especially along the coast. The northern part of the country, which includes the famous Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Mt Kilimanjaro, along with Zanzibar Island, see a ton of tourists, but it seems that most of the rest of the country is pretty far off the tourist track.
We entered the country from the south, and we knew the going would be rough in this part of the country -- in fact, other travelers had said don't bother unless you have your own 4x4 vehicle -- but much like northern Mozambique, we gave it a shot anyway. I guess we're gluttons for punishment, but it turned out to be more than worth it. It took us two full days of cramped buses on dirt roads from Mbeya through Sumbawanga and to our first stop on the lake, a lodge in the southern section close to the small fishing village of Kipili. We can honestly say that western Tanzania is by far the most off-the-beaten-path destination we've been to yet. We did not see another foreigner from the time we left Malawi until the time we got to the Lake Shore Lodge and Campsite. Tanzanians stared at us, probably wondering what these mzungus (literally meaning 'European' but it's used more like 'whitey', and a word we've been called a lot here) were doing all the way out in this part of the country. Almost no one spoke any English, and finding the right buses and food to eat were always interesting experiences. We were not expecting Tanzanians to be as friendly as Malawians (it's a high bar), but were pleasantly surprised that in every little town, there were always one or two guys who offered to help us along the way, whether it was to buy our onward bus tickets, find a place to sleep, or find a place to get some grub. These towns have nothing close to resembling a backpackers', grocery store, or even a restaurant; they are small hubs for the region with very basic services and are certainly not set up for any kind of tourism. Showers are of the bucket variety, toilets are holes in the bathroom floor, and meals consisted of corn-on-the-cob, chips, crackers, and bananas we bought from out the bus windows.
However, upon arriving at the Lake Shore Lodge, we knew we had made the right decision. For a few weeks we had been talking about finding a spot to recharge, a place with a comfortable bed, electricty, and running--maybe even hot--water, where we could treat ourselves to a few relaxing days, but we never quite found that place in either Mozambique or Malawi. It turns out good things come to those who wait: the Lodge was by far the nicest place we've stayed in our 5+ months of travel. We slept in a lovely banda (cottage) with a huge comfy bed. From our door we could see the tranquil lake, dotted with small islands, and the DRC mountains in the distance. At night, local fisherman take their boats out and use kerosene lamps to attact the fish to their nets, so you can see several white lights out on the water. Coupled with the full moon, it makes for a pretty special sight.
The lodge's restaurant/bar area was open and airy, with comfy sofas and lots of books and games. Meals were cooked fresh, and many of the ingredients were from the owners' garden. We ate our dinners by the water, and a bonfire was lit each evening. The bar was well stocked, and they even had wine and Pimm's, a real treat considering how far from anywhere the lodge is located! There was only one other guest when we arrived, and when he left, we were the only people there, so we had the entire property to ourselves. The staff were incredibly attentive, the food was tasty, and we spent our days reading, swimming, and gazing out onto the lake. We paddled kayaks out to snorkel off one of the islands, we walked to a nearby abandoned, crumbling-but-beautiful Benedictine mission, and we took a sunset cruise with the owners our last evening. It was pure heaven, and was exactly the "vacation from our vacation" we needed; I like to think of it as a honeymoon of sorts. The owners, Chris and Louise, even upgraded us to a huge, luxurious chalet (that goes for upwards of $500/night) right on the water for our last night! We stayed for four nights in total, and when we departed to make our way further north toward Gombe Stream National Park, we were in great spirits and ready to tackle our journey once again.
Our time in Nkhata Bay, in the north of Malawi and on the shore of Lake Malawi, was a bit mixed: the beginning of our stay was relaxing and exciting, but by the end we found ourselves bored and frustrated. Let me back up.
After a bus ride from Zomba that managed to take "only" ten hours--for the first three we seemed to stop every five kilometers; picture taking a local city bus from DC to Philadelphia--we arrived at 3am, walked the two blocks to our backpackers' and promptly passed out. We woke up to find ourselves in the "Castaway Cabin", a cozy little shack perched precariously over the edge of the lake. Although small and a bit shabby, it came with a lovely breeze, breathtaking, unobstructed lake views, and the sound of waves lapping at the shore to lull us to sleep every night. It was also half the price and considerably more comfortable than our comparable accommodation in Mozambique, and we enjoyed swimming in the lake, sitting on the docks, and eating fresh mangoes from the many trees on the property.
We spent the next two days walking around the small town and neighboring coves and beaches, and while Claudia never quite warmed up to it (too much dried, smelly fish for sale on every corner, and too many drunk locals, from whom Malawi's famous friendliness is less appealing), I rather enjoyed our time in Nkhata Bay. I had the sense that it was a town near the beginning of its tourism life, therefore the place wasn't overrun with tourists, nor the resentment, elevated prices, and diminished service that invariably follow; instead we found many helpful and friendly people, as well as one good restaurant, and one internet cafe. What more could we want for a few relaxing days in a sleepy, lakeside town?
After the first night's three-course Thai dinner, we were approached by an American woman and a Malawian man. The American said that her boyfriend didn't believe that she could tell that we were also Americans merely from overhearing our accents in our hushed voices over dinner, and we struck up a conversation. Before we knew it, we were on our way to a concert put on by their friends. We headed down an unmarked alley to a nameless bar overlooking the lake where the five-man reggae band was tuning up. Reggae isn't usually my favorite type of music (or maybe I'm just sick of hearing the same four Bob Marley songs at every backpackers'), but I'm sure I had a huge smile on my face for the entire concert. Everyone there--both the band and the small crowd--was simply having a great time. The band was a little rough around the edges, missing cues and having to restart songs, but they clearly loved making music, and the fans clearly loved hearing it, dancing freely and authentically and without any of the pretense, self-consciousness, or "cool" that we're used to at shows back home.
The next day we took our one big outing in Nkhata Bay: Claudia got to use her SCUBA certification for the first time in a new body of water, and I came along for the ride and did a bit of snorkeling. One of Lake Malawi's claims to fame is that it was included in the BBC series Planet Earth, and before the ride we were shown the clip, which was mostly filmed in Nkhata Bay, to familiarize ourselves with the types of fish we would see. The majority of fish in the lake (over 1000 species) are in the Cichlid family, and most of these are endemic to the lake, all reputedly descendents of a small number of ancestors who became trapped inland. Claudia enjoyed the new conditions: the entry was much calmer than in the ocean, the visibility was better than she expected, and she swam through some rock tunnels. The highlight, of course, was the wildlife: we both saw many beautiful and colorful varieties, and Claudia saw the special and aptly-named Upside-down Cichlid, which spends its whole life swimming upside down to feed on the underside of rocks.
The other animal the lake is famous for is the Lake Fly, which we were lucky enough to observe most of the mornings we were there. During the rainy season, after the rains taper off around dawn, the fly larva come to the lake's surface and hatch by the millions, spend a few hours mating, then fall back into the lake. The result is enormous columnar clouds of the insects which look like smoke from on the horizon, but were quite difficult to capture with our camera.
On our third day, we were planning on leaving on a weekly ferry to head to two islands, Likoma and Chizumulu, a few hours' journey away. The islands sounded incredible to us: the type of remote, relaxing, slow lifestyle that's the promise of every tropical island, they were probably the destination in Malawi we were most excited about, and we skipped most of the central and southern parts of the country in order to have enough time to visit them. A few hours after packing our bags and checking out of our room in anticipation of the evening's ferry departure, we were told that the ferry was having some mechanical trouble and had not left its previous port as scheduled. Since the last stop is at least 12 hours away, and it was already mid-afternoon, we realized we weren't going to leave that day, although everyone we asked assured us it was a minor problem and the ferry was sure to leave in a few hours. We checked back into the backpackers', and planned on a departure the following morning, which wouldn't have severely affected our plans.
However, the next day we heard much the same story, and we began to get anxious. We still had enough time to be flexible, but we were getting a bit bored with the town's limited options for food and activities, so we spent the day concocting a back-up plan. We found another lodge on the mainland, an eight-hour boat ride north in a very secluded location near a small fishing village on the lake. The lodge's owners said that they knew of a local boat going north that was scheduled to leave the following day at noon. We decided that if the ferry hadn't left by the end of the day (putting it at least two days behind schedule), we would abandon the islands and head to this lodge instead. We didn't feel ready to give up on Malawi yet and still wanted to get to know this friendly country.
Predictably, the ferry to the islands still had not left its previous port when we woke up the next morning, so we once again packed our bags, did some food shopping, and headed into town to await our 12pm departure. The 12pm departure, however, turned into a 2:30pm departure, which turned into a 4pm departure, which was when the boat's captain postponed the trip until "maybe tomorrow". At this point, dejected with our bad luck and with a mounting case of cabin fever, and sick of checking in and out of the same backpackers', we decided three days of waiting for boats was too much, and we had to get out of town, so we hopped into a minivan headed to Mzuzu, the region's transport hub, to make plans for our next destination. We weren't quite sure where to go next because we were already so far north (the direction we're heading so we can be in Tanzania to meet our friends), so we didn't want to backtrack and go back south within Malawi, adding a few days of bus travel in each direction. However, we had only been in Malawi for nine days and felt like we had barely scratched the surface of a country we had been really excited to visit.
Throughout the trip, when we've had experiences like this, when things get frustrating and we're in our lowest spirits, we're still aware of how lucky we are to have this opportunity, and wouldn't trade our experiences this year for anything. In fact, it's often the case that the times that challenge our patience, our comfort, and even our sanity are what make the good times all the more enjoyable. There would be no point if it was easy all the time, right?
Unfortunately, we were not in Malawi long enough to get a good taste for what the country's cuisine is all about (unless it really is just chicken and chips, in which case we had more than enough time to get a taste for it...), but one thing we loved about every meal in Malawi was the addition of the country's beloved piri-piri sauce. Nali comes in mild, hot, gold, and garlic, the last one being my personal favorite, because it is not too hot but very tasty, so I don't have to end all my meals in tears. Nali Garlic also makes the perect burger topping or chips condiment when mixed with ketchup. We left the country with only two souvenirs: bottles of Nali Hot and Nali Garlic. 'Nuff said!
- can't wait to start the #Kilimanjaro climb w @crowls @kel835 @elgreg @rodshouldtweet one week from tomorrow! #
- check out our #SouthAfrica photosets - by far one of the most picturesque countries we've visited: http://t.co/V8M4145v #
- Last day in at this lovely lodge on #LakeTanganyika Starting the haul to Kigoma tmrw for #Gombe National Park to see Jane Goodall's chimps! #
After a stressful and uncomfortable two days of travel in northern Mozambique, we entered southern Malawi looking for a bit of relaxation and a break from the heat. We spent two nights in Blantyre, where we enjoyed a historical tour of the city's oldest building, the international influence of a Hindu temple and a distinctly African take on Indian food, and a tour of a local nonprofit focused on education through paper recycling.
Before long, we were headed on to Zomba, a small village (sister city to Urbana, Illinois!) at the foot of an imposing plateau which we were to ascend to escape the heat. Upon leaving the bus station, we were approached by the usual throng of people trying to sell us onward bus trips, taxi rides, crafts, and various food items, and we politely turned them down, as we had some errands to do before ascending the plateau. As we walked from the bus station to two banks, two supermarkets, and an open-air vegetable market, we were followed by one particularly persistent taxi driver who engaged us in conversation about our home, our jobs, our trip, as well as suggesting to us the best places to go for the supplies we needed. While we have learned so far on the trip to be wary of such pushy salesmen, since in most places they are merely feigning politeness in order to secure our business (and charge us a higher-than-market rate), we eventually came to realize that this man was genuinely polite and interested in us, and he would be an early example of the type of kind and helpful people we would meet all throughout Malawi (although he did overcharge us for the ride up the plateau). We had read that Malawian people were some of the friendliest in Africa, and time and again we've met people with big smiles who wanted nothing more than to shake our hands and exchange a few words with us. It's a nice change of pace from the feeling in Mozambique that everyone was trying to make a buck off us.
The Zomba plateau really has only two lodging options: a super-posh resort, and a backpacker-friendly spot called the Trout Farm. The resort being out of our price range, we tried our luck at the Trout Farm. On arriving we were told that it was undergoing a change in management and we found the facilities to be a bit neglected, with the trout pond all but dry and all the buildings in serious need of a coat of paint. We had been envisioning a few comfortable days to recuperate from our traveling, and so were a bit put off by the shabby exterior, but without any other real option, we settled in and tried to make the best of it. After a nice pasta dinner and a good night's sleep, things looked a lot better: we focused on the beautiful and pristine surroundings and the fresh, clean, pine-smelling mountain air. The next day was Thanksgiving, and we took a short walk in the morning, past a waterfall and to a vista overlooking the town and surrounding plains, meanwhile passing many men walking bikes loaded with an incredible amount of firewood, then returned to the Trout Farm to work on our Thanksgiving dinner.
While we've met many travelers here in Africa, very, very few of them have been Americans, so we had put out a couple of feelers on online travel forums, looking for expats in Malawi's cities to share the holiday with, but weren't holding out much hope. When we didn't receive any responses to our posts, and didn't meet any Americans in Blantyre, we headed up to Zomba, accepting the fact that we'd be eating alone. We picked up a chicken, some sweet potatoes, the ingredients for an impromptu stuffing, and apples to bake for dessert, and didn't think any more about it.
After returning from our walk we sat on our porch to rest for a bit, and you can imagine our surprise when two girls with American accents walked into the farm carrying an apple pie! We quickly struck up a conversation--it turns out that they were Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, soon to be followed by three more friends--and we agreed that we should certainly all celebrate the holiday together.
A few hours later we were sitting down to a candlelit dinner on a dock above a dry pond in rural Malawi, with heaping plates of chicken, sweet potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, carrots grown in one of the volunteers' gardens, green bean casserole, Velveeta macaroni and cheese (ingredients for these last two sent by the volunteers' concerned families), and of course a turkey, bought from another of the volunteers' neighbor, and slaughtered, cleaned, and expertly cooked by the volunteers. After only meeting two Americans in our first six weeks in Africa, we found it just perfect that we would meet the next five on Thanksgiving day, and it all made for a unique Thanksgiving and one we won't soon forget!