Monday, April 5, 2010

Elephant Marsh: fail

So this past weekend we tried to go to a nature preserve called Elephant Marsh. "Tried," however, is the operative word here. There is only one guidebook to Malawi and no reliable roadmaps.

The guidebook says things like "you may want to check to see if the bridge is operational or flooded before you leave." Oh really, Mr. Briggs? And who exactly am I going to check with? The little man who lives in a hut by the bridge and has a satellite telephone?

But I digress. The guidebook showed two ways to Elephant Marsh so we chose what looked like the shorter way. Turns out that they don't differentiate in the guidebook between paved roads and roads that are dirt/mud/mostly potholes/winding through the mountains/in the middle of nowhere and sometimes end in a random field.

And we weren't exactly inconspicuous with our white skin and bright yellow Land Cruiser:

At one point we got out of the car to stretch our legs and this guy comes up and says "you are at my home! [pause] I am very interested to see you here..." This was a Malawian way of saying "What the f**k are you white people doing here!?" Believe me, my man, we were very surprised to be at your home as well. I then showed him the picture I took of him and he goes, "Ahhh but it is very beautiful!" Yes, yes you are.

Needless to say we took a nine hour drive. I wasn't sure that we'd ever find our way back. Many of the roads we were on ended up as dead ends and many times we asked for directions and it went like like:

"Do we go to the left?"
"Or the right?"
"Wait, the left or the right?"
"Yes, go to the end and stay to the left right-hand side."

Yah, I'm not sure what he meant by the left right-hand side but eventually we made it to the marsh. And discovered that, as promised, the bridge was flooded. We asked these people about the bridge and they were like, "Well you can't use the car. But if you want to go by these boats you can just leave the car here." Seems like a fair trade to me: our car for a 1 hr boat ride. Should have taken them up on it. Meh, hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

 This guy gave us directions to Mkanga and then said, "I am from there- I will be seeing you." Hahaha, yah right we said. We are in a car, my friend and you're riding a bike. Well after hitting the dead end of a flooded bridge, we had to turn around and go back through Mkanga. Guess who we saw wizzing by on a bike and waving?

Thought we'd have another 9 hr journey retracing our steps but luckily we found another road. Although at one point we asked the way to Blantyre and the person just burst out laughing. It was like being in Denver, CO and asking a passerby how to get to Orlando.

Here are some pictures from our journey and people who helped us along the way:

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