February 2016

Lizard at the Malawi LakeLizard at the Eagles Nest Lodge in Malawi

We have nothing.

The Zomba Plateau Nature Reserve is known to be a touristic highlight. A dam, a waterfall, a trout farm and special ferns are being promoted.
The formerly hard to access road onto the plateau has been reconstructed and tarred in order to facilitate deforestation. Now that most of the woods are gone the whole area has been proclaimed a reserve.
We were mainly interested in the trout farm and drove up to shop for a nice dinner. Tragically the whole site is completely run-down. The former breeding pools are dried out and covered with debris and waste.

We asked the guard about the trout and he informed us that there have not been any for a long time. We asked him what else they have on offer.
We have nothing, was his answer.

Speed Breaker Rudolf

Some decades ago before the introduction of 30 km/h zones especially in Zurich the highly controversial speed breakers were built in Switzerland.
The first name of the responsible councilor back in the days was Rudolf who became well known and was ever since called „SchwellenRuedi“(Speed Breaker Ruedi). When travelling through Tanzania one could get the impression that the influence of Speed Breaker Ruedi reached as far as Tanzania.
At village entrances – speed breakers, every hundred meters within villages – speed breakers and of course at village exits – speed breakers. Unfortunately these are very badly or not at all marked. Often they are bulky, high build objects and some of them a threat to the axel even when travelling only 10 km/h.
What a treat when travelling in Malawi! No more obstacles. The speed limit in villages is 50 km/h which most drivers adhere to thanks to many radar controls. The traffic flow is more constant and thus more eco-friendly.

Banks and ATMs in Malawi

We had the impression that only small amounts of cash, maximum 60 SFR, could be drawn at ATMs in Malawi. And after 5 withdrawals the ATM would not release any cash anymore. The money drawn was directly debited from our account in South Africa and within a few minutes we always receive an e-mail confirmation of the transaction. Thus we were always aware when fighting a losing battle with the ATMs.  Two times we were able to withdraw cash. The third time the machine would not dispense anymore but our account was debited four times.
To hand in a written claim at the bank one has to queue for one and a half to two hours. The success rate of getting a refund on the falsely debited amount is very low.  Effort and gain? When drawing directly from the teller in the bank, one can receive up to 300 SFR without the risk of wrong debits. But you have to stand in line for that.
Throughout the bank sings advice that smoking and the use of mobile phones is prohibited. Nobody smokes. Of the approximately 100 customers more than 50% were busy fumbling with their mobile phones.
In Malawi the fuel stations do not accept credit cards. Cash only.

Buffalo Bike

It has neither a hand break nor any lights. Nevertheless the Buffalo Bike is one of the best bicycles worldwide: cheap and robust.
The bicycle fails all European traffic regulations and is quite heavy with its 23 kg. For Africa it is the perfect bike – nearly indestructible and easy to repair if need be. What makes this bike special? It has to be tough and easily maintained. Even hand breaks and lights are missing – just to reduce the parts that could break. The production costs of the Buffalo are 150 Dollars. The profits from the sales go to World Bicycle Relief (WBR).
The carrier can take baggage up to 100 kilos heavy and stacked up to 2 meters high. Brackets and frame of the Buffalos are made of heavy duty steel. The tyres are puncture-proof.  The biggest technical challenges are the back paddle breaks and the pedal gears – „with all the dust and dirt”.

Bycicle workshop in MalawiWood transport with bycicle in Malawi
To WBR it is important to continuously further the development of the bicycle based on the experiences of the owners. Only last year staff from SRAM of Germany visited Zambia to examine bicycles delivered seven years ago. The bikes could use a good service by now. The engineers took important information on what had to still improve back home. British BBC chose the Buffalo to be one of the most beautiful bicycles in the world. 
Since 2005 until today the WBR has delivered more than 270‘000 bicycles to South America, Africa and Asia. The main focus of their work lies in Africa. The people have two options to get a bike. Either they get one sponsored from WBR or they buy a bike. Sponsored does not mean they receive a bike as a present. The sponsorship is bound to certain terms and conditions: children for example have to use the bike continuously for two years to go to school, nurses have to make use of the bike to deliver medications to patients, etc. After fulfilling these obligations for two years the person becomes the owner of the bicycle. In case of a breach of contract the bike can be repossessed by a ten headed committee that constitutes of moral authorities like the village elders or pastor.  We retrieved the above information form an article in „The Spiegel“. They correspond with our own experiences.
In Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi the bicycle is the cheapest and most common mode of transport used.
Apart from the Buffalo there are many other makes. All are similarly strongly and simply built. The bicycle is an essential commodity. Not an expensive prestige object. 
In towns and larger villages it is also used as taxi.

Coal transport with bycicle in MalawiFamily transport with bycicle in Malawi
In Tanzania and Malawi the use of bicycles seems to be a male privilege. In both countries we only saw women and children on the carriers.
In Switzerland there used to be a fine for riding a bike with more than one person on it. Here in Africa it is an exemption if only one person is riding a bicycle without and passengers or vast amounts of baggage.