Sunday, 5 November 2017

Malawi – Raving amongst the refugees

November 4

Hello everyone!

There are an estimated 7.6 billion people living on Earth at the moment. Most people are happy – or safe – where they live. Others, however, are not welcome in their own country. Fearing persecution and death for a variety of reasons, they are forced to flee to faraway lands, often with their bodies and hearts as their only possession. These are the refugees of our world.

Refugees at Dzaleka camp (picture from
Tumaini Facebook website)
  
According to UNHCR statistics, there are 65.6 million refugees across the globe. That is equivalent to the population of the United Kingdom. Malawi hosts some of them, which itself is interesting as there is no war-struck country on its border (though many refugees have recently come from Mozambique, their civil war ended in 1992 – 25 years ago). I know that many refugees find themselves in countries far away from conflict – note the influx into Europe since the start of the Syrian Civil War – but for some reason, possibly the poverty which affects so much of the native population, I didn’t expect refugees to find themselves in Malawi. Particularly 30,000.

Dancers performing at Tumaini Festival

Refugees are from countries as far away as the DRC, Somalia and Burundi. It shows the lengths people are willing to travel in order to secure their safety and push for a better life.

The camp has had global funding

Two camps cater for the refugees in Malawi. The larger one, Dzaleka, is about 50 km north of Lilongwe. Originally built for 9,000 inhabitants, its current population is more than treble this. Many head towards South Africa but others are stuck. Malawi is poor enough as it is; tending to the needs of refugees requires external support.


One way of raising money is by holding an annual festival called Tumaini, designed to celebrate the diversity of the refugees in the camp and people from the wider region. It’s also a useful way of attracting visitors and much-needed donations, which links to the meaning of the Swahili word: hope.


There is a wide variety of performances across the two stages and other open spaces. We arrived quite late so missed many acts, but what we saw was eclectic and had a positive vibe.

A Japanese band performing on the main stage



I particularly enjoyed watching the dancing groups contort themselves and leap into positions I could only dream of doing. They were incredibly popular, with the crush of the crowd reminiscent of large European musical festivals, all desperate to get a glimpse.

A local dance troupe strutting their stuff



I found it interesting just walking around the camp, seeing what it consisted of. Bakeries, bars, schools and basketball courts have been built. Whether this adds a sliver of normality to the lives of those who live here, I don’t know.

The camp bakery

Some of the main buildings in Dzaleka

I’m not sure how the people who live in Dzaleka every day felt about this event. It could be construed as an opportunity to raise money and demonstrate their talents; conversely, it struck me as a possible invasion of their privacy and a tokenistic gesture, appearing for a few hours and high-fiving children who I never got to know and will most likely never see again.

A panorama of Tumaini Festival

Many of the children seemed thrilled at the attention and enjoyed interacting with the many muzungu visitors. The boy below was an incredible dancer.

A little boy busting a move

What I’m sure is appreciated is the money raised, which will hopefully be distributed throughout this and the more southern Luwani camp. Combating malaria, water shortages and diminishing food packets is the basic requirement.

Selling their artistic products raises some money (picture from 
Tumaini Facebook website)

The vast majority of people who read this have been born into and lived through relative peace and safety. We’re lucky. Some of the atrocities a lot of these people have lived through must be harrowing and torturous, both physically and mentally. I cannot imagine how I would react in their shoes. I’ve moved around the world of my own volition; the people who live here move for survival.




Whilst in Malawi, I certainly feel the urge to help and definitely need to do something over the next few years to give opportunities to people like those residing in Dzaleka so that they have a better chance of a better life. To give them ‘tumaini’.

Performers at Tumaini Festival (picture from 
Tumaini Facebook website)

The Sun setting on Tumaini

Love you all


Matt

Sunday, 29 October 2017

South Africa – Having a whale of a time!

October 20-21

Hello everyone!

The largest mammal.

Whale, whale, whale...what do we have here?

The heaviest mammal.

The fluke or tail helps to power the whale

The mammal which causes an almighty splash.



Welcome to Hermanus, an otherwise sleepy South African coastal village which hosts some very special visitors between June and November each year.


As the crow flies, Hermanus is about 300km west of Mossel Bay

Hermanus is the main stopping point on the Whale Coast Route

Southern Right whales – so called as they were the ‘right’ ones to poach back in the day – are huge. Growing up to 17 metres in length, one adult whale is almost equivalent to a lane at a bowling alley.

A model of a southern right whale

They make their way up from the Antarctic each winter (remember winter is June/July down here) to find shallow waters in which to mate.

Southern rights are also found in Australia and South America

We had been told by many South Africans that as it was the tail-end of the season, we may not see a whale. After arriving in Hermanus, we dumped our bags and headed to Walker’s Bay to see if we would have any luck.

The picturesque Walker's Bay

Being quite far off shore, binoculars are
often needed
Whales are huge; however, in comparison to the size of the oceans in which they reside, it can often be like finding the needle in the proverbial haystack. Add in the fact that their colour is generally black or a very dark blue, save for the white callosities on their heads, and you’ll come to realise that seeing a whale is not a guarantee.

A whale, captured with a long lens on a phone
That small white mark is the whale, showing
the distance between human and whale

It makes it that much more special when you do see one. About ten minutes after we started scouring the sea with binoculars, we noticed a commotion amongst a group of people on a nearby rock.

The vast majority of tourists come to Hermanus to watch
the whales from shore

The reason for the excitement was this…

Hermanus is apparently the best place to whale watch,
from the shore, in the world

In the distance to our left, a female whale had surfaced. Just briefly, but enough for us to be sure we were staring at a whale.

Part of a possibly seventeen metre body emerging from the ocean

It’s important to remember that they aren’t here for our entertainment. They will come up for air when necessary, not on a clockwork rotation.  Taking photos of them can thus be a challenge, particularly when they are so far away.

The whales are near the surface when
hunting for food

The Law of Sod naturally meant that the whale started to move away from the rock as soon as we got there and had a decent view.

The colder water supplies a higher
nutrient level of food

Luckily for us, the adult whale turned around and started making her presence more visible, and much closer to the shore.

The fluke of the whale, metres from shore

She firstly did this by plunging into the cold water, with her tail being flicked up so that it would enter vertically.

Whales come up to South Africa to mate

A Southern Right can have up to
seven mates

The whale then disappeared from sight. Pairs of eyes were fixed intently on the whale’s entry point into the Atlantic. We all knew what might happen next.

Looking for the whake

Without any warning, the colossal whale soared into the late afternoon sky, seemingly hanging in the air for a brief moment before crashing back to sea and once again disappearing from view.

Whales jumping out of the water
is known as 'breaching'

Researchers now believe this is
a form of communication

I was caught off-guard first three times, before finally capturing the moment on camera. This may have been because I was in such awe; how can a whale which weighs 40 tons propel itself out of the water?

Attempt one: whale off to the list

Attempt three (or four or five): timing

We tracked the whale around the craggy bay, watching her soar and splash.



Breaching is for distant communication,
which makes sense as no other adult whales were present

Finally, one last tail flick and she was gone. Out of sight, but certainly not out of mind. An incredibly brutal, beautiful animal to witness.

Whales will live between 50 and 100 years

Whales aren’t the only animals to be found in Hermanus. Many of the jagged rocks on the Western Cape are home to dassies, which look like gophers but are actually the closest living relative to the elephant. I’m not sure how, either.

Dassie...elephant...

A lot of their activity revolves around sleeping and eating
Further down the coast, at Betty’s Bay, a large colony of penguins can be found. The famous colony is located nearer Cape Town, at Boulder’s Beach. The upshot of this is that far fewer people visit the penguins at Betty’s Bay, making your time there much more pleasurable and relaxed.

The braying noise made by these cuties
has led them to be dubbed the 'jackass' penguin



Seeing all of these animals up close has been a highlight of this trip, particularly the Southern Right whale. I was really excited about seeing a whale; the experience certainly didn’t disappoint.

Walker's Bay

Free Willy

Love you all,


Matt

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

South Africa – Gazing the Garden Route

October 16-19

Hello everyone!

For most of our week in South Africa, we were based in the coastal town of Mossel Bay. Occasional high-rises loom over the enticing Indian Ocean breakers which lap the smooth sand. Not that we would be swimming; the number of great white sharks in this area is said to be quite high.

Santos Beach, in a cloudy Mossel Bay

We went straight...for about 2 metres, then
lay out our towels, quite far from the sea

The town is also often known as the entry point to the so-called ‘Garden Route’. It’s often described as a ‘must-see’ for people who visit South Africa, which is strange as it’s actually quite hard to pinpoint what is a ‘must-see’ aspect of it.

Major cities lie some way to the west (Cape Town) and east
(Port Elizabeth) of the Garden Route

Surfing is a popular attraction on the Garden Route,
even with the sharks
 The route stretches for about 300 kilometres eastwards along the southern coast. Having had the guided tour of Mossel Bay from our friend Nerina, we ventured out each day to find places of interest. Mainly beaches.

Wilderness

Knoetzie

A short drive from the main town along the route, George, is the wonderfully-named village of Wilderness. The change in the landscape is as stark as it is stunning. Thick forests tower above the water, just a few hundred metres away from the shore.

A fresh catch for lunch

It wasn't as warm as it looks - we had to sit behind a dune
for protection from the wind

That forest is, bizarrely, shaped like a map of Africa. If you squint. Just as impressive was the sight of paragliders negotiating the strong winds to land from the headland onto the beach below.

And the bit with no power...that's Malawi!

Two of these gliders seemed destined to crash at one point,
 though probably missed each other by a comfortable margin

The halfway point of the Garden Route is a sleepy town called Knysna. The area contains a lovely, calm lagoon.

Small boats moored around the pretty lagoon at Knysna

The calmness dissipates somewhat when you see the lagoon from above and observe where the water enters the lagoon. The ‘Two Heads’ guard the scenic town and showcase the power of the waves when they crash and clash against the rugged rocks.

Imagine a boat from 400 years ago trying to enter that...

The Heads are also described as 'the resting place of many
fishermen'. Lovely thought, that...

Near Knysna is a place called Knoetzie which I had seen recommended on a travel blog. It looked simple enough on Google Maps…

17 minutes, they said...try double that.

…whereas the reality was slightly different and unsuitable for our little Polo…

One of the smoother sections of gravel KP undertook

The township at the entrance

The beach itself, down a series of uneven, haunting steps, seemed abandoned. An old castle hung precipitously on the edge of the higher land above. A hidden treasure of a place, though a bit eerie.

Step through to find beach bliss...

Buildings are few and far between, not to mention unique
in architectural style

Exploring Knoetzie

I guess the allure of the Garden Route is the ‘route’: the journey. The allure is certainly strong, though we’d have enjoyed it more if the temperatures had been stronger as well.

A mountainous pass between Outdshoorn and George

Rolling down a hill from Wilderness, with a lagoon on the right

The views when driving are spectacular, just as they were when we were driving along Route 62 on our way to Mossel Bay. Once again, some lovely drives around this lovely landscape.

Windy, wavy and wonderful


Love you all


Matt