Day 81, rest day, Lilongwe, Korean Garden Lodge
Laundry, blog, bike, eat – typical rest day of chores. But today was a bit more relaxed than the average rest day because we had two rest days in Lilongwe. This wasn’t because it was the Easter weekend, it was because the Tour builds a contingency day into the itinerary. There are rough days in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. It is also the rainy season when we pass through these countries, which can make conditions much more difficult than anticipated. So Lilongwe gets and extra day in case we have lost a day somewhere along the route. Fortunately for us we had not lost a day. The freight train that is the TdA 2013 has kept to schedule.
Unfortunately, the day started with some bad news. The evening before we had had dinner in the restaurant and the hotel. A few people who were staying at the camp – about a fifteen-minute walk away – had joined us. Two of them were mugged as they walked back to camp. The guy was beaten up and had his backpack and iPhone stolen. But they didn’t get his wallet, which was in an inside pocket and they didn’t touch the girl that was with him. Very unpleasant – but could have been worse.
After getting up early, having a huge breakfast, making sure the laundry was sorted and doing some computer work, Bob and I met up with Vince and Lyndsay and wandered into the old town, just across the bridge from where we were staying. The streets were busy with commerce – Easter or not – with line ups stretching fifty metres and more at every bank. Every second shop seemed to be a hardware shop where you could buy just about anything but what you wanted. There were a few supermarket type stores with relatively well-stocked shelves but not a wide choice – and what was there was typically the economy version of the basics. We also saw lots of bicycle shops. There seem to be more bikes on the road in Malawi than in any other country we have travelled through. The shopkeepers were all pretty passive. In the couple of hours we wander we didn’t really come across any hard sells. It was very different from the constant hassling in Egypt or the in-your-face traders of West Africa. You got an answer if you asked a question but otherwise were pretty much left on your own. I don’t know if this is simply part of the Malawian character or the apathy resulting from years of bad business.
We then wandered into the new part of town where the South African shopping Malls are – Shoprite, Spar, fast-food franchises. We indulged of course – pizzas, milk shakes, ice cream sundaes. After a swim and a beer back at the hotel we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was great but the service less so. Word had got out about this place and by the time we left there must have been about thirty Tour riders in the restaurant. This resulte din what I have come to think of as the Sportsman’s Arms Syndrome. At the Sportsman’s Arms in Nanyuki in Kenya, when the TdA circus showed up, the kitchen went absolutely pear shaped. They just couldn’t cope with our numbers, the volumes of food we ordered and ordered again. We are like a full court press. We make people nervous and jumpy. They lose concentration. They forget orders. They deliver the wrong orders. It takes an hour and a half to get a plate of chips and another half hour to get the burger that was supposed to go with it. And then calculating individual bills for 70 people spirals the whole accounting system into bedlam. We try to be polite and understanding but we consume 5000 calories a day minimum. We have appetites and spend out days trying to go fast. So the curry restaurant in Lilongwe quickly descended into Sportsman’s Arms Syndrome. A lot of people drank a lot of beer before food arrived. But then tomorrow was another rest day. We are polite and understanding.