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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Flowers found on the Shores of Lake Malawi - Cape Maclear
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
JUNE 13, 2007

There's Always Room for One More...



When traveling around Africa, there is something you have to understand very early on, and how you take this may just determine whether you will love or hate your time here, in Africa - there is always room for one more...

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As far as travelers go we are not the most interesting, we do not go in for all those death defying activities, we do not push ourselves too far out of our comfort zones by living off the land. We definitely do not come naturally to the traveling game like others we have met, we do not camp in tents and for that matter we both prefer a nice private room to that of a shared dorm. You probably won't find us holding up the bar at 3 in the morning, although on occasion we do fancy a tipple at 10 in the morning.

We are not the most frugal of travelers, we do not live on $2 and a cup or rice a day, yet we are far from living like kings in the land of the gods. We do however eat fairly well, better in fact that when we were working. For a start I now eat breakfast every morning which is new to me and essential for a healthy start to the day. Quite often lunch is a decent meal, at worst a healthy sandwich. Rarely before have I eaten fish freshly caught that morning, Mealie Meal, Pap, N'Shima, and Sudsa are all new experiences.

We are not the youngest, and are far from being the oldest, we are slower than most, yet still feel like we are missing out on a lot there is to do.

I think this is part of why we love traveling so much. It takes all sorts, you can do what you want, how you want, at the speed you want. There are no rules, there is no right or wrong way - there just is.

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Traveling provides a lot of time for thought and reflection. We find ourselves constantly questioning previous beliefs, be it things we have read, learnt at school, or seen in the media.

We continually look towards finding the minimum needed to make oneself happy. We have so much more than the locals we meet, but are we any better off? Is it food in our bellies, or the kindness of others that makes us fulfilled and happy? Why is that we in western society believe we are better off than those in Africa?

It was difficult resigning from jobs that provided so much joy, satisfaction and opportunity for professional growth. Yet what is the point of working so hard and never getting to enjoy the fruits of your labours? How long can you put your dreams on hold to further your professional life? Without a doubt it was a strange feeling quitting our jobs and leaving town, setting off on adventure with no job lined up for the future. It is harder still seeing money pouring out of the bank account rather than in. After we resigned we went through an intense period of self doubt - had we made the right decisions? Only now, months into our journey can we look back on what we have done and know. With a certain sense of calm we move forward knowing that we are on the right path, whereever it may lead.

Sharing our adventures has become an important part of the whole experience. Many a traveler we have met has wanted an ear to bend - to share the excitement of a dive or a bus ride through a new and exciting place. To try and explain things to those who have not seen and felt is difficult.

Donna found it hard initially having limited clothes, no perfume or make up (not that she used it a lot but it's nice to have the option). She would look at other travelers, dolled up for a night on the town and wish she could be like that. Yet now she talks of further reducing her bag, removal of the luxuries. She understands that everyone's trip is different. Not everyone is carrying a pack, taking local transport or traveling for as long or as far as we hope to. It is important however to understand - and I can say I have heard her say it on many a morning and night - "You don't have to be a dirty traveler". So long as she can wash her hands before a meal, pull on a clean pair of knickers each morning and have a shower or bath every couple of days, she is content.

I am surprised at how quickly we have adapted. We now laugh in the face of adversity. rickety old busses, attempted pickpockets, shambled accommodation - the best coping method seems to be simply shrugging your shoulders, taking a few deep breaths and having a good chuckle.

Donna has changed on our short journey. She was fearless going into Zimbabwe with no plan and no currency, traveling with total strangers. It was extremely out of her character, for someone who has always been so organised and has an innate need to always be in control, to know what is going on in any given situation. She has also grown in patience - she can now sit patiently at a bus stop for hours, telling me, "there is no point wasting energy getting annoyed - it is not like we have to be anywhere in a hurry". She is becoming a lot more accepting of people and their faults, the unknown and the realisation that she can no longer control everything. If it is possible, I have become even more relaxed.

Reading has become an even bigger part of our lives. We now travel with four to five books stashed away in Matt's pack and at least one each in our day bags. Extended bus trips and early evenings give us plenty of opportunities to broaden our minds, our selection of books now randomised through the haphazard swapping process among fellow travelers.

For whatever reason we had our doubters - those that thought we would not last the distance. 80 days, 90 days max, this was not the driving force, but we passed these milestones with a real sense of satisfaction.

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What little planning we did before setting off on this grand adventure has paid off, our gear in general has held up fairly well, the only failure being a portable hard drive we took along to back up our photos. This broke somewhere in South Africa and we were forced to replace it recently in Zambia when we realised we had filled the laptop with nearly 20GB of photos. Of all the items brought with us things most useful are clearly the clothes line, head torch, cameras and laptop, it is so nice to sit and review our photos at the end of a hard day or simply go back through weeks later reliving our fonder memories.

Obviously not everything we are lugging around has been used to its best potential. I have had a frisbee hidden in my pack that has only just seen the light of day on the lake side beaches of Malawi and with weight so important I find it hard to justify lugging one kilogram of camera tripod around in the hope that one day it might be useful.

We were fairly thorough in our lists of gear and managed to get most of what we wanted. After four months of experience, the only things missing would be an extra head torch, a 4x4, a Swiss bank account laden with hidden riches and the much debated tent (this issue still rages, do we or don't we need a tent?)

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So far Africa has been a continent full of surprises and of few disappointments, ever amazed by the changing landscapes, the welcoming receptions, the architecture, the poverty and the resilience, the deep seated happiness for living. We still pinch ourselves to remind us where we are.

It is also hard to reduce four months of experiences down to a shortlist of favourites. From the remote beauty and serenity in the Lesotho highlands, to the excitement I felt seeing my first lion, or nearly running over a rhino sleeping on the side of the road, I am almost like a young child at Christmas not knowing which present to open first.

A smile or casual wave that brings a beautiful grin to a child's face, they are so curious just hoping for interaction. It is a surreal experience being the only white person in some of the places we have visited. The children in villages, the look in their eyes when they realise that you are talking to them. Through careful practice they have almost perfect diction for a greeting, then further questions dissolve into blank stares or a fit of giggles. Other children cower, hiding behind their mothers skirts as if you are the first European they have ever seen. The pure delight and laughter in kids faces when they see photos taken of them.

One of Donna's fondest memories is way back in Soweto, South Africa. We were being shown around the township by some of the local kids and they were describing with glee how they had watched Desmond Tutu arrive home one day being driven by a white chauffeur. To them the tables are starting to turn, they see hope and a future.

In Zimbabwe, a county on the verge of collapse, where the hospitality we were shown was unequaled and where we truly felt that there was always room for one more. Our first dive in Mozambique, each dive better than the last.

Humour in the strangest of places, the conductors on mini buses, where 20 people means the bus can leave - and there is room for more (25 adults is our current record).

No stress, or different stress, arriving in a strange place with no idea of the layout, no accommodation booked, no plan, then just winging it until you get a bed for the night.

Sunrises, sunsets

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Not every thing is peaches and cream - for many Africa is a nightmare experience, we still do not think 24 hours on a bus to travel 200kms is fun - although we can look back and laugh. We do get annoyed by other tourists who are un-accepting of the local ways, who are unable to accept things for the way they are. Traveling halfway around the world and living in the bubble of other travelers is not what we signed on for, nor will I ever get used to touts, full stop.

I did not like to have to make a decision to sacrifice work for travel - this I have spent many an hour contemplating.

South Africa was a frustrating experience. Constantly being told not to do things, to be wary of the blacks, to not go to certain areas or places, to stay locked behind security fences and high walls. The division between black and white is still very apparent and hard to cope with for so long a period of time.

Because we are white and travelers it is assumed that we have money to burn. So often we have been walking through a market or town and the locals after showing us there wares will expect us to make a purchase - even if it is purely to support their business. It gets very hard to retain a level of courtesy and respect for these people.

Not being able to speak the local language is a constant cause of frustration. Many times we hear the word M'zungu and know they are talking about us - yet we cannot understand nor join in. Language has not been to much of a barrier - through hand signals, expressions and gestures we have been able to get most messages across. We find many locals have basic English which they are keen to improve by speaking to travelers.

One of our biggest disappointments is missing out on things happening back home, weddings, births and birthdays go by, we look back with sadness on these events. Mum's cooking, hot showers, familiar faces, a good steak, chocolate mouse, family and our friends.

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It would be remiss to write a four month summary without mentioning some of the characters we have come across on our adventures. One of our biggest worries before setting out was if we would find it easy to meet people - from the get go this is something that has proved to be a fundamental part of the traveling experience that seems to just come naturally. From the easy going nature of Irishish Kenneth, the laid back Brits who just seemed to keep appearing out of the woodwork and Russell, a man who had a tendency to drink too much but at the end of the day was a great guy. The couple of Canadians we corrupted with our mini bus antics in the Drakensberg, the Beatrice boys who corrupted us with theirs in Zimbabwe. Captain Morgan - a larger than life modern day explorer plying the east coast in his 4x4, Steph and John who cooked up a storm when the food situation was getting too much, and finally Mr Alaska - a man with travel in his blood and stories to boot.

So much of our adventure has been about the people we have met along the way - the memories would not be complete with out them and the stories they are apart of.

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I love the fact that we are four months into our journey, having experienced so much, yet we have so much still to see and do, from the safari's in Tanzania and Kenya, the Gorillas of Rwanda/Uganda or the summit of Kilimanjaro. We only hope we get the chance to share some of the experience with our friends and family.

We are on a quest that leads to so many new opportunities. Rather than a door closing we have opened up a pandora's box of new opportunities. We are no where near finishing this holiday, yet we are already talking of future adventures. From the wild's of Africa we look east to Asia, South America, 4x4'ing through Australia, Europe and who knows - the south pacific may still have an island yet to be discovered.

We both understand that dreaming is important. Think big, think what ever you want to, because one day it may just come true. Who would have thought three years ago that at some point in the future we would be playing frisbee on the beaches of Lake Malawi in the middle of Africa with a troupe of kids from the local villages, or staring down the tusks of a wild African Elephant while riding horses along the mighty Zambezi River.

I dreamt of being a writer, I dreamt of traveling, I travel and I write, neither I do very well, but at least I am living my dreams, and who knows where that will lead.

I think one of the most important things is to not put off untill tomorrow, things you could be doing today. I would much prefer to look back on my death bed and regret the things I had done, rather than things I had not the courage or will to attempt.

Our search for a meaning to life has not progressed to an answer, however we are having a great time looking, and maybe there is something in that itself - life is for the living.

There is always room for one more, not just an African motto, a way of life.

     
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Fantastic, was just starting to get freaked out having just booked our tickets to Africa (31st of Jan!) but just sooo excited now!

Lorna - October 05, 2007

Whow, thats all l can say!

Lachie & Stella - July 02, 2007

Mate, you are living my dreams for me. when will I have the courage to leave the comfort zones and experience life? Will my girl friend be as accommodative and compatible of my craziness, as Donna is to yours? you are a beautiful mind mat, and a blessed man. give my love to dona.

Kannan - July 01, 2007

 
     
     
 

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