It is Thursday the 8th of October when I close the car door behind me. My hands grasp the light brown coloured steering wheel which is covered in dust, just like the dashboard. The car shakes a bit when I start it and the shaking slowly changes into a more rhythmic shudder: a familiar sound at last. We can hear the dust underneath the tyres when we drive away from the entrance and start on the climb to the village.
On our way to the village we pass by some stalls with local products and some attentive merchants call out to us as we pass. Even though we’re in a driving car, they still think they can sell us some touristy things as we go. When we don’t stop, they walk back to their stalls, heads down, and settle back on their wooden stools.
The “27.000 Miles Along The Sea” team has temporarily grown to four people. Two energetic and very enthusiastic Dutch guys spotted our car in Nkhata Bay and heard that we occasionaly take people along. With their typical Dutch directness, they don’t cut around the bush and ask us if they can join us when we visit Vwaza and Nyika National Park. We don’t have to consider this proposal for very long. Their enthusiasm is contagious and we realize that the change in our travel dynamics might be good for us, so we say yes.
A narrow dusty track leads us to Vwaza National Park. We can tell by the condition of the road that the park doesn’t get that many visitors. Just before we really enter the gate we find a large tree that covers most of the road in shade and we pull over for a quick lunch. A young local woman walks up to us and starts talking to us in her own language. It is impossible for us to find out what she wants, so we decide to ignore her. A few moment later she gets down on her hunches near the back of the car, where Helga is making some chicken sandwiches.. She then unbuttons a pocket in her dress and puts some Malawian Kwacha notes on the table which hangs on the inside of the back door. “ She thinks we’re some kind of shop”, I say to Helga. We both laugh, give her some leftovers and put the kwachas back in her hand. Very happy we see her walk back down the road towards the village. “Let’s get out of here,” Helga says, “before she brings her whole family.” We all get back in the car and drive the last few kilometers to the park.
We stay in a large hut made from wood and straw. It is the cheapest solution to stay in the park and somehow much cheaper than camping. We move the beds around, hang our mosquito nets from the ceiling and settle for the night. The sun sets and just before seven o’clock everything around us is dark with our head torches as our only light. When we look around us we can see eyes light up in the beam from our torches all round us like shiny marbles. I try to count them, but movement makes it too hard. The long day exhausted us all and it doesn’t take long before everyone is sound asleep.
I wake up feeling like I’m in a helicopter. It is not even midnight and I must have slept for at least 3 hours. Helga lies next to me, clearly frustrated with her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling while she keeps the sheets up to her nose. I realize why I thought I was in a helicopter, the mosquito net has filled itself with buzzing mozzies. I follow her example, but can’t seem to relax and get used to the buzzing sound. “ This so called mosquito net is not working as it is meant to be working, “ I tell her, “ I am going to pitch up the tent!”. The next moment I’m in my boxer shorts on top of a skew car, surrounded by hippos, setting up a rooftop tent. The movements are all automatic and within a few minutes I’m finished. The moment I get in the tent I see Helga coming out of the hut with her blanket. “ May I join you up there?” she asks. “ Sing a song first!” I reply jokingly. She’s not amused and with a murmured “f*ck you” she gets into the tent.
The smell of a simmering coffeepot and an omelet reaches us up in the tent and tickles our nostrils. There is no way we can resist this and like a bunch of well trained soldiers we are up and ready at six o’clock in the morning and waiting in line for the coffee. We almost inhale the liquid as if our lives depend on it and the person who proves to have a steel esophagus turns around first and hurries to the shower. The rest starts to pack and it’s not too long before everyone had his shower and we’re ready to go.
The roads are not clearly signposted and we find our own way through the National Park. We start to follow the riverbed that leads through the park. It is the driest time of the year and our benefit is that all the animals gather around the only water and the little green there is. When it’s around noon all the animals disappear from the sun and start saving their energy in the shadows. The downside is that as soon as you leave the area where there is water everything is dry. We turn of after we’ve followed the river as far as we could and the last drops of water are evaporated. The four of us have a look at the map. Our choices here in Vwaza are limited, there are not a lot of tracks through the park and the rangers have told us not to drive the northern or southern routes because of poaching activity in the area and the condition of the road. As far as they are concerned we take the road east which is the same we drove when we went in.
After a long talk we decide to go against the advice of the rangers and choose the road less taken: North. It’s the road that goes through the poaching area and of which the condition is unknown. Our car doors and windows are tightly shut. When we look out of the car the whole side is covered in TseTse flies. When we stop they hit us like hail, probably thinking they can fly through the heavy steel or something. We should really lower our tyre pressure on this track, but none of us has the guts to out of the car, so we deal with the inconveniences and drive a little bit slower. It becomes a bit of a challenge when we also get fallen trees and branches on the dirt road. From behind the steering wheel I look around me, but still, no one volunteers to get them off the road. We’re lucky: we manage to drive around them again and again.
As I am writing this story, the next thing that comes to mind and when we are almost sitting on the front seats with four people because hanging out of the windows on the side is still impossible because of the TseTse flies. Ide and Hendrik are both leaning forward as fas as they can to have a look out of the front window. It’s hard to see, but in the distance we can see three men dressed in military outfits, carrying guns, walking on the shoulder of the track in the shade of the trees. It’s already too late to turn around, and there was any space to do so either way. One of the guys is carrying the antlers of a male Kudu over his shoulder while the person in front navigates with a small handheld GPS. They are all dressed in thick canvas and covered in flies. They’ve clearly tried to cover every part of their bodies and it makes them look like guerrilla warriors because of it. Slowly we come closer and I can feel the tension amongst us. The moment the men are passing us I make a quick decision which we will all regret later and I’m still not sure of was the right one. The men pass on my side and I quickly roll my window down…like an avalanche hundreds of TseTse flies stream into the car. We are all dumbfounded for a few seconds while the car fills up with them. Hendrik, who sits next to me makes another quick decision and also rolls his window down in the hope that the momentum of the flies leads them straight through the car and out on the other side. Theoretically that was a very good idea, but it has a reverse effect and twice as many flies get into the car. I chat with the men very quickly and they tell us that they are an anti poaching unit who are on patrol. We quickly close the windows again and start to drive. The inside of the car feels like beehive. We are being attacked from all sides by these ferocious little animals. The other people in the car choose their weapons (towels, newspapers) and start their counterattack while loudly keeping scores. Pieces of newspaper are flying through the car while I get hit in the head by a towel murdering TseTse flies. But they don’t seem to die that easily. I try my best to keep my foot on the gas while I get bitten by the little bastards.
Slowly the amount of flies are getting less. We laugh about the situation and find our way out of the park. The closed gate looms up in the distance and we are all a bit scared that it might be locked and no one is there. It turns out not to be locked and I run out of the car and off we go, out of the park.
Half an hour later we reach the next national park: Nyika NP. It’s a park that looks like a mix between Wales and the Scottish highlands. It’s clean, green and the rolling hills seem endless in the distance. We put up camp, bake bread and sit around the campfire sharing stories while we enjoy the cool night for a change. We leave early the next morning, drive out of the park and find our way to Livingstonia.