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Archive for September, 2008

The Trip Home

I’m knackered after five days of overland travel, but the past two weeks have been two of the most memorable of my life. We finished filming the 15th of August, after which two friends from Namibia flew up and backpacked Malawi with me. Having spent the previous two months traveling the country and scoping out my favorite spots and making a list of the places I hadn’t seen enough of, we quickly left Lilongwe in search of quieter grounds. The highlights of our journey included four days on Mt. Mulanje, central Africa’s highest peak, and two days at Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Mulanje, well, was incredible. The massif rises up out of the earth much like the Tetons of Wyoming or Europe’s Dolomites. On approaching the range, it’s almost difficult to imagine any mountains amidst the gently sloping surrounding area. Then, you’re suddenly forced to crane your neck upwards as the range clears the clouds before you. At first, all you can see is the enormous plateau that lies 4,000 feet above base camp. So, it’s easy to misjudge the size of the massif or the density of the range because you have to climb up onto the plateau before you get a clear view of what lies above. Here, dozens of peaks rest in close proximity, large enough to pull moisture from hundreds of miles away and alter the region’s storm systems in the process.

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Rising at 3AM, we summited Sapitwa Peak on the morning of the third day, managing to catch sunrise from the summit ridge. While the view from the top was amazing (and cold), we quickly made it back down to our high camp, spent the night, and hiked out the next morning, catching a bus to Lilongwe.

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

After saying goodbyes to friends in the capital city, we started the long journey back to Namibia, hoping to land ourselves in Lusaka on Day 1, Livingstone on Day 2, and back into Namibia on Day 3. Well, that was the plan, but planning doesn’t always work so well when you’re hitchhiking on terrible roads and reliant on the compassion of people paying $11/gallon for gasoline.

Our first test was our ability to talk our way into Zambia. Because of the political instability in Zimbabwe, the Zambian government realizes that they have a monopoly on tourists operations to Vic Falls, the country’s main tourist destination that rests on the border of Zam/Zim. Therefore, in the past 12 months, the Zambian government has jacked up tourist visas from $25USD to $135USD and seemingly eliminated all transit visas.

April and I have both been to Zambia multiple times and had no interest in paying the exorbitant visa fee, but unfortunately, Zambia represents the only other route for overland travel back to Namibia from Malawi other than going through Zim. So, Zambia it was, although we figured there must be a way around the $135 tourist visa if all we wanted was a transit visa to pass through the country in three days time. Sure enough, there was.

We arrived at the border playing stupid, unaware of the need for a visa. Then, we explained our situation as volunteers in Namibia, confident that there must be a way we can work something out so to get a transit visa. After 45 minutes of negotiation and smiles, we paid $50USD each, got stamped with transit visa, and off we went, happy that we were able to navigate the delicate, flexible immigration policies that we had anticipated encountering.

Our adventure took a turn for the less desirable in Lusaka, when, after standing on the side of the road for eight hours, we decided to jump in the back of an 18-wheeler. The only problem was, this particular truck was used to haul coal, and the previous load had included several drums of oil. So, we cozied up inside the sealed container with a coal heap and oil stained floors for 11 hours of bouncing along pot-whole ridden roads. We got sick and dirty, but after a while, just gave up hope and endured, arriving in Livingstone after midnight.

The next day we decided to take a well deserved rest, opting for a hike to Victoria Falls and sunset booze cruise rather than hitting the road to Namibia. The water was much lower than my past two visits to the falls, but because of this, we were able to hike right up to the water’s edge and stare down the falls. Also, we walked out onto bridge that connects Zam/Zim, where we met a few Zimbabweans and chatted with them about their country’s difficulties. Consumption items of any sort, whether food, pens, hair ties or really anything, are in such shortage in Zimbabwe, that people are desperate for anything. We parted with a couple hair ties and pens, and in return I brought back a couple 50 billion Zimbabwean dollar notes as reminders of the country’s hyperinflation. After walking around the falls for most of the day, we jumped on the afternoon boat headed upstream, and downed a few cold ones while watching elephants play on the banks of the river while the sun set behind them.

The next morning we unfortunately selected another unreliable transport vehicle, breaking down 6(!) times in 190km. The last break down occurred at 5:45PM, only about 20km from the Zambia/Namibia border post that closed at 6PM. Fortunately, as soon as we pulled off the road, another vehicle was passing, which we flagged down and paid to run us to the border.

We made it to the Zambian side around 5:55, and surprisingly, they hadn’t checked out yet. But, being so close to knocking off, they didn’t even check our documents, just waved and stamped us out of their country. But, unfortunately for us, the walk between the two border posts is about ¼ mile, and as we made it to the Namibian side of no-man’s land, the guard had already closed the gate on us. So, there we were, stuck without food in no-man’s land with no way of legally entering either country.

April quickly made the decision for us, and within 15 minutes, we were illegally in Namibia and in a cab headed for Namibia’s border town. We spent the night in Katima and returned to the border the next morning, calmly explaining our situation to the immigration officers, who mercifully and legally admitted us into the country. From Katima, we managed to make it back to Otavi (900km) in one day, thankful to be back in a country with good roads and reliable transport.

Now that I’m back in Namibia, I’ve been busy looking for an apartment to move into, as Adam Hinman, another UGA graduate, has just joined me from the states. More to come on this later, but I hope everyone is doing well. Cheers.

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We’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks readjusting in Namibia and scrambling to get together a trailer to be screened at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi next month. We’re going over film in Windhoek this week before returning to Rundu next Friday to turn all the content over to our editor, Cedar Wolf. From there, we’ll spend the better part of three weeks working to cut things down before heading back to Malawi the first of October for the Lake of Stars.

In addition to the production updates, we have a couple of key developments for the Deep Roots concept. We are currently speaking with several Malawian businesses to solicit corporate sponsorship and make the leap from Deep Roots as a film to Deep Roots as a registered Malawian music/film production and promotion company. We’ll keep everyone posted as the talks progress, but we hope to coordinate and film at least two music and cultural events in Malawi next year under the Deep Roots banner.

Also, we are happy to welcome the first member of Deep Roots’ staff. Sophia Brillant (sbrill33@uga.edu), Deep Roots’ new project manager, is responsible for artist development, advertising, promotion, PR, blog management and registration of the business in Malawi. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions regarding our projects, please contact Sophia.

More to come soon, so stay with us.

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After five days of overland travel from Malawi to Namibia, it feels good to be home. The workload piles up during eight weeks of neglected correspondence, but slowly we’re catching up on everything. In the process, we’ve coordinated an exciting development.

In addition to screening Deep Roots for the press at the Lake of Stars festival, we’re hoping to schedule a show in the festival’s line-up. This Deep Roots Malawi time-slot would feature some of the talent we uncovered while filming, including performances by Charles Mkanthama, Gasper Nali and the Makambale Brothers. Also, we’re looking to bring up several marimba players from southern Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley.

More details are forthcoming, so stay with us!

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