After an epic drive half the length of Malawi, including a wrong turn, the expedition team arrived at base in darkness on Sunday. Spirits were high and grumbling non-existent, a sure sign of a good expedition team. So straight into introductions and a talk we went, before dinner and early bed.
Monday started early with tea & coffee at 05:00 followed by a 05:30 two-hour game/orientation drive round a small part of the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. The rest of the day we spent on training – background, equipment, datasheets, methodology for our various activities such as camera trapping, hippos, elephants, pangolins, iNaturalist and more. It’s an intensive two days of training and as I write this we are into day two. Olivia, our chief scientist, has set us targets. For example 200 species records on iNaturalist and 700 entries. Matthias, a birder, sprang into action and already has 57 bird species recorded. Of course Olivia can always adjust the target… Last night we also set up camera traps.
And all the while Vwaza reminds us where we are: Africa. As we are trained to be citizen scientists animals amble by base: baboons, elephants, kudus, impala, bushbuck and more. Crocodiles and hippos lurk in the lake, the sunsets are spectacular, the dawn chorus beautiful, the food good and plentiful, the (new) showers working. Life is hard as a citizen scientist in Malawi.
Vwaza is as beautiful as ever, the sunsets amazing, the elephants on form (and in camp this morning), the hippos grunting, the sky blue and a balmy 26C during the day.
We’re shopping, writing, building, planning, scheming all day. It’s going well and almost to plan. The fuel situation in Malawi is tough at the moment. Very little around, long queues at the petrol stations, European prices. This morning at 4 we went to a ‘nearby’ station to get our towels down early for fuelling up. We were in the front of the queue and there was fuel – so far so good. When the station opened at 6, there was a power cut. No power, no pump, no fuel. So we rustled up a generator, put it on our pick-up, took it to the petrol station and – voilà – two hours later our tanks were full. Word got round quickly and soon there were crowds.
Is this the beginning of the end game? Will Mad Max become reality? You have to wonder. Still, we soldier on and do what we can to protect nature and our beautiful planet. We are the ambulance that tries to keep the patient alive until the doctors decide to save it. Thank you for your service for the next two weeks.
And so that you know what you have let yourself in for, here’s a taste of what’s coming your way:
Our advance party is in Lilongwe and it’s good to be back. Malawi is its old self. Chaotic, friendly, hot, sunny, dusty, red. They call it “the warm heart of Africa” and whichever PR agency came up with that tag line did a good job.
We’ve met with Benni, Tom, Olivia from Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT), our local partner, to talk through our Malawi expedition. We’ve run from shop to shop in search of medical supplies, duck tape, tupperware, etc. We’ve unpacked, inventoried and re-orged equipment that has languished in storage for three years, desperate to be let out into the field. We’ve made plans and new friends. We’re typing away at our laptops, updating documents, procedures and datasheets and writing blogs. We’ve negotiated potholes and the ebb and flow of Lilongwe traffic. We’ve stuck out like sore thumbs with our fair skin at markets and shops. Much of it the usual expedition routine – often scorned as we became too comfortable with expedition life, but now much appreciated after lockdowns and no fieldwork for far too long.
Anyway, we are getting ready for you. Roland is sitting in an aeroplane somewhere between London and Lilongwe, and on Thursday morning, we’ll be on our way to Vwaza to get everything ready for you. We’ll report back from there and then we’ll see you on Sunday.
After a three-year wait we are now also back in business in Malawi and if the weather in Lilongwe (solid sunshine for the next week with temperatures peaking around 30C) is anything to go by, then the sun is indeed shining on us and this ‘back in business’ expedition.
But we need to get there first and this is proving somewhat difficult. Because of a funeral in London on Monday and the accompanying hysteria in the kingdom, Roland’s flight, which was meant to take off on Monday has been delayed for 30 hours. Quite why remains a mystery. On the topic of hysteria, also see an interesting article about funeral vs environmental crisis coverage.
Matthias, leaving from a republic, is on schedule to depart tonight. He will prepare the ground for Roland and then double up as chauffeur to drive our great expedition leader up to Vwaza after his red carpet arrival, with all the prep work having been done.
Matthias will report back in from Lilongwe. For now, enjoy your packing & preparation, make sure you swot up on the science using your field manual, and start getting excited. It is happening again after a long wait!