Ok, that is definitely not true, but I like the thought that I’m watching the world wake up from history. I am in the world’s worst hotel room. It is located in Karonga, Malawi, 45km from the Tanzania border. The name of the hotel is Zgambota Lodge, and according to the Lonely Planet guide, it has “clean and basic rooms with nets.” The door doesn’t close, it smells like piss, and I can hear the rats in the ceiling over Jesus Jones.
A day of highs and lows…
Coincidentally, this day began with a hike through the mountains. Two days ago at Myoka I met Harriet, another traveler going north to Mbeya, Tanzania to catch the train to Dar es Salaam. Harriet and I decided to stop at the Mushroom Farm, a lodge between Chitembe and Livingstonia. We knew it was 10km off the main road, but someone had told us that you can call from Chitembe, and they will pick you up. When we arrived in Chitembe, however, there was no cell reception, and the walk was 10km up a very steep hill (also, we found out later that the charge for pick-up is $45). The only thing we could do was sit and wait for someone to pass by on their way up the hill. Fortunately a sand truck came by, and we were able to sit in the back. It was a rather harrowing ride up this narrow, bumpy road.
The Mushroom Farm is set in a beautiful pine forest overlooking the valley and Lake Malawi. If you are in a car, and don’t mind spending a bit extra for food and lodging (dinner was 1000 MK, rooms were 4000 MK) then I would say go for it. It’s definitely not for budget backpackers, though. Harriet and I rented a tent, and camped on an overlook, which was amazing. We woke up in time to watch a cool thunderstorm come in from the lake.
We hiked up to Livingstonia, and some nice waterfalls. After the hike we grabbed our packs and went to the road to catch a lift down the mountain. No trucks ever came by, though, and we ended up walking almost the entire 10km with our backpacks. It sucked, big time.
Just before we reached the bottom a car finally came by. Not willing to walk one step further if I didn’t have to, I flagged them down. This lovely young couple from Lilongwe gave us a free ride all the way to our next destination, Karonga. Just like that we went from being drenched in sweat with aching feet, to sitting in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle.
When we arrived in Karonga we were dropped off at the Safari Lodge, which according to Lonely Planet costs $8 for a double room. In actuality, it costs 3000 MK (about $20), so we asked for the location of a cheaper place and started walking. That is how we ended up at Zgambota. Despite its many problems, at 800 MK the price is right.
At this point we were both craving a cold drink as though our lives depended on it. The girl at the first restaurant we went to said that there were no cold drinks anywhere. The next restaurant was completely shut down. Two more shops, and two more “No’s” later I wondered aloud, “Are we in hell?” Did I mention how hot it was? Finally we found a nice little restaurant with cold drinks and delicious food. Having only eaten 2 mangos and a banana that morning, I had completely forgotten my hunger. After I chugged a Fanta, I was ready to eat. I ate a healthy portion of nsima (sheema- imagine a big, solid lump of grits) and 2 pieces of chicken (normally nsima shacks only give you 1 piece of chicken, so I must have looked really hungry).
Now I’m sitting in my piss room, so thankful for the pack of nag champa incense I always carry with me, and stretching my legs in an attempt to decrease the hurt that will come in the morning. I can only hope that rats don’t fall on me in the night, that mosquitoes don’t devour me, and that Tanzania has good things in store.