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Malawi

Travel Journal

13.12.2006, Tukuyu, Tanzania – Sangilo Sanctuary, Malawi, 175 km (part 2)

As Janey had promised, the Malawi border crossing was simple. While waiting in line I discovered an extra desk saying “Health Officer”. Wow, I thought, maybe this will be the chance to show off our vaccination passes. But oh no. Yet again no one wanted to see them. Jens looked at me again with raised eyebrows, for I told him before we left Germany that we would need that proof of our yellow fever vaccination at every border … he does not believe me anymore. Again our Carnet de Passage got stamped without anyone having a look at the car. Germans do not need a visa for Malawi – apparently we had built the tarmac road along the lake and now we can stay for free. How nice.

Malawi is a very small country and not many people know about it as much as about the famous East or Southern African countries. So I decided to give you a short summary of Malawi as a little extra. Just skip it, if you want to get back to our travels.
Malawi is one of Africa’s smallest countries and the only landlocked country on our trip. Due to its landlocked position it is called “the warm heart of Africa”. One-fifth of Malawi’s surface is covered by water – Lake Malawi, the third largest Lake in Africa. Part of the Great East African Rift Valley system Lake Malawi covers 585 km north to south and 80 km east to west, covering an area of 126.500 square km. The deepest part is 700m. That means swimming in this lake feels like swimming in an ocean.
Not quite East Africa and not quite Southern Africa the country tended to be ignored by tourists and was left to evolve slowly and managed to retain its very African character. Also during the colonial area Malawi was mostly ignored, a place of trade, yes, a place of settlement, no. Malawi became a British Central Africa Protectorate (not a colony), and never did the number of European residents dominate. After independence in 1964, the country was in the hands of Dr. Hastings Banda for three decades, who never truly considered tourism as important for the economy. Dr. Banda was a classical despot who came to power after independence as a clever and promising man and in 1966 Malawi became a republic and Dr. Banda was elected its first president. But soon after that Malawi became a one-party state – as in almost every African country after independence – and people without party membership cards were barred from markets and clinics. In 1971 Banda declared himself “His Excellency the Life President Ngwazi (saviour) Dr H Kamuzu Banda”. He turned Malawi into a true police state, having his opponents & critics murdered and defining laws dictating dress code and prohibiting conversations e.g. about family planning or his (Banda’s) age. Eventually, after protests from the church and external pressure Malawi became a multi-party democracy in 1994.
The people in Malawi are called the Chewa and the language is Chechewa. The majority of the populations speaks impeccable English though and so we did not learn any Chechewa for that matter. Too bad actually.
Latest figures showed that 15% of the adult population is HIV positive. During our travels we saw signs for orphanages in every village. This is usually unheard of in Africa since the families are large and orphans are usually taken care of by other family members. So the infection rate is more likely to be higher.

So this is Malawi, the warm heart of Africa and supposedly one of the poorest countries in the world. The country and the people did look poor, but at lot less poor than in southern Tanzania. It is just a gut feeling, but here seem to be more bikes on the road, the clothes the people wear look newer and most of them carry umbrellas against the sun. We got stopped by police checkpoints twice, but they were friendly and let us go after a few questions. Most checkpoints just waved us through.
In Karonga we stopped to get some food, but unfortunately the bakery was sold out. So we stopped a guy carrying bread on his head in the next village and bought some bread of him. Later Tom told us that he “went through 3 months worth of break pads” to do exactly the same – it was a good day for guys carrying bread on their heads.
We found the Sangilo Sanctuary, managed the steep descend (“Caution! Steep hill ahead. If in doubt park here!”) and were greeted buy Janey, Tom and their dog Alfie as well as the Sangilo team, a couple of dogs and two vervet monkey babies.
The Sangilo Sanctuary is a small beautiful place offering some spots for camping and some small huts with breathtaking views over Lake Malawi. The restaurant and bar are down on the private beach – it is just heavenly. We had some lunch, a swim in the lake (the area around Sangilo is supposedly free of Bilharzia and crocodiles, but especially the crocs worried me. There are crocs in the Lake and after all – it is just a lake. They could change location just for fun …) and moved into our hut. There was a threat of heavy rains at night and after our night in the car, we felt like we deserved a good nights sleep.
In the afternoon we had coffee with Janey & Tom in front of the Unimog, telling travel stories (you can read about their Africa journey down the West Coast on www.bigyellowmog.co.uk), we discussed English and German soccer (touchy subject J) and just had a great time!
After a sun downer (the last Bombay Sapphire) on our terrace with great view over lake we had dinner by lake and dropped dead into our real bed.
There were heavy rains this night and we were glad we were in the hut, but yet we missed Tembo. Tomorrow we will move back into the roof tent!

14.12.2006, Sangilo Sanctuary, Malawi, 0 km

It was my birthday! We woke to a perfect day with sun sparkling on the lake. We had a swim in the lake and Jens got us some coffee to drink on our small terrace later we had an excellent birthday breakfast on the beach.
While I still enjoyed the view, Jens moved us back into our tent next to the Unimog. That was more like it! It was a very, very lazy day spent reading and sleeping. My friend Katja called from Denmark and she and her husband Morten sang me a Danish birthday song. Great! While I was lying in the sun on our roof rack overlooking Lake Malawi! How nice to hear voices from home …
In the evening we had a nice dinner on the beach together with Tom & Janey, and I even got a present and a real birthday cake(!) from the Sangilo team. Super nice. Thanks a million guys! Janey and Tom’s present was a well used South Africa Rough Guide – it was even wrapped in gift paper (they later got the paper back in Lilongwe with a good luck gift from us for their camp). These guides are the best things you can give to another traveller. We shared the cake with the rest of the team and guests and went happily to bed. I am so so old now …

15.12.2006, Sangilo Sanctuary, Malawi – Makuzi Beach, Malawi, 237 km

It was time to move on since we needed to get some cash and some diesel and some food. To wash away the feeling of being a year older now … huhuhu … I had an early morning swim in the sparkling Lake Malawi. Bliss. We wanted to check out a place further down the lake, south of Nkhata Bay.
Janey and Tom were also planning to move on and we might meet up with them later and if not today then definitely in Lilongwe before Christmas.
First we had to tackle that outrageously steep hill leading up from the Sangilo Sanctuary (remember, coming down the sign said: “Steep hill ahead, if in doubt leave car here!”). Luckily, if Tembo wouldn’t make it, we could be sure that the Unimog would get us up there without any problems. But why did we worry? Jens engaged low gear, got in first gear and Tembo drove up that hill slowly, but surly without any problems what so ever (he would not have managed that in Ethiopia, that is for sure).
The drive was very scenic leading high up into the mountains towards Mzuzu and away from the Lake. The hills were rolling around us, it was a perfectly sunny day and we enjoyed the drive.
In Mzuzu we got cash, diesel and seriously cheap Malawi Gin but our attempt to get gas failed – oh well, it will have to last till Lilongwe. On way out of Mzuzu we saw the Unimog parked by the road side. We stopped to say hello. Alfie’s head appeared on the passenger side “Yes, what do you want? I am sorry, but they are busy” his face seemed to say. Then Tom’s head appeared – they were just having lunch, we might see them later at Makuzi Beach.
The drive down from Mzuzu towards Nkhata Bay was even more stunning and scenic than the drive up. The landscape is just breathtakingly beautiful. Kids were selling ripe mangos along the way and we stopped to buy some. They were very sweet and delicious. Driving through the villages you could see a Malawian tendency to give their shops very outspoken names. My favourites were: “Let the others talk Supermarket”, “Please let me go carpenter”, “Why not come in and look Shop” and “Pub with no Name”.
Shortly before Nkhata bay the road leads through rubber plantations and kids selling bouncy balls made of illegally acquired rubber.
Back on the lake we found the Makuzi Beach turn-off and bumped along the pad towards the beach. Boy was that beach beautiful. It looked like a beach from the Caribbean or Fidji. We were greeted warmly by the manager, but as soon as he heard that we wanted to camp he got sullen and mumbled something like “we did not have people camping here for a long time …”. Ah well, he showed us the camping spot and it was lovely. We ignored his lack of enthusiasm and set up camp. The view was gorgeous. We were soon joined by Zippy a very enthusiastic puppy who took a liking to our straw mat and Jens’ shoes.
We went for a swim, had a walk along the beach and prepared dinner. Thus ignoring the guy who kept constantly dropping by asking if we wanted something to drink or some dinner or order something to drink. First we thought he was being nice, but when he showed up the 3rd time it started to get annoying.
Their problem. We enjoyed the evening and slept well, without Zippy dismantling our tent.

16.12.2006, Makuzi Beach, Malawi – Senga Bay, Malawi, 299 km

We woke to a beautiful view, but also to a very dramatic sky. Black clouds were hovering over the lake and wind was shaking our roof tent. Gagh, and it was so nice last night. Soon the rain came slashing down and we were ready to move on. Makuzi Beach was a beautiful place, but the rain did not look like it would stop any time soon. In addition the same guy from last night stopped by our camp again – while we were busy saving the roof tent from the storm – saying that a security guy had told him that he had heard us saying that we would like to have breakfast (got it?) at the lodge … Right buddy, your security guy can understand German .. wow! What a piece of sh***. That was the last straw to make us leave. I did not feel like fighting off bored staff members on every possible occasion during the day. So we said good-bye to Zippy, paid our fee and hopped into a very wet Tembo. The manager looked relieved when we left. Makuzi Beach, a great place, but not for campers, I am afraid.
The rain continued while we drove along the lake shore heading south. Our goal was the wonderful Step’s Campsite at Senga Bay. It is supposed to have a private beach and is supposed to be the best campsite in Malawi. Slowly the rains stopped and the weather improved dramatically.
We reached Senga Bay in the afternoon and found our way to Step’s. It was a Saturday and the place looked packed. We were greeted by the rudest campsite employee so far and were told that it costs 1000 Kwacha per person per night (that is more than double from everywhere else), that we have to pay before being allowed to enter the campsite and that we should hurry up. Wow, welcome to the WARM heart of Africa! What an asshole. When I said that I am not willing to pay for something upfront without having seen it, he turned around and said “Well, this is Malawi Mam, take it or leave it!”. Guess what? We left it! We turned around and drove to the “Cool Runnings” campsite, just a few km away. There we received a warm welcome and we got a great spot under a large shady tree. We could see Lake Malawi sparkle from our roof tent and it only cost 300 Kwacha.
Jens did not feel well during the day and now it turned out that he had a fever going. Not so good that. Let’s hope it will get better in the morning.

17.12.-18.12.2006, Senga Bay, Malawi, 299 km

Hm, Jens still had a fever in the morning and so we just took it easy the following two days. Luckily Jens got better in the afternoon, but we were still not quite sure whether what that had been all about. Could it have been Malaria? We did not think so, but in Africa a fever is suddenly something very scary, whereas in Europe you do not really give it a thought.
At night we had the most delicious dinners at Cool Runnings – highly recommended and not expensive – and during the day we just enjoyed the view onto the lake and slept in the hammocks provided by CR. The beach, however, is not perfect for swimming since it is a working beach with people washing, fishing and cleaning their household utensils in the lake. The beach is nice, but the water is dirty with some rubbish around. It is still ok, but compared to the Northern beaches it is not very appealing.
Cool Runnings is a very nice place though and Sam, the owner makes sure you feel at home. I could work on our travel diary in the small library while Jens slept off his fever in the shade of the large trees in the garden. AND, we did not have rain once!! Oh and did I mention the dinner? Hm yummo!

19.12.2006, Senga Bay, Malawi – Lilongwe, Malawi, 168 km

Christmas was advancing and we decided to head to Lilongwe to check on Janey & Tom. Jens had completely recovered and so we said good-bye to Lake Malawi, Sam and Cool Runnings. Of course not before Sam had extensively admired Tembo. She thought it was cool that we travelled with such an old car; she herself has an old Chevy pick-up truck and swears on it.
We started climbing the hills, Lake Malawi disappearing behind us and then the rain, that had spared us the past days, came down with force. The hills around were just one big cloud. And yet again we battled Tembo’s lack of water resistance, as torrents of water kept splashing on us. So what, everything will dry again eventually – well isn’t that philosophical?
As we approached Lilongwe, we stopped at BOC Gases to get our gas bottle refilled (it was on a dramatic low). Tom had given us the address and said that other Germans had managed to fill up their bottle – alas with some bribe money. We found the place and they were very friendly, but today they could not fill up any bottles, because someone had not paid something somewhere, so there was no gas available, so please come back tomorrow. We wanted to make sure though that they could fill up the bottle before returning again the next day. They looked at the bottle and said “No, impossible!”. All right, so what can we do to make it possible? Thinking to ourselves: money maybe? But then Jens had the idea to hand them over our valve that feeds the gas bottle. They took both and disappeared. After some minutes one guy returned and confirmed that a refill will be possible – tomorrow. And it did work the next day – quite surprising for Africa.
We entered Lilongwe with sunshine and we were quite impressed by the modern buildings and Jacaranda-lined streets. Lilongwe is in fact an artificial city: not officially a town until 1947 it achieved municipality status in 1966 and was declared capital in 1975 by Dr. Banda, the despot President who was born just north of Lilongwe (that is a classic: many African dictators declare their cities/villages of birth as capital city). So most of these buildings do not result from natural growth but from organized migration.
We stopped at the “Cross Roads Shopping Centre” to do some shopping and to have a very delicious but stupidly expensive pizza (probably the most expensive since Khartoum – but actually also the first since Khartoum). There were Christmas decorations everywhere but to us it felt so far off and completely unreal.
We found the campsite easily (Lilongwe really is small) and set up camp. We were warmly greeted by Janey & Tom and Alfie and felt at home at once. Janey gave us a tour around the camp and was very interested in our opinion. This will be their future home and their future business.
We liked the camp right away. It is in definite need of some tender care and improvement, but has a great atmosphere, loads of grass and shade and great area around the house where you can hang out and chat. I think they chose well!!
So we spent the first night at the bar, meeting tremendously nice people and downing a couple of Carlsberg greens – I was past the Kuche Kuche beer (it is all the same stuff from the same Carlsberg brewery in Blantyre anyways).

20.12.-25.2006, Lilongwe, Malawi, 11 km

Ha, how could we have thought that no one will spend the holidays in Lilongwe? We couldn’t have been further away from the truth. The place was packed and that was exactly what we liked. A real traveller hub with cheap beer and many stories. So we decided to stay! We did not want to travel during the holidays to avoid the increased demands for bribes from police officers and border officials. Better to settle down and take it easy.
It turned out that core group of people had decided to do likewise and so we were a motley crue for the holidays: Janey & Tom of course, in unpaid training running the campsite; Mick, a Scotsman and great guy, travelling the world with his 22-year-old R65 BMW bike; Jason & Dwayne, 2 South Africans with money problems and the smallest tent ever produced (Bushwacker II) “We both sleep in there … AND the bags!”; Anne, a British lady working in Namibia, who travelled the world with her bicycle; and 3 ladies from South Africa, who loved to party and were scared of the dogs (Alfie & JJ) “Where is Alfie?”.
It was just great!
Lilongwe is not a bad place offering a large supermarket, a good pizza place (at Cross Roads Mall) and cash machines and best of all: it is tiny! Everything is close together and has a somewhat urban feel. We only had 2 major errands to run and that was first refilling our gas bottle (at BOC gases, no problem, S13 53.780 E33 47.628) and second extending our visa (since the officer at the border only validated it for 10 days). We got the visa extended at the immigration office in Lilongwe (S13 58.845 E33 46.230) for free and with great new insights into African bureaucracy.

For Christmas Eve there was a big dinner planned and we all helped getting done:
- Jason & Dwayne repaired the VW bus that Janey & Tom “inherited” from the campsite pre-owners every afternoon, so the shopping could be done. Tom’s comment every time he saw the bus: “Piece’f shit!” That is by the way the same Tom who said “I would go for German engineering any time!” They drove through Africa with a Unimog, not with a Land Rover … Ah well, that VW bus changed his mind a bit. Tom about changing gear: “It feels like you are trying to pick an olive out of a glass of jelly with a toothpick!”
- We helped out with the tools for the VW bus. “Say Jens, do you have a piece of wire, a 13 spanner and a towel?”
- I helped Janey doing the Christmas decoration. By doing that I draped tinsel around 7-foot wooden Ngoni warrior and Janey and I almost killed ourselves installing cheap Indian Christmas lights with cheap African wiring.
- Tom prepared the food and the rest of the guys worked the braai and the dogs checked on the progress.
Going with the British tradition we even had Christmas crackers and we all wore funny hats! We had such a great time!!! That was one of the oddest Christmas Eves I had ever had, but definitely one of the BEST!
We sat together into the early hours and I had way too much from the cheap red wine that was neatly packed in 5 litre containers … ugh … well, I did not feel very Christmassy the next day, let me tell you that!

It was still rainy season in Malawi and we had some sensational thunderstorms and rain showers, however they never lasted for long and the bar was dry (well, no rain) and cozy. Mick had some tent issues and managed to kill his new mobile (the old one got blown of a truck in Egypt I think) in a nice puddle. Well, Scottish tents do not keep what they promise anymore. Mick about buying his tent: “I was looking everywhere. There is just too much choice. And then I found this tent between the bagpipes and the umbrellas!”. Check out Mick’s travel blog under http://mickrtw.blogspot.com/ it is highly amusing and you will find a photo of Jens hugging Tembo.

Lilongwe also seemed to be a turning point on our trip. Suddenly there were South Africans everywhere having travelled up to the lake with their small town cars. Little old ladies in sedans stopped over at Lilongwe having come all the way from Northern Namibia on their own. It seemed as if the real big adventure of crossing Africa was over. Anybody will make it to South Africa from here …

26.12.2006, Lilongwe, Malawi – Tete, Mozambique, 359 km (part 1)

Oh no, the day had finally come. We are leaving Lilongwe – well, we had to eventually. But still … After a last breakfast with Janey & Tom we packed up our stuff and said our weepy good-byes. The good news was that Mick will be joining us in Tete tonight, but Jason and Dwayne and their “Bushwacker II” stayed behind.
From the 1st of January Janey & Tom will be owning and running the Kiboko Camp under the new name MABUYA CAMP in Lilongwe (Livingstone Road, www.mabuyacamp.com). Please do flock in there. It is a great place to chill, exchange travel stories and drink beer – and to celebrate Christmas for that matter!
On our way to the border in Dedza we got stopped three times by police checkpoints. The first two wanted to see our insurance – so we already got out the papers for the third guy. But then he surprised us.
Police Officer: “Hello, can I see your <silence> … your … (one could tell he was thinking) … your driver’s license please.”
Jens: “But with pleasure sir!”
Police Officer: “Ah, you are German! Why did you loose the World Cup?”
Jens: “Uhu, well, you know … the Italians …”
Police Officer interrupting Jens: “Gah, Italians, you had a home advantage!”
Jens: “Hm, we are really sorry, Sir …next time we will win!”
Police Officer: “I sure hope so!”

Golly, that was a tough guy, but he returned the driver’s license eventually. We spent our last Kwacha on diesel and drove on to the border post. The immigrations and customs office for Malawi is just a tiny little shed. While Jens squeezed in there with 3 bikers from South Africa, I did what I always do at borders: find the money changers trying not to get ripped-off completely by getting rid of the local currency – my most hated task. Our next currency will be Mozambican Meticais.



Summary Malawi:

Country:
Malawi is called the “Warm heart of Africa” and the people were mostly true to their word – apart from the guy at Step’s campsite. It is blessed with the wonderful Lake Malawi and some gorgeous mountains. We liked Malawi a lot. The people are very friendly on not too pushy. But like everywhere, in the more touristy southern part of Malawi, it is like in every touristy place, whereas northern Malawi and the northern lake shores are still very untouched and hence relaxed. We did not cover all the attractions since we were nearing Christmas and many places (especially in the south) were fully booked with South African holiday makers. Plus, we were in a different mood, feeling more like hanging out with nice people instead of driving around too much.
We loved the northern beaches and the area around Mzuzu. In Lilongwe we had just a ball. It is already decided that we will come back to visit Janey & Tom and to tackle the southern half of Malawi without the South Africans.

Costs: Malawi is fairly cheap, apart from the major South African hot spots. There it is even recommended to pay in Rand. However shopping for food in the large supermarkets (Shoprite) and having a pizza in Lilongwe is up to European prices. Unfortunately I cannot remember the prices for diesel, it was cheaper than Tanzania though. Camping was between 300 and 500 Kwacha per person per night.

Driving: driving in Malawi is easy. No difference to the other African countries. The roads are good, thanks to the EU and traffic is scarce. There are not toll roads, but frequent police checkpoints. They mostly just wanted to know where we were heading to. A couple of times they wanted to see our insurance.



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Highlights

First shopping stop in Karonga/ Erster Einkaufsstop in Karonga 
Sangilo Sanctuary beach and bar - view from our terrace/ Sangilo Sanctuary strand und bar - der Blick von unserer Terasse 
Birthday Breakfast/ Geburtstagsfrühstück 
Beautiful Lake Malawi/ Wunderschöner Lake Malawi 
Crossing a bridge ... who goes first?/ Brückenüberquerung ... wer fährt zu erst? 
Makuzi Beach! 
Makuzi Beach - Fishermen comming in/ Makuzi Beach - Fischer kommen mit ihrem Fang 
Zippy ...  
a working beach at Senga Bay/ ein "Arbeitsstrand" bei Senga Bay 
Relaxing in Lilongwe, Mabuya Camp/ Entspannen in Lilongwe, Mabuya Camp 
Cleaning the car .../ aufräumen! 
German engineering at its worst. Jason, Dwayne and the VW bus "Piece'f Shit"/ Deutsche Ingenieurskunst mit Fehlern. Jason, Dwayne und der VW Bus "Piece'f Shit" 
Getting ready for christmas/ Weihnachten kann kommen 
Merry Christmas. I told you, we were wearing funny hats!/ Frohe Weichnachten. Wie gesagt, wir haben lustige Hüte getragen 
Saying good-bye to Janey, Tom, JJ and Alfie (in back)/ Abschied nehmen von Janey, Tom, JJ und Alfie (hinten) 
The last strech of road in Malawi/ Das letzte Stück Straße in Malawi 


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Accomodation

Sangilo Sanctuary, S10 31.065 E34 13.042
Makuzi Beach Lodge, S11 55.134 E34 10.673
Cool Runnings, Senga Bay, S13 43.838 E34 37.142
Kiboko Camp, Lilongwe (NOW CALLED MABUYA CAMP!!!!!), S13 59.953 E33 45.581 - say hello to Tom & Janey from us!!!


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