Malawi – the warm heart of Africa. We felt the warmth of the Malawi people from the very first second we arrived. At the chaotic border post, we told vendors exchanging cash and selling 3rd party insurance, “No thank you”, but after the 100th time, I used a few choice words out of frustration. When asking the border official whether our insurance was appropriate, he replied with “Exactly”, which we interpreted as – its good to go! However, little did we know “Exactly” is a word that has many meanings in Malawi and on our first day in the country, did not quite understand that yet. At our second roadblock 11kms from the border, the friendly cop approached with “Hoe gaan dit?” after noticing our GP number plate. He chatted to us for 20 minutes about all of South Africa’s issues, Malawi’s politics, Donald Trump, Floyd Mayweather, his wife and children, our family and life in general. Just as we thought we were free to go – he asked us for our insurance! We proudly showed him our papers, however, he told us that they were “Not exactly ok, return to the border and buy new insurance”, all with a big smile on his face. Back we went to the vendors who we had so rudely told to take a hike. I walked with my tail between my legs as I noticed a vendor I had been somewhat offensive to approaching me. He simply greeted me with a smile and asked: “How can I help you today?”
Our first day continued with about 10 more roadblocks, each time the cop wanting to have a lengthy discussion about where we were coming from, where we were going to and the state of South Africa. All with a massive smile on their face and finishing with a “Safe Journey!”
Our first major stop in Malawi was The Mushroom Farm, which is located on the escarpment close to Livingstonia, overlooking the majestic Lake Malawi. The Mushroom Farm is hippie central, filled with people trying to become one with the earth and in so doing, showering as infrequently as possible. Naturally, The Mushroom Farm is a very chilled place, however, the drive there is not! A 9km road, up to a 700m mountain top with 20 steep switchback turns! With our hearts racing we made it to the top of the mountain and headed directly for the bar, where with the hippie solar fridges, we managed to enjoy a nice warm beer to settle our nerves.
We only spent one night in Lilongwe and we don’t remember a hell of a lot about it. Staying with some friends, Rob and Lindsay, we were treated to some true Malawian hospitality, which included about 100 different whiskeys, 100 staff members and about 100 minutes of sleep. Waking up with what felt like a woodpecker trying to escape from inside my head, we made our way towards to lake – eagerly expecting the arrival of our 4 guests for the week. To be honest, I was also slightly nervous!
Arriving at the lake was mesmerizing. The pristine beaches, the sky blue water, and the majestic sunset over the water created a scene that was out of this world! Yet you are in the middle of a simple African village where locals are washing, cleaning, fishing, swimming and having a blast in the lake less than 50 meters away – a place of paradoxes.
Shortly after sunset, we were graced by the noisy arrival of our guests. We were sitting on the deck enjoying a quiet beer when we heard shouting, clapping and laughing. Willie and I both looked at each other and said, “That must be them!”
The Funky Cichlid was the perfect spot for our first night at the lake and provided an amazing atmosphere to enjoy a few brandies overlooking the moonshine on the peaceful water.
The following morning we continued where the previous night ended off. With a cup of coffee, a few tequilas and a toasted sandwich, we were equipped to face an eventful day at the lake. We began it by all purchasing a pair of locally manufactured shorts, each pair custom made with nothing but the hands of the locals, all while you wait.
We also enjoyed a mega game of volleyball on the beach. However, the course sand of the beaches at Lake Malawi left us all bleeding from our knees, elbows and foreheads. We must have looked a sight!
The remainder of our week was spent at an amazing house in Monkey Bay before enjoying our last night on the private Domwe Island. Our week on the lake was as remarkable as the Lake itself, with highlight after highlight, sunset after sunset, and laugh after laugh. Some of the highlights included spear fishing with locals and their primitive spear guns, sunset cruises in the middle of the lake, feeding African Fish Eagles with dried fish and having secluded braais on remote islands.
Leaving the Lake behind us we began our journey south towards home. A depressing thought after 16 weeks on the road – but as they say “It’s not over until the fat lady sings”. Our first stop was Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park. Liwonde is situated on the Shire River – the only river that drains the Lake – and as a result, supports a significant number of people and agricultural produce. Sadly, the impact that these people have had on the wilderness is as clear as day. With the most magical landscape on the banks of the river, it is surprising that there is not a single a lion, leopard or wild dog in the park. The reality being that poaching has been rife and has effectively eradicated all of the parks treasured predators. Another gloomy reality, reflecting the current state of Africa’s National Parks and the impact that we have had on wildlife areas over the years. On a positive note – a couple of cheetahs have been reintroduced recently and only time will reveal their fate.
Another amazing thing about Malawi is the number of bicycles on the road. However, the quantity of bicycles is not the most intriguing phenomenon but rather the various items that the locals can carry on their bikes! From live goats, cows and pigs, to chickens and fish hanging from the handle bars and wood packed 3 meters high – all while transporting 3 humans at the same time. It really is remarkable what can be transported on a single bike.
Our three weeks in Malawi have whizzed by in a blur of laughs, smiles and fond memories that will remain with me like the beaming smile on each and every Malawians’ face. Malawi is a country that I had never previously visited but in three short weeks, it is abundantly clear why it is known as the Warm Heart of Africa. This is simply as a result of the wonderful people of Malawi – the most vibrant, friendly, helpful and peaceful people I have ever met. These amazing people will bring me back again and again and again and I cannot wait for my next adventure to Malawi – it simply cannot come soon enough…