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Blog #31 - Marvellous Malawi

How is it that a country can just get under your skin? Malawi has been on my bucket list for years. Friends of my brothers lived here, school/varsity friends of mine lived here and then my bridesmaid spent a few years in Malawi with her young family. To say I have always wanted to come here is an understatement.

Sadly on our “up” journey Malawi’s borders were closed, but thankfully they opened just in time to allow us to come down through Malawi on our slow plod back to SA. And wow it was worth the wait.

As I have said before, it always astounds Dev and I how when you drive over this invisible line on the earth, dividing one country from the next so much can change. The people, the types of cars, the forms of transport, the roadside food…... Yet again the change from Tanzania to Malawi was huge. Gone were the fast paced zig zagging boda-boda /piki piki motorbike taxis and now we had bicycles with fancy little back seats adorning the roads, friendly smiling people from locals to even the police and traffic officers, different chips the kids found, much more roadside litter (sadly) and just all round joyful happy welcoming people. Much poorer but seemingly more happy……

Malawi is 840kms long and Lake Malawi is 580kms long, stretching from the Tanzanian border right at the top southwards. Our first night obviously had to be “at the lake”. We found a good spot for the first night and enjoyed an obligatory local beer (Carlsberg or commonly known as “Green”) on the shore of the dusky pink lake. Sunrise the following morning was spectacular. The red sun was almost balancing for ages above the water whilst fisherman is skinny narrow dug out canoes stood silhouetted against the rays of light. Incredible! And what a welcome to our new country to explore.

That day, 8 September, we headed along the lake shore going past villages solely reliant on these tiny silver fish which they dry right besides the lake. It was so awesome to actually be able to drive along the lake. So many other lakes in east Africa you are unable to drive for ages right besides them. This was a treat. Our route then took us westwards up the VERY steep Gorodi pass which was built in 1894 (127 years ago!!!) when a mission station was built on the mountain top at a town called Livingstonia. This pass has more rocky switch backs than the famous Sani Pass in Kzn and has much more treacherous and steep cliffs off the side. Honestly we were practically climbing a cliff face! Aaaghh for someone who is fearful of being in cars near steep cliffs this had my tummy in my throat for the entire 1 hour ascent!

We spent 3 super chilled happy days at The Mushroom Farm which is a eco lodge literally perched on the side of the cliff. The campsites are just awesome with spectacular views over the valley and down onto lake Malawi - which afford the most spectacular sunrises. We hiked to Malawi’s highest waterfall, we chilled, we read, the kids played with the lodges pigs, we ate delicious vegetarian food and drank yummy healthy teas. It was a great few days introduction to Malawi.

The next part of our journey was more climbing up to the top of Nyika Plateau which lies to the north west of Malawi on the Zambian border. After a long bumpy road you emerge in what feels like a mixture of Scottish highlands, natal midlands, southern drakensberg…. Rocky outcrops, open plains, forest areas, lakes and rivers. Very different to anything we have seen so far on our trip. And obviously being so high up and being in winter it was really REALLY cold. But thankfully Chelinda campsite came with the ever amazing Malawian camp managers who provide and make you camp fires in the afternoon and early mornings, heat your shower water to piping hot and wash your dishes. So even though the temperature was far lower to what we have grown accustomed to, the warm fires (and red wine) got us through! After seeing a bit more of Malawi I can see why people love it. It is so different to the rest of Malawi and with hiking and fishing and cycling and chilling on offer it is a great change from the lake.

Our next stop was Njaya Lodge at Nkhata Bay on the lake in north/central Malawi. Nkhata Bay has steep hills falling into the lake with rocky boulders and small sandy bays with see-through-clean sparkling water (and no hippos or crocs!)- it was such a picturesque part of the lake. (And so different). We spent 3 fun filled happy days exploring the shorelines, feeding fish eagles, cliff jumping into the lake, snorkelling, kayaking, swimming and finding little lake side eateries. This will be a highlight of Malawi for us.

Nkhata Bay

The next week or so was spent staying with special friends- a friend from school who spoilt us rotten and spoilt Sophia on her birthday with a cake and pressie, and they had a son & daughter who Josh & Sophs played and played with. Thanks Lynn and Angus!

The next stop was in Blantyre down south with Linzi and Gav who we met in Tanzania and who have just moved to Malawi. They had literally moved into their house 2 days before and STILL invited us to come stay!!!!! So awesome, and we got to meet some of their gorgeous friends who being South African we had many connections with.

Then it was to friends of ours’ folks house for a night, also Blantyre. Oh how my kids miss their grandparents and loved borrowing these grandparents for the night. So special to feel “looked after” again by borrowed parents.

Whilst in a Blantyre we once again changed plans and added in another destination to our list…. Majete game reserve…...

Wow this place is gorgeous. But honestly honestly I cannot tell you how my soul finds complete and utter peace in game reserves. The dryness, the trees and shrubs, the animals…. It resonates so deeply with my soul!

And to top it off game viewing has been amazing- wild dog and lion interaction on our first evening, herds of Ellie’s, a roaring male lion, huge kudus, a gazzilion warthogs….

And here I am writing this blog in a hide overlooking a water hole. We have spent the night in the hide. What fun! The night is pitch black (the moon is yet to rise) the kids are fast asleep between Dev and I.

And here we sit listening to the bush come alive. The rumble of an elephant less than 30m away from us, the sloshing of Buffalo as they come to drink water, the elephants sound like they breathing through a snorkel (which I guess they kind of are !!!), a lion roaring a long way away (sadly), a bumble bee furiously digging a hole in the wooden pole, and silence….. then the wind through the trees, then a snap of a branch which makes you catch your breath…… I don’t think we are going to get much sleep tonight with wondering what we might miss if we close our eyes ……..

So…..YIp yes I really am loving Malawi! 🇲🇼

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