The border crossing into Malawi was the easiest any one of us had ever had, except the non-border crossings in Europe. Check, stamp, ok. Same for the carnets de passage (our vehicle papers). No fixers anywhere, as there was nothing to be fixed.
Rolling into the country we glimpsed a sign that told us that 80km/h is the fastest you are allowed to go in Malawi. And rightly so. The roads are normally very good, but the country has lots of people, and only very few of those have a car to drive on those roads. The roads are therefore, and rightly so, used for walking and riding bicycles. We felt that going between 50 and 70 km/h was best, as villages pop up frequently without warning. People are not suicidal here and look out for traffic, excluding of course kids and blind people (scary experience Anne had with a bicyclist, who was either really blind or really drunk but turned right in front of her anyway).
As Jan’s bike has a broken rear suspension, and the spare part will be sent to Dar es Salaam, we decided to leave out Southern Malawi to save some kilometers. Neither one of us was eager for a city at that stage, so we skipped Lilongwe and headed for the famous lake as straight as possible. In this case it meant straight through the Nkhotakota Game Reserve. When we reached the “gate” (a boom, a guard and a dirtroad behind them), we were informed that motorbikes were not allowed through the park, for safety reasons. If this was really true we could not say. The sign next to the boom did not say anything of that sort, but of course the guard did. At that stage, it was already late afternoon, and we knew it was the only way to get to the lake the same day. This we really wanted to do, as we did not have supplies for proper bush camping. So… we paid our very first bribe. 4500 Malawian Kwacha, around 7 Euro. Not really proud of that, but hey, we certainly made this guy´s day.
The ride through the park was spectacular only for the views on beautiful forests and hills we glimpsed while standing up. Certainly not a park where you can see much wildlife, way to thick and bushy. The dirtroad was ok-ish, sometimes good sometimes less, and the only wildlife we saw were some baboons. These guys we see a lot on and next to the roads.
In good old never-again-oh-shit-again tradition, we arrived at the lake in the evening, had to ride a dirtroad in the dark and set up the tents in pitch black. But that only made the beer and dinner we treated us to afterwards so much more deserved.
The next day we decided to take a break and relax. We walked on the beach, read our books, had a look around the pottery that belonged to the campsite and sorted through our pictures and video clips. And took a little dip in the lake, though the water was a bit murky here.
The Vervet Monkey – another primate – we see A LOT at almost every campsite, where they tend to steal, eat and destroy everything they can get a hold of (in that order of action). And after our experience in Livingstone, Jan and Rainer finally set out to build themselves slingshots from branches and old tubes to chase them with nuts and stones. It sounded and looked a lot better than it actually worked.
We also saw several fishermen going out in their boats, and Birgit and Rainer tried to buy some fresh fish for us to grill at night, but were unlucky. Instead, we had some pasta and a huge fire in the sand next to the lake, where we sat and chatted until we all were so drowsy that we nearly fell off our chairs.
That night it rained a bit, and a bit more in the morning. It stopped in between so we had time to take some nice pictures of the sunrise on Lake Malawi, before we took shelter under the Lapa and had a coffee, watching the rain become a drizzle and then nothing. Our next destination was Nkatha Bay, a leisurely 200km ride away. On our way there, we saw a motorcyclist at the roadside who was talking on his phone – and Anne spotted the “Riders for Health” logo on his chest. We stopped and asked if his bike was ok, and afterwards had a little roadside chat about Riders for Health (click here for more information on them) and the work they are doing. And of course took a picture! What a great coincidence to have met someone from that cool initiative by chance.
The rest of the route took us mostly through villages and small-scale farmland, but when we drew closer to the lake again, we noticed that we were suddenly surrounded by forrests. very neat, very un-African looking forrests. It was only when we stopped to take a closer look, that we realized we were driving through a rubber plantation. All the trees had a plastic wrap around them, and some had a little metal container attached, and a thin white line was hanging over that. An unlucky but friendly salesmen – he tried to sell us rubber balls, but also he could see we could not fit them on the bikes – explained us how the process works, and gave us some rubber tree seeds as souvenir. Shortly after we left the plantation, we reached Nkatha Bay. Nkatha Bay is close to what some people – including us – might describe as paradise. Well, the compost toilets at the Butterfly Camp were something to get used to. But the rest of the camp, the warm lake for a morning swim and the bustling street markets in town made more than up for it. As it seems with all paradise-like places, you have to run into hippies or wanna-be-hippies as well as into rastafarians smoking marijuana and selling and bartering the results of their craftmanship.
Malawi is also the place with the most creative parents so far: take the names given to people we met, for example Obvious and Nun (the latter is a young lady who told Anne that she is indeed thinking about changing her name). But the best names were the rastafarian “artist” names, among them Lemon Squeeze and Happy Coconut.
Nkatha Bay seemed like a good place to get lost and hang out for a while, would it mot have been for the crazy preacher guy who started yelling into his loudspeaker from 3am onwards. But we had to get going that day anyway – the broken rear suspension is really dictating our trip right now, as we know we are not able to go faster than 80km/h, and thus can not make up for leisure days by going longer the next day.
So we left and drove to the North of Malawi, first along the lakeside and later between hills and valleys, which turned into something we might even call mountains. Very pretty, and a very pretty view we got when we came out of these mountains and drove down to the lake. We had originally intended to stay at Lukwe Campsite, close to Livingstonia up in the mountains. But as it was getting late again, and the road conditions did not seem very good, we decided to stay at Hakuna Matata camp down at the lake. The campsite is practically an extended beach, including the special beach vibe and beach bar. So after setting our tents up in the sand, we treated ourselves to some homemade food by the cook-in-attendance Sikelela, and some cool beers by camp owner Willie. The next morning, Jan got up very early and took a walk along the beach. When he came back we prepared our first coffee, and Jan entertained us with stories about how he helped beaching a canoe (and how the fishermen laughed at his grunting sounds while shoving), how he chatted with the kids and how they were so fascinated by his hair that they touched it, and how beautiful the sunrise was….
Yes, we can indeed understand why everybody loves Lake Malawi.