We entered Malawi knowing it was going to be our second to last country in Africa. The decision had been made now to leave and as with any decision like this, it was bitter sweet. Bitter that we were coming to the end of a pretty unique adventure and sweet that we would be moving on to the next adventure.
We crossed the border (the easiest and friendliest border BY FAR – nothing to even comment on!) and slowly travelled north towards Mzuzu, which was a busy city with all the facilities we needed to restock. The roads were in OK condition compared to some and the travelling was not too bad and apart for trucks, the traffic was very light with hardly any cars at all. We found an overland friendly hotel and checked in. Overland friendly means a place that will let you camp in the carpark and use the hotel facilities. In this case, we camped on the grass by the alfresco area and firepit. An amazing place in the town and interesting for Luxy as she had to share her territory with the hotel animals including 4 dogs, 3 cats and 6 Guinea pigs. The pet crazy owners loved Luxy and made several visits to say hello to her (oh, and to us if she wasn’t there!). While we were there, I started to look into the reason why the carpet in the front was always damp. I turned out to be the air conditioning condenser drain that Christine had accidentally kicked off with her feet. Although the fix was very easy, just replacing the hose and securing it with a cable tie, the carpet was another story. I ended up removing the front seats, console and everything else that was bolted down and lifting the carpet up so it could drain and dry. Well, it took 2 days to dry, even with the nice temperatures as it was much wetter than I expected. I also found a number of ‘lost’ things that fell between the seats, and lots of popcorn.
We had heard a lot about Malawi from other overlanders (and Christine’s old boss) and we were pretty keen to visit one of the lake front resort style places that the country was famous for (in overland circles) so headed to the middle (north to south) of the lake and looked for a place to stay. Using the iOverlander app, and a recommendation from some French cycle tourers, we decided to try an unusual looking place called Kachere Kastle. It was indeed a castle looking place that had been built entirely by the British expat couple owners over 7 years. It was amazing and a one-night stay turned into 4 days of relaxing and unwinding in an amazing lake front location. The decision was made easy for us by Luxy who just loved the place too. It had a big empty lot right over the fence by our campsite and when she wasn’t running around the grassed campground climbing trees, she was exploring and hunting in the empty lot. For the entire stay we were the only guests. We only left when we run out of food!
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the southern part of Africa but you wouldn’t know that by talking and interacting with the people. They are absolutely wonderful people and we had lots of fun the entire time we were there. One thing however stood out to us and it’s what I call the charcoal economy. People living in poverty still need to eat and these people can not just go to the shop and buy ready-to-eat food. It is usually raw ingredients and will always need to be prepared and cooked. None of the small villages have power (and every second Sunday the power company cuts the power to the entire country for the day…) and very few can afford cooking gas, so the only option is charcoal, which is actually a great way to cook, unless you want to preserve the forest. This was very evident as soon as we arrived in the country. It looked like farmland but when you looked a little closer, it was just barren land due to deforestation, primarily for cooking fuel. For some people, the only income they can make is collecting wood and making charcoal. They get the wood and lay it in a trench and light it on fire. Its then covered with soil and the wood burns with low oxygen making charcoal. We could see that the authorities have attempted to limit the collection of wood by making laws that you could only carry what you could stack on the rear carrier of your bicycle. Oh wow! These guys were absolute masters in stacking wood on the carrier of their bikes. It would be propped and balanced and some we saw were over 7ft high, but always and only on the rear carrier of the bike. (Sadly, I didn’t get a good clear photo of this and had to get a photo from the internet - thanks to Pinterest for the images I used). The government in Malawi has recently struck a deal with a multi-national oil company who are drilling (right in the middle of the lake) for oil which could very well see the country have a ready supply of cooking gas for future generations and I really hope they will also benefit in other ways from this potential wealth but until then, a family relies on charcoal to survive, therefore, the charcoal economy.
Our last stop was a small and pretty run-down campground towards the top of the lake. It wasn’t very nice and the camping was on soft sand that got into everything. We were relaxing in the evening sitting by the car and noticed Luxy weaving her way towards us looking a little unusual and quite unsure of her footing and direction. I went over and scoped her up and straight away we could see she had her eyes closed and was in quite some distress. She couldn’t tell us what was going on but we figured she had something in her eyes so we put her in the tent and carefully wiped her face with a damp towel. She settled down after 20 minutes or so but we checked on her right through the night. The next morning, we spoke to the camp owner who told us they have quite a few Mozambique spitting cobras in the area and she had probably tried to make friends with one, unsuccessfully. That morning, she ate as usual and by mid-morning she was chasing bugs again all be it with squinting eyes and by the afternoon she was back to her normal self as if nothing had happened, so she was very lucky and may have seen it coming and avoided the worst of the venom. Small dogs are often hit with venom from these snakes and the results can be mixed with some not surviving and some having no bad effects at all. She fell in the middle and we were glad that this encounter would have been a good lesson for her to not play with any more snakes!
The next day, we headed to the border and our last country in Africa. We were feeling a bit sad about the trip coming to an end, until we reached the border gate to Tanzania and it all come flooding back…
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!