Malawi, the warm heart of Africa
Finally! About thirty years ago, I went backpacking in Kenya and someone showed me photos of Malawi. Since then the country was on top of my wish list but somehow another country always got in the way. Twice I cycled around the world and half way around Africa, until I finally made it to the country of my dreams.
Does it remain my dream country after I cycled it from the southern to the northern most corner?
Mozambique had been very quiet and remote when I left it and the same continued in Malawi. After about four kilometers, there was a border post. It was lunch time but the immigration official appeared immediately. Once again, everything went smoothly. I asked if I could have obtained the visa at the border? No, they weren’t that advanced. Maybe in a few weeks’ time. Wow, I had done the right thing to get the visa in Maputo and the extra USD 25 had been well spent.
He suggested I should wait for Customs. I knew that they wouldn’t bother because I had only my bike. But I wanted to take a break and I didn’t mind the wait.
He returned shortly, apologized, said everything was in order, and that I could continue. Apparently, it had been the first time that someone crossed by bike.
The Zambezi Valley is very wide at this point. I had nicely flat terrain for the next day. And then I quickly gained altitude from 70 meters to about 1,000 meters in Blantyre.
It dawned on me that all around me were mountains.
Blantyre was one of the oldest cities and was named after the birthplace of David Livingstone. Because of its altitude it had a very pleasant climate and a lot of Europeans settled here. It was the second largest city in Malawi and the center of commerce.
St Michael’s and All Angels Church must be one of the best-known monuments. At the end of the 19th century a churchman without any architectural knowledge must have had a great time.
I continued across the mountains. In Malawi a cyclist was never alone. There were thousands of cyclists on the roads and a lot more bikes than cars.
Right at the small private beach of Mufasa Lodge.
I had planned to stay a while but I was offered a job on the other side of the peninsula. Therefore, I left my cozy place after two days and cycled over the mountains
To Cape Maclear.
Here it looked quite different. In the small fishing village there were a lot more tourists and lodges.
It was a voluntary job and I “only” got room and board. I could never afford such a room and it had been a long time since I had eaten that well. Furthermore, Noleen and Chris, the owners, invited me on excursions.
It felt good to exchange the wheels for sails.
Life happened around the lake.
Early in the morning, people arrived and cleaned bodies and clothes. Teeth were brushed and dishes washed. Everyone looked healthy and bilharzia didn’t seem to be a problem.
I told myself that a morning swim was such a positive thing that I was willing to run the small risk to get infected. Nowadays there are effective drugs. Apparently, the locals get prophylactic treatment whenever they go to a clinic.
The boats were very special. It was only here that I saw these “worn out shoes”. The locals were skinny but I couldn’t figure out how they fitted into these narrow slits. Then I realized that they didn’t sit in the boat but on top of it.
Once a week there was a big market for clothing.
I found expensive labels which were discarded in the first world and thrown into containers for used-clothing. Here they were sold inexpensively, by our standards. I bought a sports T-shirt for 2 Euros.
Another highlight was a boat trip to Otter Bay.
Amazing bays with lots of fish but no otters.
There was a feeding for the fish eagles
And follow the many blue fish.
Then there was a fish barbecue on Thumbi Island.
There was nothing to do but relax and wait for the return trip by boat. I decided to swim back.
It certainly wasn’t the first time that I swam 1.5 kilometers but the first time in open water from point A to B. It was wonderful and I enjoyed the quiet on the open water.
My time in Thumbi View drew towards the end.
Once again, I had to say good-bye.
In the beginning I had needed time to get used to working alongside the locals. We found our rhythm, got along fine, and the friendship remained. I missed them quite a lot and perhaps they missed me too.
I backtracked through the hills.
I felt really sorry for the cyclists. They didn’t make it up the hill because they didn’t have any gears and they couldn’t cycle downhill because they had no breaks. Thanks to Rohloff and Magura I made it uphill and down.
The bells were quite something. The loudest could be heard over the noise of scooters and cars. I asked myself where I could get such a bell until I realized they were home-made.
The top of the bell was mounted against the rim of the wheel and that made the unpleasant loud noise.
In Cape Maclear I was known and was left in peace. Once I left there, I was again thronged by kids.
After weeks of quiet, I could bear them more easily.
I was at the southern end of the lake and ahead of me was an amazing route with nice camping sites along the lake.
The next stop was Senga Bay.
This was a larger fishing town with a lot more fishermen.
In addition to the touristy side of the country which I encountered along the lake, I wanted to experience something else of Malawi and made a detour to its capital, Lilongwe. It was at 1,000 meters altitude and first I had to get there.
On my way there, many people came towards me, mainly women and children. All carried a “Christmas in a Box”. Somewhere nearby there must have been a big party to celebrate Christmas on June 17, 2017.
In the evening I camped with a village chief and the courtyard was filled with such boxes.
For the first time, I was shown a doll. There were no dolls in the shops, even if there had been, there was no money to buy one, and why buy a doll if there was a small sibling to take care of? Of those there were plenty everywhere.
A woman tried to figure out the purpose of a yo-yo. It was so poorly made that I couldn’t demonstrate it.
Another woman arrived with an unknown item. It was deodorant. Just about the least useful thing here.
At least the kids could use the colored pencils.
I wondered why Christmas presents were handed out in the middle of June but I was happy because the children were occupied and didn’t bother me.
The only noticeable traffic in Malawi was around Lilongwe and Blantyre. Lilongwe wasn’t anything to write home about. The town was built in 1947 and became the capital in 1964.
I took care of my visa for Tanzania.
My return to the lake was off the beaten track and away from the tourists.
In the beginning the road was paved but a truck had overturned across the whole width.
Even a bike couldn’t get past and I had to detour through the bush.
And then the pavement ended even so the M7 was marked as tarred on my map.
The mountains continued. Coffee for export grew up there. When I asked for a place to camp, they called the young manager who was the only one who spoke English. He allowed me to camp right next to his new house.
Despite information that it should be paved after the intersection with the M18 and that I could cycle through the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, I was stopped. Right at the intersection there was a barrier and then gravel.
There was no getting through. This time people from World Vision came to my rescue. They put my bike into their vehicle and drove me 36 kilometers through the park.
They were on their way to the hospital in Nkhotakota. Apparently, malaria was a big problem. They were very surprised to find out that there was no malaria in Europe.
Finally, pavement and an easy ride along the lake. And I even had tailwinds
Once again, I was warmly welcomed by the chief of the village. The chief went to the mosque and the others stayed home. It was Ramadan. After sunset everyone ate together and I joined. I had cooked and there was a wide variety of food to share. Very nice.
Along the lake there were luxurious camping sites. I treated myself to a night at Kachere Castle.
Someone had had the idea to build a castle, even a fortress, at the lake. And of course, there had to be a pool.
I camped directly at the lake. Right behind it was a bamboo forest with showers.
Perfectly matched in color.
Even along the lake it got hillier. I cycled through a forest and there were children and men who jumped towards me to sell balls of different sizes. I was surprised until I saw a sign,
Vizara Plantations, I was biking through a rubber plantation.
Then the road descended further and further towards Nkata Bay, a meeting point for travelers. I briefly asked myself, but only briefly, whether I wanted to inflict such an experience upon myself because I’d have to climb the whole way back.
I really enjoyed meeting the same people again and other travelers. There hadn’t been many such opportunities so far.
Here the lake front was quite different. The lodge and the camping site were built on a steep cliff.
Photo (credit: Tico Mendoza)
Thanks to my friends, my bike and all my luggage made it to the platform. My bike now had a three-day break. I stayed fit by climbing and descending steep hills. It was almost embarrassing to have cycled half way around Africa and to now have sore muscles.
After three days I was ready (or rather have help) to carry everything back up the steep hill.
Then I continued climbing to Mzuzu at 1,200 meters. I was treated to a brilliant descent with fantastic views of the lake.
I had spent 45 days in the country and biked 1,641 kilometers.
Now I liked Malawi even better and it was one of my favorite countries in Africa. A country that mainly consists of a beautiful lake, didn’t need much more to impress. The three-week break had been really good for me.
I recommend Malawi for bicycling touring. The political situation was stable. It would be a good idea to protect against malaria and to take prophylaxis for bilharzia.
Again a completely different country awaited me: Tanzania. More about it next time.