#8 From the South of Malawi to the lake with our 4×4 van

#8 From the South of Malawi to the lake with our 4×4 van

  • Post category:Malawi
  • Post comments:1 Comment

“From the 12th of January to the 21st”

Our first days in Malawi

It is the beginning of the rainy season in Malawi. After a very hot and dry period, the climate is temperate and rain falls from time to time. This does not prevent us from having nice days and enough sun for our solar panel. The nights are cool and we sleep well. 

Blantyre is our first destination after the adventures of the border crossing (see Episode 7 – Covid positive will we manage to cross the border before the end of our visas). It is the oldest city in the country, a hub of trade. Once Uyo is parked in the garden of a small, simple and traditional hostel, we walk through the streets. We are impressed by the organisation of the city. It seems very well developed. Everything has its place, and it is generally clean. Many decorative plants adorn the streets and the small red brick walls around the buildings. Outside the shops, there are many workers. On the roadside, people clean up the rubbish and cut the grass by hand with a kind of sickle that looks like a machete. They swing it from left to right and then from right to left like a pendulum. 

In the city centre, we are marked by the density of small stalls for repairing household appliances, electronic devices, and sewing. Repairing rather than replacing is the norm here. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Europe, where people are pushed to consume. We talk to a man who had his nose in the electronic card of an iron that had been opened on his workbench. When we asked him if we could take a picture of him, he answered in a clear, unaccented French. He learned it at school and even if he says the opposite, we find that he speaks it very well. 

Back at the camp, we find this habit of tidying and cleaning. We are not the only ones, the hotel staff, a man and a woman clean the building several times a day. A gardener sweeps the yard and cuts the grass all day long. Under the trees, the smallest dead leaf will be picked up in less than 24 hours. We spend 3 nights here, parked in the shade of a mango tree. Every day new fruits mature, the gardener drops them on the ground with a big bamboo pole. The woman at the hostel brought us some at the end of the day, they are delicious.

Before leaving Blantyre, we visit the monuments of the city: two big churches and the cultural art centre. We also try a small restaurant in a hut near the bus station. There is only one table which we share with Stewart who eats here every lunchtime when he works. There is only one dish on the menu and the price is a whopping 1000 kwacha (€1.10). There is very little meat, this thin piece of chicken is mainly used as a broth to season a large portion of Nsima, a kind of local dish made from corn flour. To balance it all, the small green conical vegetables, unknown in our French markets, go very well. 

Thyolo and the tea plantations 

We are going to the tea growing area around the town of Thyolo. On the tea road, we hoped to visit a plantation and spend the night there. After many attempts, redirected from one manager to another, the verdict is always the same. Since the Covid crisis, visits have been suspended. In the fields, the pickers collect the young shoots from the top and some flowers in large baskets hanging on their backs. 

We find shelter on the road between a church and a school under the hospitality of the parish priest. It is Friday afternoon, the end of school is approaching. A group of schoolgirls who have just finished their lessons take a distant interest in our van. Erin and her friend, the bravest of them all, come up to us to ask us questions about our lifestyle and our van. They are quickly joined by their friends who are a bit more shy but just as curious. Here is now a small group of 15 girls who surround Laurène and attend the complete visit of the van. The questions are flying and it is with a real pleasure that I answer them. I also take the opportunity to learn more about them. They come from all over Malawi and go home to their parents during the holidays. They get up every morning at 5am to attend the 6am mass before going to school.

We also meet Bright, a clean-cut and polite 17-year-old. His father has been working in this parish for a year. Bright dreams of becoming a journalist and is very interested in our photo and video equipment. Valentin takes the time to teach him everything we know about our equipment. He is curious by nature and asks a lot of questions about our life in France and our trip. 

In general, we were impressed by the politeness of the locals in Malawi. We feel that education is important. Nevertheless, we discovered during our encounters that access to education is not always easy. Public schools charge a small fee for a student and classes are more than full with sometimes 1 teacher for 200 students. Private schools, which offer a better chance for students to continue their studies, cost MWK 80,000 (€90) per semester and MWK 200,000 (€220) for boarding. These are very important amount for the large majority of the population.

Climbing Mount Mulanje, the roof of Malawi

Here we go for a 3-day trek in the Mulanje mountains. The treks are always accompanied by a guide. We chose Moses, a very experienced guide with 25 years of experience. He is highly recommended by former travellers. Porters are optional. We prefer not to be assisted and carry our bags ourselves as usual.

We leave Uyo in a guarded car park in the Mulanje reserve. It’s good to leave him behind from time to time without having to worry about where we’re going to spend the night or about mechanical problems on the road. So we leave with peace of mind at the beginning of the weekend. It is already noon when we meet Moses. He joins us on board Uyo to do some shopping and get to the entrance of the reserve. Seasonal vegetables, rice, corn flour, spaghetti, bread, water and some cakes fill our bags. An extra sleeping bag and a change of clothes are enough for the three days. The four of us set off at 2pm. All four of us? Yes, I forgot to mention a little detail at the market. Moses bought a chicken to cook a traditional dish. The hen, still alive, accompanies us to the first hut before finally finishing her day in the pan.

The refuge is located at 1900m, we reach it faster than expected. So we have the chance to enjoy the last hours of sunshine illuminating the splendid clear summits of the surroundings. We didn’t think we would be so lucky when it started to rain on the way through the forest…
We will tell the rest of the hike in one of the next videos.

Zomba plateau

After the effort, the comfort. It is in Zomba that we chose to rest once back from our trek. It is the former capital of Malawi, located at the foot of the plateau. The town is surrounded by nature. The city centre is well maintained. On the main road there are banks, petrol stations, small shops and large supermarkets. But what catches our attention the most is the town’s market, one of the biggest in the country. You can find everything from seasonal fruit and vegetables to car parts, fabrics, smartphones and fake watches.

Filled with food, we head up to the plateau with Uyo to reach a quiet wilderness camping spot by a river. We relax our legs to recover from the stiffness of Mount Mulanje with a 14km hike on the plateau. It passes by two famous viewpoints: Queen’s view and Emperor’s view. Named after the visit of the Queen of England and the Emperor of Ethiopia, they are only 200m apart. On the way we pass many loggers who come to cut wood by hand. Then they bring it back down, cut into pieces, which they attach to their bikes.

Liwonde National Park

We make a quick stop in Liwonde. No safari game drive for us this time, we save ourselves for the next countries. We choose a safari lodge open to the reserve. With no fences around our campsite, the less shy animals approach. We quickly spot the two observation posts. They are two wooden decks on stilts. They are very comfortable so we don’t waste a minute, we take our picnic without forgetting the coffee and the small square of chocolate in dessert.

As the afternoon progresses, the animals approach. Baboons first, then warthogs, impalas, kudus follow one another. We like this kind of observation which is different from the one in Kruger Park. We are on the lookout for animals and not stalking them. After a drink at our vantage point, waiting for the animals under the beautiful colours of the sunset, we return to our van for a good meal and bed. 

In the night, we are awakened by a ruminant near our tent. With the full moon, we discover a hippopotamus that has entered the camp in search of some grass. Valentin has a sudden urge, but it is impossible to go down to find ourselves face to face with this enormous animal. It doesn’t look like it but it is the animal that kills the most in Africa. It has great strength and defends its territory against anyone who wants to get close. It is also known to be very fast… no way to go out to pee. From the top of his ladder, Valentin manages to remedy this problem.

Before leaving, we take advantage of the observation platform to prepare and eat our lunch. Alone in this camp, we enjoy a few more hours of calm and silence before heading back to the road.

Direction toward lake Malawi 

We head to the South of the Lake Malawi. On the road we take our time, even more than usual. The drive is dotted with many stops. The first one is at the exit of the campsite, at the local garage. Our right front tyre is wearing out prematurely on the outer sidewall and a tyre alignment should correct the problem. The method is interesting, the alignment of the wheels is done with the help of strings drawn on both sides of the vehicle between the rear and front wheels. It is very visual, and the misalignment is obvious. The level reveals a left wheel slightly tilted towards the outside. The mechanics are busy swapping the right rear tyre, as new, and the left front tyre after correcting the problem. Meanwhile, we talk to Bahati, the garage manager. He is curious and wants to know more about us and our trip. Interested in our technical background, he deplores the poor quality of the spare parts produced for Africa. There is no official factory and no quality control, only copies produced with the means at hand. Importing parts is expensive; he gets them from Dubai. Like his fellow mechanics, he dreams of a local production plant in accordance with the rules of the art. Uyo is now heading straight for the road we are taking, still in the direction of the lake.

We drive for miles in a green valley. Despite the few cars, the road is full of bikes. This is the most common transportation here and many are loaded with goods to the limit. The clear sky and the still high sun offer good visibility on the road. We spot a sign indicating “ecobric factory”. Curious, we stop to go and see the factory and get some information. We wonder: “eco” for ecological? or economic? The guard at the entrance speaks only Chichewa, he goes to look for someone who speaks a little English. He immediately invites us to come and see the factory that makes cement bricks. Factory is a big word as the building is still under construction. There is no roof or rooms as such, but only some walls. However, production is well underway with an electric press that transforms sand and gravel from the mountain behind into brick. Communication to obtain more details is complicated by the limited English. We admire the view on a small lake below before leaving. 

A few kilometres further on a large wicker basket stand on the right catches our eye. For some time we had been looking for a small basket to store more fruit and vegetables in the front of the vehicle. This brings us to our third stop. Two men show us their creations made in the small factory just behind the drying straw. They invite us to visit and see their products being made. In total, there are about ten of them working, including workers with reduced mobility. We are interested in the smaller baskets. We appreciate their welcome and the prices they offer us are local. It’s nice to meet people who don’t pigeonhole us as white or rich. We try 3 models of baskets in the van to choose the most suitable. We discuss a bit more with them before leaving.

We are now driving with the idea of looking for our last stop to spend the night. With so many people along the roads, it is not easy to find a quiet place. We end up in a boarding school with the agreement of the director. The school houses a sewing workshop set up by an association to give vulnerable women a chance to train and get by. We visited the workshop guided by Ayami until nightfall before obtaining permission to park until the early hours of the morning. The next day we left at dawn to enjoy the whole day at the famous Lake Malawi in Cape Maclear. 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lucas Benzhino

    Beautiful and well articulated ,enjoyed reading this one

Leave a Reply