Malawi, aka: “the warm heart of Africa”. I can definitely see how the country of Malawi has earned this reputation. Everything about this country communicates kindness and welcoming warmth. Malawi is about the size of the US state of Pennsylvania with Lake Malawi covering one fifth of the country. This means that many Malawians depend on the freshwater Lake for their survival. Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other Lake in the world! Most of the locals fish in dugout canoes in order to make a living.
We arrived around mid-day at the border between Tanzania and Malawi. The border crossings are MUCH different than back home. We hopped out of our truck-trolly then strolled to an office to show our passport. After that we had the chance to change money. 1 US dollar = about 1100 Kwacha. To put things in perspective, a giant bottle of beer costs 500 Kwacha. This country was made for High Class Hobos!
After changing our money we walked across the border… yup walked. We entered an office where they recorded our names and passport numbers by hand. We were all fine except for poor Ling, my tentmate. They made her pay $50 US dollars plus a 10 000 Kwacha processing fee for a visa that she didn’t need. Unfortunately Singapore was on the “list” of countries that need visas. This list was either really old or completely made up. Ultimately it didn’t matter though, the choice was to pay or to stay in Tanzania and fend for yourself.
Later that day we stopped in Mezuzu to go to the “shopping mall” which was just a gated grocery store where we could buy some more water and snacks. A bunch of us also bought some pills that will kill the Lake Malawi parasites. Apparently this parasite comes from snails in the Lake and can get into your blood stream. For 2$ I bought the pills that I will take 6 weeks from now just in case I get infected.
We set up camp on the shores of Lake Malawi. The campsites have far exceeded my expectations. Most have toilets and showers (not always warm, but at least it’s a shower), and they usually have a really great bar area full of character. The following morning I woke up early to sit on the beach, drink my coffee, and watch the sunrise. It was so tranquil and stunning. The locals came and sat with us for a bit. Often when I see the locals approaching I know they want to sell me something. However, these children just wanted to sit with us and chat and enjoy the sunrise too. Malawians are different.
The next day we packed up and drove to a Kande Beach which is further down the 500 km coast of Lake Malawi. This spot was amazing. We had a big party night with some other tour groups which included dancing on the bar, jumping on each other’s backs, crowd surfing through the bar, and an awful rendition of “Bless the Rains down in Africa” performed by our group. It was an absolute riot.
The next day we went for a long walk down the beach. We wandered off the beach and through some of the tiny fishing villages. Three local teenagers followed us the entire time. We told them we were not going to give them any money but they were welcome to walk with us and chat. They did just that; they walked with us for 2 hours asking us all sorts of questions and pointing out different things to us as we strolled.
That afternoon was a beach day. I applied my SPF 50 sunscreen and enjoyed the warmth of the sparkling sand. A beach volleyball game, a swim, and a nap later the afternoon had turned into evening.
The next morning I woke up early and went for a run down the beach. I jogged past the fishing village where everyone was up before sunrise to do their dishes or washing in the Lake and get their nets ready for fishing. The sun rose in the sky like a giant golden ball surrounded by gentle cotton candy coloured clouds. Definitely worth waking up for!
After breaking camp we drove to our next destination, the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe, to stay at Senga Bay camp. The Malawi children love to wave at us in our truck-trolly thing. At one point we stopped for a scenic view and there was a little girl there. Some of the people on the tour had some books, pencil crayons, and candy they had brought for the children. Once the girl received a gift all of a sudden kids started appearing out of paths in the bushes and sprinting down the road towards us. They were like a flock of seagulls trying to get a scrap of bread. Anyone who had anything to give was swarmed. It was really funny. When we ran out of things to give them they all stood together and sang us a song as a thank you. It was really cute.
However, once we got to Lilongwe, the locals weren’t quite as kind. The day before we arrived there had been riots in the streets. Apparently the lower class had set up a market in a space they were not allowed to be. Their warning to move had expired by a week so the government came in to encourage them to move. From what I understand the market was set on fire, then the market owners retaliated by setting tires on fire as well as a primary school funded by the First Lady of Malawi. Fortunately, some of the teachers evacuated the children to one of the teacher’s houses before the mob got to the school. Needless to say the people in Lilongwe were a bit on edge. At one point we actually had rocks thrown at our truck-trolley. We detoured our route for fuel and supplies to an area further away from where the riots had taken place and when we stopped for lunch later that day our driver did some abnormal off-roading into the bush before we stopped. Mwendwa said he was looking for shade for us but I think they were just trying to get out of sight. It kind of backfired though because there was a village in the distance and once the people discovered we were there they all gathered around. We gave them our leftovers from lunch and our empty water bottles but they kept hanging around. From the look of the children with their distended bellies I think these people were quite hungry. Eventually John lured the group away with a loaf of bread while we opened the door to the truck-trolley, all scrambled on, then drove out of the bush sans John. Our fearless leader caught up with us on the main highway running our direction with a smoke in hand and no more bread.
Later that day we made it to the Malawi-Zambia border. This border was similar to the other one we crossed. We showed our visas and yellow fever certificates, had our temperature taken as an Ebola precaution, and received a free condom each to discourage the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Overall, I really liked Malawi. From what I’ve read it is a major up and coming tourist destination. If the government can stabilize itself I think it has great potential. Next up, The High Class Hobo enters Zambia!!!