Stay Eat Do in Malawi


TO STAY AND EAT: Chitimba Camp is one of the only real camps for a stop on the road between the middle and north of Lake Malawi. It’s positioned slightly back from the lake and has a grass camping area as well as basic huts for rent. The bar and restaurant areas are well run and the food is good and you can pick up very slow or non-existent wifi for a fee. From Chitimba, you can do day trips out to see local crafts, waterfalls and hike up to Livingstonia. Definitely worth the stay!


TO DO: Hike from Chitimba Camp up to Livingstonia. Despite my ordeal getting down from the mountain, it really is worth the trek up and back down again. I would stay over for a night or two, to explore Livingstonia and visit the local waterfalls. In my opinion, one day is enough at the top, two if you want to completely relax.

TO STAY AND EAT: Lukwe Eco Camp – perched on the edge of an escarpment looking down over the lake, Lukwe Eco Camp is a great option for anyone wanting to see Livingstonia. For peace, serenity, compost toilets, simple grass huts and the most incredible views, Lukwe is my choice. There is another camp nearby which is equally popular, called Mushroom Farm.


TO STAY AND EAT: Moyoka Bay is a beautifully positioned accommodation has grass huts perched on a rocky outcrop just out of town. The bar and restaurant serve good food and free wifi but you’re competing with everyone else for bandwidth so it can be slow or non-existent. The waters are crystal clear and you will often find small beach areas between the huts for swimming and snorkelling. There is no camping here and no place to open up a roof top tent either, so huts are the way forward. I might be mistaken but I don’t think there are any camping options in Nkhata Bay at all. I’d highly recommend this spot for the views and the ability to step out from hut to lake in three steps.


TO STAY: If you’re looking for a place to open up your tent on the beach and have the waters lapping (just about) at your feet, then somewhere like Chintheche Inn or Kande Beach are great options. I chose Chintheche Inn as Kande Beach is used more for the overlanding trucks stopovers and is full of vibe. Chintheche, although expensive at US$15/night, is far more peaceful and quiet. The camping area is set on beautiful green lawns and there is a well maintained pool for swimming if you don’t feel like taking a dip in the lake. This cabana style inn is used by Wilderness Safaris so lovely rooms are available for rent if you feel like a night of normality. Chintheche has a restaurant and bar that serves good food. There was free wifi in the camping area. This was one of my favourite camping spots and I ended up staying 3 days more than intended.


TO STAY: Sanctuary Lodge – advertised as a  luxury spa-like retreat, the Sanctuary Lodge itself sits in my mediocre category. There is a wonderful camping area not far from the Lodge, set under magnificent trees and has a decent ablutions block. I was the only camper during my stay, and whilst I had no reason to feel unsafe, the camping area is surrounded by forest and the walk between the Lodge and camping area at night is a bit of a trek through the darkness (recommend that you take one of the security guards with you). There is a pool at the Lodge and the restaurant is very average but there is free wifi.  I did visit Barefoot Camp outside of Lilongwe and that seemed a little disorganised and didn’t have wifi, the camping area was lovely and green but there is no pool and they weren’t serving meals at the restaurant, which meant going all the way back into Liliongwe for groceries for dinner (which is why I ended up simply staying at the Sanctuary Lodge).


TO DO: Snorkeling and Diving Lake Malawi – The south and middle sections of the lake are best for snorkeling and the warm crystal clear waters make this an extremely pleasant past time.  The north of the lake is full of silt and there is very little to see.


I used Aritel. The coverage in cities is fine but the moment you’re out in the middle of nowhere, reception is zero.

Route Through Malawi

A Songwe Border to B Chitimba Camp – 135kms, this is perfect tar but driving is limited at 80kms per hour and often slower due to the number of people and animals walking along either side of the road  – read about this section here

B Chitimba to C Nkhata Bay – 178kms, good tar all the way. This takes quite a long time as the road breaks away from the lake shore and winds up an escarpment and down the other side  – read about this section here

C Nkhata Bay to D Chintheche – 40kms, easy driving – the villages are set right on the road so watch out for children that play here!  – read about this section here

D Chintheche to E Lilongwe – 350kms, long days drive here but very do able. The tar is excellent all the way  – read about this section here

E Lilongwe to F Mchinji/Chipata Border – 125kms, easy riding on flat tar. Look out for the beautiful tea farms along the way  – read about this section here

Living off Mangoes – Central Malawi

Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.

Nkhata Bay, Malawi

2nd – 4th December 2013

After agreeing to transport one oversized mama Malaiwan traffic cop who had requested transportation to Rumphi, I scrambled to clear the passenger seat littered with things I need at arms reach when driving. Watching her heave her large frame off the ground and into my raised-suspension Beast was quite something. I had to give her instructions about where to put her feet and where to hold to help pull herself into the cruiser. Once inside, she flumped into the seat, wiped the sweat off her brow, laughed and slapped her thigh with relief.

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Escarpment Road near Chitmiba

“My name is Thelma. My people can’t say it right, so just call me ‘Felma’. You may proceed.”

So off we drove, me and Felma.

After around 20 minutes, I noticed she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, so I asked her to buckle up in case I was stopped by a traffic cop and fined breaking the law for transporting a passenger with no seatbelt.

“Ha, you will be fine with me in the car. They will see me and know I am in charge.” she said laughing.

She buckled up anyway and I was quite surprised (and glad) to see the seatbelt had enough length for her girth.

The next hour or so was spent discussing Malawian policing systems, education, family life and anything else I could find to keep Thelma talking. The drive takes you away from the lake, up and over some beautiful mountain passes. Rumphi was a little off my bearing but I decided to drive Thelma all the way to the local police station and dropped her off inside their compound. She was so chuffed and got the rest of the cops a the Rumphi Police Station to come out and wave me goodbye.

My next stop was Nkhata Bay. With the lure of cobalt blue waters, I was excited to see this bay I’d heard so much about. Now what people hadn’t told me, was that there is no real camping in Nhata Bay as the town is set on the sides of a rocky hill and there is no flat ground, or campsite to be found. I made my way over to a few of the recommended places to stay in the Lonely Planet and found Mayoka Village to be the best option.

With individual huts perched on top of a steep rocky shoreline of crystal clear waters, Mayoka Village is a maze of undulating pathways and steps from huts to ablutions to restaurant. I paid for two nights and got settled into my grass hut overlooking the bay. For two days I completely relaxed. I read, swam, snorkelled, ate and tried to get as much note taking and blogging done as the restaurant had free wifi. Free if you want to join the other twenty guests sharing the bandwidth and wait half an hour for a picture to load…

Whilst this was stop was wonderful, I really was in search of a beach that I could camp next to and, on recommendation, I set off for Chintheche, 50 kilometres south of Nkhata Bay.

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View on route from Nkhata Bay to Chintheche

Chintheche Inn, Malawi

4th – 8th December 2013

With no real village or town in sight, Chintheche Inn is on a remote and beautiful stretch of the lake. The gates opened up and I was immediately greeted by really friendly staff, the kind who insist on showing you around, explaining the ins and outs of the place. The inn serves as a cabana-type hotel on the shore of the lake and the remaining grass area is available for camping. Considering I was in Malawi, US$15 per night is by no means a cheap stay but it was just what I was looking for and I almost had the place to myself. The only other guests in the campsite were Callie and his two sons James and Peter, who were riding from Cape Town to Egypt. The boys couldn’t have been older than 16 and 18 – what a great thing for a father and his sons to do together. I heard them start up their motorbikes before the sun rose the next morning, and they were off. I do hope they made it all the way up!

I parked the Beast under a large mango tree and immediately went for a swim in the most incredibly warm and calm waters. I’d been informed that there was a resident crocodile that would swim by every now and then, but not to worry because they had locals looking out for him. Nothing like placing your reassurance in something as insubstantial as that. I would have to take my chances.

Lake Malawi from the shores of Chintheche

Over the next few days, I took root and for the first time since leaving Diani Beach, I stayed in one place for more than two nights. I hit the repeat button on my daily routine of waking, swimming, eating, reading, swimming, blogging and sleeping and just kicked back. With no one else in sight, I had a small kingdom of paradise to myself. Waking with the birds and watching the sun rise over the lake from the window of my lofty green castle, I would survey my private kingdom below. The campsite and lake became my playground and the trees dropped sweet, ripe mangoes for me daily.

After a couple of months on the road, you find that you really don’t need much to sustain a relatively passive form of living. I had been given a bag of biltong by Paul Metcalf when leaving Mbeya in Tanzania a few weeks earlier and was still rationing out 2 or 3 pieces a day. Nuts and dried fruit were a favourite and if I found time in the evenings I would cook some garlic rice and mix in a dollop of Malawi’s incredibly Nali sauce which adds a peri-peri kick to the meal. Other than that, I was happy with tomatoes of which there was always an abundance of at roadside stalls. But it was those sweet mangoes that I looked forward to every day and I could have lived under that tree for weeks if time hadn’t been a bit of an issue.

Sun setting over Lake Malawi

Whilst at Chintheche I met two ladies who were staying at the inn. Janet comes out every year for a few weeks to continue the work set up by her charity following her daughter’s passing. She raises money for the local orphanage school and brings in supplies, desks, chairs and school books. I also met Ruthe who has been working on a homeopathic malaria prevention programme. She has been working in the area for some time now, administering this to local children and has been monitoring the programme for some years now with fantastic results. As I was not on any prophylactic of my own, I took some of her muti, enough to last for the rest of my trip (it’s only a sip per day) and swigged the required dosage each morning. Needless to say I never got malaria.

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Ruthe and Janet – woman warriors out to make a change.

It was at Chintheche, that I witnessed the infamous lake flies. I took a walk down to the lake one morning and saw, what can only be described as black smoke or dark spiralling clouds brooding on the horizon which grew constantly. I have been told that the fly larvae live on the lake bottom where they feed. When they form pupae they float to the surface and hatch all at once causing the giant swarms. Winds often blow them to the shore and women from local communities catch them in baskets and squash them together to create a local delicacy (a burger-like patty which is then deep fried). I was most upset when this swarm made landfall that evening. Before I knew it they were everywhere. Every light attracted a million of the damn creatures and I have never been caught up in a swarm of so many insects – up your nose, in your mouth and eyes – just completely unpleasant! Dashing back to the safety of my tent, I was then confined for the rest of the evening knowing that my light was drawing them to the mesh of my windows. I woke up the next morning to find piles of dead lake flies under every possible light fitting. The local ladies were besides themselves, running up and down the beach with their baskets full of the blady things!

A day later I woke to the sound of a morning storm. I have seen a fair few storms in my time but this was on the heavy end of the spectrum. The tent was getting absolutely lashed but Howling Moon have a good rep for a reason but with the sheer volume of water things were starting to sag. I zipped up the canvas windows and with a bit of maintenance to prevent the water pooling and weighing the roof down, I remained mostly dry. The battery on my phone was just about dead and, as I was hoping to leave that morning, decided to get down to the cab, start the engine and charge the phone to do a bit of research for the road ahead. Racing from under the tent at the back of the Beast, opening the door, flinging myself in – I was drenched, and so were the books in the door holder… I plugged in the phone, turned the key and… nothing… battery had flatlined!  That’s what you get for running your fridge/freezer for 4 days without starting your wagon. Plan B. I raced across the campsite in the bucketing rain and lighting to the ablutions only to find that the power has been taken out by the lightning. Racing back to the Beast, now drenched, I didn’t want to sit inside the tent or on the seats for that matter. Luckily the rain had abated somewhat and I saw one of the gardeners under shelter nearby. I ran over to ask if he could help me find someone to charge the battery. A short while later I had the camp manager, DK, and a team of workers with their camp vehicle trying to jolt some life into my batteries. They had considered removing both my batteries and running them down to the village where they have a battery charger but the power was down in the entire area. After 3-4 hours of trying various things, it seemed hopeless! Eventually some clever clog got under the Beast and manually got the starter motor running which would set the batteries charging. By now the rain had stopped and it was midday. There was no way I was going to make it to Lilongwe. DK, looking at this drowned shivering rat, offered me a room at the inn for the night. Well, how’s that for incredible hospitality! Ahhhh you can’t imagine how good it felt just to take a warm shower, have nice fluffy towels and just have space to dry everything out. That night, tucked up in a divine double bed with crisp clean linen, I couldn’t sleep a wink and lay awake all night… typical.

Before leaving the area, I took an exploratory drive down some incredible paths and tracks, and found the most smiley, inquisitive and friendly children playing in the fields, African children have beautiful souls and seem so content with life, without a care in the world. This was one of my favourite places of the entire trip.

Lilongwe, Malawi

8th – 9th December 2013

I had a pretty easy drive from Chintheche to Lilongwe, and like any capital town in Africa, it has it’s perks – western restuarants and malls greeted me as I drove through the streets. I drove out to Barefoot Camp which had been recommended in the guide books but found that, although the lawns were nice, it was a long way out of town and wasn’t serving food. So I drove back into town and bought a few groceries. By this stage I just wanted to stop for the day and chose to check out the campsite at Sanctuary Lodge which was in town. The campsite is attached to the Sanctuary (don’t be fooled by the name, it’s nice but not that nice…) and, as it borders a wildlife reserve, is beautifully lush with heavy leaved trees and thick lawns. Again, I was the only person in the campsite but it was pleasant and so were the ablutions (always a plus). that evening I made my way up to the lodge to gain access to their free wifi and on retuning at around 9pm that night (with a guard in tow), found the back of the Beast completely open. In my haste to get to the Lodge three hours previously, I had completely forgotten to close the tail gate and lock up… absolutely everything was in place and not a thing was missing. With everything I owned, including my passport and all the money in my possession inside, I had undeniable sidestepped a major crisis just then… thank you Africa!

*Not a thing was stolen thoughout my entire journey, except a 2l bottle of prized Mazoe concentrated juice from the back of my Beast in Cape Town… pretty incredible!*

Getting Sick up the Mountain – Livingstonia, Malawi

Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.

Livingstonia, Malawi

30th November – 2nd December 2013

2013.11Livingstonia (0)Livingstonia is a town set high up on the Nyika Plateau, towering 900m above Lake Malawi and is just a few kilometres west of Chitimba – straight up. Not to be confused with Livingstone in Zambia, Livingstonia is an old mission station which has developed into a town. Cape Maclear had been the original site for the 1894 Scottish mission but on realising that their lakeside location was rife with malaria, the missionaries moved their calling 600km north, to the heights to escape the mosquitos who were killing all those they were trying to save. With it’s colonial stone buildings perched on the edge of this escapment and beautiful tree-lined streets, one might forgive you for thinking you’d gone back one hundred years in time. People walk the earthen streets in their Sunday best as if they’ve just been to church, and are proud of their University, school, museum, hospital and mission church that still serve as the central hub around which community life revolves. Getting up to Livingstonia is a tale in itself…

From Chitimba Camp you can approach Livingstonia in two ways. Walk or drive. Unfortunately neither of these is terribly pleasant. I had originally planned to drive up, but on discussing this with the owner of the bar, I suddenly had second thoughts. The “Gorode” (as it’s referred to by the locals) up the almost-vertical escarpment is a series of 21 switchbacks on a single gravel track. I’m talking about wheels-almost-over-the-edge type driving. The journey is said to take around an hour and some of the switchbacks involve a three point turn to get around the corner. If faced with a vehicle coming down while you’re going up, one of you needs to reverse until you find a switchback with a little room for you to manoeuvre around each other – and there aren’t that many about. You can’t drive if it’s been raining, as your vehicle will simply slide off the edge. I’m not the best when it comes to heights, sliding mud, crumbling road verges or reversing down cliff-dropping switchbacks and so I elected to walk up instead.

(Turns out the Beast would have managed the climb no problem, but without someone with me to spot I’m kind of glad I didn’t drive)

Children fetching water from their local well

Children fetching water from their local well – Livingstonia Malawi

Chitimba Camp can arrange for a local guide to take you up to the top, and so at 5:00am I was ready for my pathfinder, Lawrence, at the gate. The distance from Chitimba to Livingstonia by road (via Lukwe) is around 18kms, and with a total elevation of around 900m this was bound to be a tough walk. The guides know ‘shortcuts’ straight up between the switchbacks which cuts the distance down somewhat but your’e climbing almost straight up. I had packed a backpack for one night’s stay at the top but with my camera equipment and two litres of water, I wasn’t travelling light. I’ve walked up Table Mountain in Cape Town before and, aside from the weight I was carrying, this was a fairly similar trek.

Women walk up and down from Livingstonia daily.

As I’ve mentioned before, Malawi is one of the poorest African countries so very few local people have vehicles. The only way up and down from Livingstonia is by walking, and for some, this happens every day, sometimes multiple times a day. On my way up I passed several groups of mostly women (and a few older children) walking down absolutely laden with produce balanced on their heads and carried in their arms. I asked Lawrence about this and he told me that the villagers bring fruit, vegetables, grain and other food stuff up and down the mountain daily. These women were mostly barefoot and I couldn’t help but be reminded how hard some people work to earn a meagre living.

After hours and hours of climbing, the punishing gradient tapered off and Lawrence took me down a side road to my place of rest for the night. Lukwe Eco Camp is perched precariously on the very edge of a sharp drop off and has views all the way to Lake Malawi in the East. The grass huts jut out over the edge and have the most fantastic views. The camp has been built from local resources and is run on solar power and wood fuel. Lukwe have their own organic gardens and compost toilets which require the scooping of ash and soil, from nice neat pots, into the tank below to cover your contribution.

Lukwe is around 4kms before the actual town of Livingstonia so I dumped most of my things in my grass hut, thanked Lawrence for getting me up to the top and discussed a meeting time for him to walk up and fetch me the next morning. I didn’t necessarily need a return service as the only way is down, but when you see how hard these people work for every penny, spending of $10 becomes a little more purposeful. Lawrence would see me at 7am the next morning.

My little guides up in Livingstonia

I had heard about Manchewe Falls and thought I’d visit this site on my way up to Livingstonia. After walking past a few remote huts and farmland, I suddenly realised I was being followed. Every time I looked back, giggling boys would dart back into the bush to hide. I felt a little like the pied piper after a while and gestured for them to come and walk with me which they did. They lead me to the Manchewe Falls and we all had a bottle of Fanta together. The falls were a nice little attraction, dropping down in to the valley below and surrounded by lush forest.

It took about another hour of walking uphill to get to Livingstonia where I bumped into a group of travellers from Chitimba Camp along the way. This incredible town is built along a one kilometre tree-lined dirt road. We decided to explore together as a group and stopped in at the market for a bit of fresh produce. We popped into the barber’s shop to see about a hair cut for one of the boys, but the barber had a queue and looked to be fairly busy (I’m not sure the styles on offer were what he was hoping for either) so we tried to visit the museum in Stone House instead, but it was closed. Near the end of town we dropped into the Craft Coffee Shop and met the shop keeper, Isaac. I was parched and so we stayed for a drink. Isaac speaks perfect English and was well versed in African history. Taking time out to listen to his stories was well worth the stop!  Since the mission establishment in Livingstonia over a hundred years ago, the town has been visited constantly by missionaries who continue to educate the local children and adults. Livingstonian folk speak the best English of all the African people I have ever met.

Livingstonia High Street, Malawi

At the far end of town the impressive church stands proudly between the trees. We couldn’t help but notice the enormous stained glass window depicting David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer after whom the town is named. Obed, the enthusiastic caretaker, lead us on an extended tour through the church halls, past the choir and up onto the roof, through the rafters and out onto the open air bell tower from where we could see all the way out over the edge of the escarpment and down to Lake Malawi.

Livingstonia Church Choir in rehearsal for a special event – amazing!!

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Livingstonia Scottish Mission Church

My group of merry travellers decided to stop for a bit of lunch, but by this time I wasn’t feeling good and simply ordered a plate of rice. I’m not one to get ill and hadn’t been sick once since the trip began. In fact, it’s rare if I even get a cold once a year. I attribute my incredible immune system to my many teaching years, being exposed to just about every strain of germ and virus going around, so it’s very unlike me to feel unwell.

We all walked together back down the hill to our camps. The rest of the travellers were staying at Mushroom Farm, a kilometre further than Lukwe and so we’d arranged for Lawrence and myself to meet them on the way down – giving Lawrence an extra bit of cash for the group of us. After walking the 16kms almost straight up to Livingstonia and a further 4kms back to Lukwe, I was not in a good place. A recent loss of appetite over the past two weeks had meant that I hadn’t been eating much and with quite a strenuous trek up the mountain that day, my resources were depleted and I crashed in my hut and slept for a few hours.

At small camps in these remote places, you tend have to put your dinner orders in at around lunch time so that the cooks can acquire exactly what they need for their guests during the day. On arriving earlier that afternoon I had optimistically chosen the steak, mash and vegetables off the Lukwe menu. There were only two other guests at Lukwe that night and so I sat down with them for dinner. The food came out, I stared at it, poked at the rice but couldn’t touch a thing. You’re always at risk offending people by sending their lovely home cooked meals back to the kitchen but I asked that someone explain that I wasn’t well and that the staff were welcome to have my dinner. I also though it wise to tell someone that I wasn’t well and the lovely African lady who runs the place, went to speak to the European owner about what to do. He mentioned that he was driving down the mountain the next morning at 11am and I could get a lift with him to Chitimba. With slight relief and with no dinner, I staggered back to my hut and called Lawrence on his cell phone. In my best simple English tried to explain the situation to him. I didn’t want him walking up in the morning if I was getting a lift down in a car. He seemed to understand eventually but, as with most lovely African, when they find out someone is sick, they are always hugely concerned and want to help. I explained that I would be fine for the night, and as I was getting a lift, I’d be back in Chitimba without further problems in the morning. I had no way of informing the other travellers, who I knew would be waiting for me at 7am down the road, but figured they would head down by themselves after my no-show.

Compost Toilets - lovely!

Compost Toilets – lovely!

Things progressed from bad to worse – back in my hut I got progressively more ill. I was lethargic, clammy, was cramping badly and had dire nausea. Without any immediate (I mean “in my hut” immediate) access to fresh water, food or medication I felt completely useless. I managed to get hold of Boris by text and he told me to get to a hospital as he was worried it may be malaria. I had one of the worst nights of my life, fighting nausea, cramping, and in my exhausted state, had to trek up the pathway every time I needed to use the compost toilet… I should have just slept sitting down on it.

I must have fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning, and at 7am dragged myself to the bar to ask if the owner could take me to Livingstone hospital but he wasn’t around. I went back to bed, waiting for him to leave a little later, and was eventually woken by the cleaning lady at 11am who told me I needed to be out of the hut so she could clean. I explained that I wasn’t well and was waiting to catch a lift down the mountain with the owner. She looked puzzled and said that she didn’t think he was going that way today. My first hope was that she didn’t know what she was talking about, but I got up and stumbled down the pathway to the bar area in search of the owner. I couldn’t find him, but his African assistant confirmed the worst – he had decided not to go down that day after all.

Well that was just about the moment all my hopes came crashing down around me. I could try to walk up to the Livingstonia hospital, but that was 4kms away, uphill, and would take well over and hour. It also meant that I was walking in the opposite direction to where my car and my medicine was, and without those two lifelines, I felt hopeless. It was too late to phone Lawrence to come and get me as it would take him an hour and a half at least to get up to me. What a calamity of events, I’d cancelled my guide, I’d missed the cool early morning start and now I’d be hours behind the rest of the group from Mushroom Farm. I decided to head down and hope for the best

The next three hours are a bit of a blur, anticipating malaria, I knew I needed to get myself to help fairly quickly but with the delay and miscommunication, I was setting off in the midday sun. I had a few snack bars to chew on and a two litre bottle, so that’s all the water I could carry. In the days leading up to this, I had been surviving on nuts and fruit and had not had a proper meal in ages. Coming down the steep descent was torture on the legs which had turned to a shaking mess. I found a stick to use for balance and would change course just to walk in shade, even if it meant a longer path. I started counting my steps to take my mind off things but with the sun beating down on me, I was absolutely exhausted and was losing what little energy I had left, fast.

View from the Livingstonia escarpment overlooking Lake Malawi

At one point, I spotted a vehicle heading down but as I was on the steep decent in-between the switchbacks I wasn’t on the road to flag it down. I tried to pick up pace but it had passed the road beneath me before I could get down. It was slow going but all I could think about was getting back down in one piece. My vision was hazy, the weight of my bag wasn’t helping and I had long since finished my water when I heard someone call out from behind me.

It turns out, Green (yes, I checked a number of times – that is his name), a 20 year old local man had been visiting his grandfather up in Livingstonia and was now on his way back down the mountain. He offered to help and guide me down. For fear of seeming like a feeble tourist who can’t handle something these locals do everyday, I didn’t want to tell him how I was feeling and tried to keep up with his blistering pace. Eventually I asked him to slow down as I was starting to lose my footing regularly on the steeper parts. I wanted to throw up but I’m as stubborn as an old mule and couldn’t believe my body was shutting down on me like this. We made it out of the steepest section of the walk, where the land gradually slopes though the town of Khondowe and down to Chitimba Camp on the lake – another 5kms away. Leaving the wooded slopes behind us, we were walking under the harshest sun and my water had long since gone.

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Livingstonia Children

I took my mind off how blady awful I felt by talking to Green about his schooling, his family and about life on the lake. We went back and forth together with my simple words and his broken English. As with most Africans I spoke to along my journey, he was incredibly resilient, happy with very little and saw the world through content and hopeful eyes. We parted ways in Khondowe at the foot of the mountain and I thanked him with the money I had intended on giving Lawrence. Another forty minutes of sun slogging, I stumbled past the carving stalls near the entrance to Chitimba Camp when Lawrence appeared, completely unaware of day’s events and now completely ashamed of himself for not guiding me down. He had been busy carving my name into a wooden keyring to thank me for giving him work the day before. It didn’t help how many times I tried to explain the situation in my simplest English, he just couldn’t understand why I hadn’t phoned him to ask him to help me. That’s African benevolence for you right there.

Getting back to the cruiser, I consumed all my purified water in one downing before standing under a cold shower for almost half an hour, too tired, too weak to move. The thought of drying myself seemed a chore… I got myself to the bar area and got some electrolyte mix, coke and more water into my system before collapsing on a chair where I sat and stared, completely drained, out over the lake until fell asleep. I’d started to feel better that evening and figured that this had probably been a case of heat exhaustion and lack of sustenance than malaria and so the urgency of getting to hospital soon abated.

I needed to press on the following day and decided against heading up to the Nyika Plateau in favour of finding some more wonderful camping spots on the lake further south. Nyika Plateau is higher up than Livingstonia and the only way to get there is by going around the plateau, 100kms south to come back almost 100kms north, something I didn’t have time for. So I turned the Beast south towards Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay.

Not five kilometres into my day’s journey and just outside the town of Khondowe where I had walked the day previously, a robust and very official looking lady stepped into the road ahead with her left arm high indicating that I should stop. Road blocks of this type are common; where are you going? where have you been? can I see your drivers licence and insurance (that’s not a question, that’s a command). She sauntered over to me, her voluminous bust had the shirt buttons at bursting point and her skirt stretched to capacity round her rear end. Leaning on my open window she peered into the cruiser, spying my recently washed pants and bras hanging from the washing line over my back seat.

“Where are you going?” – here we go…

“I’m going to Mzuzu and then to Nkhata Bay, Mayi” I respond in the respectful tone, addressing her as madam in Chichewa.

“Very good” she says “I’m requesting transportation to Rumphi. Let’s go.”

Well what choice did I have but to oblige?  I had just become the official escort for the Malawian traffic police.

Camp Drama – Chitimba, Malawi

Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.

Chitimba Camp, Malawi

28th – 29th November 2013

Squeezing the Beast in between the hundreds of trucks jostling for space in the Songwe border, I eventually found a place to park and hopped out. At any African border, you’re greeted by twenty ‘helpful’ people wanting to exchange money or show you the ‘border procedure’ (for a fee of course). I learned very early on in my journey to pretend that I do this sort of thing daily. I greet them in the local language, smile, tell them I’ve already exchanged all my money in the previous town and that I’m good to manage the border myself.

BORDER INFO: In Malawi there is no charge for road or fuel tax at all, only for 3rd party insurance which I already have in the Yellow Card Comesa.

Burning Farm Lands – Northern Malawi

The difference between Tanzania and Malawi was immediately apparent. The land either side of the road was noticeably more flat and arid than the escarpment I had just descended in Tanzania. Where the farms were green and flourishing in north of the border, the land here was dry, burning and barren. The people of Malawi seemed slimmer, wore clothes full of holes and walked without shoes.

Due to last minute vehicle maintenance that morning, I had left Mbeya in Tanzania later than expected and I got to the first major town of Karonga in Malawi by early afternoon and was still undecided about whether to spend the night there or not. The guide books give you a few options for accommodation but you never really know until you pull into town and get a feel for it. One of the very first things I do when arriving in a new country is find a shack selling local sim cards and so I stopped at the Karonga bus terminal to try to buy one. I quickly realised that this was not the safest place for a lone female traveller and so I pulled up half on the pavement and as close as I could to the shack.  This left half of the Beast blocking a large portion of the entrance to the bus station terminal and I soon had angry taxi drivers shouting at me to get out of the way – it’s amazing how a big smile and a thumbs up diffuses the situation. With a sim card and a bit of credit in my possession, I got the hell out of Karonga. With daylight fading fast, I set off for the next camp on the lake, Chitimba, 80kms south.

Northern Malawi near Karonga

I arrived at Chitimba Camp as the sun was setting. One of the most important rules of the road in Africa is to drive whilst you have light – even twilight is a risky ride.

The road surface in Malawi is generally good but it also serves as the main thoroughfare for every man and his dog.  Malawi is one of the poorest African countries and very few Malawians own vehicles, so the roads are available for bicycles, hand carts, children, adults and trains of livestock. Aside from the occasional bus, you may see a clapped-out car or expedition 4×4, but due to the lack of traffic the roads are free for people to use. As a vehicle travelling at speed, you need to be highly vigilant and you find yourself driving in the centre of the road, avoiding the endless stream of pedal and foot power moving on either side. Keeping your eyes on the horizon, you dread the thought of an oncoming truck or bus as this tends to require advanced driving skills… immediate deceleration, and Stigg-like manoeuvring abilities through the human and livestock chicanes until the approaching vehicle has passed. You breathe easy and it’s back to driving with your tyres either side of the centre line.

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Beds for Drying Fish, Lake Malawi near Chitimba

Approaching Chitimba I could see the Nyika escarpment on the right and the lake opening up to the left. From the northern border with Tanzania to Nkhata Bay 300kms south, Chitimba Camp is one of the only good stopovers on the lake. There’s no town here, just a local village with a few stalls selling the usual produce of onions and tomatoes. I took a left turn towards the lake and drove past a few village houses. Greeted by barefoot kids running along side the land cruiser calling for sweets and money, I rolled down my window and gave the a high five instead.

Smiles and Waves

Smiles and Waves

As I drove past a dozen or so basic wooden stalls lining the dirt road before Chitimba Camp gate, I wondered how each of these incredibly skilled artists and sculptures make a living. The souvenir stands have been set up to provide the local villagers with a place from which they can sell their paintings and carvings without ‘harassing’ the tourists on the beach. A little sad really, but understandable. Malawi’s population survives on less than a $1 per day, so the competition for selling artistic work to tourists is fierce.  It’s a sad reality that these people, in their desperate attempt to make up to a month’s wage with one sale, would start to approach visitors and not take no for an answer. People hoping for a nice quiet holiday at the beach soon choose not to visit these areas for fear of harassment and tourism declines. These allocated stalls seem to be the most reasonable and fair way of allowing the Chewa people to market their beautiful handcraft whilst the tourists walk the beaches undisturbed.

Chitimba Camp is set back about 200m from the lake, and is owner-run with a good restaurant and bar area. The basic accommodation is only around £1 more expensive than camping and I was exhausted from a full day of driving so that made the decision easy. There are a number of wooden style rooms, furnished with a single bed with a small window. I can’t say it was spacious, cool or airy but after a long drive, it was less hassle than climbing on the roof and opening up the tent.

I settled down in the bar area to get some planning and blogging done. Despite the restaurant food being incredibly cheap at these camps, I have lost my appetite and seem to be happy snacking on fruit, nuts and tomatoes. Wifi is almost non-existent and costs an exorbitant amount of money for a frustrating internet experience which gets you nowhere.

Later that evening an over landing truck pulled into camp and spewed out it’s 20 or so travellers, most on their ‘gap yah’ no doubt. Having come down an alternate route in Tanzania, this was the first time I had come across a big over landing truck full of tearaways and so a little social observation ensued…

From my seat in the corner of the verandah I watched as two girls from the overlanding truck approached the camp bar. After ordering five rounds of double vodka and cokes, and digging through her bag for change, the one asks her tbff (travelling/temporary best friend forever) “What money are we using?”.  The response, “I have no idea. What country are we in again?”.

Look, I’m sure each trip is different, and if this is the only way to see these countries, then I suppose it’s better than nothing. I’m all for young people getting on these trucks to ‘experience’ Africa but do feel that these trips tend to metamorphose into a drink-infused hazy cycle of camp, drive, drink, camp repeat (yah?). Throw in a few wildlife parks (optional extras at a cost) and you get to see some animals on your journey. Often these travellers can’t afford the game park entry fees and pricey side excursions, electing instead to spend their time pursuing other recreational activities (and I don’t mean the day trip kind). Cue the drama…

Chitimba Campfire

We had two incidents that night.

On heading over to the communal washrooms to brush my teeth, I found a gathering of people surrounding an older lady standing in a bucket of water.  She was sweating, puffy and panicked, and I realised that this was probably a case of anaphalaxysis, a response to a severe allergic reaction where the body produces a dangerously high quantity of histamines which can cause swelling of the body tissue including the throat. It turns out she’d stepped on a wasp in the dark and was reacting fairly badly to the sting. I asked her whether she was carrying an epipen (the drug needed to counteract this severe reaction) and she wasn’t. We got a few oral antihistamines into her and for some time she really wasn’t in a good place. There was one local hospital within a 300km radius and it was up in Livingstonia but the road is treacherous and not to be driven in the dark. With all the vomiting, she couldn’t keep the oral antihistamines down so we lathered her in antihistamine creme and her friends got her into a shower to keep her body temperature down. After a number of hours, she was slightly better.  It seemed the reaction was subsiding and I left her friends to tend to her.  It was well past 1am.

Not long after I had put my head down to sleep I heard a huge commotion not far from my hut.  I rushed out into the night to find two girls screaming and banging on the door of their overlanding guide, pleading with him to help them. They were absolutely hysterical and one seemed to collapse from what looked like a seizure. I ran over, and with the help of the tour guide, we got the girls out of his hut and back onto the grass area. Through frenzied sobbing and uncontrollable panic, the girls told us that someone had drugged them and they couldn’t find their friend. The tour guide seemed less than impressed and did little to calm the girls down. By this stage, half the camp was awake and some overlanding friends had come to comfort the two hysterical souls. I asked the girls a few questions, trying to find out if this person who drugged them was still in the camp and, more importantly, trying to piece together where the third friend may be. It didn’t take long before I had my doubts about this mystery drug lord, and my hunches were confirmed when the third friend sheepishly appeared only to tell us that they had all been smoking weed on the beach and these two friends had completely flipped out. She was fine but they had clearly suffered a proper dose of paranoia which lead to the fabrication of their weak story for fear of the police finding them and putting them into a Malawian jail. It was then that I understood the apathetic reaction of the tour guide – he must see this on every trip.

I finally went to bed to the sound of an enormous thunderstorm over the lake.

Chitimba Beach leading to Lake Malawi