Thursday, 2 June 2016

Malawi 1

Leaving the Zambian side of the border was incredibly easy, we were in and out in under 10 minutes.. The immigration and customs both knew what they were doing and pointed us to the Malawian customs. Again this was straight forward, and we managed a very jammy passport switch.. If you read my blog you will know that Charles has duel nationality but has been travelling down on the UK passports due to visa costs and stability of the passport however in the Southern countries his SA passport gets him in for free. So far (Namibia and Zambia) the immigration officers have been adamant they won't change over for him due to paper trails and their policy on duel nationality. We got to the immigration and Charles started chatting to the guys, can you do it? Can you change it over? Initially they were saying no, Malawi doesn't accept duel nationality and you have to come in on the same passport as you went out the last country on, but as Charles kept chatting to them they said to him if you help us out we can help you out. They were very subtle about it, and wrote down a figure on a piece of paper .. $25. I was already filling out my paperwork for my visa (€75 for 90 days) and Charles came over with the figure. Well, it was a no-brainer, $25 for a change or $75 for the British visa, as well as the Mozambique visa.. Overall I think we saved ourselves $100, every little helps!

Feeling quite happy with ourselves we headed out to buy insurance, my tip for anyone doing this border is to come with Malawian kwatchas already because insurance is in local currency and there is no bank. You are at the mercy of the money exchangers who do not give you a great rate! Insurance for 2 months was £15, already a quarter of the price of Zambia! We headed towards Lilongwe, the capital, it was a Friday so we would have to stay there till Monday to see if we could add on more days to our visa and to get a SIM card - A lot of shops here do not open on Saturday and Sunday, luckily shoprite does! We arrived at Lilongwe Golf Course, and were told camping was $10 for us both per night. Going back out we got some money and picked up some food and wow the food prices were so cheap! We decided we might like Malawi. Arriving back at the camp site we settled in for the night, the Lonely Planet makes a point of saying Malawians are the most friendly in Southern Africa, and we were proved right. Everyone was lovely, friendly and wanted to chat! We were looking forward to heading out the next morning! 

Saturday arrived and I actually managed to sleep in, we have both been wide awake by 5.45am most mornings but we managed an 8 o'clock! Washing was done, and we went over towards the football pitch to watch the local game, as well as the netball match. The music was pumping and the support loud! What a fantastic way to start the morning, however I was definitely itching to play netball! We heading out into Lilongwe, through the market stalls selling piles and piles of clothes, vegatables and everything else you could ever want! We went past the craft markets, watching the men make the wooden souvenirs. We didn't buy much, but loved looking! Dinner bought we headed back to the camp to have a drink watching the afternoon golf session. Sunday morning we played some tennis, neither of us were fantastic but we soon got into the swing of it and really enjoyed ourselves! Showers and the tent put away, we moved to Mabuya camp for the night. It was only 2km down the road but was a backpackers and the prospect of chatting to other people was one we looked forward to! We spent the afternoon and evening chatting to some guys we had already met before, and sorting out our onward plans! 

Monday morning and we were told we couldn't extend our visa until it runs out.. So we decided to head on anyway and if we needed to extend head back to a city to do so (there are 4 places up and down the country). We stocked up on food and money - there are not many cash points around so it is best to draw when you can, however you can only draw 40,000 kwatchas at a time because the money hole is only that wide (biggest note is 1000), this seems a lot but when there are 1000 kwatchas to the pound it equates to £40. It doesn't last long when you are paying for food and camping! It is common to withdraw a few times which is fine if you aren't charged per transaction but we are, also after withdrawing 4 times I had a funny feeling my bank may cancel my card! Swapping cards and using different accounts we had enough money to last us a few days and we set off for a lodge we initially thought was 95 km away, however half way there I felt myself thinking something wasn't right, it was supposed to be good road all the way and what we were on definitely wasn't! It turned out we had put the wrong lodge into the satnav so plans changed again as we had a slightly longer drive than anticipated! We headed towards Kasangu National Park, half way between where we were and the 200km to the actual lodge! This was again another wild goose chase, 15km down an awful road the camp site deinfitly wasn't there, but we did however meet, chat to and wave to lots of locals - we had the rural tour of Malawi, so not a completely wasted day! Malawi is definitely more like Western Africa, we had moved away from delapidated mud huts and straw rooves coming into Namibia and Zambia, but here it felt like on the whole the majority of the population lived under the poverty line. Lots of farming going on, I think it is the time of year maize is harvested, lots of cattle pulling carts filled to the brim with it. Hardly any cars or motor bikes on the road, however there were lots of bikes and taxi bikes! Impressively people have strapped padding to the back of the bikes (they are long and flat at the back), and they take people for money - hard work! 

By 4pm blood sugar levels were low (a bowl of cornflakes, some crisps and a monster to fuel us), and tempers were fraying. To get to the lodge in the park would mean we would have had to pay the entrance fee (a bit pointless at 4pm) and we were far to tired to animal spot! There isn't a lot in Kasangu apart from a hotel so for the first time since the beginning Angola we checked into a hotel. A large, clean room with comfy beds and hot showers. It was a luxury but one we felt was needed as we sunk into the beds! When you have lights and a warm room it is much easier to stay up and about (often we are watching movies in our tent by 7.30 and asleep by 9), we were able to watch a couple of movies and stay awake till 11! Rebellious! It was a lazy one the next morning as we only had 120km to do, it is amazing how much quicker you get ready when there is no tent cover to battle with, and we were on the road by 8 and on our way to Luwawa Forest Lodge. 

Driving up to the lodge the scenery was amazing, huge pine forests, then every so often forests of the indigenous species of tree. It looked so much like Scotland, we spent some time in Glentress a few years ago which looked very similar. Arriving at the site we were met by George (the owner who moved here 28 years ago but is originally from Hull in the UK, accent is still there!) and Bo, a 2 year old Boerboel cross with a German Shephed (South African mastif) who was to become our shadow! We got set up, lunch was eaten, and we headed off for a walk, with Bob, through the beautiful meadows and forests surrounding the site. We had hit the jack pot, I keep saying to Charles previous lodges we have stayed at needed something that doesn't cost money that guests can do, and here George had it correct - lots of marked and sign posted walks for free, but you could do lots of other activities for a small price. We got back late afternoon, had a beer and a chat and cooked our chicken on the braai (the meat in Malawi is cheap and good quality!). The nights in Malawi have been cold.. Africa cold not necessarily England cold but when you haven't had cold weather for 7 or so months you feel it! The first night we had lows of 6 degrees - snow board jackets, blankets and finally sleeping bags!

Second day we got up for a run, as I have said before the first 6 months we did no exercise.. We started again in Namibia, and then at the end of Zambia a lot more frequently, however our bodies didn't really know what had hit them! We did a respectable distance in a fairly respectable time but were dying by the end! After lunch and some washing, we decided to head out on a longer walk with Bob. Again the scenery was stunning, we were led down a path with lots of indigenous species of trees and plants, rolling hills and birds. Two hours in and we realised we were fairly lost, there were a few sign posts but we had got to the boundary of the lodge and local area. Finally at 4pm we hit the road and frog marched it back to the lodge! All in all we walked 9 miles, not too bad! It was quick shower and up to the main lodge for dinner! We haven't had dinner out for ages, mainly because the prices have been astronomical and the food not particularly nice, however that morning Sandra the chef told us the menu and there was no chance we were turning it down. We ate like kings that evening, next to the fire in the lodge with candles and flowers on our table (almost romantic!). We had chicken coq au vin, with dauphinois potatoes, veg and salad, a huge plate but sadly no left overs for Charles, and creme caramel for pudding! It was delicious and all for £11! Feeling rather full and worn out from our days activity we walked the chilly walk back to our tent and snuggled into the sleeping bags! 

We spent the next few days in similar fashion run in the morning (getting slightly easier and in better times).  For a couple of afternoons the table tennis grudge matches happened.. Since being in Malawi Charles has let it slip he doesn't like to loose, I never knew this about him but I guess we don't get very competitive that often! On the first day the table tennis began and Charles started giving allthe excuses.. My flip flops aren't the right shoes, my knee is sore.. Basically he knew he was going to get beaten! And he was, I won 15 games to 11 and was definitely not rubbing it in! The second session he did win and was about as good at winning as he was loosing! Each time we  made up over a couple of drinks over looking the gardens. Friday morning was spent looking for a mouse in the car, Bob the dog was initially useless, running away when he saw it however later on sniffing about the car he caught it and took great delight in parading around with it in his mouth! We were thinking of heading off on the Saturday however the arrival of some horses put a halt to our plans.. George convinced me I wanted to go out riding, and Charles wanted to go out with one of his guides on the mountain bikes to ride half of the 54km Malawian mountain bike race! Charles was definitely up for this and so was I with the riding so our plans changed again..! 

(Bob plus mouse!) 

A cooked breakfast set Charles up for his mamouth ride in the mountains, he was really looking forward to it! Every year Luwawa hosts a mountain biking race, 54km around the forst and past lake Malawi. He went out with a guide, Edward, who was going to be competing in the race in a months time. Charles got back and was beaming, they had managed to do 40km of it in 2.5 hours, not a bad time for someone who hasn't done any biking since leaving the UK! They saw lots, animals, birds and also lots of illegal logging - a real problem up in the forest. He was very impressed with Edward who he managed to keep up with on flats and down hills but who zoomed ahead of Charles, with out breaking a sweat, on the up hills! He was knackered and dusty but definitely worth staying another day. The day plodded on and at 2.30 I was picked up on a quad and taken to the stables, an open, grassy area with basic wooden fenses - but perfectly adequate! Things were still up in the air a little as the horses and grooms had only had the day to prep but it ran fairly smoothly! Getting up onto Chance, my horse, was slightly daunting after not riding for about 15 years, but she knew what she was doing, even if I didn't! We hacked for just over two hours, Maggie, my guide, and I chatting away about Malawi and the surrounding landscapes. Having walked the trails with Charles over the few days we were there it was nice to see them higher up! Despite me having a numb bottom by the end, I had a really fantastic time!

(Blurry one of my riding!)

Next port of call was Nykia National Park, about a day's drive away. We wanted to get close the first night then head into the park early on the second day however this proved hard as the nearest camp site was about 174km away. We arrive in Mzuzu, the town before, and parked in Shoprite car park to stock up on food and drink, next to us were 5 South African overland vehicles who were coming down from northern Malawi. We got chatting and as they left one defender stayed, we hadn't realised Paul wasn't part of the big party so we got chatting to him and he offered us a place to stay, however he was out until 6pm. It was lunch time at that point but his friend owned a camp site and restaurant we could go there for the afternoon.. After phoning Andrise to come and collect us to show us where, he left and we rushed into shoprite. When you are in a rush things never pan out, and after 3 of our cards got declined (their machines fault), the queues were getting longer and stress levels were rising. That ordeal dealt with we got outside to meet Andrise apologising profusely for how long it took! We followed him back to his camp site and lodge, it was such a nice place, not yet finished but the restaurant was up and running.. Pizzas for both of us! As we were eating Andrise asked us if we liked game of thrones.. The reply was yes, and he put on the new series! Well it's the small things but pizza, tv and a sofa for the afternoon was complete luxury! 4 episodes later, Paul had gotten held up so we were lucky enough to be the first campers to stay at Umunthu for the night! An unexpected but good day! 

(Home comforts)

Battling with the cash machines again (finding one that worked and then the withdrawal saga), we headed off to Nykia National Park. The roads to get there were awful, I think most of the guests who go are wealthy enough to to be flown in, but we arrived in good time and bought our tickets. For the first few hours it was very quiet, just some monkeys and bird. The landscape changed from wooded area to stunning rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Lots of flowers everywhere and little purple forget-me-not type flowers lined every road. There wasn't much animal life but the views made up for it! We got to open plain and were luck enough to to see roan, eland and reed Buck, along with zebra and baboons. The weather was freezing, by the time we reached the campsite (rather expensive campsite but the only option), Chalinda Camp, the camp attendant had made us a fire and we we huddled up around it! The camp site was situated on top of a mountain with stunning views of the grasslands around it, bush Buck were grazing 5m from us, not at all fussed, alongside reed Buck and roan. When it is cold and you have a fire there is only one thing to make.. Toasted sandwiches! It takes me back to when we were in Appletreewick on the way to Scotland and the weather was awful so we sat and ate toasted sandwiches all afternoon (this will be in one of my earlier blogs.. Earlier, earlier!). Fabricio, a guy who we met in Namibia was also camping there so we got chatting to him, it was nice to hear his stories and also that he had car troubles too.. One car trouble in every country he has visited since Namibia! He was leaving the next day but we recommended the pizza place! It was so cold that night we retired very quickly but the stars were amazing, just like England camping cold but with stunning scenary! Sustaining the park and camping costs couldn't be done for long in Nykia, so after doing a loop of the park (more amazing the next day we headed over to Vwaza Marsh National Park and arrived there around 5pm just before closing time.

(Bush Buck 5m from car)
(Toasted sandwiches)

We met Godwin, the park guide and campsite attendant, and he showed us the chalets. Normally we look, say mmmm very nice, how much, then ah ok, how much is camping, but this time we were surprised! The chalet was £10 for the chalet per night, camping was £7 per person per night.. No brained really! We were given a room key, and after a chat with him about the wildlife we settled in, Charles happy he didn't have to open the tent until we realised we had left the torch in there.. Oops! Our view was again spectacular, next to a lake with lots of animals, hippos, crocs, elephants and lots of birds. Our chalet had two double beds, with slightly tacky but cool animal print duvets on, an ensuite with hot water and open views to the lake! We decided to stay two nights! Driving around we were able to see kudo, more hippos, Impala, puku, and lots of birds including a grey kingfisher and lizard buzzard. Vwaza Marsh has no cats, and it is really a very small park compared to others, but it had a certain rugged, unseen charm to it! We were the only visitors to the park at that time and it was so peaceful and felt really untouched. I did read they have a real problem with poachers and also logging which is suppose with a lack of staff and Rangers it is hard to police.  

From here we aim to head back to Mzuzu (and possibly another pizza, there is no other option..promise), the towards Livingstonia and Koronga to see the Malawi-asaurus and fossils. Somewhere along the way it will be Charles' birthday so we may have to splash out for that! 

(In Mzuzu, our car getting some TLC, after writing the last paragraph we left our car in the capable hands of mechanic who did some welding for us as well as changed all the oils) 

#southernafrica #eastafrica #malawi #luwawaforest #nykianationalpark #vwazwnationalpark

On a side note, I am an avid reader of a friend's blog, Alice, who is writing about her experiences, treatment and feelings after a diagnosis of cancer. She is a much better writer than me - check her out at