We spent only 2.5 days driving through Tanzania. Of course we can't really have an opinion about the place, but from what we saw it is a very beautiful country with an amazing road and hundreds of little mud-hut villages who has as their main sponsors Coca-Cola and Zain (Zain seems to keep the ENTIRE Africa connected).
The border crossing went really smooth at around 23 minutes, and then we were officially in the land of mangoes, Lake Malawi and tropical beaches. Our first stop in Malawi was not so successful. Our guidebook says that Karonga is the last stop between the border and the next large town of Mbeya (about another 250km south), so we thought it would be a good stop-over since we were already driving for 6 hours or so. But the place was a bit of a ghost-town, with 4 ATM's none of which were working and a supposedly "up market" hotel which made us cringe, so we decided to head 100km further along the lake to a little stretch of beach called Chitimba.
After a very longer day that just seemed to get longer, we finally passed through the gates at Chitimba Beach Camp and immediately knew that this was the place to be: huge open fronted thatched-roof bar / restaurant, loads of trees and bougainvillea and wide expanses of white sand beach. We also happened to have our first storm that night, but the tent held up well and frankly we were so exhausted that we couldn't really be bothered.
Lake Malawi is the 2nd largest fresh water lake in Africa (after Lake Victoria), and the thing that we didn't expect, is that it looks like the ocean. I suppose if you think about it, it makes total sense since it probably was part of the ocean millions of years ago. It has blue water, small waves, rocks, white sand, and it is huge and absolutely stunning. We just spent the next 2 days lying around, reading and chatting with other people who are driving through Africa.
There are quite a lot of people who are doing what we do, only on a much bigger scale. We met 2 Dutch guys who drove from Holland in a converted VW bus, through Europe and Israel / Jordan/ Syria, then down the African East Coast and they will ship the vehicle from Durban to South America and then drive it up to North America. There are also a couple in a Porsche (yes, you read right, a P-O-R-S-C-H-E) doing the same route as the Dutch guys, only they started in Plymouth in the UK and will loop through South Africa before they finish their journey in Namibia.No 4x4, just a Porsche which has the added special feature that when the aircon brakes, it automatically kicks into heating mode since it is made in Europe where heating could be life-saving in snow. In Africa in the summer, it has the opposite effect though. Either way, all these guys make our trip look like a Sunday drive since all the better roads in Africa are South of Nairobi.
Pudding also made us immensely proud when we had to tow a Hilux in order to try and do a running start. After 3 attempts on sand, the general consensus was that the Hilux' battery was dead, never to be revived again, and Joey then took the South African owner to the nearest town for a new one. We hope that they made it back to SA okay!
When we left Chitimba on the route further down the "coast", we had our first flat tyre (I have never been able to figure out how a nail laying in the road can actually get on an angle to pierce the tyre). It was no big deal, but I found it quite entertaining changing the thing to an audience of about 25 little kids. Stocking up in Mzuzu at around 4 in the afternoon, we also had our first "accident". We reversed into another car in the parking lot of the supermarket. The driver of the car (a pretty banged-up Toyota Corolla) probably thought that this was his lucky day with a Mzungu (foreigner) driving into him, and he immediately began making demands for all kinds of ridiculous compensation (rental car to the Capital, stupid amounts of money, etc. - WE ONLY BROKE THE INDICATOR LIGHT). None the less, we had to get the local police involved, and after about 2 hours we settled on USD20 compensation, this also to a crowd (men, not kids).
Needless to say, we decided not to keep driving to Nkata Bay that night as was the plan, but rather to stay at Mzoozoozoo - a local campsite in Mzuzu. We spent the night chatting to local Mzungus who had all the best things to say about Malawi, and also a few handy tips for where to go and what to do.
So early the following morning, we try again - reversing with caution this time, skipping Nkata Bay and heading to Nhkwazi Lodge, a pristine private beach where we pitched our tent 15m from the sand and watched the sunrise over the lake for the next couple of days.
Awesome place, Malawi. It reminded of South East Asia, not Africa at all. And it is accessible enough that there is no reason to fly all the way to Thailand if you could come here. We thought that we would easily spend 10 days here, laying on the beach, snorkeling, buying fresh fish off the local fishermen and eating the world's best mangoes as they fall of the trees (literally, we picked them up around our tent in the morning and had them for breakfast - not so great when they fall ON the tent in the middle of the night), but somehow we need to keep moving South now, and we can't seem to lay around for too long.
So we're off to Lilongwe, and then on to Zambia for some more wild-life and a bit of raw Africa. We've heard so many amazing things about Zambia that we decided to change our route and go Zambia - Botswana - South Africa. Not so sure of the roads though…