Beaches, rocky roads and bizarre Malawi landscapes
Nkhata Bay, Malawi
Beaches, rocky roads and bizarre Malawi landscapes
At each African border crossing we are expecting the worst, but all the crossing including getting into Malawi have been relatively straight forward. Our first destination was Senga Bay on Lake Malawi where we headed to Steps Campsite to camp on the beach, we pictured a scene from the beach, sunshine, relaxation and a kid's playground, but instead the tent was battered by winds and the noise of the sea made us feel we were camping next to a waterfall, none of us had a great night sleep, we made the most of the following day relaxing though and the kids as always enjoyed spending the day by the pool.
Woken to a stunning sunrise, we travelled up to Kande Beach a legendry stopover on the truck overlanding circuit, we rock up initially unsure whether to stay as it seemed the heyday was over and it needed a little TLC which the current mangers were in the process of doing. Walking into the bar we notice a poster for Economic Expeditions, the overland truck company that we met on 20 years ago, for me and Edwina it brought back the memories and we really enjoyed reminiscing. Currently managed by Skank and Sas, we asked them about the crew of our truck back in the 90's as we knew they had wanted to settle in Malawi and to our surprised they knew who we are talking about, both had settled in Malawi but had both now left, Adila had owned Kande Horse Riding just next door, at least we manged to connect we Adila on Facebook and spend the evening on messenger with her. Skank and Sas have kids 5yrs and 2yrs and the kids spend the 2 nights playing with them, invading their house, watching movies on the laptop, playing with lego, playing in the tree house and swimming in the lake and going out on paddle boards. This gave me and Edwina a rest bite from the kids and the kids a break from us, we cannot stress the importance of this on a long trip and are pleased every time we go somewhere and see kids there. We were very grateful to Sas and Skank opening their home to our kids and I think they were pleased for their two also to have someone else to play with.
After Kande we head up to Nhakita Bay, there is nowhere to really pitch the rooftents as the town is perched on a hillside so we decide to stay at Mayoka Village where they offer chalets on stilts perched on steep rocks going down to the lake truly a stunning location. At Mayoka they have free paddle boats and canoes and its fantastic to see the new found confidence in the kids paddling solo out to the pontoon at least 100 meters offshore in deep water, it's a world away from 6 months ago where they were afraid to even swim in the sea solo. We really enjoyed the relaxed pace of Mayoka and enjoyed the rest from packing the tents and cooking. The kids enjoyed talking to the village chief who was perched at the bar, he is in his late 80s now and since Mayoka started up he has run a sweet shop for the backpackers, telling tales of the old days fishing and what the village was like prior to tourists, the kids enjoyed tucking into a bar of chocolate each, the first one in several months. When we headed out the next day we spend most of the morning at the curio markets buying souvenirs paintings, bracelets, shields, coasters, wooden spoons and colourful fabric.
Our next destination was Nyika National park, Malawi largest and another chance to try and spot the evasive leopard. The park is on a plateau at over 2000m and in the evening currently bitterly cold so we decided to book a self-catering chalet with an open wooden fire to keep us cosy in the night. We are surprised to find out that a chef is provided with the chalet and so decided to stop at Mzuzu and the large Shoprite to stock up on food, knowing we have a chef we go for it, bacon and eggs for breakfast, flour for bread, steak, chips, a casserole, scones and soups. We are told that the road to Nyika National park is rough and a 4x4 is essential, unsure of how long it would take we decide to break up the journey in Rumphi, the guide book tells us there is a campsite run by an orphanage and seems like the natural choice to stay there.
We rock up at Makunamata campsite run by the orphanage and told that they are closed, but after a quick phone call to owner we are allowed in. There are plenty of kids about, Luca straight away takes a handmade football we purchased the day before over to a group of kids and joins in gifting the ball to the security office. The kids do not stay at the orphanage but instead with other family members to care for them return home in the evening and come every day for education and to help them through the process of losing their parents. I leave Edwina and the kids playing and go at find a place to camp and I'm met by a guard who directs me to a camp site. I park up and get out and my shoes swash into muddy lawned area, "A bit wet, is there another site" I say, "yes over there" is the reply, I get back into the car and try to drive off but the car is bogged down in the mud, wheels spinning going nowhere. With a few minutes around 10 villagers have turned up, all discussing in the local language the best action to get the car out, bemused I just wait for the conclusion but it seems options are divided but eventually decided to stick some wood under the wheels and push, at that point Edwina and the kids turn up wondering where I am, amused by the whole situation. After 3 or 4 attempts we eventually get the car out and park up in the dry site. Luca continues to play with the boys around and the girls and Edwina go down to find the local girls they passed earlier playing netball, they are greeted by over 30 children hugging and shaking hands obviously amused by their presence. To break the ice Edwina decides to join in the Netball game, they were playing with a semi deflated football, with lots of laughter I'm sure at Edwina's expense eventually Arabella and Maddalena join in trying to learn the rules of the game. As soon as it gets dark the children disperse to their homes and we chow down to a quick dinner around the campfire before a very early night.
The next day we set off to Nyika National Park and the dirt track is rocky in areas with large potholes but we make it relatively easy with The White Elephant. Nyika is a bizarre place the scenery is similar to the high peaks but in the middle of Africa the zebras and rohan seem out of place in the landscape and we can't get our head around the fact that leopards are here. We arrive at Chelinda camp and shown our chalet and introduced to Domonic our chef he is in his mid-60s, has 3 kids and has worked at Chelinda Camp for the past 10 years returning to his home near Livingstonia to see his wife when he can. What a setup a large 2 bedroom chalet with lounge and fantastic shower powered by a donkey, set in the forest, a cabin that wouldn't feel out of place in the rockies. The first evening we decide to book a night drive and unfortunate don't see a leopard but the blow is somewhat lessened by spotting 3 spotted hyenas. Whilst we were away Dominic was busy making our casserole and making sure we came back to a roaring fire.
Next day we decided to have a lazy morning and wake up to Dominic cooking bacon and eggs for us, a real treat. We let the kids have their tablets which entertain them throughout the 3 days it's been a while since we last let them go on them. The power supply in the Chalet only comes on between 5pm and 9pm so anything needing charged we had to do then this was great for limiting the children's tablet entertainment. We head out in the afternoon and push the boundaries of no self-night drives arrive back into camp on the dark side of dusk, the chances of seeing a leopard a night is greater but again miss out. When we get back I think after 1 night Edwina is already missing being in the kitchen as she sends Dominic home and tells him that she will finish cooking and washing up. Dominic did have his daughter visiting that day and he was desperate to go and see her so Edwina sends him on his was with the leftover casserole and extra sweet potatoes and beans for them to enjoy. Edwina finds is hard to keep out of the kitchen and do nothing so she spends some time talking to Dominic in the kitchen finding out about life in the National Park, it is really tough the staff all live in wooden shacks and lucky if they have a fire inside. Dominic arrives early morning he constantly feels the cold and in need of gloves, hat and a warmer jacket, shame we don't have anything suitable to leave him. The staff we are told are well looked after by management and they get paid once a month. Due to the remoteness of the place management supply a vehicle and driver and all the staff band together and send the truck down with a couple of runners to buy supplies for the month ahead, this is mainly staples such as rice and maize. Up in the hills the soil is very poor and not good for planting vegetables so very limited nutrition comes from fresh produce, as for meat it's a rare treat and if you do own chickens they don't last long as the leopards have a fetish for them.
The next day we again spend the day in front of the fire whilst Dominic cooked us treats and food from the kitchen, Edwina cooks up some meals to store in the truck fridge for the days ahead. We go out for a drive and stay way past dusk but still don't get to see a leopard, Edwina starting to think it's a muse to get tourists into the park, but we did see footprints on the first night.
With time running out on our trip and the places we want to see fairly spread out it means we have some long days driving ahead and today was one of those, we head out of Nykia early with the aim of getting to Chitimba Campsite, we decide to go via Livingstonia a village perched on the edge of the Rift Valley with a superb view of Lake Malawi, its only around 2 hours extra and I couldn't resist the opportunity to drive down into the Rift Valley. As we start our descent the road condition deteriorates, it's a single track, stony, bumpy ride down with 21 hairpin turns, some so sharp we have to do a 3 point turn to get round. There are no barriers with straight drops at the side, the kids are a little apprehensive going down, Luca is holding Arabella and Maddalena keeps closing her eyes every time we go close to the edge. I manage to stall the car on one hairpin which Edwina says was her worst bit when it was facing directly out over a cliff face with me trying to reverse up a steep slope with rubble to grip, she would have gotten out if she had half the chance. Luckily for us we only had one oncoming vehicle to contend with it was a pickup truck overloaded with locals and the driver was extremely young and confident with centimetres to spare and nowhere to go between vehicles. Eventually we make it down and the kids are relived we don't have to go back up it.
We arrive at Chitimba camp mid-afternoon, I am feeling terrible, it looks like I caught a cold from Luca and have a stinking headache, I sit with Edwina on the beachfront abstaining from the last few MOSIs (beer) in Malawi. We came to Chitimba as it was once owned by the driver and tour assistant for the overland truck where we first met and again got to reminisce our youth and the fantastic trip where we met.
The next day we set out early for our last country of the trip, Tanzania. Although it went so slowly at the start time has certainly started to speed up now and it seems it will soon all be over.