Malawi: One of the poorest countries in the world

One starts seeing tropical greenery with banana and sugar cane plantations again reminiscent of Kwa Zulu Natal (Malawi also strongly reminds us of Queensland). The roads are mostly bitumen, good condition, and not much traffic, the people and police are very friendly and “no hassle” (smile when they slap you with a fine), the scenery is beautiful and Malawi is almost Africa “lite” compared to where we have been.

There was a lot of conjecture and talking with other travelers before we even entered Malawi as for the past 6 to 12 months there has been a critical fuel shortage in the country with almost no fuel available and few travelers on the roads. Only the big overland tour group trucks have still been running in Malawi as they have 500-liter tanks and the range to get through the country.

Our 1,000km range wouldn’t have been quite enough to get all the way up to Lake Malawi to Tanzania. A month ago some people told us “don’t go, you won’t get fuel and then you will be stuck there”. Don’t ask me why exactly this fuel crisis existed, but it was all political and related to the fact that the previous President Megelo Maniac had messed up the economy and was a spendthrift spending USD$20M on an executive jet whilst the country starved. Overseas aid agencies and countries (even neighboring countries like Zambia and South Africa) refused to give any more money. Fuel stopped flowing as the oil companies weren’t getting paid. This went on for a year or so until with a fine sense of timing, President Megelo had a fatal heart attack in April.

The world took a softer view of the new President  (Joyce Banda – at least a female!) and her government, Hillary Clinton came and made a speech and aid (and fuel) started flowing again. Zambia donated 1million liters of diesel three weeks ago (100 liters of which is now in Tin Can’s tanks). We have found diesel at least is fairly readily available across the country (petrol pumps are often still closed). The only downside is that it is USD$1.96/litre – the most expensive I have ever paid since England! It hurts!

Crossing the border at Chipata was hassle free and only took half an hour. The only minor glitch was that no one told us we needed Malawi 3rd Party insurance. We have our blanket Comesa/Axa policy and felt covered only to have an issue at the first police roadblock 10kms into Malawi where we didn’t have the right “sticker” for 3rd Party on our windscreen. They didn’t like our AXA policy and they wanted to fine us and make us go back. We refused to pay the fine and after some argument they just made us go 10kms back to the border post to get Prime Malawi insurance for MKA7, 000 (USD$30). Subsequently, we have had to produce it at dozens of police roadblocks so “ah well, you have to have it”. Early interaction with Malawi police could certainly have been better because I hate to say it but copped another speeding fine of $20 doing 59km/h in a 50km/h zone near Dedza.

My fault but you can’t even see the speed limit signs too easily and limits go up and down every 10 minutes as you pass through villages. At least the policeman was all smiles and apologies as he slapped me with the fine. Reminds one of home!
We were hoping to make Cape Maclear first day, but with the delays at the border and in Lilongwe getting fuel and cash (after 4 ATM’s didn’t work), it was getting late. After shaking hands with the cop near Dedza nerves were frayed and Garmin Tracks 4 Africa came good with a camping spot called Dedza Pottery and Restaurant GPS s14*23’469  E34*19’498 which turned out very pleasant for only USD$8. We also had dinner at their restaurant, which was very nice for only $5. Dedza is 1,500m up in the mountains however and we were surprised at how cold it was that night (9*C).  The tent was covered in dew in the morning, which we hadn’t seen for months.

Next day we rolled into Fat Monkeys camp at Cape MacClear and were delighted at the fantastic view of Lake Malawi it affords. Beautiful spot and there were surprisingly quite a few other “muzungus” there (including a Swedish couple Kris & Mia who are traveling the same way as us up Africa to Egypt in a TDI Defender. They hope to be in Sweden by August. They will be ahead of us and our “guinea pigs” as we will keep in touch to see how they go). There are fishing villages either side of Fat Monkeys which were very interesting and we walked for ages through them and along the beach to the cheery waves of fishermen whilst trying to swat off the kids wanting “photograph”! The sunsets at Cape MacClear are something to die for. (see photos). Unfortunately, although the water in Lake Malawi is crystal clear and it was hot, no one was game to swim because of the heavy infestation of bilharzia at this spot.

After two pleasant days there, we headed north to Senga Bay.  (Steps Campsite at the Livingstonia Hotel is very good except the showers are cold! GPS S13*42’946 E34*37”708’) Also a lovely beach scene, but not as good as Cape MacClear. The weather changed that night with a strong wind and we were amazed to wake up the next morning to the sight of 2m waves on Lake Malawi and surf almost like home!
Next day was a beautiful drive through rubber plantations near the larger center of Mzuzu and to Mkondowe and Hakuna Matata campsite at GPS S10*35’147’ E 34*10’540’ This is owned by a South African called Will and his wife and has lovely hot water showers and beach setting. Maggie his African assistant who helped him set up the camp in 2009 came and talked to us for hours at the campfire that night about her growing up in Zimbabwe and missing her children who are still there.

We must have been getting tired of nice smooth bitumen roads next to the Lake as our last night in Malawi involved forcing Tin Can in low range up a 15km track up a mountain which took 2 hours to an old colonial mission station town called Livingstonia (altitude 1440m) founded because of “cleaner air” than the malarial Lake coast. The town was founded by a missionary named Dr. Laws who was part of the expedition to find David Livingstone who had gone missing in the area in around 1875. (Henry Morton Stanley eventually found Livingstone –  “Dr. Livingstone I presume.” The old mission hospital and school are still in use. The area is beautiful and enjoys fine views of waterfalls in the nearby mountains and views back to Lake Malawi.

There are two campsites in Livingstonia, The Mushroom Farm and Lukwe Gardens Eco Camp run by a Belgian named Auk. We recommend Lukwe for its magnificent views across the valley and the excellent meal of homegrown vegetables we had that night in a rare meal out as a fitting end to a very relaxing 10 days in Malawi. The Lake is definitely something to see and a treat after the dry bushveld. Malawi is a delightful little country. We are pleased we had the fuel to be able to get through Malawi and to the Tanzanian border the next morning at Songwe.

If you want to go on your own adventure through Africa, you might want to have a look at 4×4 hire to find the best vehicle for your adventure.

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