The border crossing into Malawi was one of the most pleasant, uncomplicated and cheapest that we have experienced so far. In fact it probably characterizes our experience of the people of Malawi who, despite being in what is considered currently to be the poorest country in the world, seem to be the happiest and most friendly people we have come across. Predominantly English speaking (on the main routes anyway), they are happy to go out of their way to help or direct you – always introducing themselves and asking your name and how you are. There has been a marked difference in the traffic which has become largely bicycle and pedestrian (and lots of both). The roads are in far better shape (though not great by our standards) due to the lower numbers of heavy vehicles. Most of the goods vehicles from Dar that we had been fighting with in Tanzania went through Mbeya to cross into Zambia at Tunduma (which is apparently a nightmare border post).
When the road reached the shores of Lake Malawi, on our left (west) it was surprising to see the waves breaking on the shore. The lake side was also punctuated with villages, fishing boats and huge Kapenta drying racks.
On the east side were the northern reaches of the Nyika Highlands which also form the eastern boundary of this part of the Rift Valley.
We had picked up a pamphlet at the Luangwa Bridge Camp in Zambia that advertised ‘The Mushroom Farm’ in Malawi. Denise dug it out and that is where we headed. Denise had registered that it was ‘above the lake’ but this small fact had as usual escaped Al who was quite taken aback when the GPS directed us off the lake shore road onto yet another gravel track! Well, 9.5km of 1st gear bump and grind with 17 hairpin bends (they were labeled ‘Bend nn’) and numerous twists and turns in between, we arrived at ‘The Mushroom Farm’.
Perched on the side of the mountain some 700m above the lake, the place comprised of a few of Safari tents, an ’A’ Frame room and two dormitories. Complementing this array of accommodation options were two strategically appointed (from a view perspective) compost toilets (adding ash and dry leaves after each session eventually yields high quality compost!), a couple open air showers (with plenty of hot water from a donkey – wood burning boiler), an open air kitchen, bar and lounge and a few tables and chairs and hammocks.
The view, the atmosphere, the staff (especially Budget the barman/ receptionist/ manager….) and the whole laid back simplicity of the place made us stay 3 nights instead of 1! The name ‘Mushroom Farm’? Well apparently during the wet season the mountain side and thus the camp site is covered with edible mushrooms!
Denise took a walk to a nearby waterfall on the second day and on the last day we took a drive further up the road to the Livingstonia Mission Station and Hospital started by Dr Robert Laws back in the late 1800’s.
It has also been interesting to see how strong Christianity is in the north as opposed to the huge Muslim influence in the South – presumably from Mozambique. From our limited experience we would say that Tanzania is predominantly Muslim.
We have been surprised to discover how much Malawi was affected by the Slave Trade! Large volumes of human cargo were shipped across the lake and on to Bagamoyo and Zanzibar – the main ‘trading ports’ on the east coast.
The bump and grind took us back to the lake shore road and on to Kande Beach, some 50 km south of Nkhata Bay. On the way we passed through some large Rubber Plantations – we didn’t know that this was a major Malawian product.
Kande Beach lodge/ campsite is positioned on the beach with the sprawling Kande Village surrounding it. It was started by an Englishman some 26 years ago. He used to bring tours on a Bedford Overland truck down from London and often camped under a particular tree on this spot with permission from the Chief of the area. In time, between Dave and the Chief they decided to make a more permanent overland stop. Dave eventually stopped the driving, relocated here and established Kande Beach which continues to exist symbiotically with the village. Dave runs the place with his wife Lisa from New Zealand who is also an ex-African Overlander. Quite a lovely story and one that works to the benefit of all parties.
Whilst performing a vehicle inspection Al discovered that one of the CV boots had broken and all the grease had been thrown out. He re-packed joint with grease and wrapped a plastic bag around it (thanks for the tip John/ Bennie who had to do this previously). Hopefully this will get us home without too much damage to the CV.
Denise secretly arranged for Lisa to bake a chocolate cake for Alan for his birthday. What better way to follow bacon rolls for breakfast?
We have a number of Malawians who worship with us in our Church community. A couple of them come from this part of the world. After breakfast we set out to try and met Richard’s family at his home. With much Whatsapping we eventually met up with Richards’s good friend Nowell in the ‘town’ of Kachere. From there with Nowell squashed in the back, we followed a narrow path down towards sea and eventually Kazando, Richards’s village and his home. There we met his wife Lucy, his youngest son David and some extended family. Since Richard has been working in Joburg he has managed to build a clay brick 5 bedroom house and the family have now moved out of their old mud brick dwelling. It was a privilege to be invited into their home and see where and how they lived.
Having moved further south to Senga Bay, near the town of Salima it has been a bit of an eye opener and culture shock. This seems to be where all the people are! Driving in from Salima, the road was wall to wall pedestrians and bicycles. The ‘camp site’ (Cool Runnings) we are staying in is also in the middle of a bustling village on a very ‘active’ beach front.
There are fishing boats, fishers of fish, buyers of fish, people washing their clothes, people washing themselves and the usual merchants trying to sell their wares. So much for another couple of chill days on the beach! It seems that this time it ain’t gonna happen. We decided to move on the next day.