I arrived at the Mozambique – Malawi border at 8am two hours after the official opening time, as I pulled up to the barrier I heard the border guards in the distance shouting “stop, wait”. Stopping and waiting seemed the sensible thing to do at a border gate. The immigration building was obviously no longer in use so after the usual round of questions I asked which of the shacks was the “new” immigration building.
After a little pedal around I found two locals with brief cases waiting outside a deserted office so I assumed I was in the right spot. Twenty minutes later an old guy turned up in shorts, flip flops and a filthy white vest, soon after I had my departure stamp and was pedalling into the 3-4km of no mans land.
The first couple of days in Malawi where still flat as I remained in what I assume is part of the Zambezi delta. The local crop turned to cotton, almost on an industrial scale then later sugarcane also being grown in huge quantities. I found the cotton of Malawi to be more chewy and less refreshing than the oranges of Mozambique, boy do I miss those oranges.
I took a rest day in Chikwawa before the 50km 1000m climb to Blantyre, after which my back was desperate for a few days rest. While in Blantyre I camped at the rather noisy Doogles lodge, had I known then what I know now I would of pushed on an extra 10-15km north of Blantyre and stayed at one of the many local rest houses where a room costs as much as camping does at the backpackers.
Alone in a crowd
Doogles is the main tourist accommodation in Blantyre and is poorly located just behind a noisy bus station. It has a nice bar which generally houses a mix of South African expats, NGO workers talking shop, working girls and the occasional backpacker or business man. All in all a bunch of people that I neither fit in with or particularly want to talk to. The place was also a little over run by groups from World Challenge, a new group coming and going each day.
One morning as I emerged from my tent one of the “expedition” leaders started chatting and for the first time in this trip someone asked a question that allowed me to do answer all the standard questions in one go…….”So, give me the answers to all the standard questions”. Very thoughtful of him. The next group who arrived showed alot of interest in my trip and I got asked an interesting mix of standard, stupid and new questions that only a bunch of 17 year olds could come up with. Whilst in Blantyre I also got another three flags painted on my frame by a local artist.
After I’d given my back the 5 days rest it needed and after about 12 steakburgers and chips I head off towards the capital city Lilongwe. For the first time ever I cycled a road that was easier to cycle than it looked on paper, it’s usually the other way round. The 300km+ was easily done in 4 days despite climbing 500-1000m a day including a rest day in Dedza. The only minor hiccup during this leg was a fun conversation with a local.
“Mr where are you going? “
“Lilongwe” though I often also just say, home/That way/ or the next small town but luckily this time I said my real destination.
“Then why are you on the Mwanza road? “
“Bugger….thats good question”, luckily the turn off I’d missed was only 3 km back (they’re not big on road signs here, or I’m going blind).
Whilst in Lilongwe I picked up a parcel that has been waiting for me in a VSO office for two months, so I have a new chain ring (long story) and a new Thermarest Z-Lite foam mattress to replace my very uncomfortable Exped mat.
Thanks to the devaluation of the kwatcha about 2 months ago by 49% the locals are having a hard time at the moment, salaries for most people haven’t caught up with the new prices. G4s Security for example recently announced a 80% salary increase for low level staff to bring their salaries above minimum wage in the hope it will reduce petty crime and theft within the organisation.
Naturally the flip side of the story is that a cheap skate tourist like me can live like a king, even now the black market and change bureau’s are giving 5-10% more kwatcha to the dollar than the official bank rate. Though many local hotels can me a bit off putting at first sight I’m able to get a clean(ish) room with clean bedding (most of the time anyway) for $5-10, sometimes en-suite sometimes with breakfast. So needless to say I’ve been living the luxury life so far outside of the tourist areas.
Food is also easy and cheap (if you like chips) the main fast food here is chips made on an a wood fire with these funky metal thingies, they cost less than a $1 and often include salad.
And from time to time BBQ mille also make a great snack. Other delights I’ve seen along the road are BBQ field mice (didn’t try them) and deep fried Goats liver and other goat parts (didn’t like the liver).
All in all I’m finding Malawi quite tame really, almost boring. The people are friendly but alot of kids do the “Mzungu give me money thing” which can become quite tedious, they’re not as hard core as the ones in Uganda but that may change as I get into more touristy areas. I’m not as stressed about the kids as I was last time in Africa, I try to see Mzungu give me money as just another greeting and just wave back or ignore them.
Later today I’ll cycle the 50-60km to Chipoka and catch the ferry most of the way up Lake Malawi the coming days, then cycle via Livingstonia and Mzuzu to Nhkata bay before taking the ferry to Tanzania at the end of the month.
This blog post has been brought to you from the comfort of my hammock lakeside Lake Malawi via a wifi connection with my phone and 2g. What a fascinating modern world we live in…..