Back to Malawi
20 February 2013- Livingstonia, Malawi
What a view! We are sitting in a rustic open wood bar/restaurant area, where we are staying, and after an incredibly steep and windy road we have amazing views of the surrounding mountains and right out over Lake Malawi. Stunning. And its nice and cool up here in the hills!
We have been back in Malawi (after Zambia) for a few days now after enjoying South Luangwa NP, Zambia. We left South Luangwa and drove straight through to Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi) and stayed at the golf club there again (great spot for camping! Surprisingly peaceful considering its right in the city and v cheap!) Olly changed the rear brake pads (after assuring me he knew how, after all he has seen it on the internet! He did it perfectly!) and even had a game of snooker at the golf club-funny things you find! Once again we had our own private night watchman, John who took his job very seriously and sat right outside landy all night. He had worked all day and had to stay on overnight since we arrived (with no extra pay besides his already unbelievably low salary). John remembered us from the last stay in Lilongwe (before going to S Luangwa) and helped Olly with the brakes and washed landy when we went out! As we settled into bed we realised he was going to sit directly outside landy and he did, literally right outside.
From Lilongwe we went out to Lake Malawi again, this time further north, half an hour south of Nhakata Bay to a lovely spot right on the lake, a little oasis really. We had a few days there, beach days- swimming, reading and even took some kayaks out on the lake.
Malawi is a beautiful country with lovely friendly people. As a traveller Malawi is easy- a good system of roads (where we have been anyway), fully stocked shops, enough places to camp, especially around the lake and things are cheap and accessible. It is one of the poorest countries in the Africa, the economy largely based on agriculture, the main cash crop being tobacco. Most people here are subsistence farmers. There is a low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates (as is the case in so much of Africa, in no small part due to HIV) Yet people just carry on working hard for what they have- even if it is too little so often. It doesn’t cease to amaze me, though we are strangers just passing through and with access to so much more than the people we see, how genuinely friendly and welcoming people are- smiles and waves, good morning, welcome etc. It truly touches my heart.
When we were leaving S Luangwa we were on the bumpy road to Chipata when our phone rang! That doesn’t happen often, we were lucky it was on and that we heard it. It was Alice and Tom and it was so good to speak to them, great to hear from friends and it zipped us back to the Sydney world, imagining it and hearing about what they have been up to. While we were by the side of the road speaking to them three different groups stopped to see if we were ok. When we hung up the sites, sounds and smells of being in Zambia brought us back to reality very quickly.
We had a chat with a South African guy who runs the place we have stayed at the last few nights and has lived here a few years. He was giving us his take on the recent politics of Malawi. He thinks things have greatly improved in the past year – since the president died unexpectedly. Apparently the vice president Joyce Banda was a member of the opposition party and was given the role as a compromise to keep the public off the former president’s back. He was supposedly bosom buddies with Robert Mugabe and was by all accounts a dictator in waiting and was running the country into the ground, with his unexpected death Mrs Banda moved into the role of president and has done good by the country. He thinks she has been spending more on education and a big thing (certainly for someone in business) is that fuel is now regularly available, a few years ago it was common to go long periods with none. Apparently many business closed during that time- no way to get customers if people can’t get to you (in the case of tourist business) and no way to get products if it can’t get to you (in other cases). He and his wife (along with others they know) were planning to leave soon just as this happened and he thinks the country really got lucky!
After our beach days we decided to climb the steep road up to Livingstonia. Years ago the missionaries moved up into the hills here to avoid malaria after moving on from a couple of locations on the south of the lake. We ran into other travellers on the narrow switch back dirt road, even an overlander from Czech Republic, they were going down as we were coming up so we stopped in the road for a bit, swapped routes and gave them a Zambia sim card. I was annoyed when we drove on we didn’t think to ask them about Sudan, how it was (an area we are keeping a close eye on). This is the first time we have seen other travellers for about three weeks! There are even a few Swedish expats staying tonight at the camp, the first time we have had other people staying where we are since we left Harare. We are so used to having everywhere to ourselves but happily the Swedes are a really lovely group and we have had some really good chats with them.