People, not places. That is the memory I will take from Malawi. Sure, the lake, beaches and mountains are nothing short of spectacular, but the people made all the difference. From Dan and Trish who run Ngala Beach Lodge and made me part of the family 5 minutes after getting off the bike, to Clever and Dave from Nomads, and Isaac, Lusako, and everyone else I met during my time in Malawi – you have all proven beyond doubt what I was told by previous visitors – the people are wonderful!
The border exit from Zambia was without incident. I had already exchange Malawi Kwacha in Chipata and had my 3rdparty COMESA, so entry to Malawi was also straight forward. Two payments have to be made there – one in MK and the other in US$ so make sure you have cash for both. As pre warned, a lady approached and asked if I need 3rdparty insurance. I said no, I am already covered fully comprehensive in Malawi from my South African Policy, which she said she wanted to check. I knew what was coming so played along and showed her. As expected, she said that my document was worthless, as she apparently says to everyone no matter what document you show her. I told her she already has a bad reputation in the overland community and everyone knows about her dishonesty and attempted scams, and she was knowingly trying to mislead me, which IMO makes her a criminal and an absolute disgrace to the wonderful people of Malawi! I stopped short of losing my cool and telling her to FO, but she got the message loud and clear and quietly slipped away. No doubt only to repeat the same story to the next unsuspecting victim.
I headed straight for Fat Monkey’s at Monkeys Bay from a recommendation, but it turned out he mis-remembered and was thinking of a much nicer lodge not far away. Nonetheless I spent 2 days there chilling on the beach and at the bar overlooking the beach. It was a week or so away from elections in Malawi, so the campaign trail was out in full force, with huge speakers mounted to trucks providing the platform for speeches and partying on the football field right behind the lodge until late in to the night. It was a Saturday so not much sleep until 1am that night, but the next night was a bit quieter.
While at Fat Monkeys I met Sergio and Dan travelling around in their Jeep from Canada, who told me about a mountain pass 80km back from there in the same general direction I was going. I decided to divert and take the S127-D233 from the M5 over to the M1, all tar. What a spectacular ride, with wide vistas from up the mountain back down the valley. The pass has loads of hairpin bends and switchbacks on the one side, just what I needed after my previous daily dose of long straight roads. Switchbacks in Malawi – who knew!? That landed me on the inland side of the mountains from the lake, so I headed back to Lilongwe and over to Senga Bay on the lake. I was actually heading for Ngala, but would have got there after 6pm so decided to stay at Senga for a night. There were a couple of accommodation boards heading in to Senga, but nothing I found striking. Carrying on you drive straight in to the gates at the Livingstonia Hotel, where I checked in for a night. A nice enough hotel with a great location and rooms not too bad. Personally I found their rate way too high for what was on offer – the door from the room to the beach was a very poor fit with gaps between the door and frame so the wind and breaker noise raged all night. I tried to block it with pillows and towels but no luck. The indoor restaurant was closed for refurbishment, which left only the outdoor terrace restaurant. That wind was blowing quite strong, which meant any hot food turned cold within 5 minutes, same for breakfast. I reported these to reception but they weren’t interested in anything other than offering me a few $ off to stay another night. They charged me US$135 for the previous night, when IMO it wasn’t worth a cent more than half of that. I checked out and rode to Ngala Beach Lodge.
Ngala Beach Lodge is so far, by far, the stand-out time since rolling my wheels out over the South Africa border. I could try to wax lyrical about my time there, but I fear my command of English vocabulary would not come anywhere near doing it justice. Dan and Trish made me part of the family as if we were long lost friends 5 minutes after arriving. They had other friends who came to stay for a few days so 6 of us landed up spending an evening having a braai on the beach next to a fire. The first anyone mentioned the time was at 12:30am! I originally planned to stay 2 night but landed up there for 4 nights, and eventually rode out after 11am instead of my usual 8am get-away, still contemplating if I should stay another couple of nights or not. The previous day the overland truck from Nomads (the only group allowed to stay there) rolled in on a trip north, where I met Clever and Dave, the guide and driver. We chatted away most of the last morning and Clever gave me a good contact at the Tanzania border who I used a couple of days later.
If anyone is reading this to get ideas of where to stay, do yourself a favour and head to Ngala Beach Lodge. And yes, that sentence does deserve a paragraph of its own!
I had met a few people in Malawi who recommended Mikoma Beach Lodge about 14km south of Karonga. That would give you about 58km to the Tanzania border, getting you there early enough in the morning to still find somewhere to stay on the other side. The ride up from Ngala took me through another spectacular mountain pass. Popping over the edge of the flat high lands and that view of the lake down in the distance appearing was one of those WOW moments! This time the road wasn’t in as good a condition as the D233, no doubt because it’s the M1 and is used by heavy trucks which have to go really slow to avoid running away. There aren’t any sand runaway catchment pits on these steep roads so every now and then you see the wreck of a truck that didn’t make the corner, or gouges in the road surface where one had clearly had an accident but the wreckage had since been recovered.
I arrived at Mikoma Beach Lodge and the place looked pretty nice, just my timing was bad and they had a football team staying that night and a TV crew filming a circumnavigation of Lake Malawi, so were fully booked. No worries, I’ll camp. Well, all I can say about that night is ANTS!! They got in everywhere. The dinner service that night was also very poor, to the point I landed up skipping dinner and stayed chatting to some locals at the bar. The TV crew had a nice JBL Bluetooth speaker so we were playing African music until closing time, chatting technical about cameras and video productions from my previous involvement in that part time. The next morning I asked around and at reception but it didn’t seem like much to do there so packed up and headed for the Tanzania border. The battery in my phone died en route (no charging in the tent the night before), so I didn’t get any photos of that route, even though there was some spectacular scenery riding the first 100km or so in to Tanzania.