Malawi is a tiny country stuck between Zambia and Mozambique. For many it’s the warm heart of Africa and for others it’s Africa for beginners. For me it’s a top destination that I visited during my trip to East Africa in 2008.
Malawi’s big draw is Lake Malawi. All the small, isolated villages are supported by the more than 500 different species of fish that the lake has to offer. After a small odyssey that I and my fellow travellers, Nikos and Chris, had to go through at the border with Tanzania, we finally made it to Nakata Bay. It’s a place still alive in my mind although four years have gone by, not for the village itself that was really small but for the lodge where we ended up staying. Right at the edge of the lake, a small piece of land was occupied by ten small bamboo houses. The one I picked was built on a tree that was hanging over the lake. The whole setting made it a unique place. If you add the extremely hospitable owners and five great days of sunbathing, the picture is complete. After the beach bum life we decided to take the only boat that goes up and down the lake, an old steamboat like the ones in Agatha Christy’s movies. At least that was the first thing that I compared it with when I saw it on the dock. I spent three great nights sleeping on deck, on my hammock under the stars. We talked to almost everyone on board. We even met the president of the Malawi Parliament that happened to travel on board the Llala Ferry (the name of the boat).
When we arrived in Mula and it was time to get off, I felt I was leaving home behind. Chris and I stayed at a lodge in Monkey Bay for the night, since Nikos fell in love with a very quiet girl and ran away to a village further north. After getting back together we headed to Cape McClear, another village on the lake shore. We took a ride on a truck that was already loaded with concrete and was heading to the village via an off-road path. We had quite an adventure on top of that truck that was about to flip over at every single turn. Thank God everything went fine and the Fat Monkeys, the lodge we stayed at, was worth the trouble getting there. We met a couple from South Africa, a Dutch guy and two Spanish girls and we had some great nights at the nearby reggae bar. After I had my first fresh water dive in the lake, we decided to explore parts of the country that are away from the lake. The team got bigger as the Dutch guy came with us and after many “comby” (small buses) that we had to take, we found ourselves in Mount Mulanje. Hiking in Mulanje is controlled by the Likhubula Forestry Office. We arranged to stay at a missionary and at one of the forestry huts on the top of the mountain. After all the sun-seeking life at the lake, going up the Mulanje with ten kilos of backpack proved to be pretty hard but reaching the top at 3000 m altitude was definitely worth it. The next day we took another route downhill. Our backpacks were lighter since we had consumed our supplies, so it seemed like a walk in the park. We took our breaks in the small pools under the waterfalls and with the paths being sign posted, we came back safe to the missionary.
Blantyre, the second biggest city, didn’t appeal to us after all that beauty. But we had to go there since Chris had to arrange her flight back to Greece and we had to work out how we were going back to Tanzania. We spent our last days in Malawi in Doogles that was coming alive after sundown with all the foreigners from Blantyre. We all took the bus to the capital Lilongwe where Nikos and I said goodbye to Chris and then we took a bus to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, a 30-hour bus ride that we still talk about with Nikos. Anyway, I’ll tell you all about it in the Tanzania Chapter.
Now that the years have gone by and we still talk about Malawi every time we get together with Chris and Nikos, we all agree that this small, warm heart of Africa was worth every single minute we spent there.