We have been looking forward to Malawi for quite a few months now. The country wasn’t even on our list for the first section of our trip, but we kept on meeting people that were raving about it. Would it be as beautiful as they describe it? Was it really still that authentic?
The north started quite promising. After an easy border crossing, we got spoilt with great tracks, some of the nicest views and extremely friendly smiling people. We spent our first night in a mission post just across the border where we got these lovely meatballs in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes. Heaven on earth it was. Mashed potatoes! And it got even better the next day: a little bit of nicely challenging, bumpy tracks and fresh air in a magnificent green environment. No smelly trucks here but loads of people on bicycles. And as the night fell, we ended up in this little village where enthusiastic locals invited us to pitch our tent in their garden.
One of the guys assured us that the road to Karonga was pretty bad for just 2 kms, but right after the bridge they renovated the road. Well, that turned out a little different to say the least! 30 kms of washed away roads, single tracks along some pretty deep drops, steep slopes, and rocks… loads of rocks! What had to be an easy ride, turned into a physical ordeal with lots of sweating and swearing, laying down the bike and lifting it back up. But after those first 30 kms, the road indeed turned into a nicely renovated stretch of dirt with even a little bit of tar road right before the “major city”.
Karonga itself didn’t really have a lot to offer. There were supermarkets for sure, but decent food was another story. We booked into a small hotel, but as they served breakfast, they told us they ran out of bread. And as we asked for a simple cup of coffee, all we could get was hot water. “You guys do have your own coffee right?” But the people were extremely nice and we had a great laugh. We even ended up staying another night.
After the desolate north, we worked our way down along Lake Malawi to the more touristic south. Livingstonia was amazing. A quite bumpy steep hairpin track lead to Lukwe Eco Camp, run by a Belgian guy. We couldn’t have had a better place to stay: a breathtaking view on the valley and the lake and this (for Africa) exceptional quiet and cozy athmospere. But most importantly: they served the most delicious organic food with plenty of veggies straight from their own garden. Add two local women cooking with lots of soul and true magic is what you get. Freshly roasted coffee, bread straight from the oven and even a freshly baked birthday cake for Tom. What a place!
We enjoyed the laid back travelers atmosphere in Nkhata Bay, the sunset over Lake Malawi in Cape MacLear en went hiking on the Zomba Plateau and Mount Mulanje. Malawi is full of interesting people, all with their own stories and with that ever positive attitude. But the biggest surprise was the seemingly totally uninteresting town of Balaka, just south of the Capital Lilongwe. It is home to “Balaka’s Best”, a trendy Italian bar where they sell homemade cheese, salami and bread. For two hours we just sat there enjoying the best cheese since months, the freshly baked focaccia and a cup of excellent expresso. That’s what traveling does to us: it makes us enjoy the simplest things really hard!