We’re in Blantyre, the Jo’burg of Malawi, at a very nice place called Kabula Lodge, high up on a wooded hillside overlooking the city. It’s Sunday evening, the streets are deserted and the weekend parties are slowly fizzing out. From up here, Blantyre certainly seems a pleasant enough place. We do get the feeling though that Monday morning will be a completely different prospect.
So, after an obligatory shopping excursion first thing in the morning, we’re going to high-tail it out of here as quick as we can. Our time in Malawi is almost up. It’s been just under a month and we’ve loved every second of it. But all good things must come to an end (who made that stupid rule anyway?), and as bummed as we are to be leaving this awesome country, we both can’t wait to hit the coast of Northern Mozambique.
We arrived in Malawi through the Mchini borderpost, near the Zambian town of Chipata. Fortunately exiting Zambia was a slicker and far less corrupt process than entering, and we were through both sides of the border in about 45 minutes. It was just as well, as we were planning on getting from South Luangwa all the way to Lake Malawi in one day, which is quite a drive. Bar the awful 60km of dirt from South Luangwa to Chipata, it was all plain-sailing and we eased through Lilongwe and Salima, and then into Senga Bay, without too much fuss.
Malawi has one of the highest population densities in Africa, something that becomes very apparent when you need to stop for a roadside wee (or more specifically when a girl needs to stop for a roadside wee). There seems to be a little village every few kilometers, and it’s seldom that you drive for more than a hundred meters without passing at least one Malawian walking or riding his bike down the road. It was the first thing that struck us about Malawi, and getting used to avoiding humans, whilst also avoiding trucks, taxis, potholes, goats and dogs, has certainly taken a bit of getting used to. No casualties yet though, we’re happy to announce.
As we pulled into The Steps Campsite in Senga Bay, just before sunset on a perfectly still afternoon, we were greeted with our first view of magical Lake Malawi. Almost instantly, we knew that the weeks ahead were going to be pretty special. We set up camp as quickly as we could and, cold beers in hand, stood on the beach staring blankly at yet another perfect African sunset.
In Zambia, the Put Foot Rally came blazing past us, and we bumped into a fair number of teams around Lusaka and on The Great East Road. The Steps Campsite in Senga Bay had hosted a big Put Foot Rally party a couple of days before we got there. And it was clearly a good one. The massive gazebo and faint hint of stale beer hanging in the air left us in no doubt of that. It kind of messed with the lakeside ambience a bit, so the next morning we packed up camp and began heading due north up the lake. Due north to paradise.
At South Luangwa we met Chris and Chelsea, who had been working up in Tanzania and were in the process of driving down to South Africa. Had they not been good enough to invite us over for a poitjie one night, we would probably never have heard of a place called Makuzi Beach, let alone stayed there. But that’s why time is the ultimate luxury on a trip like this. It allows you to be flexible, which is probably the second biggest luxury you can have. More and more, we find we are relying on the recommendations of locals and fellow travelers to guide us, over those in our guidebooks. It was on the back of Chris and Chelsea’s stories that we found ourselves bumping down the 4km “driveway” towards Makuzi Beach Lodge.
We arrived at Makuzi late in the afternoon, after a fairly long drive up the lake from Senga Bay. We were both a bit shattered and would have settled for anything at that stage, so long as there was a safe place to camp and a hot shower (or even just running water). So you can imagine our unrestrained joy when we walked out onto Makuzi’s deck and were confronted with a charming little campsite beside the most perfect beach either of us had ever seen. The tent was up in record time and we were soon swimming with the cichlids – the happiest campers this side of the North Pole. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it was the middle of winter, and a Monday. Usually you just want Mondays to end. We wanted that one to go on forever.
The next week was filled with swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, reading, exploring the nearby villages and much beer and wine drinking. If anyone knows how you could do that for a living, please let us know.
Makuzi’s magic is all in its location. Guarded on either side by two forest-covered headlands, and hemmed in at the back by the quaint village of Bandawe, it feels completely isolated from the outside world. At the bottom of the headlands, boulders the size of busses tumble down into the water, making for some awesome snorkeling. The rocky island just offshore is a ten minute kayak away and has even better snorkeling, plus a seven meter cliff jump, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pel’s fishing owls roost in the nearby trees, Palm-nut vultures soar above and fireflies and glowworms blink away at night, adding to the charm.
Despite our lowly camper status, Richard and Lauren, the wonderful managers of Makuzi, went beyond the call of duty to make sure we had the best time ever. We almost felt like part of the family by the time we left. One evening they invited us for a poitjie on the beach with some of their friends from up the coast. We ate good food and drank good wine at a table set up on the beach, until we couldn’t eat and drink anymore. It certainly made a welcome change from boerewors and baked beans on the gas cooker.
We really can’t recommend Makuzi Beach highly enough. If you do go though, be warned: it has a horrible habit of erasing any plans and ambitions, and once it gets its claws into you, it’s near impossible to leave. Conniving bloody beach.
Fortunately we did finally get moving again. Livingstonia and Nkhata Bay were waiting, as were Cape Maclear, Liwonde and Zomba. But we’ll save for another post. It’s late, we’re tired and I should probably get under a mosquito net.
P.S. Sounds like we tempted fate; the parties seem to be starting up again. Might be a long night.