Safari and Nature
Malawi has several conservation areas and we stayed at three of their four national parks: Nyika, Liwonde and Lake Malawi. It also has four wildlife reserves, including Majete, where it’s possible to see the Big Five. Whilst the animals were not as prevalent as many other countries, neither were the tourists and we enjoyed evening and early morning drives, walks and river trips in splendid isolation. All had completely different terrains and the rolling open landscapes of Nyika were particularly spectacular.
We also stayed at Luwawa Forest Lodge in the South Viphya Forest Reserve and Zomba Forest Lodge where the size and scale of the trees made for beautiful walks along pine-cone covered paths. The amount of deforestation in the country was sad to see although, to combat this, we also saw enterprising tree planting initiatives.
For the more adventurous and active, there are excellent hiking trails on Zomba Plateau and in the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve, where we stayed at the Kara O Mula Country Lodge. As well as having the opportunity to climb Sapita, Central Africa’s highest peak at 3,002m, Mulanje is surrounded by acres of tea plantations. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right season for a tour of the Lujeri tea factory, but we drove through the huge fields of lime green tea bushes, with purple jacaranda trees and a backdrop of the Mulanje peaks: and of course, we bought tea.
We stayed at three places on the lake shore, Chintheche Inn, Makokola Retreat and Mumbo Island. All were very different, but had fabulous beaches. We’d read that swimming in the lake was off limits due to bilharzia, a parasitic worm, so were delighted to find notices saying the frequently tested lake, was bilharzia free. However, on visiting the fracture clinic on return, due to a fall I’d had in Malawi, the doctor was more concerned I’d been lake swimming without taking a suitable prophylaxis.
Cities and Towns
Flying into Lilongwe, the capital, and out of Blantyre, the commercial hub, we spent a couple of days in each. Whilst there’s sufficient in both cities for a half-day tour, neither merit a longer stay. Likewise, an hour or two in the smaller towns of Mangochi and Zomba was sufficient to see the few sights. Links between Scotland and Malawi are strong and began with David Livingstone’s journeys up the Zambezi and Shire Rivers to Lake Malawi in 1859: at the Bandawe Mission and Graves, we saw the resting place of many Scottish missionaries.
We were keen to see how people lived and CAWS arranged visits to two cultural villages they support, Donija Nkhoma and Njobvu, and an orphanage and school. Here my Silver Travel bag came in useful as we’d ‘Packed for a Purpose’. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and seeing how simply people live, yet how content they are, was humbling: the country deserves its title, ‘The warm heart of Africa’.
Despite being content, Malawians are superstitious and on leaving Zomba we headed for Mulanje where we were warned to be careful as there had been attacks by the locals on strangers and tourists who were thought to be vampire bloodsuckers. This all sounded improbable, but was confirmed by the BBC News. It therefore seemed appropriate that on leaving Zomba, we saw a dead bat impaled on overhead cable lines. Many believe in witchcraft and magic and Everlasting had many stories which he obviously believed in.
Politically, the country was ruled by the autocratic Dr Hastings Banda until 1994 who, after Independence in 1964, announced Malawi would be ‘one party, one leader, one government and no nonsense about it’. Everlasting had been part of Dr Banda’s security team and was a keen advocate of his rule. This didn’t quite chime with the stories we read of people being detained without trial, being fed to the crocodiles in the River Shire or being killed in fatal car accidents.
Malawi is not a holiday for the feint hearted: there are long journeys, a poor road network and the lack of power can be disheartening. However, despite Lonely Planet suggesting Malawi was due for an epic year in 2014, the crowds have not materialised and there’s now a much better chance of seeing the big five. I’d recommend going before it does eventually change.