“Kara O’Mula Country Lodge”:http://www.karaomula.com/ is located just outside the town of Mulanje, an area in Southern Malawi famous for tea growing and the Mulanje Massif.
There are various styles of room but we were shown to ‘Chiperoni 9’ which should have had good views over the town although there was a lot of haze during our three-night stay. There were seven rooms in a long row that were on a raised platform (with a half a dozen steep steps up to each room) and a veranda running the length of the rooms with two cane chairs outside each. Other rooms were up longer steep flights of exterior steps, and we were pleased we’d not been allocated one of them. The power during our stay was unpredictable, due to work being done in the town, and as reaching our room involved uneven paving and steps we were glad we had our own torches for the evening as none were provided.
Our room was relatively basic with a double bed and mosquito net on a rough wooden frame that extended beyond the bed edge. This made getting out tricky in the night. The net would have been tight to the frame when unfurled meaning you would have to climb underneath it and so we decided to risk being bitten. The mattress didn’t fully fit the bed frame which meant that one side was on a slope. On the surface the room looked well equipped with desk and chair, tea making facilities (which were not near the plug), open plan hanging area and TV. However, the position of the latter, high on a corner shelf, was just at the right height for banging your head in the night and its position made it impossible to sit anywhere to watch it. One of the only two electrical plug sockets didn’t work, but reception helpfully supplied a gang socket which was even better.
The medium-sized bathroom was basic and the shower base was like a stainless-steel sink crossed with a roasting tin. The water was very hot, and took a bit of adjusting. There was no bath mat and the tiled floor became wet and slippery. There were two medium sized thin towels and a bar of soap. The low loo took a bit of getting off, although it was a good flusher.
The lodge was very quiet on our first two nights, but on our last, we had neighbours on both sides and discovered how thin the walls were. We could tell one side was listening to BBC World, heard a child screaming on the other and snoring in the night.
If we thought our room was disappointing, the food and restaurant service was worse, despite Bradt’s claim of ‘a great place to eat’. Gordon Ramsay would have had a field day with the menu which was far too extensive for the kitchen to cope with. On our first evening, despite there being only three other people in the restaurant, we waited 30 minutes for starters and when they arrived, one was incorrect. Beef noodles appeared to be a lukewarm chicken pot noodle and chicken Kiev was a huge rugby ball shaped ‘thing’ with full of chicken surrounded by an unidentifiable gloop. Having left most of it, the waitress asked how everything was, when she cleared the plate. When I said, ‘not very nice’, she smiled sweetly and said, ‘no worries’. We had a similar experience the second night and so on our final evening, reserved a table and pre-ordered our food. This turned out to be the right thing to do, although as each course was swiftly followed by the next, we’d eaten a three-course dinner in 20 minutes and then had the evening left in near darkness.
Breakfast was a dismal affair: Cornflakes or Rice Krispies, sickly sweet orange squash and a paltry selection of fruit. Eggs were cooked to order by the waitress who at times, became overrun trying to sort everyone out. One day the butter was rancid, possibly a result of the power outage, and the runny liquid dripped all over my trousers. We asked for coffee and were pointed to some sachets although filter coffee was provided once we’d complained. Toast was a DIY affair, but not all the sides of the two toasters worked. There was a row of spreads: a tin of jam with the lid semi prised off and raised, a jar of honey and an unopened jar of peanut butter and no attempt was made to present anything well.
We waited 40 minutes for lunch of fish fingers with a Marie Rose sauce and macaroni cheese which was pasta in a light tomato sauce topped with cheesy sprinkles. On other days, when we opted for sandwiches and chips, the food and service then was much improved.
The bar was similarly disorganised. There was no tonic during our stay and chilled water wasn’t available at one point. However, they did have a couple of bottles of wine which was a reasonable, South African Sauvignon Blanc at 12,500 Kwacha (£13).
We had the most free time of our trip at Kara (or as we called it, Kate O’ Mara) and looked forward to chilling by the pool. However, as we were there over a weekend, it was overrun by local families as it’s open to non-residents for $2 a time. We looked forward to the Monday when we hoped it would be quieter. But no, there was a conference in the area near the pool, which was where their mid-morning refreshments were being taken. However, there were no loungers, just a set of stone benches, so sunbathing would have been out.
This was the only one out of the 11 places we stayed we’d not return to and we’ve passed this feedback on to the travel company we used and Bradt.