Southern Malawi

Day 58 – Senga Bay, Cool Runnings – Wednesday 25th July


We were planning to leave, but the place was so pleasant and relaxing that we decided to stay for a 4th night. We spent the day reading and lounging around the various chairs, sun beds and sofas.

Day 59 – Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlid (south shore of lake Malawi) – Thursday 26th July – 176kms

We finally managed to extract ourselves, reluctantly, from Cool Runnings, and rode to Cape Maclear, the south shore of the lake. The weather was slowly getting warmer and less cloudy. On the day we left, it was clear sky but not too hot. Perfect weather to ride. We rode through the sandy streets of the village, back to the main road. We planned to spend 3 nights in the south shore and get to Blantyre, the second biggest town in Malawi, on Sunday only. The plan was to get to the Mozambique consulate early Monday morning for our visas.

The backpacker place we selected had great reviews, but they only had room for two nights. It is now the high season, with plenty of backpackers from Europe. Cape Maclear is easier to reach by public transports than Senga Bay, I guess.

There were lots of backpackers and long time travellers, most of them in their early 20s. ( I am always a bit bemused by very young long time travellers. When I was in my 20s I had to save a lot just to be able to afford a bicycle from Decathlon to commute to my minimum wage job! How do they finance their trips? )

Anyway, the backpacker place was funky with music, a nice bar area to sit and lounge and cheap drinks. A G&T for a pound will attract the backpackers!

We settled in a room, it was simple, with cement floor and bare walls but relatively clean with a mosquito net above the bed. The shared bathrooms were functional with kind of hot water from solar panels. The water was pumped from the lake. We explored the village which was much more touristic than in Senga Bay, with lots of shops selling craft and bright coloured clothes and bags.

In Malawi, free WiFi is only provided in high end hotels. If lucky there may be a hotspot you can catch with the phone and buy a voucher to get access. I bought 2MB.

Day 60 – Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlid – Friday 27th July

We booked a room in another lodge for Saturday night, and then decided to go kayaking in the lake. Had to be done. It was nice to go kayaking again, we used to do this often at weekends, when we lived in Rio.

As we came back, soaked, we decided to go for a swim too. The weather was splendid and the water warm at last!

It’s only later that Alistair mentioned some disease from snails. He went digging his emails and found the document the nurse at the surgery sent him. There is significant risk of Bilharzia in all bodies of fresh water, including in lake Malawi. Oh well, considering the showers and all taps were with water from the lake, swimming or not in the lake would make no difference. We asked the funky Cichlid’s manager whether there was any risk. She said they recommended all guests to take XYZ treatment as prevention. Well, lucky we asked, as they may tell everyone, but not one of their staff told us! And there was certainly no notice, board or any sign of this!

Bilharzia can be fairly dangerous and fatal if untreated. Although the risk of catching it is very small, it is best just to take the treatment as prevention, especially as it is a tablet to take 6 to 8 weeks later and cost about 2 pounds. So we will buy that in a pharmacy in Blantyre.

Easier than asking for it to our GP, back in London, who would refuse to prescribe it. The tests are apparently rather costly, so all the people living by the shore of the lake ( Including and especially all those Europeans and Americans volunteers or workers) take a tablet every 2 months.

We did not do much after all that. So we read some books again. This week is a bit of a holiday for us, before we tackle Mozambique.

My research online showed various addresses for the consulate in Blantyre. Alistair tried to phone the embassy in Lilongwe, but all the phones numbers we found online or on guide books were incorrect. Emails were also incorrect, for both the embassy in Lilongwe and the consulate in Blantyre. The phones for the consulate were also incorrect! Including from a Malawi magazine aiming at tourist info!

If we cannot secure the visas in Blantyre we will just turn up at the border, not much else we can do, considering how elusive Mozambique’s embassy and consulate are!

Finding an affordable place to stay in Blantyre took also some time. The fact, that, as usual, google and seem to place hotels and guest houses in random locations, making them look like they are in town instead of 30 kms out of town, does not help. Any promising place we found we had to cross reference the address using other sites, and find out it was actually totally out of town!

Day 61 – Cape Maclear, Eco lodge – Saturday 28th July, 500 m ride.

We packed. The Funky Cichlid was fully booked for the weekend so we moved 500 meters down the road to the Eco Lodge . The room with shared bathrooms was cheaper than the Funky Cichlid, at 20$ instead of 30, but the communal space less comfortable and the bar small and poky. We realised that lots of people from the Eco Lodge were actually lounging at the Funky Cichlid’s large open bar and lounge area, as we recognised lots of people having their breakfast at the EcoLodge ! Also at the EcoLodge, the cheaper rooms were away and in a more poky place with lots of junk lying around. I guess at that price we could not complain!

Once unpacked and changed, like everybody else, we walked along the beach back to the Funky Cichlid to lounge and have a beer. We could not get signal from the hotspot ( I needed to do some planning and find accommodation in Blantyre) at the EcoLodge, another reason to spend as little time as possible there.

Later on,we had dinner there as well, as their menu was far superior to the EcoLodge.

Day 62 – Blantyre – Sunday 29th July – 275kms

We left the lake and rode to get to the second biggest town in Malawi. The road, for a good 60kms was just constant roadworks with deviations through sandy tracks. It was slow going with constant people walking, cycling around, goats and sheeps roaming free. This has been a constant for a while. There are constantly people along the road. A village after another. Nowhere to stop for a quick pee or a quiet rest.

For once, at a police checkpoint, we were stopped by the police. After the usual questions ( where do you come from today, where are you going) the guy asked Alistair for money to buy a drink! So disappointing as so far it never happened. Alistair told the guy we needed to get cash from a bank as we had no cash with us. He let us go with a smile.

In Blantyre, we rode to the street where the guesthouse was. In it had great reviews. The place was as to be expected for 35$ a night including breakfast! A dump! We decided not put a review as we had nothing positive to say about the places. Alistair spent most of the nights there hunting massive mosquitoes as the mosquito net above our bed was full of holes and was so small it was probably for an infant bed only!

Day 63 – Blantyre – Monday 30th July – 0kms

We woke up at 6am. It is daylight soon after 5am and dark soon after 5pm. With regular power cuts and no WiFi or any sort of entertainment, we went to sleep early.

Soon after breakfast (microwaved fried egg, cornflakes with horrid milk, an ok sausage and some fried potatoes) we walked to the town centre. The place, according to the guesthouse owner, who described in his description that it was close to the Mozambique consulate, was in the town centre. We walked the 3kms to the address we had for it, only to find out it had moved two years ago to another location. It was even further away, near a Roman Catholic Church. After a lot of asking and a lot of walking under a blazing sun, we finally found it. The lady at the desk told us the visa would cost us 115$ each, but we could get it for cheaper at the border! So we walked back into the town centre and looked for an Internet cafe, as Alistair had to print some docs for our limited companies accounts.

After that, we tried to find a cafe to sit and have a drink. The only place we found was going into the local luxury hotel. The town centre was only banks and insurance companies building and nothing much for food or drinks! We then walked back to our grimy guesthouse. My steps App, which still seems to work offline on my phone, showed we walked 15.5kms that day!

With another power cut and not much to do, we went to sleep early again.

During our expedition in town, we managed to get the tablets to treat Bilharzia, so you will be glad to know that in 6 to 8 weeks, if we develop horrid worms in our body, that should kill them and we will not die a painful death!

Day 64 – Likhubula village, near Mulanje – Tuesday 31st July – 100kms

We left early and took the scenic route as we had plenty of time. We bought fuel and filled the jerrycan as well, as once we cross the border into Mozambique, if we cannot find an ATM machine, it may be hard to buy fuel, until we get to Quelimane, over 360 from the border. Very few places accept credit card payment!

The ride was beautiful as we rode across vast tea plantations through stunning rolling hills. The villages around seemed more tidy and prosperous generally. As usual, there were constant people along the road, houses, one village after another, groups of young lads hanging around not doing much.

We took a trail off the main road and found (eventually!)a pleasant backpacker place. There were louts everywhere vying for business, mainly as guides to go hiking into Mulanje mountain. We had no intention to go hiking, but they were persistent.

Once settled into our very clean and comfortable room we went for a little walk. Back at the backpacker place, the locals just stared at us from the road, as we sat by the windows. Even the kids! Some lads would try get our attention ( more guides?).

We had dinner at the guesthouse and chatted with a deutsche family on holiday in Malawi. The wife had done a year as junior doctor in Malawi few years earlier. After that we went for an early night as we had to leave very early the next day, in order to cross the border and make it to Qualimane.