Arriving for the first time in Malawi, we were thoroughly knackered and looking forward to the soothing relaxed pace.
It had taken us 4 days of travel to get here. Day 1 consisted of a taxi from Nungwi to Stone Town on Zanzibar and a very rough 2 hour ferry to Dar es Salaam. Arriving in Dar during the day during Ramadan was surreal. The usually teeming streets were empty, shops shut and even touts almost totally absent. It was a compete ghost town. We were dying of thirst by the time we got to the hotel – it’s not OK to drink water in public during Ramadan. We are also starving, but had to wait for sun down to get food. I really don’t know how they do it.
Day 2 & 3 were the train from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya, near the border. This notoriously late train has some pretty strict rules. If Leckie and I want to travel together, as we are opposite genders, our only chance is to book all 4 beds in a first class cabin. Even so, someone came to ask if we were married before we boarded the train.
Once on board though, things completely changed. We got underway only 2 hours late and the 1st & 2nd class section turned into a party. The buffet car was full to the brim with raucous drinkers, so we had a couple of people we’d met into our cabin and got to work on the beer and gin – both sold at reasonable prices on the train.
The words “first class” were obviously used very loosely, but it was fine and we spent the following day just watching out the window. Children lined the tracks shouting for empty bottles, which passengers threw out the window to them. I assume they’re worth money to recycle.
Mbeya itself was really lovely. It’s a quiet, friendly mountain town and it was nice to get some fresh air. We could probably have stayed a day or two, but were keen to press on.
Day 4 brought dalla dalla, bus, bike, taxi, taxi, walk – and finally we were at our first Malawian destination, Chitimba.
Staying at a place called Hakuna Matata we’ve mostly just been recovering from our journey, watching monkeys playing in the trees and paddling in the lake – which at this time of year sits at a lovely 27 degrees.
The manager Maggie is the best cook we’ve come across in Africa and we happily ate away while listening to her stories. To our dismay, we found that in recent months they’ve found a green mamba, cobra and puff adder in the campsite. Maggie has also been stung by 2 scorpions! We’ve been shaking out all our clothing before wearing since we heard that! On a side note, apparently putting peanut butter in vegetables is a thing here.
Hakuna Matata is just off the main road, but is super quiet due to fuel prices. At around $2 per litre, locals cannot afford to drive. So the beautiful new road sits empty, with around 1 car every half hour passing.
The town is just a tiny row of stalls containing basic provisions. Unfortunately for me I’ve run out of conditioner. I’m doubting if I can get it anywhere in the country. I may have an afro myself before our time here is out! One thing that all the shops do sell is alcohol in 100ml plastic sachets. We watched a stall holder sell a handful to a child who couldn’t have been older than 8. Thankfully he had been sent by adults and wasn’t consuming them himself.
Malawi is just as obsessed with football as the rest of Africa and there were no shortage of places to watch the world cup final. Our chosen place was a mud brick hut. It had cardboard boxes for curtains, halved trees for benches… and a satellite dish. If ever there was an image of modern developing Africa it was this. The room filled with around 100 very lively supporters, who constantly shouted players names and ‘offside’, with seemingly no understanding of what offside actually means. Many tore their shirts off when Argentina scored and erupted into heated discussions when it turned out the cries of ‘offside’ were legitimate this time. In the end Germany triumphed and all eyes turned to the German couple we had gone there with. Time to go!!
I think my favourite thing about this place has been watching the moon rise over the lake, huge and red. It is truly beautiful.