Week 10: Malawi / Tanzania: From Nyika National Park to LakeShore Lodge in Kipili
Our 10th week saw us swapping Lake Malawi for Lake Tanganyika on the western side of Tanzania…we seem to have a preference for campsites either on mountains or next to big bodies of water, whether in the form of a lake, a river or preferably the sea! As usual, first our normal stats: • Total days travelled: 71 • Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 11,156km o So far we had 3 slow punctures (2xnails and 1xwire), 1 set of complete filter replacements, new rear brake pads, 2 complete engine oil changes, as well as oil top-up on the diff locks and gear boxes, to ensure that Aardvark continues to purr up and down all roads like a happy kitten! • Total borders crossed: 6 And then the Aardvark stats for Week 10: • Best drink: Our first ice-cold Kilimanjaro beer, that we had just as we crossed the Tanzanian border. Oh and the coffee tasting at Utengule Coffee Plantation was also quite an unexpected indulgence! • Best food: The coffee infused pulled pork wrap at the Utengule Coffee Plantation…it was so good, I had to have it for two dinners in a row! And • Best view: Tough call this week…it is a tie between the view from Lukwe Ecocamp’s deck, perched on the edge of the Malawian highland escarpment and overlooking Lake Malawi all the way to the Tanzanian mountains, and the view of Lake Ngosi in Tanzania, the second largest crater lake in Africa, and also shaped like the continent! On Day 65 we woke up to the sound of very excited black crow “chatter”…not knowing that one of these massive ravens was busy bragging to its friends that it had just stole Irene’s Kindle from just outside Aardvark ☹ Apparently these crows are notorious for stealing anything that’s even a little shiny and out of place – and now the most well read crow in the entire Malawi can be found in Nyika National Park 😊 So after a fruitless search for the kindle, we gave up and left one of our favorite campsites thus far, to drive to yet another campsite perched on the escarpment at Livingstonia. To get there we first had to drive back down the mountain to Rhumpi, back to the lake, and then back up the mountain with a 15km gravel road. Sounds easy, right? GGGGGGRRRR…little did we know that the 15km gravel road to Livingstonia was going to live up to its reputation of one of the most crazy routes in Malawi (and for that matter, the craziest 15km that we had to drive since we pulled away from Cape Town!) The road ascends approx. 900m in 9km, which would’ve been easy enough if it wasn’t for the 20 hairpin bends that we had to navigate…and with crazy I mean there is a sheer drop on the one side, loose sharp rocks that is supposed to constitute a 2-track road, and the hairpin bends are so sharp that it took Aardvark on average 3 mini-turns in order to get around each one…and all this whilst in low range, with two slow punctures, grinding up the hill…I was just closing my eyes every so often (luckily I wasn’t the driver, Irene again proofed her superior driving skill whilst my control freak nature made me way too wary to drive up!) Anyway, we made it to Lukwe EcoCamp in one piece, and was rewarded by the most spectacular view…truly a sight that mesmerized us and kept us glued to our seats on the lookout deck! The next day we thought its best to sort out the two slow punctures in Livingstonia (about 5km further up the road), where we met up with Peter, an amazing mechanic. (Yes, we know we can / should fix the slow punctures ourselves, but we believe that we can just as well support the local community as far and wide as we can!) Whilst Peter’s sidekick was busy sorting out the nail in the left rear tire, and the piece of wire sticking into the right rear tire, Peter had a quick look at our engine as we picked up a couple of funny noises the previous day on the way up the hill. Well, it turned out that our slow punctures were a blessing in disguise, as Aardvark needed a complete oil change, as well as oil top-ups for both the front and rear diffs as well as the gearbox! If we only did the next service as planned after 10,000km, we would’ve been in a world of trouble! Luckily Peter (who graduated from the Livingstonia Technical College with top marks, and was invited to study further at the UK’s City & Guilds) sorted us out on top of the mountain, and being a natural teacher also showed us exactly what to check next time we take Aardvark for a service…just another example of how we are learning as we go along…and all the small things to consider to ensure that Aardvark (and us) stays in top shape! The next day we decided not to brave the hairpin road down, and rather take the back road – and what a pleasant surprise! The local authorities are busy updating the road, and it was an absolute pleasure to cruise down the newly scraped dirt road back down to the lake (even though Madame, our GPS, took us down a couple of random roads again! We’ve decided that Madame’s goal in “GPS life” is to ensure that we ALWAYS take the road less travelled…regardless of what we would prefer!). We ended up at Karonga at the Floja Foundation Lodge & Campsite (about 40km before the Tanzanian border), where a couple of Dutch expats, Andre and Pauline, are doing incredible work uplifting and improving the lives of the local kids and in turn community! They provide approx. 80 pre-school kids with meals, education and health care in the mornings, and an after-school tutoring environment for the “graduates” that are now in primary school – all the income from their accommodation and other sources goes directly to the feeding and schooling of the kids! We decided to have a big cleaning afternoon before hitting Tanzania, and spent the majority of the afternoon cleaning Aardvark, doing washing, and also just enjoying the view over Lake Malawi for the last time, going to sleep with the sound of the small waves as background music. We woke the next morning to the smell of freshly baked bread, that Andre baked for us that morning – it tastes a bit like heaven!! Refreshed and ready we hit the road to Tanzania…an easy enough drive with relatively few hassles on either side of the border at Songwe – a typical rude immigration officer was the only minor issueto deal with and Irene gave them a good piece of her mind i.e “just say please?” Apart from that, the joys of having our Carnet and Comesa insurance in place beforehand cant be underestimated, as it has made our lives so much easier at every police checkpoint and border post! It was incredible to see the noticeable difference between the two countries, almost as soon as we’ve crossed over. Tanzania seems a lot more developed, and in addition the route through the southern highlands took us directly through lush green tea plantations, with all kinds of fruit trees and greenery as far as the eye could see – a marked difference from the relative dryness of Malawi that we just came through! As always when we enter a new country, there were a couple of rituals to uphold…sticking the new country’s flag onto the side of Aardvark, having a cold local beer at a local bar and then getting SIM cards to ensure we can stay in touch regardless of where we are 😊 Oh and Irene had to immediately stock up on fresh produce again (pineapples, tomatoes, mangoes, avo’s etc), with the promise of frozen pineapple pieces in lieu of ice-cubes in our immediate future 😊 So the day ended up quite drawn-out, and it was fairly late by the time that we arrived at the Utengule Coffee Plantation Lodge and Campsite. (The “campsite” is actually the old heli-pad, but with all the other amenities on offer the lack of campsite-atmosphere didn’t matter at all!) We were treated to our first spectacular Tanzanian sunset over the mountains, and felt strangely enough already immersed in the country’s rhythm… Day 69 saw an early morning rise, to drive the 1h45min back towards Lake Ngosi for a well deserved hike (my legs were so happy to be able to do some exercise again!) After an hour’s hike up a mountain pass we got to the entrance towards the National Park – I could feel my breath racing due to the bit of altitude (2,300m high) as well as level of unfitness…somehow we’ll have to make a plan along the way to improve that! Anyway, after another 2.5km we got to see the second largest crater lake in Africa - also shaped like the continent! Apparently, we were incredibly lucky to have clear views across the lake, as this time of the year the area is usually covered with thick clouds and mist…which cleared up a couple of minutes before we got there – lucky us! We’ve found these little off-the-beaten-track gems all through our trip so far, and feels incredibly blessed to have the time to explore, witness and just be in the presence of the natural beauty all around! The afternoon was spent lazing around the pool (with views for, and of, Africe 😊), having a coffee tasting of all the different varieties that they grow and blend on the farm, and in general just feeling as if it was a very well spent Sunday! Day 70 was a long day in the seat – 9hours of driving very good tarmac (for the first 8hours), but always alternating between 50km/h around the towns and 80km/h outside of them. Tanzania has a very active traffic cop force, running around with speed cameras and what looks like credit card machines 😊 We were warned beforehand to stick to the very low speedlimits at all times, as the speed cops, and their fine-writing abilities and trigger-happy speedcameras, are everywhere! So even though we only drove 471km, it still took the entire day ☹ At least it gave us time to take in the change of scenery again, and as we turned off the tarmac to drove through the natural forests down to Lake Tanganyika, we could feel our excitement getting the better of us…as Lakeshore Lodge, our destination for the day, had been recommended to us by every single person who has driven along this Cape to Cairo route (and a couple of others), all calling it one of their favorite stops along the entire way! And it definitely didn’t disappoint (even though one cant see the lake from the campsite, as it is sitting a bit back from the shore underneath massive mango trees)…think tropical island vibes again, beautiful clear water, views that go on forever…a little piece of heaven! And as one can imagine, we promptly decided to stay a couple of nights, as we are a bit wary of the condition of the campsites that we are going to encounter as we go further north on our journey…we want to drink in this beauty for as long as we can! And then filled up, we will be ready to continue onwards again 😊 I’ve written this sitting next to the lake shore, seeing the DRC far on the horizon and just back from a swim in the transparent, lukewarm water…life is not too bad! We will be spending the next week slowly making our way up to the border of Rwanda, with a couple more nights here at Lakeshore Lodge, followed by a night next to the hippos at Riverside Camp, and then straight through to Kigoma to make sure we can watch the RWC playoffs over the weekend 😊 And then it is time for a new country again…we should be hitting Rwanda next week this time!
Till then. J