Week 8: Malawi: From Chipata (in Zambia) to Ngala Bay in Malawi
Week 8: Malawi: From Chipata (in Zambia) to Ngala Bay in Malawi
Our 8th week see us leaving Zambia behind, and starting our slow journey northwards through Malawi…everything here happens a bit slower, with the gentle sound of small waves from the lake constantly reminding us of home! We left Zambia with beautiful memories, specifically of the friendly and gentle people, and a reminder that we as South Africans are part of Africa.
Anyway, first our normal stats:
· Total days travelled: 57
· Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 9,721km
· Total borders crossed: 5
o Total bribes (read tonic water handed over) so far: 1
o Total number of times threatened with potentially being thrown in jail: 1
And then the Aardvark stats for Week 8:
· Best drink: Malawi is hot and humid at the moment – so it should come as no surprise that the best drink was ice-cold local Malawian Gin with tonic. And the second best drink was the second one 😊
· Best food: For the first time on this trip, Irene could buy fresh fish…and it was delicious! She made pan-fried Chambo fillets, with green mango and strawberry salsa, accompanied by fresh basil-infused potatoes and a tomato-chilly sauce…with all locally sourced ingredients! There was enough to share with the chefs at Fat Monkeys Lodge & Campsite, who were all suitable impressed as well!
· Best view: Sunset over Lake Malawi, from our viewpoint on Dondwe Island (just off Cape MaClear)…one of those picture perfect blood-red sunsets over the lake!
Day 51 saw us leaving Zambia quite late, even though we left the MamaRula campsite early already for a quick coffee in Chipata with Jackie, an American Peace Corp worker that we met in Livingston at the Devil’s Pool. The quick coffee was followed by a very slow admin process at Madisson Insurance (that was supposed to only take 15minutes!), but we were rewarded with Aardvark’s official Comesa Yellow Card insurance form after a tedious exercise of slow and broken computer systems – it definitely didn’t inspire either of us to get an office job again anytime soon! Anyway, we were delighted to be on our way to the border with what we believed all our admin documentation in order…only to be stopped about 10km before the border post by Zambian immigration officers, who demanded to see our passports. As typical paranoid South African travelers, we first showed him pictures of the passports, then copies, but still he insisted on seeing the original passports which we had locked away. And once he had them in his hands, he immediately turned to our entry stamps into Zambia, and proceeded to tell us that we were illegal in the country and have overstayed our welcome! We were obviously extremely surprised by his allegations, as we knew that as South Africans we firstly didn’t need a visa to enter Zambia, secondly was entitled to a 90day tourist permit, and thirdly that we informed the immigration officer at Victoria Falls, when we crossed from Zimbabwe into Zambia, that we will be in the country for roughly a month, and it was now only day 20. Well…we were proven wrong! For some reason the immigration officer wrote “14DAYS” only in pen on our entry stamps, and we never checked it (stupid mistake on our side!). And even though we are entitled to a 90day stay, because our stamps said only 14days, we were officially illegally in the country. And as such, had to pay a R6,600 fine EACH!! As one can imagine, we weren’t very happy with that idea, so insisted on speaking to the supervisor, and going back to Chipata to the immigration regional offices. The officials who stopped us obviously didn’t want that to happen, and kept on telling us that its our fault, we’re illegal in the country, and should actually be thrown in jail if we don’t want to pay their ridiculous fine on the spot…to the point where, after making a couple of phone calls, the official again asked us “are you ready to pay the fine now, as you don’t have any other options?”! Well, we still insisted on going back to Chipata to try and clear this out with someone a bit higher up than a guy in jeans and a reflective vest next to a tin hut, who curiously enough knew exactly what to look for in our passports and wanted the R13,000 equivalent on the spot…hhmmmm…
Anyway, we got to Chipata, where we had to speak to “Madam Beatrice”…who was forewarned of our coming. So after a tongue lashing for about 10minutes from her, the same reference to a R13,000 fine and again the thinly veiled threats of being thrown in jail if we are ever caught illegally in the country again, the (what we believe) truer reason for the stoppage came to the fore – the xenophobic attacks in South Africa ☹ We were again asked why we are killing Zambian brothers and sisters, and told that we are placing the immigration officials under tremendous pressure, as they are being pressurized by some local Zambians to refuse entry to South Africans, and throw them out of the country, due to the attacks! And that as a result, any car with a South African registration plate, or South African passports, are a target for zealous officials. (This was incidentally also the reason why we had to pay our first soft-drink bribe to a military officer who was “thirsty” at one of the multiple roadblocks!). Eventually the Zambian friendliness came out again, and we think Madam Beatrice either took pity on us, or believed that she gave us a sufficient fright, and eventually let us out of her office with only a stern warning, no fine, and a newly stamped entry permit in our passports 😊 But just to reiterate again, we still think Zambian people are the friendliest, most gentle people as a nation that we’ve met so far on our trip…regardless of the undercurrents due to the sad occurrences of violence back home. And the biggest lesson that we learnt was to always, always check any marks, albeit stamps or in pen, in our passports….
After that, we couldn’t wait to get over the Zambian border and into Malawi – where we decided to head straight to Cape MaClear for the start of our Malawian journey. We were a bit ambitious from a timing viewpoint, as all the above-mentioned delays meant that we only crossed into Malawi around 1h30pm. And even though the route to Cape MaClear was only 300km on tar, it was very slow going alongside all the trucks following the main M1 route south. We decided to pop into Dedza Pottery along the way as a potential sleepover spot. But after a quick look at the broken glass on the walls (we assumed to keep intruders out), and listening to all the noises that one can associate with living in the midst of a small rural town, we decided to rather stick it out, and drive the further 130km to Cape MaClear…not realizing that we will had to go down a steep winding mountain pass in the dark, with a crazy wind blowing sand and smoke from numerous field fires over the road…we were exhausted but super happy to eventually arrive at our campsite at Chembe Eagles Nest, even though the only place to setup Aardvark in the dark was right next to their generator – the joys of loadshedding! It was a long, tedious day – but we were eventually at the shore of Lake Malawi and ready for some well deserved Malawian relaxation!
Day 52 started with freshly ground plunger coffee on the white sand of Lake Malawi…and from the vantage point of the beach in front of our camp spot, we could look over the entire bay of Cape MaClear, and just breathe…Irene immediately arranged with some of the local fishermen to sell 2 freshly caught Chambo fish to us for dinner, and after that we went off exploring the local town and bit of touristy strip. We also decided to move Aardvark a couple of km’s down the beach to Fat Monkeys, where our new camping spot was under a giant green mango tree overlooking the lake, and we descended into two days of relaxation bliss! Irene was in heaven, as she could eventually make fresh fish for dinner (using only locally sourced ingredients, whether from the market, local food stalls next to the road, or the lake!). She also managed to get some lemons from the chefs at Fat Monkeys, and in exchange gave them a plate of her delicious pan-fried Chambo fillets, with green mango and strawberry salsa, accompanied by fresh basil-infused potatoes and a tomato-chilly sauce…and they were as impressed as I was!
Day 54 see us waking up out of our lazy slumber to go kayaking to Dondwe Island with Kayak Africa – a nice slow 45min kayak across Cape MaClear’s bay…needless to say, navigating a 2-man kayak in choppy waters by inexperienced paddlers led to a number of laughs, a number of swearwords, and a tiny bit of miscommunication…all solved with an ice-cold “padkos bier” 😊 Dondwe Island is one the larger islands in the bay, and one of only two that you can overnight on. So we decided to treat ourselves to a night of luxury (aka permanent safari tent on a wooden deck on the island) as reward after our kayak session! It was also a great place to play in the clear waters of Lake Malawi, as there were no permanent inhabitants on the island washing their clothes / dishes / themselves on the beach...we could even snorkel with the chiclids (freshwater tropical fish) that the area is famous for! Oh and there was even enough reception to watch the Springboks’ RWC game – Irene is a die-hard supporter!! A magical sunset, with the sound of fisheagles in the air, was the perfect ending to our “island day” 😊
The next morning the wind picked up again, and we decided that our relationship might be negatively impacted by our dicey kayaking skills…so rather took the wooden boat back to land (cheating I know?)! It was also time to start going up the western shore of the lake to our next destination, with the lure of even whiter sandy beaches, and clearer water to swim in further north, driving us on. We ended up at NkotaKota Pottery (who knew there were so many potteries in Malawi?), that along with cheesecake, ice-cream and awesome chickenmayo sandwiches also had a green lawn overlooking the lake to camp on…what more can one ask for! We promptly decided to stay two nights, acting out our newfound plan of staying at least a couple of nights at any campsite that resonates with us, as Malawi is a relatively small country and we don’t want to rush through it – we did a LOT of driving and long days in Aardvark during the first 7 weeks of this trip, and our plan for Malawi was to take it a bit slower and just give ourselves time to contemplate all our experiences and adventures this far. And what better place to do it on than a quiet spot overlooking one of the largest bodies of fresh water in Africa!
On day 57 we reluctantly packed Aardvark, and drove the 1h30 to Ngala Bay – this is going to be our average daily driving time for the majority of the remainder of Malawi 😊 Ngala Bay Lodge & Campsite has seen some better days, but the infinity pool overlooking lush green grass, massive trees and then the perfectly positioned campsite underneath the trees, right on the beach, convinced us to immediately kick our plakkies off, park Aardvark and go for a swim (and another one and another one…the last one will be just before we are going to sleep, nothing like night swimming!) All the swimming was done in the pool though, as just the day before they spotted hippos in the lake infront of the campsite – and we were quite happy not too interfere with a mom & baby hippo combination that might “sneak up” on us! As I’ve mentioned, Malawi is super hot and humid at the moment, with the temperature hitting 32° before 8am already…and the lake’s water is a nice balmy 28° as well! Apart from the hippos keeping us away, the swimming pool was actually the coolest place we could find…small things 😊
I’m writing this sitting next to Aardvark on the green grass, with Irene busy making a fire, and only the sound of the small waves of the lake (that’s about 30meters away) to accompany the silence…bliss!
Till next week.