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Week 9: Malawi: From Ngala Bay to the highlands of Nyika National Park

Our 9th week saw us relaxing in tune with the slow rhythm of Lake Malawi…we travelled a sum-total of 405km, making our way up the western shores of the lake to the highlands of Nyika National Park – where it feels as if we left Malawi behind for fern covered rolling hills and vistas reminiscent of a random European country… even the nighttime temperature dropped below 20° for the first time since we left South Africa! As usual, first our normal stats: • Total days travelled: 65 • Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 10,126km o We crossed the big 10,000km mark as we came up the very, very bad dirt road from Rhumphi towards the Nyika Plateau…and had to celebrate it with an ice-cold Malawian beer! 10,000 down, and who knows how many more to come!! • Total borders crossed: 5 And then the Aardvark stats for Week 9: • Best drink: Macondo Camp in Mzuzu is owned and run by Italian travelers, who also make homemade limoncello…and a shot of that on ice, was absolutely incredible and highly recommended! According to Irene, their homemade sambucca was also quite good 😊 • Best food: Back at the Fringilla Butchery in Zambia (it now feels very far back in time!) we bought some proper pork chops. And Irene eventually made it for us at our campsite at Makuzi Beach Lodge – their private little bay reminded us of CampsBay and HOME…anyway, just imagine honey mustard basted pork chops on the fire, with home made beer bread in a big “swart boom pot”, a fresh pickled cabbage salad and some crushed walnut infused vegetable stirfry on the side…all whilst overlooking this picture perfect little beach! • Best view: Green forests and fields of ferns on the Nyika Plateau – it felt as if we were transported from the beach straight into a different world – and it was definitely worth the very bad road to get there! Day 58 was remarkable for the fact that we truly felt as if we were on holiday for the first time – waking up right next to the lake underneath huge trees, drinking morning coffee for hours on the beach, buying fish from the local fisherman as they are coming out of the water after their nightly catching session, lazing around the pool, etc etc. We did manage to give Aardvark a proper thorough cleaning on the inside and out, and to also try our hand at baking scones in our swart boom pot over the fire – nothing like a fresh, warm scone with real(ish) butter, ice-cold beer, and the company of 2 highly entertaining cycling Dutchies to end of a perfect holiday type day! The next day we decided to head to Kande Beach Resort, famous specifically amongst the big overlanding groups. Again, it was a short 70km drive up the coast, and the resort were for a change exactly as per the reviews – focusing primarily on the big groups, with the campsites for small vehicles like ours (yes, I know I just called the 3ton Aardvark small!) hidden away at the back. The facilities and the overall atmosphere however more than made up for the campsite itself, and we immersed ourselves in the hippy / backpacking community for the day…when in Rome 😊 Late that evening we encountered the one-day-black-flies for the first time, as they descended on the camp en-masse! These tiny little flies (to me they look like muggies) apparently arrive for a week every year, just before the rainy season is to start. They appear as a black cloud over the lake, and slowly make their way inland…where they proceed to infiltrate everywhere! And then the next morning, they all die...just for the next batch to move in! Apparently some of the locals catch the muggies as it swarms past, and crush it into a type of paste for extra protein – we even heard of some fellow travelers who had tasted the delicacy of a “fly-burger”! Anyway, it sounded a bit crazy, and quite funny in hindsight (obviously not 3am in the morning) to first hear our neighbor (Shane, the photographer that we met in Croc Valley Camp in Zambia) swearing and swatting away and spraying Doom everywhere…just to realise that the muggies infiltrated Aardvark when we went to the toilet, and we had to go through the same swearing/swatting/spraying exercise! It goes almost without saying that after our muggie-interrupted evening, we decided to leave the hippy vibe behind, and moved on to the peace of Makuzi Beach Lodge. The Lodge and campsites were highly recommended, and as mentioned above already, reminded us of home 😊 Apart from a brief return to Kande Bay to watch the Springboks play against Italy, our next two days were blissfully spend on what could just as well have been an idyllic island hideaway! But after a couple of days of “holidaying”, my over-achiever nature kicked in again, and we were off on the last leg (and couple of days) of our Malawian journey. We left the tranquility of Makuzi Bay behind to drive to Nkhata Bay, the original stopover (and then very extended stay-over) of many a backpacker through Malawi. Unfortunately due to the topography, there aren’t any campsites for vehicles like Aardvark or with a RoofTopTent…as the village is essentially built upon a hill overlooking the bay, our only accommodation options were to sleep in Aardvark in numerous parking lots, or take a backpacker type room in Mayoka Village that has seen better days…We still ended up eating breakfast at Mayoka Village, and sitting on a wooden deck overlooking the bay whilst eating a Belgium waffle and ice-cream for breakfast, it was easy to see why this busy little town, and its surrounding areas, has been called an “itinerary-wrecker” by many! We also bumped into the Dutchies again, and over a quick beer they told us about an amazing NGO called “Roots to Fruits” that they’ve discovered whilst cycling – and it is essentially focusing on replanting indigenous trees with the complete buy-in of the local communities! After coming across the NGO again a couple of days later, we’ve decided to support them to at least start and partially offset the carbon footprint of this trip 😊 Next stop was Mzuzu, where we stayed over at the Italian campsite called Macondo – and as mentioned earlier, their home-made limoncello was amazing! However, after listening to all the neighborhood dogs howling in unison at the moon through the night, the chickens crowing from 3am, and someone in the street fine-tuning their car’s engine for what felt like hours after midnight, we were ready for a cup of super strong Italian coffee and the quiet of the Malawian highlands! The route to Nyika National Park was really one of the worst ones we’ve been on since the road from North to South Luangwa, and it is quite clear that it is not something that one will easily take on during the rainy season – again one of the advantages of being here just before the downpours start in November! As we were winding up the escarpment, it became greener, more open and with way less people (we had to learn along the way that Malawi is one of the most populated countries in Africa!). And as the vistas opened up in front of us, we realized why it has been said that the Nyika Plateau could’ve easily been somewhere in the Swiss Alps in summer time…it was rolling green hill upon rolling green hill, with natural forest combined with acres of plantations…and everywhere you look green green ferns, with small reed bucks nibbling away (a reed buck looks very similar to Bambi 😊). We were fortunate to be able to spend two nights at the campsite, with slow leisurely hikes during the morning and late afternoons, and hours spend just looking at the clouds rolling by, or the roaring campfire…with nothing but openness and panoramic views behind it! I’m writing this sitting next to a massive campfire (the local rangers and nature conservation personnel are trying their best to get rid of all the invasive trees, and as a result have a massive pile of firewood to stoke the donkey, as well as make big campfires to keep the hyenas and leopards away!) Irene believes that this is a piece of heaven, as we’ve managed to leave the oppressive heat, humidity and bugs below the escarpment…I’m actually wearing boots and a puffy jacket for the first time!! Anyway, tomorrow we are off to Livingstonia for 2 nights, then a last day or two next to the lake, and then we’re off to Tanzania! Till next week. J

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