Malawi & Zambia travelogue

August - September 2000

Arrival and Lilongwe
Blantyre and museum
Hiking on Mount Mulanje
Relaxing at Cape McLear beach
Ilala ferry on Lake Malawi
Church visit in Nkhotakota
Chinteche strip - paradise
Clubbing in Lilongwe
Safari to Zambia

This picture was published in
The Africa Book by Lonely Planet!

Arrival and Lilongwe

The flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi (Kenya) took 8 hours, I was seated next to an interesting Swedish lady of about 55 years old who was going to attend a congress on the changes in relationships between men and women in southern Africa. After a short layover on Nairobi it was two more hours to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. During this flight I had a little blond 4 year old boy on my lap who kept chattering away in French, talking about his family living in Malawi. A cutie.

Looking down just before landing I could already see lots of thatched huts and people riding their bikes and I felt the usual excitement and fear I always have just before landing. It's like an adrenalin shot that makes you tingle, sweat, get teary eyes. My holiday had started!

I took a taxi and stared at the land and people outside, trying to suppress my excitement in order not to make the driver think I was some lunatic. I kept telling myself in my head: I am really in Africa!! But it was still very surreal.
The driver let me have a look at two different guesthouses I had selected from LP, I picked the least smelly one. I spent two nights at St Peter's Guesthouse in a dorm room, where I met Jenny, a nice English girl who gave me some tips on what to see and where to stay. The second day she came back from the bus terminal in Old Town where she had been robbed of her daypack. She had been walking there all alone before sunrise at about 4am... that made it pretty clear to me that I should not take a bus before sunrise, but I wasn't planning on that anyway.

Blantyre and museum

Conversations on the bus
After two days of getting my bearings I took a bus to Blantyre in Southern Malawi, which was my first 'real' Africa experience, I was the only white person on the bus.

The ride took just over 6 hours and different people were seated beside me at different intervals, all of whom I talked to for a little while, everybody was so friendly! Not pushy and no hidden intentions like I found a lot in Indonesia, and they always wish you a pleasant stay in their country when they get off the bus. At a certain point a lady with her baby was sitting next to me, and the baby started sucking my hand, soooo cute! It was rather uncomfortable on the bus because I had very little space, but that's just the way it goes out there in public transport. Cram as many people in as possible.
One of the standard questions I'm always being asked is about the composition of the rest of my family. When I tell them I have two sisters, they always ask: "no boys in the family??" and then: "Oh... I'm sorry..." (that must be really hard on you guys...) Yep, it's 'only' girls.... hahaha

Reverse culture shock
Upon arrival in Blantyre I got to endure my first 'culture shock', because after the wonderful African bus trip the hotel I stayed at was a completely westernised one! White people everywhere (even the personnel), Portishead and Morcheeba blasting from the loud speakers, lots of beer and parties and stunningly beautiful local prostitutes who you'd see disappearing into rooms with ugly, fat-bellied South Africans or other tourists. I myself stayed in a dorm room and had to endure heavy snorers every night... pffff...

But at this place I also met Eman, a nice Malawian guy who was on a holiday himself, and Jake and Charlotte, two British medical students who had been working in a Zambian hospital and were also holidaying before their return to the UK.

Eman and I visited a cool museum in Blantyre (halfway to Limbe) where they had maps drawn by David Livingstone and medicine chests of the other missionaries of the old days.

Hiking on Mount Mulanje

After Blantyre I wanted to go to the Mount Mulanje region in the south. I spent 2 hours at the bus terminal waiting for a bus that never came, but I ended up with some great pictures (see the pictures below on the left). So I walked to the minibus stop 15 minutes down the road and was crammed in there while my backpack was secured by a rubber band preventing the back door from falling open...

The minibus took me to neighbouring Limbe and a friend of the minibus driver walked me all the way to the bus that would take me to Mulanje. That's the way it always went out there, someone would walk you all the way to someplace just to show you the way, and not expect anything in return. I even started expecting this kind of treatment in the end.

The ride to Mulanje was another interesting one where I was seated next to a 23 year old modern girl who told me how she was not ready for a family yet and so she did not want a husband yet, and some other people that I talked to (an ambulance driver, a HIV counsellor, etc).

My guide/porter Aufen
In Mulanje I found a guide called Aufen who would also carry my backpack at about US$5 a day. (Of course I gave him a huge tip at the end.) Aufen must have been about 18 years old. He was a bit solemn but he came across as a trustworthy guy. In Blantyre I had bought some canned food and rice, in Mulanje I could buy a delicious pineapple for only $0.10 and five small  bananas for $0.15.

We had to wait in a pick-up truck to be taken up the mountain, but it only left after an hour when there was really no space left for another human being. It was too late in the day to start the hike further up the mountain so I booked a private chalet near a running creek (lovely sound to sleep by) and my guide would come and collect me the following morning.
But first we had a swim in that idyllic creek and a day later I found out I had been eaten alive by sandflies... the bites don't come up until a day after! And they itch like hell for a week!

That evening I spent some time cooking, reading and taking pictures of monkeys across the dirt road. It was a bit creepy to be up on that dark mountain in that chalet all by myself. A local family lived just across the road though and the sound of the running creek was very soothing.

At 7 in the morning, my guide Aufen came to pick me up. We hiked up the mountains for 6 hours. We passed pieces of moist jungle, grassy hills with colourful flowers and amazing views, and high up on the mountain it was dry and arid with yellow grass, just like Bolivia.

On top of the mountain we had climbed was a CCAP hut, guarded by a Malawian guy. He always stayed there for a whole week or so, away from his family. There was no electricity or gas. The toilet was a little wooden house with a hole in the floor. Jake and Charlotte, the two British medicine students I met before in Blantyre, were also there, with their own guide.

In the late afternoon the guides took us walking some more alongside a creek, and to a stunning view over the valley.

In the evening we cooked our meels over a fire, and we played cards (the all time travellers' favourite game Shithead) by candle light.


The Malawian guides and hut supervisor sang songs. We asked them what the lyrics meant. It was something like:

"I don't have a lot, but I have life"

It was so typical of the Malawian spirit! The people here have such pride, and an apparent joy in living, which they share with their beautiful smiles and friendly ways.

Jake and Charlotte

After a very cold night we woke up the next morning and cooked our breakfasts. I declined a share of my guide's dried fish...

Change of plans
Jake and Charlotte were going back down the mountain and offered me a ride in their car to Cape McLear, which was to be my next destination. Only I had planned to hike in the mountains one more day... but I could not decline their offer, it would be so much easier and faster by car than by bus. I was also way more tired that I had expected and didn't look forward to doing much more hiking.
Besides, I was getting a bit tired of my guide Aufen's advances. ('You should try a black man one day'...)
I discussed the change of plans with him, offered to pay him for all the days I promised him, and he agreed.

So we all descended together. You might think that descending is easier than climbing a mountain, but nothing is less true. Every step down is hard on the knees, especially when all your limbs still ache from the day before. Also some parts were quite slippery with water or rolling gravel.

Utterly exhausted we reached the private chalet I stayed in before. We cooked some food, rubbed our sore legs with herbal cream, played some more Shithead and retired very early.

Playing Shithead

The following morning we were picked up by a pick-up truck (along with as many people as would fit in the back, of course, and then some more...) and got a ride back down the mountain.
Jake and Charlotte picked up their car and we drove to Monkey Bay and on to Cape Mc Lear. I had the whole back seat to myself and I felt so relaxed and so happy! For a few hours I did not need to worry about my gear, I could just sit back and enjoy the view, which kept fascinating me.

Madonna in Africa
During this drive Jake and Charlotte played Madonna's album Ray Of Light, which I didn't know that well yet at the time. It was in stark contrast with the view out of the window, but somehow it felt great together. Music always seems to make a bigger impact when you hear it inside a car.
Now, every time I hear a song from that album, my mind wanders back to that moment, those few hours in Africa in a car with two English people and Madonna singing.

Relaxing at Cape McLear beach

Monkey Bay turned out to be quite a bleak town with nothing much of interest for tourists, so we continued on to Cape Mc Lear which is only a few kilometers further down. The bumpy mud road there was a tough one for the car which was definitely not a 4WD. The bottom of the car must have hit the ground a hundred times and we were glad it didn't break down.

Fat Monkey
When we got to Cape McLear the first hotel in sight was "Fat Monkey's", which had been recommended to us by others. It turned out to be perfect. I took a single room and Jake and Charlotte got their own room or put upt their tent, I don't remember. The prices were excellent too.

As the hotel was very new, my room was in good condition. The mosquito net did not have 30 holes in it like at other hotels, so I could keep my own net packed.
I did have a few pets: three lizards on the walls, which can make funny sounds and which are also hilarious to watch. One was bigger than the other two and kept chasing those smaller ones all the way across three walls. Actually I was happy to have them, as they eat mosquitos and other insects.

The showers further down in the courtyard were also great. Of course with cold water only, but that doesn't matter when it's 30 degrees Celsius. The water pressure was good and the cabins were convenient.
There was a restauran t that served good food and cold drinks.

What was best about this hotel compound was that it bordered the beach and a very swimmable part of Lake Malawi.

View on Lake Malawi from Cape McLear

Before I went to Malawi I told myself I would not swim in the Lake because you can contract Bilharzia.
This is a nasty disease which you contract from little worms that penetrate your skin as you swim in the water. These little buggers find their way through your blood vessels and attack organs inside you. But they can take years to become active / noticeable. Nasty!
You can get a test after you get back, but again, it may take years for them to become active so a test is not always enough. If you do catch Bilharzia it's a matter of treating it in time with some pills, before it corrupts some of your organs.

Anyway, after a few days of relaxing at Fat Monkeys, sweating a lot, taking loads of showers and watching all the other tourists just dive into the Lake, I could not resist and took a dip myself. It was worth every risk, the water was so wonderful to swim in. As you walk in, swarms of small yellow fish come to sniff at your legs, a funny feeling!
Here I also met two nice Dutch people who studied Medicine and had worked in hospitals in Zambia.

Hippos and crocs?
From the day I decided to swim in the Lake anyway, I did quite a number of 'lanes' a few times a day. I love swimming in sweet water!

Apparently fish and Bilharzia worms are not the only life forms in the Lake. Crocodiles and hippos also cause a few deaths every year!! So you can imagine that I sometimes felt a little paranoid whenever I felt some current or a fish touching my leg!
But if you realise that Lake Malawi is about 500 kilometers long, you can imagine that the risk of being eaten by a crocodile is minimal... :-)

At Fat Monkeys I learned to play Bao, a board game played in many African countries under a variety of names (Mancala, Oware or other names), and with different rules in each region. Bao is a great game! You can play it tactically like chess, and you need to be good at counting and thinking a number of steps ahead.

Bao board

It's also a very social game that is often played with various people watching, and chatting with the players. It was fun to see the skill and speed with which the Malawians handled the seeds or the marbles. Once you know how to play, it's fun to play it with other people in other towns as well.
I bought a board of my own and still play it at home every now and then.

Pancake guy
The island you see in the sunset picture above, is an uninhabited island not far off the coast. Patrick, a Malawian guy who also baked pancakes for the tourists each morning, also offered trips to the island.

By the way, it was quite funny, this pancake business. Preferably you'd have to order and pay for them the day before. Then he'd go out and buy the eggs and the milk. This would not always work out, and some people ordered on the morning they wanted the pancakes, so he'd always still need another half hour to go and find / buy all the ingredients. We always wondered if and when he'd come back! But eventually he always would.
He'd prepare the pancakes in our presence on the beach, with a little fire and some very old pans and stuff. They were delicious!

Trip to the island
I thought this Patrick guy must be okay, since the hotel staff knew him well and I sort of knew him from the pancake ritual myself. So I agreed to one of his island trips, including lunch and snorkling. He would arrange a boat. He insisted I paid at least half the fee in advance so I did.

The following morning, the first shock was when I saw the 'boat'. It was a hollow tree!! And a layer of water was already in the bottom! I nearly cancelled the entire trip but he convinced me it was safe and that my camera would not fall into the Lake.

Patrick and the hollow tree

After a wobbly, scary trip we arrived at the island safely. Patrick went and gathered wood for a fire to cook our lunch on and I went after the huge blue dragon-flies, coloured lizards and blue fish with my camera.

Patrick cooked a great lunch of fish and vegetables over the fire. After that he took me to another part of the island in his wobbly boat, where I could do some snorkling. Unfortunately he'd forgotten to bring the flippers to go on my feet, so it was just me thrashing about the water with the mask. There were loads of little fish as blue as the insect you see above. The sun made beutiful curves of light on the round rocks just below the surface.

After my swim I sat in the shade for a bit and this is when Patrick became really annoying. He kept touching me, offering to massage my shoulders, and then suddenly he asked if I had a condom with me. My (made-up) story of my boyfriend back home did nothing to make him back away. I started to panic, thinking: OK this is it. I may get raped now. All I need to do is make sure he does get me back on land safely and doesn't leave me on this island. The idea of fighting him quickly passed; he was a muscular giant.

I had heard stories though, that if a local molests or robs a tourist on the beach, the other locals give him a serious beating, since the tourists are their main source of income. So I decided to try this angle. Very carefully, smiling, and acting as if he was making a joke, I started talking to him about what a good name he had in the village and at the hotel, and what would people think of him...?? I can't describe the relief I felt when he followed my direction and said he had just been joking, and he offered his hand in the friendly shake-stomp thing that you see rappers do.

We both agreed we'd seen enough of the island and should return to shore (I was still praying he'd just bring me back safely and not leave me on the island). I could feel that he felt a little insulted, but he behaved.

On the way back we fed a fish-eagle with dead fish, so I could take some more pictures from the wobbly boat.

At last he dropped me off on the beach and after a polite but cold thank-you I was happy to return to my hotel compound.

Looking back, this was the scariest part of my Africa-adventure, but thinking about it, I realised that this could have happened anywhere in the world with a solo female traveller and a male guide involved. It's one of the risks you take... and I was lucky this time.
I did warn the hotel owners though to keep an eye on him and to warn other females embarking on trips with him.

22 hour boat trip with the Ilala ferry on Lake Malawi

Getting to the boat
I had had a perfect few days relaxing, reading, swimming and sunbathing (apart from the Patrick incident) before the weekly Ilala ferry would make its long trip northbound on Lake Malawi. Together with some Australian travellers I was crammed onto the back of a pick-up truck at about 7a.m., the only means of 'public transport' available from Cape McLear to Monkey Bay.
It was one of those trips from hell. It was the same bouncy road I took with Jake and Charlotte, only now I had knees and elbows to avoid, and a little girl vomiting all over the place. Also I had to keep a hold of one of the Australian guys whose legs hung overboard and who occasionally kicked the ground at full speed! But we got there, all sweaty, with cramps from the uncomfortable positions, and very happy that we were all still in one piece.

The first thing I wanted to do was to get a ticket for the boat trip. So did hundreds of other people. Being white, we were picked out of the group of waiting people by an official, who arranged out tickets... I always feel uneasy when being favoured above others but hey, it saved me a long wait.
I got myself a private cabin on the boat, for I didn't feel like sleeping outside on the top deck with all my belongings. The trip was probably going to take about 22 hours so I wanted my own bed.

Monkey Bay
I went and bought some banans off a street vendor, and just after I walked away a monkey stole a whole bunch of bananas and ran off with it, all the vendors shouting and chasing after it in vain. Not called Monkey Bay for nothing!

The boat was supposed to leave at 8 a.m. but of course it left 4 hours late... which I thought was not too bad, considering all the things people were loading on board! Anything from live goats and chicken to bags and bags full of dead fish (yummie smell), bikes, roof parts, etc etc. All this was crammed onto the lowest deck, economy class, where I spent some time taking pictures and having chats as well.

loading took about 4 hours...

Being on the boat again was a bit uneasy because all the tourists and rich people could go to whichever deck they preferred, but the economy class people could only stay on their own deck that was crammed full of people, animals, stuff, and occasionally caught a wave that flushed the pathways. I felt a bit like a colonial. But when i went down to economy deck I found no resentment or envy, only curiosity and interest. People started smiling their beautiful radiant smiles when they saw me, and happily posed for the camera or allowed me to take pictures of their sleeping infants. And I had a few nice chats down there.

who needs an expensive Bug-a-boo??

I also met some interesting people on the first class deck; travellers who'd been on the road for months, some had pictures to show for it. Very inspiring...

Along the way we passed many small villages where people got off and on the boat, most of the time using smaller boats as the ferry runs too deeply to go to shore. I loved watching all this hassle and traffic.

The sunset was a bit disappointing as it disappeared in fogs before it reached the horizon. After it was down at about 6p.m., a strong wind started blowing and it rocked the boat heavily. Even though we were out on a lake it felt like an ocean. I tried to read for a while but got a bit nauseous. The wind also caused drops of waves to spray all the way up to the second story deck. I was so happy I had taken the cabin and didn't have to sleep outside in the wind and spray!

The boat was rocking heavily now, and I had a hard time to control my nausea. I got ready for bed quickly even though it was only about 8p.m. It took me a while but then I slept like a baby in my rocking soft bed with my own mosquito net (which I was also very happy with or I would have got eaten alive).

Arrival in Nkhotakota
The boat had made good speed overnight. We had left 4 hours late, but arrived at Nkhotakota ahead of schedule, at 7a.m.! Luckily I had woken up early and already packed. I had time for half my breakfast only. I was the only white person getting off at Nkhotakota. Little boats were used as the ferry runs too deep to go near the shore.

Church visit in Nkhotakota

I had read in Lonely Planet that the singing in the church of Nkhotakota was wonderful. Luckily the weekly Ilala ferry arrives there on Saturdays which would fit perfectly into my plans. I thought it might be crowded with tourists because it is mentioned in LP. But I was the only white person there.

I had to walk for half an hour with my backback before I got to the guesthouse I had selected from Lonely Planet. Once I got there, the owner greeted me with a big smile and said: oh we have a problem in this guesthouse, just come along, I have a better one not far from here!
Right... so another 45 minutes later, sweating heavily in the burning sunshine with my backpack (always bringing too much! Mental note to self: next time bring less stuff!), we arrived at the second guesthouse.

Proudly he presented to me the most luxurious room in the place. Later on I heard him bragging about it too, how he had given the 'muzungu' the self-contained, as he called it. Well, self-contained meant that I had my own toilet (no seat and smelly as hell), and 'bathroom' (a bucket which I could fill from the well outside). The room itself was in dire need of a paint job. The chair was so unstable I was afraid to sit on it.
Of course I showed only gratitude. But I did replace the hole-ridden mosquito net with my own. It was the cheapest room I ever got in the whole of Malawi, about $3 as far as I recall.

In the afternoon I was sitting out on my terrace reading when I kept hearing all this noise of people cheering and shouting. So I followed the noise and realised that it was a soccer match. I was such fun to watch, the players seemed to be willing to die for the game and gave all they had on the dusty grassless field.
Unfortunately I drew more attention than the players for some people. People wanted me to take their picture and kids started performing their dances, stances and playful fights for me. I did take some great pictures that evening and had some nice chats on the way back after the game.

This is one of my fondest memories of Malawi.

Very early in the morning I went to look for the church. All I had to do was follow the streams of people. When I got there, somebody went and got the reverend. Again I must have stuck out as the only white person there. Reverend Francis Kaulanda came and had a chat with me before the service, welcoming me and thanking me for my interest.

Rev. Francis Kaulanda, Nkhotakota Angelican Church

I asked him if I'd be allowed to take photograghs and he said: yes, sure, it's my church and I don't mind. Soon after that the 3 hour (!) ceremony started.

There were three choires. One was the official choir of young adult men and women who were standing in front, near the reverend. One choir was a childern's choir seated on the benches right in front of me. And the last choir was an all women's choir, seated directly behind me.

The women's choir

So during the 3 hour ceremony there were prayers, singing, bible readings, fund raising... and man, was the singing amazing! I was choking back tears every time a choir got up and sang! Often they were African songs with hand and arm movements (sowing seeds) or little dances, and sometimes they were western type gospels, or a mix of these styles.
The voices of the Africans are so deep, melodious and warm! How I wished I had some sort of recording device!

About an hour and a half through the ceremony I noticed that the church had filled up pretty good, there were hundreds of people now. Sometimes they got so carried away by a song or a speech that they started ululating, that high-pitched tongue thing they can only do in African or Arab countries.

Hello, my name is...
Suddenly I recognised some words in the speech the reverend was holding (all in Chichewa, the local language), one of them was Muzungu (white person) and I also heard him talking about the Netherlands. Everybody was staring at me and I must have turned crimson.

Then he asked me in English to step forward and introduce myself. AARGH! Trying not to stumble over benches or words, I stood next to the reverend, tried not to be intimidated by the hundreds of eyes looking at me, and I introduced myself.
I told them that I was on a holiday in Malawi and that I thought it was a beautiful country. The reverend translated for me, and approving sounds came back from the audience. I said that so far, I had only met wonderful, friendly people. More approval. I finished by saying Zikomo kwambili , thank you very much! Then everbody started laughing and cheering and applauding.... I felt like a rock star! :-)

Tea at the rev's place
After the ceremony Reverend Kaulanda invited me to his home right next to the church, where his wife gave me tea and bread. They had about 7 daughters. We had a nice conversation about his visits to England, about religion in general, about funerals (it's a big happening with everybody who ever knew the person attending, so hundreds of people who sometimes spend days getting there) and about the AIDS-problem in Malawi. I was positively surprised by his openness about this subject.

That afternoon I spent some more time in town, checking out the market (western used bras on sale, pretty weird) and I played some Bao with a guy who worked at the guesthouse.

Chinteche Strip - paradise

A ride with the Germans
I took a minibus, planning to travel on to Nkhata Bay, a place everbody raves about. However, due to the fuel problem the whole country was having, the minibus ran out of petrol in some small town, and could not get more as the gas station there had none left either. It was really a hole in the middle of nowhere, this little town.

I waited with all the other people for a few hours. Then I saw a 4WD pulling up at the supermarket across the street and two white men getting out. I got my pack and walked over. They came out the store and before I could say a word, the bearded one said: "You are stuck and you need a ride".

Culture lessons
They turned out to be German doctors, both over 40 years of age. One of them had been working in Malawi over the past 7 years and was about to return to Germany, and the other was a friend visiting from Germany. It was very interesting to hear all the stories the first one had about Malawi and its health issues. For example all the theories and fables about AIDS (get it on with a virgin and you'll get rid of your HIV!), the witchdoctors, and other cultural stuff.

For example he pointed out to me the nets that local people suspended between trees to catch flies, which they stomp and crush and then bake cakes of. And we stopped at a rubber plantation and he showed me and his friend the rubber that ran from the cut in the tree, and made us smell the hardened piece of rubber in the container, YUCK!!
I thought it was also pretty ironic and sad that a country that produces rubber itself, has such huge problems with sexually transferred diseases.

Chinteche Strip
The Germans were on their way to the Chinteche Strip, not far before Nkhata Bay. Of course I didn't really have a choice so I went there with them. It turned out to be idyllic.

The dorm room + view on Lake Malawi

I opted for the (cheapest) dorm room which was still pretty expensive, but that didn't matter for just one night. All the other places in Malawi had turned out to be much cheaper than I had expected. And I turned out to be the only one in the dorm room anyway. The bed was amazing.
The Germans took a private room each.

A masked weaver weaving its nest

I had a short swim but soon got a bit paranoid, thinking there might be crocodiles.

In the evening the Germans insisted on buying me a good dinner. The lodge was run by white people who'd been born in Zambia or Malawi, I can't remember. The dinner was great, with a big fish. We also played a game with wooden blocks with the owners.

The bearded German got a bit obnoxious when he had had a lot to drink, so I called it a night and went to sleep. The woman who runs the place had warned me that the sunrises were spectacular, so I set my alarm and got up about 5 the next morning. She was right, it was spectacular. Fishermen were coming home after a night's fishing in their ittle wooden boats. The sky and clouds turned all the colours you can imagine. It was so peaceful and quiet...


Breakfast in Nkhata Bay
After my photo shoot I went to the reception desk to pay for my room, but it turned out that the bearded German had already paid for it, and would not have me pay him back! I tried once and then just said "Thank you", which he really appreciated. This is somethingI learned on a previous trip. If someone wants to help you as a traveller and pay things for you... just say thank you and be happy with it! And when you're at home, do the same to other people who could use it. I told him this and that was exactly the way he intended it.

The bearded guy said that Nkhata Bay was horrible, but that we could drive over there, have breakfast there, that I could decide whether I liked it, and if not, I could continue the ride on to Mzuzu with them. This sounded like an excellent deal.

After a bumpy road of tarmac filled with holes that you have to zigzag around, and a broken bridge that caused a major detour, we got to Nkhata Bay, which was indeed disappointing. It seemed very touristy and loud and overdone. We did have a nice breakfast there that I insisted on paying, and this times the Germans said thank you.

On to Mzuzu
So I decided not to stay in Nkhata Bay and continue with the Germans to Mzuzu that same day.

Tobacco auction
It took a lot longer than I had hoped and expected, but hey, when someone gives you a ride, you depend on their plans.

First we visited a tobacco auction hall, where the bearded guy knew some people. Traders were walking along the sacs of fresh tobacco (lovely smell) and rattling off their prices at an unbelievable and incomprehesible tempo, buyers making casual hand signals (buy), and guys making notes of the agreed prices running behind them. The whole scene exuded an energy and speedy business atmosphere I had not seen before in Malawi.

German truck trader
Then we went to visit a third German guy who had been living in Malawi for years as well and traded in big trucks and camions. He was also building quite a big boat to go on Lake Malawi. He'd been working on it for years. He had built little cabins and everything but it was not finished yet.

Here they also bought a supply of petrol off this guy.

Hotel room with bath tub
He gave us a nice lunch of make-do pizza. I was very warm and wanted to get to a cool hotel room, and check my email and send one to my family and friends. Finally we left and the Germans took me to one hotel in Mzuzu first, which turned out to be not so good. I offered to just walk to the next but they insisted on helping me until I found a good one. The second one was excellent. It had a bath tub and breakfast included all at a fair price.

I thanked the Germans thoroughly. The bearded one gave me his phone no. in case I ever needed help. He'd be in Malawi until the end of my holiday. They were so friendly but I was also happy to be on my own again, not to have to be polite anymore.

I finally had use for the little hook-on-a-screw that came with my mosquito net. Even though this was the most luxurious room I'd ever had, it didn't have a net. So I screwed mine into the ceiling. It was necessary too, I heard the little stingy buggers buzzing at night, trying to get to me through the net.

After having a wonderful lukewarm bath I felt great again and set out on my first goal in Mzuzu: find internet! After having been away from my own world for a while, I felt like 'connecting' again, and I really wanted to share all my amazing experiences and let everybody know I was fine.

My search for an internet place took me all the way through Mzuzu and back. I encountered a few places that had the word Internet painted on the wall, but were not operational yet. I also found a cosy little restaurant that had called itself Burger King (and looked nowhere near a Burger King as we know it).
Finally I found an internet place inside a shopping mall / business center next to the main market, where I took this haircuts picture:

At a hairdresser's in Mzuzu

It was a little crammy room full of old PC's that all looked different, and lots of trash. There were people there typing papers for school and one woman was breast-feeding her baby.
I agreed on a price for using Word first (cheaper) to type up my e-mail, and a price for the use of internet later (more expensive). It was really nice to read my e-mails and to be able to send my stories home, even though it took about 3 minutes to open each page.

I also helped out the guy who worked there with some issues in Microsoft Word that he did not know how to fix. Hmmm, interesting carreer opportunities for me here? Computer teacher?

In Mzuzu I also visited the museum, which was pretty interesting. It looked shabby and amateuristic, but the things on display were really interesting. The guy working there closed his office especially to give me a personal tour with lots of explanations. The museum featured a large collection of pots and spears and objects from the tribes who live on the land. Also many big butterflies. And photos of tribes, tribal ceremonial parties, and of the missionaries who were in Malawi some centuries ago.
The guy who gave me the tour and I still write letters once in a while. (Which reminds me I should reply his latest letter.)

No Livingstonia
Unforunately I felt uncertain about visiting Livingstonia even further to the north... the petrol problems might cause me to get stuck there and I had to be back in Lilongwe in time to go on the safari to Zambia I had already booked.

Clubbing in Lilongwe

Unable to go to Livingstonia, I stayed in Mzuzu for a while, had a few nice baths in my tub, some good breakfasts that went with the room, did lots of reading and relaxing, and had some walks through town. Mzuzu was the first place I ever saw a Malawian woman not wearing a long skirt, but trousers.

Then I took a big bus to Lilongwe and stayed at Kiboko Camp just outside town, a very nice lodge / camp run by Dutch people. About the most expensive one in its league, but well worth it. They have a great restaurant with varying menu as well.

Here I ran into a group of Dutch package tour travellers and their guide, a Dutch woman a little older than me. We got talking and they invited me to come clubbing with them that evening in Lilongwe. I thought, what the heck and went with them, even though clubbing is not really a thing I am looking for on a holiday like this.

As I had expected, the nightclub was pretty shifty and the music sucked, but it was really amusing to see what was going on. Here I saw a type of Malawian women I had never seen in the streets. Lots of make-up, long hair, sexy dress, rather than the short haired, long skirt wearing women I'd seen in the streets. They reminded me of the prostitutes in the hotel in Blantyre.
Lots of flirting was going on between the Malawians and also between them and us. It was a bit hard to get rid of the guys coming onto the females of our group, but we had a good time dancing and watching.

4 day Safari to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

At Kiboko Camp in Lilonge I had booked a 4 day safari to Zambia. I can really recommend their safari tours! The guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and flexible. The food was great. The vehicle needed to be repaired a few times but they managed to do that during rest hours.
Two other Dutch people joined my safari tour.

The ride over and the Flatdogs campsite
It was quite a long way from Lilongwe, Malawi, to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. At the border we were asked all kinds of impertinent questions like "How much money do you have on you? Where is it hidden? Show it to me. How much will you spend in Zambia?" but in the end we got our visas.

We picknicked underway where lots of curious children came nearer and nearer but unfortunately were chased away by the guides.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at Flatdogs Campsite, which is an adventure in its own right. It's a very nicely decorated campsite with huts too. An elephants' road used to pass exactly where Flatdogs is now, and the elephants are not about to let themselves be turned aside, so they still march right through the middle of camp every afternoon!

It's quite dangerous to come near them because there are often babies in their group. So elephants always have right of way! Sometimes people had just gone off to the toilet and were unable to return to their own camp because an elephant was inbetween. Africa dictates patience in all kinds of ways.

At night we saw hyenas throwing over garbage cans and rummaging through the contents. The first night I barely slept because we were told that hippos also walk through the camp at night, and they kill more people than any other animal (except for the malaria mosquito perhaps). But as long as you stay in your tent (without any food) you're safe.
So I never drank any water after 8PM so that I wouldn't need any midnigh toilet stops. During the night I tried to figure out what all the sounds around my tent were... The snorting and heavy stomping must have been a hippo. All the other breaking twigs may have been monkeys. Or hyenas. Or lion.
By the second night I'd gotten more used to it and slept more hours.

The safari rides
We went out for safari rides in our open truck twice a day for two days. I shall not bore you with an extensive list of all the animals we encountered, but it was fascinating. Even though we saw impalas everywhere we went, I kept finding them beautiful to see.

Unfortunately we did not see any lions from up close, but we did see many other beautiful animals as you can see in the Photos section.

One thing that was annoying were the flies that stung right through my pants and blouse. More itchy bites to deal with!

The guide also told us a lot about all the different trees and plants and their medicinal powers. He drove very slowly and even turned off his engine if I wanted to take a more steady picture.

Night safari
We also did one night safari, which starts at 4 pm and ends at 8 pm. It gets pitch dark at 6 pm. So it started out while it was still light. We saw many big birds gathering in a lake for the evening.

When it got dark, which of course happened with the suddenness of Africa, it got really exciting and a bit spooky, especially since we were in an open truck. The doors only reached to our knees, and there were no windows. The roof you see on the picture below had also been taken off.
Around us were a lot of VERY wild animals out there, waking up to go out hunting. But apparently they do not think of a car full of people as food, or a threat.

We had a bright spotlight on the front of the truck, which the co-driver swung back and forth. As you can imagine, this is quite unnatural for the animals and disturbs them in their routines, this is why it's only allowed for two hours (until 8 pm). And it's not allowed either to shine it on one particular animal for a long time, especially if that animal is prey.
A few years ago they used to do this, 'helping' a big cat to catch for instance an impala blinded by the spotlight, and giving tourists what they wanted to see: an actual kill being made. However, understandably this practice is now prohibited.

At a certain point we saw a few hyenas and the guides were getting nervous. They told us that hyenas are never far away from a leopard. Some people live years in Africa and go on numerous safaris without ever being able to spot a leopard.
We were lucky enough to see two! What beautiful creatures...

Leopards are usually very shy

Back home
The safari was a great way to end my holiday. It was nice to be able to sit back and be taken care of, and see amazing animals and landscapes.
After I got back home to Amsterdam I shot right into a reverse culture shock and was kind of depressed for days...

But when all my pictures were printed it was great to go through all the memories again! And I had my bao board. Some friends and I still play it from time to time.