We ended up stopping for a week at Kande Beach, during which time we enjoyed the walks into the village (to do a bit of fresh food shopping), this was about a 20 minute walk each way. On one such visit we met a young lad who stayed with us and helped us get a decent deal on our fruit and veg, somehow we ended up back at the hut that he shared with his Gran, who was busy washing clothes. Before we knew it, we had been invited to their local church the next day (Sunday) for singing and dancing, and also to have lunch afterwards at his Gran’s. Although we would dearly have loved to experience this Malawian Church, deep down we knew that it wouldn’t end with just a brief visit so we declined his kind offer.
We had a great time at Kande, but we had to move on further north towards the border with Tanzania, so it was time to say goodbye to the Sass, Skank, and their two adorable daughters, and of course the dogs (including the would be stow away, Pie).
We needed to restock the truck with provisions, including tins (we use a lot of tinned food, including chopped tomatoes, green beans, sweetcorn, baked beans, tuna, etc), so we headed for the busy town of Mzuzu, this involved another epic climb up away from the Lake. We found a brand new “Shoprite” super market, and parked in the Overland Truck section (no height restriction), our wheels were still turning when we were crowded by local “hawkers”. Amongst them (most were selling the usual tourist stuff) was a guy that introduced himself as “Georgie Porgie”, he was a vegetable and fruit runner, he presented us with a comprehensive list of produce that was available, and Jac went through it ticking off what we wanted and roughly how much. There were no prices, but Georgie Porgie assured us that if we weren’t happy with the quality or if something was too expensive then we didn’t have to pay for it. So off we went to do our shopping, including a visit to the pharmacy next door where we bought our “worming” tablets to help combat the possibility of Bilharzia from our swimming in Lake Malawi. Returning about an hour later to Georgie Porgie camped next to Colonel K with bags and bags of fresh fruit and veg. All was in good condition and after some negotiation we agreed the price of 7,000 Kwatcha (about £6.90, this was pre-referendum). The remainder of that day was spent on the road to Chitimba Camp, again on the shore of Lake Malawi, and involved a steep descent down to the village, during which the views were stunning.
Sometimes its hard to remember that this is a fresh water lake (the ninth largest in the world), but it is huge, roughly the length of England, and 700 metres deep in places, its also nice and warm for swimming, and of course is a huge natural resource for the Malawian people, being a source of (almost endless) fresh water (for drinking and irrigation), a supply of food, and a massive tourist attraction.
We intended only to stay at Chitimba Camp for two nights, but as usual plans are there for changing, we ended up staying there for eight nights. The Dutch owners here, Eddie and Carmen and their staff made us very welcome, and this was the first place in Malawi (or indeed Zimbabwe and Zambia), where the campsite and rooms are being hugely upgraded. If anyone deserves to do well in Malawi its these guys,oh and their dogs Ziggy and Nyasi, (meaning garbage apparently).
Eddie and Carmen really look after their staff and do a lot for the local community, they supported their local school until they found out about the corruption, so switched their support to the school in the next village. The locals know about the corrupt head master and the damage that its doing to the local kids, but still do nothing about it, this really needs to change.
Although there are a number of water pumps in the village, Eddie allows staff families to enter the camp and use the taps here, and even the smallest children (especially the girls) are expected to carry massive buckets of water on their heads back to their houses. One young girl was struggling to pick up this huge bucket (I would guess that it weighed about 30kg), so Jac went over to help lift it onto her head, she couldn’t believe the weight! They found it highly amusing.
As at Kande, the beach at Chitimba Camp is stunning, but now with the added back drop of the mountains and escarpment behind. On top of these hills is the old Mission settlement of Livingstonia situated 3,000 feet above the lake shore.
On the beach at Chitimba, we ended up playing football with the local kids ,there is a football pitch in front of the camp that Eddie lets the kids use, but as we spotted a small snake on the pitch the previous day I decided to stay playing on the beach! During this “knock about” I was running for the ball when one young lads did a forward flip in front of me (these are seriously agile kids) and caught me with his foot across the bridge of my nose, digging my sunglasses in through the skin. Poor little Asher was so upset that he had pole axed the “Mazunga” and caused me to bleed. It was an accident but these kids are super fit and very skilful with a football (a load of plastic bags wrapped up in a number of rubber bands).
One day another truck pulled in, this time from South Africa, after introductions we were given a guided tour of this super equipped 4 wheel drive vehicle, it boasted a front loading automatic washing machine, a dish washer, a huge deep freeze, an ice maker, a coffee machine and a massive pull out gas braii (barbecue to you in the UK), oh and not only a TV with a full satellite system on board but also a TV screen outside so you can watch while cooking your braii. Unbelievable!
He also has a small motorbike on the back, a full set of golf clubs, and two sets of scuba diving gear!
But the real shock for me was the amount he paid for the brand new Mercedes 4×4 chassis cab, complete with auto-box, diff locks, air suspended seats, etc, it was 620,000 Rand (£27,000 pre-referendum rate), with a total cost including the above mentioned kit of £75,000 (pre-referendum rate). In Europe this would be about 3 to 4 times that amount. Not that you need any of that stuff on board an overland truck for two people. But there was a little bit of truck envy, and of course I had to convince Jac that washing clothes and dishes was good for the body and soul.
That morning we heard the news that the UK was to leave the EU after a very close referendum, this was a real surprise to us but a source of much humour for Eddie, and even some of the guests. But the real shock came a few days later when we checked the exchange rate (after it supposedly had recovered), we had gone from 1,030 Kwatcha to the pound, down to 865 Kwatcha, this meant everything was now going to cost us over 15% more on this trip! (for the moment at least) Ouch……( It has since recovered slightly but no where near what it was before the vote).
At Chitimba Camp we met a lovely English couple, Lloyd and Emily that are cycling from Nairobi, Kenya down to Capetown in just over 100 days. They decided to have a rest day , so after a long chat that evening, we arranged to visit Livingstonia with them, hopefully sharing the cost (now post referendum). Eddie had already advised us not to try to drive the Daf up the dirt track as it involves some seriously steep and tight hairpin sections and is very rocky. So early the next morning the four of us walked up to the tarmac road and along to the turning to Livingstonia, after a lot of negotiating we agreed with the owner of a seriously beaten up Landrover pickup/backie (4 bald tyres, covered in dents, etc), that we would pay 5,000 Kwatcha each for a return trip and he would wait for us as long as we wanted him too. There were already 3 passengers in the back with all their pots, pans, dried fish & maize etc, so with us 4 that would mean a total of 7 in the back of the pickup. But even that wasn’t enough we had to wait for another 4 passengers to make it pay!!!
Eventually we set off, it was soon apparent that Colonel K would have seriously struggled on this mountainside, from the tarmac its 15km to Livingstonia, and its over 3,000 feet up there from the lakeshore. We were shaken to bits, battered and bruised, the only respite came when we got an inevitable puncture in one of the bald tyres.
But it did give Emily the chance to show her maternal side (she is a midwife), taking one of the passengers baby off of her as she nimbly climbed out of the back of the Landrover. I warned Lloyd that his girl friends body clock appears to be ticking loudly.
Eventually we arrived at Livingstonia, somehow in one piece, found a “coffee shop”, visited the museum, had a quick walk around the village, and then walked the 3 or 4 km back down the track to the waterfalls. The views from here are beautiful, and its quite a wild place, with I guess very few visitors.
But strangely the highlight of the day for me was walking down the track another few kilometres and finding Lukwe Ecocamp for a lunch stop, the food was very good (all freshly prepared), the surroundings were great, but the view from the veranda was truly breathtaking.
On the way to Lukwe, we were passed by our driver that had now “moved the goal posts” and wanted us to go down to Chitimba now, so we paid him half of what we agreed and decided to take our chances on getting another lift down or walking the remaining 10-12km back to the tarmac. After walking a few kilometres (and realising that we wouldn’t make it before night fall), we heard a vehicle coming down the track behind us, we flagged him down and asked if we could pay for a ride down to the road. It was a fairly new Toyota Hilux pickup, owned by an electric supply company, and was full of ladders, coils of cable, and what looked like huge man traps (these were spiky metal things used to climb timber poles), oh and 3 large men, so after agreeing 1,000 Kwatcha each (roughly a Pound), we climbed in the back and set off down the mountainside. Wedged into any corner that we could, holding on for grim death, we descended like it was a Subaru rally car! I love speed, but wow this was crazy driving, you could tell that this wasn’t an “owner driver” and I think he was showing off just a little. Amazingly we survived with little worse that a lot of bruises. That evening Eddie told us the tale of how he was asked to drive up in his Hilux to collect the body of a young girl that had fallen from a backie whilst travelling this route! We all drunk too much in the bar that evening, and Lloyd and Emily decided to have another “rest day” the following day.
We cooked a “one pot “ steak meal for the cyclists, with Jac deciding that they needed more nutrition that they were getting from the vast supplies of Peanut Butter that Lloyd was consuming. There’s nothing of Lloyd but boy can he put it away!
Next morning we said goodbye to Emily and Lloyd, promising to stay in touch, and wishing them all the best on the rest of their trip. We also said a sad farewell to Eddie and Carmen and the staff at Chitimba Camp. Below is Eddie with the Genet that he rescued as a baby, both are real characters, but only one is a fantastic photographer, and only one pee’s in the ash trays on the bar (can you guess which one).
We thought we would have a fairly easy day, driving to the border, and then on to Mbeya in Tanzania to find a campsite, get some local currency, and a sim card for the iPhone, in all about 270km, no problem eh.
The border was chaos, there was a massive queue of commercial trucks, on the Malawi side (which we obviously jumped), stretching back for a couple of kilometres, and it wasn’t moving, the idiots had caused gridlock, and nothing could get through from Tanzania over the bridge. Paper work was done quite quickly in the offices on the Malawi side, with one woman Customs official asking for a payment to “process” the Carnet de Passage, after we both laughed at her, she handed the document back to us, and went back behind her desk. We have not paid any bribes at all on this trip and didn’t intend starting now.
For some reason the drivers of the commercial trucks seem quite happy for us to push in to the front of the queue (we only saw one car crossing this border, it was all trucks), and so eventually we crossed the bridge into an equally chaotic Tanzania border post. We paid for our Visa’s, ($50.00 each), then road tax etc, totalling another $25.00, and we were good to go. At no point on either side were our documents checked (you are normally given a gate pass once you have completed all the necessary official stuff), and we could have just driven through both borders without being stopped (in theory). It took a total of 3 hours to get through the shambles, mostly caused by the Malawi side, and would have been all day if we hadn’t jumped the queue.
We decided not to stop in the town but to drive straight through and head for Utengule Coffee Farm, that has a Lodge and Campsite, we got there just before it got dark, luckily they take payment from a Visa card, so we didn’t need to panic about getting some Tanzanian Shillings (we had got a small amount at the border, at post-referendum rates). Its a lovely place with a very very cold swimming pool, tennis court, volley ball pitch and a great restaurant. We stayed there for 3 nights, and really enjoyed the coffee, it was like being back in “Slowtown Coffee” in Swakopmund, Namibia. We walked along the hill side to the actual coffee farm (about 20 minute walk), and watched them sieving and drying the beans in the daytime sun.
Even here there was a guy with a gun!
There was one other campervan at the coffee farm, a German couple that were part of a larger group on an organised tour of Southern Africa, 24 vehicles in total, all shipping their own campers from Europe. These two sadly had to split from the rest of their group as she caught Malaria, and was stuck in the nearby hospital for a number of days, and were waiting for the rest of the group to return to the coffee farm (2 weeks later). But the amazing thing is, that this camper (apparently the only one in the group) is just a front wheel drive Fiat based camper that you would find travelling around Europe! It has got very little ground clearance and a huge wheel base, and of course grounds out constantly on the dirt roads! It will be wrecked by the time it gets shipped back to Germany in a couple of months time. As they are German, they are looking forward to what will be the trip highlight for them, Namibia. I didn’t have the courage to tell them that the gravel roads there will destroy their camper!
After leaving the coffee farm, we stopped in Mbeya at a ATM, Jac jumped out to get some cash while I parked the truck, This must be the best guarded Bank on the planet! There were 4 uniformed guards outside the (still closed) bank, all carrying machine guns, and there were another two guarding the bank next door.
We are now camped on an old Colonial farm near the Southern town of Iringa (towards Dar es Salaam), it was exactly 300km from the coffee farm and it took us 8.5 hours to drive. There were numerous diversions off of the tarmac (some about 10 km long), for about half the journey, it was very very slow. Then to top it all I managed to get stopped for speeding! Yes speeding in our ultra slow Leyland Daf. I had actually been speeding coming out of the previous town, over taking a very slow truck, up hill, in a 50kmph speed limit doing about 65kmph, but obviously I denied it (my mate Clive would have been proud of me), and we asked to see the evidence. The Sergeant took away my driving license and informed me to wait for the speed gun to be brought up to us from the previous town (where the operator had been hiding in the scrub no doubt). For about 15 minutes we waited (along with a few other vehicles), some just paid the fine and carried on, but eventually this plain car pulled up, and out jumped 4 very excited civilians (they obviously had been using the speed gun). Then the Sergeant sternly told me to get out of the cab and follow him to the rabble that were viewing the speed gun (consisting of a digital SLR camera fixed to a double lens bit of kit), there was lots of shouting and excitable voices that kept turning their gaze from the camera to Colonel K and back to the camera. Buttons were being pressed by lots of fingers, then it went quiet, and there were two very pissed off policemen, they had accidentally deleted the filming of Colonel K! I was told by the Sergeant that an error was made and that his men had stopped the wrong vehicle, and that he hoped “we would forgive the Tanzanian Police” for their mistake! With driving licence back in my guilty little hand we were off. Very lucky indeed.
Thanks for reading