Words and pictures courtesy of the two special riders who adventured out and inspired the makings of this.
Having cycled on an epic cross country bike tour from southern to north Malawi in the month of August. Uncover a first real word view of there cycling experience as they traversed around Malawi. Their story shedding light on some never before seen views of the countryside biking along the hillside villages, wildlife terrains, natural habitats and lake shore escarpments that shape the country. Providing a real insight into the warm heart of Africa, its dramatic varied landscapes and most of all the special warmth of its amazingly friendly people. Very special thank you to Brian & Jacki, who’s 30 day cycle tour across Malawi takes us into an exploration unlike any another unfolding a spectacular cycle trip covering a total distance of 1200km…
ARRIVAL DAY: 2nd of August 2018
Blantyre airport to DMS lodge
From the sandstone of our home in Cumbria, United Kingdom, we were ready with our CTC plastic cycle bags…ready to be critiqued at Heathrow and Malawi who said they were not proper bike boxes! A day and half later we were delighted the bikes really had arrived on top of the baggage at Blantyre airport…even though “some one” at Heathrow let the tyres right down and ripped our bags. Dean (Cycle Malawi) met us with a track pump and helped us get ready for a light atmospheric ride *up* to Blantyre town. With cries of ‘giro’ and ‘wiggins’ we were waived passed grilled maize on fires, street rappers, and boisterous friendly people buying stuff on the dusty street sides as they piled out of work at a 5.30 dusk. Thankful for our bike lights, unlike cars or other cyclists with their loads of baskets…we tracked down our lodge for the first night…Nsima for dinner with meatballs or Chambo fish and a few cold green beers.
Day 1: 3rd of August:
Blantyre – Majete Wildlife National Park (73km)
Great lunch discoveries of savory batter covered potato pieces, nsima rolls and dough balls from roadside market… went well with tomatoes and oranges…decided against carrying the large heavy mango we were offered! Through green rolling hills and villages to emerge on an amazing ridge descent culminating in fantastic views over the rift valley with locals selling charcoal.
Down in the valley men on bikes pedalled hard to overtake Jacki after she comfortably pedaled past them. One offered to buy her bike. Not to be the first such offer! Along to the wide Shire river bridge crossing where locals chatted with Brian, took his picture and said never swim in the river due to crocs. We turned off the well made M1 on to the sandy rutted road at the colourful clothes market T416 junction and rode as the rich sun set across the scrubby African bush.
Fantastic varied scenery finished with a swim in the pool underneath the stars and well earned beers,
Day 2: 4th of August 2018
A day in the Majete Wildlife Reserve…
Up early for a jeep ride and guided walk in the park with good sightings: 6 sorts of deer eg..impala and the bigger water buck. Varied birds. Plenty of warthog, zebra, elephants, baboons, hippos…but only lion footprints and black rhino dung. After welcome swim at a hot lunchtime we went on a boat trip very close to huge crocs and bathing elephants overlooked by vervet monkeys. Warm atmospheric late afternoon walk by river near lodge saw a fisherman in a dug out canoe pick up 5 fish from nets..the park ranger told us a fisherman had disappeared from the water and a cow within the last couple of years (crocs) so I guess this man was desperate for his dinner.
About Majete Wildlife Reserve
A dense wildlife oasis with prolific species of birds and antelope including elephants, leopards, rhino, buffalo and with the introduction of lions. One of the only parks to see the big five. Visitors can explore the reserve in there own vehicle (Not a bike!) or on a guided drive on of the safari vehicles accompanied by a professional wildlife guide. Other activities included guided bush walks or bird walks, hiking to the top of Majete Hill, visiting the Kapichiri Falls and game-viewing spots.
Day 3: 5th of August 2018
Majete Wildlife Reserve to Lengwe National Park (47km)
17 km rutted hard sand from Majete National Park gate. 22 km good tarmac with lots of other cyclists and friendly waves. Keen to slip stream us…or several young men and boys accelerating to overtake us, then with grins and waves we continued cycling our normal pace and overtook them repeatedly. Sunday in Malawi…people out in Sunday best walking on roads, on bikes, in a few open market stalls.
Brian cycles up the sandy hill from Ng’ona lodge with Vervet monkeys and birds abounding…after delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and English breakfast plus good coffee to fortify us both. A beautiful comfy place to stay. In churches, and also groups of people in the shade of trees singing harmonies; some gospel some more rhythmic. Plenty of cycle repair stalls ..track pump invention much needed by Brian’s back tyre was the highlight of his day.
Right turn to Lengwe National Park along a straight hot hard sand road through sugar cane fields to Lengwe National Park gate (8km) Nyala lodge bosses forgot to mention to their staff or to the National Park we were coming. But Dean’s printed info got us in…phone calls made to 3 layers of bureaucracy then all well. As the only guests at the lodge we enjoyed a swim in the small pool, watched by monkeys waiting to steal our water bottles or sandals. The place has a slightly disused feel; business bad this year for them..but friendly Daniel cooked a tasty dinner eaten on the veranda under a multitude of stars with crickets and frog sounds filling the night sky. A twilight game walk with the game ranger complete with his gun as lots of buffalo in the park. We saw none as best seen many miles from main gate..saw footprints and baboons from peaceful main hide; an atmospheric African bush walk..you cannot go on walks by yourself due to buffalo in the park. The information and maps suggest walks possible..ignore this.
Day 4: 6th of August 2018
73 km from Nyala lodge, Lengwe National Park to Aska Motel, Bangalu. Our southern most point in Malawi.
A 7am rise on my birthday! Watched carefully by monkeys we breakfasted, and set off on the sandy track with fewer slides than yesterday. NP main gate waived us through so the lodge had confirmed we were good to go and all paid up. Lots of people on bikes and walking on the road today. Long straight tarmac, but interesting due to people, villages, goats and cows on the road, welcome cold Fanta’s in a shady bar stop, very hot day..lunched in shade of tree in ploughed fields with baobab trees, man cycled past with baby on his shoulders! More women on bikes now, but its the men and boys who still seek to overtake us along the road.
Good progress made to Bangalu very basic Aska motel..cold shower and very tired ensuite toilet and bedding..but a friendly oscillating noisy ceiling fan and helpful staff despite poor English, found a man willing to make phone calls on our behalf to the next days airboat ride as our phones did not work. Birthday tea after dark of fried chicken rice and veg..very atmospheric street life ,but no street lights in this small town.
Day 5: 7th of August 2018
A day on the Elephant Marsh Plains and bird filled marshes followed by a very elongated vehicle transfer to Thyolo.
Wow what a day! 6.15 start for a pick up for us and bikes to get to Kaombe Airboat (MV Elephant Marsh Master) Found out its difficult to cycle there from Bangula when there is water in the rivers as there is no bridge on the road; also in dry season like now we could have got to the end of the road and followed the track to the launching place; no one would have known we were there as the boat launch and croc farm are a bit away from the estate office. Best to enter via the main gate to the Kaombe Sugar Estate. Very helpful Simon from the airboat met us, explained the trip and said he could arrange transport to the airboat from any accommodation nearby. Introduced us to very bird knowledgeable ranger called Robert, who took us on a fantastic 3 hour boat trip hovering above the elephant marsh plains. Storks and fishermen with local fishing techniques looked spectacular. Black heron especially good.
Simon (who manages the irrigation development on the estate and has lived in Malawi for many years) and his wife treated us to a lunch at their house with their mad dog. Then we met Daniel a delightful driver who took us on what was meant to be a 3 hour drive. He told us much about Malawi until we got to 8 hours later in the evening! Continued afterwards on the S152 to Fatima then s151 over beautiful hills, dreadful red dirt road in sun down then dark. Roads constantly full of people of all ages.
2 thirds of way ran out of petrol and coasted into village for first 10 litres of black market petrol served up in cooking oil bottles. 2nd petrol top up needed due to lengthy after dark exploration of tea plantation…maps.me got Thyolo house wrong, locals never heard of it. Picked up 2 different tea factory guards and went to sports club…still could not locate it even though they all said they knew where it was. Police check point let us through 6 times.
Eventually Simon from the morning got hold of Max who called and told our driver where it was. Rocked up to locked gates and for a moment we all thought we could not raise anyone until welcome torchlight and a man arrived. Daniel drove back to Blantyre .
Great roast beef dinner and cold beers greeted us as well as working hot showers, splendid spacious clean colonial bedrooms and quirky lived in old house with even a piano!
Day 6: 8th of August 2018
Leisurely day near Thyolo house and Satemwa tea plantation visit (17km)
Breakfast on sunny terrace – washed clothes that dried really quickly in the hot sun. Good to be at 1000m where temperature cooler. House belonging to Conforzi family line as Flavia explained the lifestyle of her grandparents and own childhood in Malawi as owners of tea plantations. Old photos maps and books explaining in Italian! A wander around the indigenous tree forest and across rich green tea fields to a Macedonia nut orchard. The cook here is really exceptional, fresh salad for lunch then later homemade 3 course italian food including own home-made ice cream delicious in afternoon. Pedaled without packs to Satemwa tea plantations factory for surprisingly interesting tea tasting and story of the plantation life..reasonable dirt road for 17km return trip. Twilight lovely light as noisy birds settle and crickets get really loud.
Thyolo House is a traditional property situated in the Thyolo district, The house is surrounded by fields of tea and an indigenous forest. It has a beautiful view of Mount Mulanje and the gourmet Italian menu available is wholesome and hearty. Guests can walk through the surrounding forest, visit a tea factory and afternoon tea or cycle around nearby tea plantations. Originally the house was part of Conforzi Tea Estates and was one of the first houses to be built in the 1930s. Still retaining its charm and character.
Day 7: 9th August 2018
Thyolo to Likhubula , Mulanje (60 km)
Comfortable easy cycling mostly downhill on paved M2; along ridges, tea plantations, roadside markets . The 3000m Mulanji peaks not visible until within 10 km due to the August haze. Increasingly busy roads with pedestrians not vehicles. Flavia from Thyolo house had said 50 years ago more Malawians had bikes than now. People are poorer, many more children; school holidays now so some helping out road side selling…although if secondary school fees cannot be afforded then education ends at 12 years.
Stopped at a bridge in Luchenza among specially packed roads overlooking a large clothing market . Having taken a couple of photos we had our first antagonistic Malawi experience. A guy in his 30’s who was not drunk accused us of coming from a magazine, demanded money and when we refused and tried to explain he obviously would not lose face; he became more insistent and accused us of racism and calling him a monkey and exploiting him for a magazine. For those who know us no magazine would ever touch us and we definitely called nobody anything. He attracts a small crowd, but no one prevents us from cycling off; for the stretch up to Mulanje we hear ‘give me money shouted by children, women and young men along the way. Our first time of this level of unfriendliness; although we still encountered lots of waves and smiles too.
The impressive granite Mulanje mountain range became clearer and rose up straight ahead of us. Cycled into Mulanje and found oranges at last amongst the omnipresent tomatoes. Also saw kebab sticks piecing 4 black dead mice ready for roasting complete with fur, heads, hands and feet, but no tails (yuck). The vendor seemed to be doing a brisk trade.
Welcome cold drink after sandwiches. In the heat of the early afternoon we cycled the firm dirt road turn off into the Likhubula Forest Lodge. A few ‘guides’ stopped us along the way asking if we wanted guides for the mountain…we continued on our way as we had everything set up for us already. Comfy peaceful lodge, rich sunset…tasty food and a briefing from our mountain guide from Mulanje Outdoor Adventures about our hike tomorrow, then we are left to enjoy the place to ourselves. First brief internet connection for over a week. Surprising how much reading of your own and local books you can do when you have no internet.
Day 8: 10th August 2018
Day Hiking Mulanje
Morning hike via circuitous route through varied forests with massive granite peaks reaching into the nearby sky and the distance. Our guide Jeffery explained that since a Brazilian insisted on going up into the mountains by himself 3 years ago, then got lost in the rainy season mist and was found dead, all tourists need to have guides into the forest reserve. He took us to the beautiful waterfalls where we enjoyed a cold swim…He told us of the annual 22km race up the mountain which he did in years he did not have work on that day.We heard of the hiking hut system on the plateau and old cable car system used for transporting people and logs up to and down from the high plateau. Also heard again of the challenges of Malawian life where most people cannot access loans for secondary or tertiary education fees. Girls in their late teens with massive loads of logs balanced on their heads running past us down the hill were testimony to the importance of manual labour and controlled forest clearance.
Afterwards we had a mid afternoon self guided wander to the nearby Likhubulu pools and along a well made trail upstream was attractive in the late afternoon cool. Followed up with some beers and amazing food again including ‘futali’ sweet potato and ground nuts. Booming frogs marked today’s forest sounds as well as the morning music advertising the 3 x per week mobile clinic in villages below.
Day 9: 11th August 2018
Likhubula Forest Lodge, Mulanje to Zomba Forest Lodge
110 km for Brian; 100 km for Jacki
Today was ‘’supported’’ by Dean, this means we can ride without panniers, have a good water supply and drink stop away from the high volume reggae music under a tree watched by children keen for our glass bottles to return for money.
Mulanje to Zomba with head wind past foot of Mulanje plateau then straight across the plain. Brian did 500m uphill ascend as the day seized over the horizon. Jacki chose MTB bikes with Dean for the next day and got a lift up with the 4 bikes as the sun set.1355 m up at Zomba Forest Lodge was fantastic. Interesting discussion that evening with Tom (host) and other US NGO aid worker guest about dependency culture of NGO impact in Malawi and associated political corruption.
Day 10: 12th August 2018
Day in the Zomba Forest Plateau
Mtb bike ride 36km Zomba forest lodge up old road via Sunbird Kuchawe Inn on a ridge with good views. Lots of children men and women of all ages carrying bundles of fallen branches on their heads or freshly cut long planks of wood, looked heavy.
Bought fresh strawberries…delicious from curio stalls and ignored the possibilities of large wooden carved giraffes which would not fit in bike panniers!. On through dirt tracks needing the MTB bikes, hand logged foresting has razed the trees to queens point. Hazy but superb view from the top of the plateau. Ate our best lunch so far, great home-made bread with loads of moist filling. William falls attractive through lush forest, rocks rhubarb and strawberries for sale at every curve of tarmac road down via the lake to return the bikes to Pakachere youth hostel.
Taxi driver taking us back up to ZFL told stories of unregistered guides being aggressive so they encourage guides associations to keep the peace. Back at the lodge which has interesting solar powered energy and no electricity. This means a quiet candlelit atmosphere. Lovely walk around well kept ZFL grounds through steep indigenous trees with Samango monkeys watching us.
Great 3 course dinner again (see menu board photo) by a roaring wood fire ; its cooler at this altitude in African winter/early spring. Interesting night time discussion with Petal (host) about symbiotic community relations eg working together with local village re illegal logging with success. Also frustrations of 7 hour bank queues..not yet experienced by us when we needed to change money
Day 11: 13th August 2018
Zomba Forest Lodge to Bushmans Baobab Lodge in Liwonde N.P (69 km)
Lovely ride down the tour bike ride-able track. On past multiple roadside stalls including car washes as Zomba used to be the administrative capital of Malawi and more cars on the road here..Jacki not feeling so well…very friendly elderly Malawi couple let us rest in the shade by their house and offered food. Onward dropping down to Shire river in 2 long swoops to Liwonde. 8km dirt road through villages across a railway line possibly transporting sugar cane. Overnight to Bushman’s Baobab Camp. A welcome dip in the pool, then watched the pelicans flying as the sunset. Recuperative sleep.
Day 12: 14th August 2018
Bushmans Baobab to Mvuu camp lodge (59 km)
Great interesting 16 km dirt road, generally friendly with few ‘give me money’ from kids and shouting ‘ ‘give me bottles’ instead. Some ngo had distributed bottles that did not leak in local schools so kids could drink in school. Since then a new expectation of white people. Still most buildings churches or ngos or clinics other than road side market places. Mid afternoon boat crossing in national park. Trees of cormorants, hippo busy shire river, gibbons and monkeys abounding. Attractive lodge and pool. Monkeys speedily grabbed 2 out of our 3 welcome snacks from in front of our faces. We will know for later to guard our stuff
Day 13 15th August 2018: A day of safaris
Morning Fantastic boat trip with guide ‘Matthews’. 4 types of kingfishers, storks and many waders. Loads of crocs. The big ones eat the smaller ones. Hippos. Elephants, buck. Very dense riverside animal presence in this dry season when few water holes. Enjoyed a swim in the pool not the river! Still monkeys about so watch out for your towels.
Night ride rich sunset light. Found zebra, buffalo, lots of buck, elephants, warthogs amidst the termite hills of the shore of shire river. Stopped surprisingly close to crocs to have a moonrise beer. Saw mongoose, porcupine and Nightjar bird camouflaged in the sand.
Day 14: 16th of August 2018
Mvuu Lodge to Palm beach (76km)
Early morning rise for a car safari. Mathews managed to track down newly released lions in dawn safari. The first guide to do so…he ‘won’.
Back through 16km good to cycle to palm beach lodge. First view of and dip in Malawi lake by setting sun.
Comfortable room. Family disenchanted with Malawi after 27 years. Meant to be no fishing in this area as this is where the fish come to breed. No control of this. The roads and electricity and infrastructure better under dictator Banda. Tourism business dying according to them. There was no electricity and no generator on when we arrived. So no water. All on after dark.
Day 15: 17th August 2018
Palm beach to Cape Maclear (67km)
Good bike ride reasonable tarmac. Bouldery hills starting to rise. Brian’s pedal strap nut easily mended by one of many roadside hardware stores. Sugar cane stop…woman at stall peeled it for us with large machete. Refreshing.
Riding even more interesting on Monkey Bay peninsula with hilly tree filled landscape. Some of the best riding of the trip. Roadside picnic watching goats and cows meander down dirt road.
Then 8 km very bad rutted dirt road before attractive hilly winding tarmac for 16km to Cape Maclear. Views over lake descending to comfy Thumbi View Lodge, sunset swim on lake before beans at Thomas Restaurant. Good local food.
Day 16: 18th August 2018
Cape Maclear – Domwe Island
Brian’s birthday. Woke at 5.45 with morning views over the lake. People washing and brushing teeth in the waters. Unfortunate constant generator type noise. Turned out to be returning night fishing boats with noisy outboard motors ready to sell fish to Saturday markets and then drink the proceeds in ‘pubs that have been open all night and early morning in the village
Then a peaceful sunny morning with no internet connection to check any birthday Whats Apps. Caught the Kayak Africa boat for our 2 day island trip. First stop Domwe island. Tented accommodation on stilts (keep zipped up due to monkeys), compost proper porcelain Toilets in cane shelters complete with colourful lizard friends.
Fascinating bucket shower contraption. Snorkeling in the water before lunch, then kayaking and swimming after lunch kept us wet and clean. Good colourful cyclid fish mostly blue, sandy coloured or silver with black stripes spots of camouflaging colourings of different sizes, saw multiple perching fish eagles, hammerkop herons, monkeys drinking and antelope from the kayak.
Brian’s kayak had a leak so as we turned against the wind and he tilted endlessly sideways we made a wise call in at a beach and bail out boats. We also saw lots of fishermen on Domwe island even though no fishing is meant to occur in 100m of shore. Kayak Africa told us the govt have few staff to patrol or enforce and maybe come out 2 x per annum. Then if they do prosecute the mitigating factor is they need to fish for food and to pay for children’s school; govt says children have to go to school…but secondary is fee paying..and sometimes primary too. Final wildlife viewing of the day after dinner overlooking the lake was the bush pigs who had a habit of turning up for post dinner scraps.
Darkness as ever at 6..by 8 a half moon now burning bright over the lake ..reflections looking like the fire flies we saw in Mvuu. Giant dragonflies retired at dark and within 5 mins large bats emerged scooping up insect. Insect repellant works so that’s good. Cooling welcome night time breeze, still noisy fishermen at night shouting to each other across the lake expanse with outboard motors or dug out canoes. Some night time barks and bird noises send us to sleep.
Day 17 19th August 2018
Domwe Island to Mumbo Island – boat ride and kayak
1 and half hour Hike up and down Domwe hill trail, blue and green papered tree trunks…good views overlooking the bay steep path. Not quite to the top, but did not miss the Boat to Mumbo Island.
Smaller beautiful island with no mammals. Own hut perched above sheltered sandy bay and clear waters. Once again good full board. Would we have found this and come here if we organised the trip ourselves? Probably not. So peaceful and beautiful really special, only 10 other guests here. Loads of birds especially bright yellow ones. Jacki pre lunch swim to edge of bay…cormorants on rocks and fishing underwater unperturbed by being next to Jacki in the water.
Brian went on island hike, loads of lizards blue and orange..saw maybe 100 some without tails. Tree vines from fig trees encircling granite rocks and lots of succulents. large rocks with good lake views. 6 fishermen asleep for the day with dugouts canoes with evidence of fires and clothes .
Pm Snorkeling with fishes good range of colours. Kayak around island in 40 mins, attractive rooted fig trees reaching through granite boulders to the lake. Yet more fish eagles and dug out fishermen canoes. Otters seen fishing from our tented hut balcony. Good quality coffee. Food good like Domwe….but with pudding too, hut facing the sheltered bay meant the only sound throughout the night was the lapping waves. A truly peaceful beautiful island.
Day 18: 20th August 2018
Mumbo Island to Namalikhate Lodge – Mua Mission (124km)
Boat ride to Chenwe (Cape Maclear); lovely winding early morning ride through to M5 and 104 km in total. Through rocky hillsides, covered distances on well tarmacked flat road; chose to do an extra 20 km especially as we chose to stay on tarmac road instead of following the dirt M10 which is often closed in the rainy season.
Found Mua Mission and the lodge after a few false directions from locals. The museum was meant to act as reception but the white guy there seemed less than pleased to see us at 5pm. Friendly helpful black guy directed us past lucid coloured painted walls. The lodge overlooked an amazing rock canyon with fantastic booming frog noises. Tales of the spirits and masks adorned the walls. No electricity until well after dark, so the candlelit dinner served by Frances to just the 2 of us was welcome, but eery. A curiosity of a place not so deserving of the lonely planet write up.
Day 19: 21st August 2018
Mua Mission to Kumbali Lake Retreat (92km)
The children along the road and for next 60km to Salima very persistently chanting ‘azubu’ and ‘give me money’. Still a lot of waves a smiles. Road long straight and into the northerly wind. In winter ie May to July, wind is southerly and in spring ie Sept to when rains come in Nov it is northerly. So it looks like the daily welcome fairly stiff breeze will give us a headwind for the rest of our cycling! Hey ho….Brian off colour today so Jacki lead the ride into the wind most of the day. Until we hit the more interesting cycling from bustling Salima then through hillier landscape for a welcome Lake Malawi sunset swim from a secluded white sand bay with rushes at the lodge. Heard the sound of monkeys, saw plenty of rock Hyrax. The local fishermen did not use motors instead their canoes were equipped with a sail. We saw them return early morning after all night fishing from their canoes.
Had a 45 min bank queue experience today …which is good by Malawi standards. Apparently people pay others to stand in a day long queue for them in most banks especially towards the end of the month. Our well made evening meal in another good hillside setting was welcome. Our hut set high above the bay with good views and a peaceful night.
Day 20: 22nd August 2018
Kumbali to Bua river lodge by car transfer…102 km in 2.5 hours!
Lodge location down steep track to rocky river in the midst of the forest. Had to be accompanied to and from our night time island ‘tent in a hut’ overlooking the river. A setting well worth the visit. Guided walk through thick atmospheric woodland adjacent to the Bua River. The falls must look spectacular in rainy season. For now Crocodile rested on deeply gouged rocks between sandy beaches. Bee eaters, Fish eagle and Trumpeter Hornbill.
The original owner used to farm beehive and make honey here. But now the national park enforcement is more effective and the elephant population has grown so locals no longer hive bees. A couple of water buck and sandy coloured buck leapt around. We learnt of the ‘small 5’ eg we saw the lion ant having created his circular trap.Wilson the trainee guide showed us how to make a butterfly out of a leaf, and rope used for thatching houses out of a special bark. A cooling sunset atmosphere. Turned out to be a welcome cool night. We warmed ourselves by a fire with a drink and enjoyed good food with different fresh veg. Had a wonderful moonlit out door warm shower that was suspended from a dead tree in the veranda back bit of our tented site. Repleat with forest sounds.
“3 days heading north on good tarmac, great cycling, winding undulating road, interesting scenery, touching the tree filled national park area and white sanded coast. Fewer settlements. Friendly curious children and people with little’ give me money’. Finishing mid afternoons with time for lake swims on beaches by lovely accommodation. Feels like a real explore of lake Malawi shoreline. Mostly christian again instead of the Muslim previous few days. makes a difference to clothing and headgear, but otherwise Islamic or Christian all have mission supporting schools and health services. Much better than the 2 long straight hot days riding before kumbali.”
Day 21: Thurs 23rd August 2018
Bua River Lodge to Ngala Beach Lodge (65km)
65 km great cycling. Baboons on the road. Much more forested scenery. Drink stop with Jeffrey aged 23 – same age as our youngest son. He is 2nd eldest of 4 brothers. Got through secondary school and wanted to be a teacher, but could not afford it. Now runs a barber shop and phone recharging business. He is supporting his parents, younger brother through school on very little after the shop rent and electricity bill. He was friendly, curious and courteous. Said he wanted to have a happy life like we were. We are so privileged.
Large weasel type creature on the road, and lone crab on the beach. Survived the cows being herded home along the bay shoreline on the beach.
Day 22: 24th August 2018
Ngala beach to Chintheche Inn (75km)
Bought samosas, dough rolls, and later tomatoes and bananas. No apples or oranges en route. Each time we stop a group of kids and adults stop to stare and ask us ‘ how are you?’ Fine? What is your name, where are you going? Then their English runs out. All we can say is muli banji and zikomo. Road touched our closest to the lake. Shore starting to be rocky.
Lunch by a river crossing which surprisingly had no people washing themselves or clothing. Kids found us and spent a quiet time playing in sand and water in the river whilst we lunched. Good to be peacefully alongside some kids . Ended up in lovely sandy bay by the lodge at night. Hammerkop herons fishing.
Day 23: 25th August 2018
Chintheche Inn to Nkhata Bay, Butterfly space (52km)
Started the day with visit to tree nursery and walk around the local village with Wesley. Bike ride attractive 52km ride.
Tree nursery nurtures exotic fast growing trees that can be cut after 2 years and they replenish themselves. Plus indigenous trees for logging after 10 years. Looks a good project for communities in a 20km radius. Not sure about if there is any effective countrywide plan to manage deforestation. The people living south of this area where there are few trees now travel north to cut them down. There has been some success in preventing random tree cutting, and selling wood to make sure communities can preserve the local efforts to sustain trees and fruit. Village walk introduced us to the village ‘chief advisor’ who advised the chief on land management and social issues. Chiefs are still critical to the village code of conduct; they will say if poor people with no shelter should be helped to have temporary shelters for the rainy season. Malaria can be rife. People sometimes use private missionary part funded clinics as its too expensive to pay for transport to the nearest govt one. Plus govt clinics have a reputation of not having medical supplies.
Good riding and some well stocked bike and other shops at one point on the way. Junction with m5 provided much better road surface into Nkata bay. Great Saturday pm harmonies from church gatherings. Rocky coast shore. Active markets and shops. Butterfly Space ensuite huts in attractive woodland with monkeys, but much ropier sleeping quarters.
Met lots of interesting volunteers at the projects run from there. Watched full moon over the bay with a few beers after chicken wraps for tea.
Day 24: 26th August 2018
Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu. (52km of the best road surfaces we have had.)
The biggest climb of the trip from nkata bay up to Mzuzu 800m higher..not just straight up…plenty of up and down across a wide valley with mountains in the distance then through some of the lushest vegetation we have seen in Malawi.
Came across an election rally. A couple of besuited men in jeeps who had clearly given all the adults blue t-shirts. Generally people have talked about the need for change especially corruption by govt officials blocking fair distribution or taking for themselves. Electricity and deforestation big supply problems; no idea why wind power not used as it has been windy everyday. Solar power too expensive to install for local people.
Our cold drink stop was a roadside store out of a village. A MCR united supporter was making shirts on an electric sewing machine…he and shop owner friendly and chatty. A drunk man arrived and insisted on buying us a second Coke and Fanta for his pleasure. But he did not pester us. Various local people dropped by to chat to the sewer. A peaceful Sunday scene and stop. Lots of people on the road in Sunday best either going to church or just going out for a social Sunday walk. Mzuzu a busy large town again based around major road junctions..no sense of a city
Day 25: 27th August 2018
Mzuzu to Rumphi. (69 km relatively flat but still winding and undulating roads)
Cycling around white topped possibly limestone hills. More cultivated higher plateau. Fewer trees, groups of unemployed men, some jeering..a rarity in Malawi. Came across a dutch couple cycling south from Nairobi to Cape Town over 6 months. The first other white cyclists we have seen at all. A brother of one of them was coming out for 3 weeks and being assisted by Dean. Small world. They said the Tanzania roads were like those in Malawi, but a lot busier with trucks and safari tours.
Turned off highway 1 into stunning valley between rocky hills cycling 12km up to Rhumpi stunning beautiful rocky hills. Baboons sunbathing on rocks and old bridge by the river crossing. Adios lodge along a dirt road in the village. Peaceful setting except for when the hostess has a tv on once power is on after dark. First tv we have seen since Blantyre except for one in a beach bar near Nkhata bay.
Lovely evening stroll up the valley..on the way back accompanied by 2 locals Isobella and Brandina. Isobella said she had a bad house as the floor needed constant sweeping and the roof let water in. Women were breaking up piles of big stones into little stones for the road maybe. Isobella said they were not paid they just did it every day as they were bored! In Myanmar people are paid for the same job.
Day 26; 28th August 2018
Rhumpi to Chelinda – Nyika National Park
Dean (Cycle Malawi) arrived to support us for the 110 miles up to chelinda…just as well. Great tarmac road quite a well-developed village of Rhumpi (even had fruit juice at petrol station) lasted for 15 km only then turned into corrugated sand…could not make it for more than a couple more kms before got bogged down. Bikes in the back of the car and Dean sandsurfed the car along 80 km via buck, zebra and cerval cat to fantastic self catering chalet. Spacious and comfortable with hot bath and delicious food made for us in the chalet kitchen.
Day 27: 29th August 2018
A day around Chelinda. 2370m, Nyika national park. 35km mountain bike ride.
Woke to find log fire lit at our chalet, breakfast being made. Relaxing day doing 35km on good easy tracks for our hired mtb bikes. Especially good cycling next to herds of zebra. Fantastic unique scenery, such expansive grasslands. Night drive. Saw hyenas and ruwenzori night jar, bustard. No leopards despite being numerous in this park.
Day 28: 30th of August 2018
Chelinda to Luwawa Forest Lodge
Morning walk through forest, bushbuck around the chalet. This campsite has been developed since 1920s. Books in lodge a good collection of stories by people who lived there up to 1990s; painted a good picture of development of forest, fauna and development of tourist accommodation, park management and expansion of national park, and housing for a community of park and lodge staff. Chatted with current lodge manageress just recently taken over after 5 years living on canal barge in uk! Discussed why the lodges have white, mostly English managers despite lots of effort to train and recruit Malawi people. Some excellent staff who run particular sections, but who do not take on overall coordination, advance planning, reinvestment in future forest plan.
Dean (Cycle Malawi ) collected us for the start of our 2 day transfer back to Lilongwe.
Stopped for a brief jungle wander with leaping blue baboon in thick vine filled trees. Then on through the sandy roads then tarmac M1 to Luwawa Forest Lodge at night. Again great accommodation, good food and hot bath after a dusty day. A congratulatory and welcome evening meal with Dean by candlelight in the lodge to mark a successful trip.
Day 29: 31st August 2018
Luwawa Forest Lodge to Lilongwe. Driving day
Lovely forested sunlight to wake up to. Good cool evening. Walked the poachers trail from the lodge before final drive along the undulating M1 to Madidi lodge, Lilongwe and last night in Malawi. Starting to get warmer, but still cool compared to southern Malawi and lakeside. Traffic getting busier close to Lilongwe. Watch out for traffic lights and police stops for ‘alleged red light’ jumping if you are in a car!
Day 30: 1st September 2018
Madidi lodge Lilongwe to international airport 31 km
After a great month in Malawi we cycle to the airport using the tarmacked Kayunda road which was less busy than the M1. The trucks and traffic gave us a wider berth and more respect here than anywhere else in Malawi. As ever when heading north the wind was against us. If you ever cycle Malawi it was good to start in the hotter areas of the south and end up in the cooler high plateau areas of the north and west of the country. Some people told us that up to July the prevailing wind is southerly, but from August and definitely in September prevailing wind is from the north. Check it out as the climate we are told is changeable.
The airport checks in our bikes in one place and takes the payment for the bikes very efficiently…in contrast to the awful Heathrow Ethiopian airlines experience. Very friendly helpful people, small queues and an efficient system. Heathrow does not deserve to expand. Well done Malawi.
Final goodbyes to Malawi after cycling 1200 km across the country; a country that will live long in our memory.
A good place to cycle and tour in a country of manageable size with friendly people that feels safe despite the poverty.We gave no money to children who asked but have given some trees to last the next generation. Such varied scenery and wildlife, good temperatures..not a drop of rain in our August ride.
Pick your route and style of cycle touring. We recommend Malawi and talking to Dean Glossop of cyclemalawi.org who will help you plan according to the type of cycling you want to do.