+265 888 91 4991 dean@cyclemalawi.org
+265 888 91 4991 dean@cyclemalawi.org

On the road: Two weeks bikepacking in Malawi

After a beginning there cycle journey down to the Shire River traversing down the lowlands of the dry bush wildlife and habitats located within the southern valley. Jacki & Brian galiantly continued cycling towards the southern most points in Malawi. Across the eastern southern region’s’ tea plantations, farm fields and one of central Africa’s highest plateau”s. Eventually towering into the elevated city of Zomba and its forest filled pines to descend into the wilderness plains of Liwonde as they reach towards the Upper Shire River and the gateway to southern lake Malawi. Here is a recap of there journey…

Views of Mulanje in the distance
Views of Mulanje in the distance

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 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.

Roadside on route to Mulanje
Roadside on route to Mulanje

Stopped at a bridge in Luchenza amoung specially packed roads over looking 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 we 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 impressive 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.

Dziwelankhalamba Falls, Mulanje
Dziwelankhalamba Falls, Mulanje

Afterwards we had a mid afternoon self guided wander to the nearby Lkubulu 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 todays 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
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 up hill 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.

Zomba Forest Lodge
Zomba Forest Lodge

Day 10: 12th August 2018
Day in the Zomba Forest Plateau

Brian mountain biking on the Zomba Forest Plateau
Brian mountain biking on 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.

Queens view, Zomba Forest Plateau
Queens view, Zomba Forest Plateau

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.

Zomba Forest Lodge Menu
Zomba Forest Lodge Menu

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 road side 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. 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.

Subscribe to our mailing list to continue following there cycling journey across Malawi. More to come as they head up the central region uncovering into the northern region’s landscapes and sights.

 

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