Malawi, Hospitality Destination
I left my heart not only in Zambia but also in Malawi. Malawi is rightly nicknamed the Warm Heart of Africa. But for me it also applies to Zambia, although I am not surprised that they were once a country under British colonial rule. Malawian friendliness and hospitality is well-known, even abroad. When I went on Safari last year to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, I met a couple from the Netherlands and the husband told me about the beauty and friendliness of Malawi. Since last September I had my mind set on traveling to Malawi – half a year later I am stunned by the beauty of this lushly and extremely friendly country and its geographical diversity.
Lake Malawi, for example; a highlight for most travelers in Africa, a trough formed by the Great Rift Valley. The lake is Africa’s third-largest, with clear, deep waters and shoals of colorful fish. A visit to the lake is for me a must for every Africa backpacker, whether visiting it for diving, snorkeling, kayaking or just relaxing at the beach.
Another part I could not miss is the mountains – of course the mountains were calling me! In Malawi’s Deep South are the cloudy peaks of Mount Mulanje and the mysterious Zomba Plateau, both a hiker’s dream, with misty forests and wildlife on the hiking trails.
Lilongwe, Capital of Malawi
Once I arrived in Malawi I stayed at an Airbnb with a woman called Sheri, a sweetheart and very well-traveled. Unfortunately I felt so sick that day, I had a fever and I was scared for a moment I got corona. But it was just a fever which knocked me down for a few days. Until today I will never know if it was covid or not, but I did a PCR test which was negative before entering Malawi, so I think I just got something else instead.
I felt quite calm in Lilongwe. I walked around sunset time around Bwemba, along Likuni Road. Actually if I hadn’t started to feel that sick on the day of arrival I would have gone for a sunset run. Sheri made such a nice dinner but I couldn’t join – instead I was miserable in bed.
Problems with the bike
On the same day I waited for some rental bike owner to get back to me about whether they would deliver the bike that night. We waited but they didn’t arrive. Nor early the next morning, they delivered when it was afternoon time. So I started my biking tour quite late. Also the stem and handlebars of the bike were way too low for me. And only three gears worked.
I didn’t know it would affect me so badly that I would end the bike tour earlier than I wished. I tell you, it is a hell of a ride when a country is as hilly as Malawi (thank God it was not Rwanda) and you only have three different gears to switch. In the summer heat with… a fever. Classic me, sometimes I wonder if I should go to the doctor to check I didn’t lose my sanity during the past few years of traveling. I hope this curiosity inside of me doesn’t push me too far one day.
Bike Tour through Malawi
My initial plan was to cycle from Lilongwe to Malawi Lake with the end destination in Blantyre. Everything in between was more or less a flexible plan. THE LANDSCAPE WAS JUST STUNNING. People greeted me on the way, especially children who would run out of their homes to greet me with a smile – I really enjoyed their friendliness and openness from day one. But when I was still sick on the second and third day with partly high fever, I was sometimes a little bit bothered to greet them back with a “muli bwanji!”
Extremely exhausted from the sun’s heat and switching between three gears on all the hills in Malawi, I asked myself why this country is so frigging hilly. Unfortunately my back hurt more and more at day three. When there was a problem with a flat back tyre, locals helped to fix the bike even though it took them the whole day to get some tools. You have to know time is not very important in many African countries, but I was so touched by the willingness to help wherever you go.
Especially when it got dark before arriving at Monkey Bay, Lake Malawi, and this was the only time I took some help from motorbike drivers who drove me the rest of the way. They didn’t even have a driver’s license, so when we got stopped by the police they were so lucky to get away with no fine after an hour. To be honest I was not willing to pay for them, but the police realized the motorbike drivers didn’t have money either, so they let us go.
Monkey Bay and Malawi Lake
I stayed at a lodge run by a South African at Malawi Lake for quite a long time. Finally swimming!! By that time my fever was gone and I felt great again. The swim at Malawi Lake was great, but afterwards I had to take some medicine pills to prevent urogenital schistosomiasis caused by the Schistosoma parasite.
It is endemic to Lake Malawi, hence compatible snail populations are along its shoreline. When your skin comes into contact with the lake’s contaminated water in which certain types of Schistosomes-carrying snails live, symptoms including fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches may develop. Without treatment, the disease can persist for years. The signs of chronic schistosomiasis include abdominal pain, enlarged liver, blood in the stool or blood in the urine etc… I will stop there.
Additionally, the fresh water becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs when infected people urinate or defecate in the water.
The days at the lake went by like nothing. I just worked a little bit, went for an afternoon swim, read, ate, did some small hikes around Monkey Bay, went to the local market, talked to the locals, spent some blissful quality time with them. It felt finally like vacationing on my bike trip through Malawi.
And then I realized I didn’t want to continue the bike trip anymore. My back hurt from bending over my low bike handlebars, so I stopped and switched to other forms of transportation.
On the way to Zomba
Zomba is well-known for its beautiful, fairytale plateau. The plateau is a large flat mountaintop which is crisscrossed by streams, tumbling waterfalls and still lakes and near to the historic former colonial capital of Zomba. At the lodge I stayed at I met two women called Margot and Delia who would take me all the way to Zomba.
In Zomba I felt at home in the mountains, which made me blissfully happy. I hiked to the Emperor’s View at the plateau named after Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who visited in 1964. It gazes down on Zomba town. Somehow I overestimated the time and got stuck in the mountain, so Felix (who joined the hike) and I got lost.
Lost in the dark
Even when it got dark, we were still somewhere in the bushes on the plateau. Our phones nearly died and Felix’s whole body was shaking because we couldn’t see much except for the moon’s light coming down, and the way was extremely slippery. He fell down once and when we made it to the bottom it was already as pitch black. This poor friend of mine was so bathed in sweat and shaken up, he even didn’t want to continue and even thought about sleeping on one of the rocks. The descent was horrible, even for me it felt neverending and I wasn’t sure if it was the right way until I saw some lights from the village.
Nevertheless, you can’t come to the Zomba plateau without hiking on the top. It was definitely one of my highlights in Malawi, despite the horrible night hike we experienced.
The pandemic was still raging while I was traveling in Africa. In February 2021Malawi provided jabs for its citizens and for travelers. Margot, Delia and I decided to take the opportunity and I got my first jab, AstraZeneca. I felt bad after the first jab – my vaccinated left arm felt as heavy as lead. It didn’t get better – it felt like that for almost a week, almost to the point that I was afraid I might have to amputate that arm. Anyway, guess what I did the day right after I had my first jab?
Mount Mulanje – Sapitwa Peak
The mountains were calling me and I won’t refuse the call. To be more specific, Mount Mulanje was calling: imagine impressive waterfalls roar over stone slopes; in the plain and lush green of tea plantations, trees once imported from India to Malawi, shines the peaks of Mount Mulanje massif. The peaks has lichen and the gorges covered in thick moss. Above it all towers the 3,002 meter-high Sapitwa peak, the highest mountain in Central Africa. Sapitwa peak is part of the massif, a colossus of volcanic rock in the middle of the Shire highlands in southern Malawi, close to Likhubula Town where I started my hike.
2 Days, 1 Night
Despite having my first jab I was extremely excited and just grateful to be back in the mountains again. I had such a great first day on the hike that we arrived much earlier at the sleeping hut. My poor guide and friend Vincent is totally exhausted after hiking with me. I was just in such a great mood I couldn’t stop until we reached the hut. Anyway, the landscape stunned me all the way up.
It was so peaceful with no one around the rocky and wild trail. The best thing about it? I could hike with my flip flops. I gave up wearing my hiking boots. As I never told you, but I have wide feet, so it is difficult for me to find boots which fit my feet. Therefore, I prefer hiking and even running in my slippers or flip flops or whatever you would call them.
When we arrived at the hut we made a fire and cooked dinner. I fell asleep at 5pm and woke up the next morning at 5am. And I know that my arm hurt a lot from the vaccine and I didn’t realize how tired the hike made me feel until I slid into my sleeping bag. I listened to a lullaby Vincent attempted to share, but I saw the last sparks of the fire and fell immediately asleep.
The next morning it was quite wet from the rain at night and the last part of the hike to Sapitwa peak was all more or less rocky and partly steep. I only had my flip flops with me, and I admit without Vincent I might have fallen down at some part of the trail when it was getting more difficult with the slippery rock climbing. But I still made it to the top. It was quite dangerous and reminded me of my trip I had at cathedral peak in South Africa.
But I reward myself with a view on the top of the highest mountain in Central Africa. With clouds all around, feeling weightless and full of energy. On the same day I descended and made it back to Likhubula Town before sunset. If there’s two things you can’t miss in Malawi, it’s no question: Mount Mulanje and Lake Malawi! At least for me…
After Mount Mulanje I took a minibus to Blantyre for I think just a dollar. I really loved Blantyre, much more than I liked Lilongwe. The city was beautiful, the weather moderate. And it had a great Indian food restaurant, which is maybe my favourite Indian food restaurant in all of Southern Africa! I enjoyed a few days being in the city and nattering away day by day with locals before leaving for Eswatini.
I would recommend Blantyre as a starting point in Malawi or as the last destination. It is a beautiful and peaceful city to unwind and just to relax while learning more about the Chichewa (Chewa) people, their traditions and cuisine.
I soaked up the last bit of the warmth and hospitality of the country named the Warm Heart of Africa before I left. Malawi is indeed a country which I have fond memories of. A place I highly recommend to everyone and each of my readers to visit at least once.
Goodbye and I will come back one day!
Bye Malawi, you have been so wonderful to me.
Read next about a deeply sad incident which happened to me and my hiking group in Swaziland, now known as Eswatini – but also why you should travel to this small and fascinatingly wonderful country.