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Malawi Misadventures & the Magnificent “Lake of Stars”

Posted by on Jan 31, 2014 | 4 comments

Malawi Misadventures & the Magnificent “Lake of Stars”

“If we hit a goat, we don’t leave it behind, we take it. It’s good meat.” said my driver, Jacob, as he halfheartedly slowed to avoid a smattering of languid goats along the dark and deserted (of cars, anyway) road from the airport in Lilongwe to my hotel on Lake Malawi. It was after midnight now, so at this point I’d known Jacob for about an hour which suddenly seemed like not long enough.

We’d gotten off to a bit of a rocky start at the airport in Malawi and now I was mildly alarmed that he’d just seriously floated the idea of loading a dead goat into the back seat with me. But before I move on to my exciting drive from the airport on my first night in Malawi, let’s back up to how I got here…

From Durban, getting to Malawi required more work than it should have. My Round-the-World ticket had last left me off in Johannesburg 2 ½ weeks ago and now it was time catch up to it. I flew from Durban to Johannesburg and then had to connect again in Nairobi to reach Lilongwe, Malawi. The flight to Jo’burg was pleasant enough but when I landed at the Nairobi airport I was again reminded why various people persist in trying to blow it up (as recently as last week). It is supremely awful for a major international airport and the fire that burned down half of it last year was, in my opinion, a bit of an underachiever.

That said, I actually like Kenya Airways. I’ve flown them quite a bit on my past two RTW trips as part of my Skyteam RTW ticket and they fly many places I want to go. Their planes are mostly decent, their flight crews are always a pleasure and they serve Moët champagne in business class (admittedly, I’ve been known to award bonus points for that which may or may not have upped their overall score). Unfortunately, flying Kenya Airways means connecting through Nairobi, so I muddle through.

Where to Stay in Malawi?

For my 4 nights in Malawi I had just two requirements in a place to stay: I wanted to be on the lake and driving distance from the airport in Lilongwe. There are a lot of gorgeous hotel options on the lake but the first few I looked at required an additional flight which was fairly expensive and would have added more travel time to an itinerary that I worried was already too short.

After reviewing my options, I decided on the lakefront town of Senga Bay, just a little under two hours from the airport. While I knew it wasn’t the nicest part of the lake, I figured it would be a good central place to base for a couple of days. Within Senga Bay, I chose the Safari Beach Lodge. It was the pictures that sold me on the place, stone chalets set on a hillside with gardens cascading down to the lake. According to the TripAdvisor reviews, the views of the lake were fantastic and the rooms were perfectly fine for the price. That was good enough for me.

At $125/night the room rate was good but I was a little shocked at the cost of an airport transfer…$180 each way! For that I could have booked a flight to one of the hotels further out on the lake. I knew that fuel costs were quite expensive in Malawi so I figured this was the reason for the high transfer cost but I was just sure there had to be another way.

And then I found Jacob. Owner of a small company called Red Rose Travel, Jacob’s transport services within Malawi came highly recommended by several people on both TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forums. I reached out to him and secured myself a car and driver for my entire stay for $45/day plus the cost of fuel (which he estimated at about $60 just for the trip from the airport to the hotel).

Cape Maclear Lake Malawi

It’s not so easy to get to Lake Malawi

The car and driver would stay with me in Senga Bay and take me anywhere I wanted to go for the flat rate plus fuel costs. If I chose to stay at the hotel for a day the fee would be just $20 for the driver’s upkeep. Since I knew there would be other places around the lake I’d want to visit during my stay, I thought this would be an excellent way to address the transportation issue and it would still come in at less than what the hotel transfers would have cost. Which brings me back to…

Arrival in Malawi

After reconfirming my arrival time with Jacob again earlier that afternoon, I landed at Lilongwe Airport at 11pm Saturday night fully expecting him (or one of his colleagues) to be cheerfully waiting for me as I exited customs. No such luck. At this hour the airport was completely deserted with the exception of a few random cab drivers looking for a fare.

I pulled out my phone to e-mail Jacob and let him know I’d arrived but there was no wifi in the airport and Malawi is not one of the countries T-Mobile’s fantastic new free international data plan covers. I wasn’t sure what to do but I figured I’d wait a bit and see if he showed. Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of options.

A little before 11:30pm, a man came into the airport carrying a rose and asked me if I was waiting for Red Rose Travel. Hallelujah. Relieved that I wasn’t going to have to hitchhike to Lake Malawi or sleep in the airport for the night, I said yes and Jacob introduced himself and apologized for being late. I was a little concerned that this was my first impression of the person who would be responsible for my well-being on the roads of Malawi for the next 5 days but in his defense, my flight arrived a bit early, I was the first off the plane and through customs and I didn’t have any checked bags. So he probably just underestimated how long it would take me to make it to the arrivals area.

But as it turned out, that was just our first hurdle. As we climbed into the car I noticed the fuel tank was on empty. I expected this, of course, since I was paying for the fuel but it seemed we’d have to stop for gas before getting on the road. With the time now approaching midnight, that turned out to be harder than it sounded. The first gas station we came to was completely dark, as was the next one. Apparently, the power was out in the entire area due to an earlier storm. At the next gas station the lights were on but the attendant waved us away as we pulled in – Jacob said because they probably didn’t have any fuel.

At this point I was getting frustrated. It was after midnight, I was tired and we’d already passed the road we needed to take to the lake so we were now adding more time to an already long drive. Finally, we found a gas station that had both power and fuel and, by an incredible stroke of luck, also an ATM because I needed local currency (kwacha) to pay for the gas.

Fuel tank filled, we headed back to the turnoff for the lake and started driving through total darkness toward Senga Bay. Either the power was out everywhere of there wasn’t much to see along the drive because it seemed like we drove endlessly through pitch blackness stopping only for the frequent police checkpoints and the occasional barnyard animal in the road. It was during one of those stops that the goat comment was made (I do now think he was kidding…at least I hope so).

We chatted a little along the drive about Malawi and what I wanted to do for the next few days but mostly we drove in silence. Jacob did seem like a very nice guy and he was definitely concerned that we’d gotten off on the wrong foot so I was determined to try to put it behind us and just go with the flow in Malawi. I could already tell things were going to be a little different here.

It was after 1:30am by the time we pulled up to the Safari Beach Lodge but I’d warned them I’d be arriving after midnight so I expected someone to be ready and waiting at reception. Again, no such luck. The hotel’s front gate was open but reception was locked up tight. As it turned out, the overnight security guard did have the key to my room but other than that, I was on my own.

And the room was not at all what I expected. It was hot and not nearly as clean as I would have liked. The bathroom shower was downright disgusting and there were ants the size of Tonka trucks moseying around on the floor like they owned the place. Ugh. I also could have killed for a bottle of water at that point but there was no water in the room and the handy in-room information book said (as I suspected) not to drink the tap water. I couldn’t even brush my teeth.

If it hadn’t been nearly 2am I would seriously have considered leaving and finding something else down the road. But I was stuck, at least for the night. And I was exhausted. And the hotel’s best feature, the view, was shrouded in darkness for the moment so I held out hope that it would all look better to me in the morning.

Why go to Malawi?

So, after that disappointing arrival, you might wonder what had even brought me to Malawi? Overlooked for years as a major safari destination, Malawi began a lion reintroduction program in 2012 which brought the “Big 5” back to the country and stoked the flames of tourism interest. But for me, it was Lake Malawi – Africa’s 3rd largest lake – that was the real draw. David Livingstone once called it the “Lake of Stars” for the fishermen’s lanterns that sparkled like stars on its surface at night.

Today, Lake Malawi’s clear, shimmering waters are still literally swimming with colorful fish. The lake is home to nearly 500 species of fish, most of which are part of the cichlid family with 99% being endemic to the lake. The most popular variety of cichlid is the small and vibrantly colorful mbuna, a favorite of aquariums around the world. Chambo, one species of cichlid, is a staple on restaurant menus throughout Malawi.

Senga Bay Lake Malawi

Kids in the fishing village of Senga Bay

There are a number of popular resort areas on the lake, the two most notable are Cape Maclear in the south and Nkhata Bay in the northern central area. Sitting on the eastern end of a peninsula that juts into central Lake Malawi, Senga Bay is a small fishing town that’s home to several nice beaches and a few luxury hotels.

When I awoke the next morning after a very restless night, I headed straight to the reception office to see what could be done about my room. I knew I couldn’t stay in it for another night. At the reception desk I met Clement who was extremely helpful and apologetic that no one was there to greet me when I arrived and said he would be happy to move me to another room that had recently been renovated.

With that problem solved, I decided the hotel actually wasn’t so bad in the light of day. The pool was nice and it did have excellent views of the lake. As long as the new room didn’t have any bugs bigger than a breadbox, I would stay.

Safari Beach Lodge Malawi

The Safari Beach Lodge by daylight

Clement also mentioned that they offered half day boats trips out to nearby Lizard Island for $90 for up to 3 people. I’d read about Lizard Island and it was something I wanted to do while I was here but I’d planned to just spend my first day relaxing at the hotel and deciding on my game plan for the week. That is, until Clement mentioned that there were two other girls going at 9am that morning and (if they were OK with it) I could be the third in their group and we could all split the cost.

Since I’m always getting stuck paying for extra people as a solo traveler I knew this was a good opportunity, despite the fact that it was already 8:45am and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet. I told Clement that if the girls were willing to wait a few extra minutes for me to grab breakfast and change I’d love to go with them.

A 3-Hour Tour…

Luckily, they were happy to wait and as it turned out, they were even fellow Americans. Beth and Upama were in Lilongwe on business and had decided to squeeze in a little tourist time over the weekend with a trip to the lake. Clement said the boat ride to Lizard Island would take about 20 minutes and we’d spend two hours on the island, all in all about three hours round-trip.

Lizard Island Lake Malawi

In the boat on the way to Lizard Island

We headed down to the beach and chatted a bit while the hotel staff readied the somewhat sea-worthy-looking wooden boat. Since the boat couldn’t come all the way in to the shore line, we then climbed into kayaks so they could push us out to meet it. Climbing from the kayak into the boat was the first adventure of the day but we all managed to survive it.

It was a lovely ride out to the island and I especially enjoyed seeing the hotel from the water with its charming chalets peeking through the trees. Around the bend from our hotel we also passed the larger and much fancier Sunbird Livingstonia Hotel which I’d looked at initially but since it was closer to $200 a night I decided against it.

As we approached the island it really was a stunning sight with its giant granite boulders and lush vegetation resting in the clear, emerald waters of Lake Malawi. Our boat captain, Manson, pulled the boat in close enough to a giant rock for us to jump off onto the island and then anchored it just offshore. He pointed out the various cichlid fish and I think we were all impressed by the clarity of the water and the variety of colorful fish.

Lizard Island Lake Malawi

Lizard Island, Lake Malawi

We alternated snorkeling and lounging on the rocks for the next hour or so and just enjoyed the mostly sunny weather. January is rainy season in Malawi and according to Beth and Upama it had rained nearly every day since they’d been here but it never lasted for long.

As we were enjoying our time on the island, dark clouds had begun to move in at a rapid pace. We could hear thunder in the distance and as the storm picked up speed and rain drops began to fall, Manson said we’d better start heading back before it got worse. In the time it took us to bring the boat ashore, get in and begin making our way around the island toward the shore line, it got worse. Much worse.

Storm Lake Malawi

The storm moving in

As the boat entered open water, away from the protection of the sheltered side of the island, the wind and waves hit us full force and the boat’s engine began to sputter. To make it back to shore, we would need to head directly into the wind and the boat’s motor was simply not cooperating. Each time we crested a large wave the motor would be submerged on our descent and it seemed to be flooded. It would run for a minute and then cut out.

Manson decided we would have to return to Lizard Island (we hadn’t made it far) and take shelter there until the storm passed. Fine with us as none of us were particularly enjoying the ride so far. So we pulled back in near the rocky shore of the island and waited out the storm…in the boat…while being continuously pelted with heavy rain. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience but at least we weren’t currently in danger of drowning.

After about 45 minutes, we tried again. The storm hadn’t let up much but we were running out of patience with just sitting there in the rain and we were soaked to the bone. The motor continued its obnoxious habit of cutting out every 2-3 minutes and again our forward motion was apathetic (I’ve included a little video of our efforts for your amusement in the photo gallery below). We were making little to no progress but on the plus side, if this kept up, we’d all be getting a free trip to Cape Maclear on the other side of the lake – the direction in which we were currently drifting. Inhale silver lining, exhale positive attitude.

After another 30 minutes of this endless cycle of forward progress-engine failure-drift back to square one-engine restart…it seemed logistically impossible that we’d ever make it all the way around the bend back to the Safari Beach Lodge. We were, however, within fairly easy reach of the Sunbird Livinstonia’s now very appealing-looking beach. Beth and Upama had walked down to that hotel for lunch the day before so they knew we could walk back from there if we could just get ashore.

We assumed Manson had come to the same obvious conclusion and would just put us ashore at the other beach but he seemed determined to get the boat back to Safari Beach. And so we huddled in the small wooden boat as it bobbed and pitched and soared into the air and crashed back down with every passing wave as Manson and his frustrated first mate continued to fiddle with the motor. It was unequivocally miserable.

Finally, we had to get stern with Manson and insist that they take us directly to the shore so we could walk back to the hotel. There was no way this boat was making it back to the hotel and we didn’t feel up to riding the Lake Malawi roller coaster for another two hours in the rain while they tried. He acquiesced and minutes later we were hopping off the bow of the boat, thankful to be back on dry land.

We began walking (in our dripping wet clothes) back to the road that would lead us back to the hotel. Because Safari Beach sits on the top of a hill, there’s a long, steep dirt road that leads up to it. We’d made it about halfway up the muddy road (now filthy as well as wet) when Clement came barreling down the road in a rusty pick-up truck. It seems Manson had called and said we might need a lift.

Safari Beach Lodge Malawi

With Upama (left) and Beth (center) celebrating our safe return to dry land

We looked at each other, shrugged and hopped in the back of the pick-up truck, migrant-worker-style. At this point we had limited dignity left anyway and just really wanted the path of least resistance to a hot shower. When we pulled up to the hotel it was 2pm and our 3-hour trip had been unpleasantly extended to 5. Clement gave me the key to my new room and we all retreated to our rooms for showers agreeing to meet back up for lunch in the restaurant before they had to hit the road back to Lilongwe.

Room #1 Safari Beach Lodge Malawi

My new room…a big improvement!

I was pleased to find that my new room (#1) was a huge improvement over the first room (#4), I didn’t see any obvious bugs, the A/C was pumping cool air, I could almost get a wifi signal on my phone and the bathroom was actually someplace I could reasonably envision surviving a shower. Hooray! (And people think I’m fancy…really, these are my only true requirements in a hotel room.)

After a long shower and a change of clothes I was feeling almost human again and joined Beth and Upama for lunch. We laughed a bit about our adventure figuring if nothing else it would make a great story from our trips to Malawi (we survived, so it’s funny).

They left to make the drive back to Liliongwe around 3:30pm and I finally settled in to get online and catch-up on what had been going on in the world for the past 36 hours. I sent Jacob an e-mail to confirm our plans for the next day and finally climbed into bed around 11pm. It’s amazing how exhausting being lost at sea can be (ok, fine, it was a lake, but the waves were ocean-sized, I swear).

(Our boat, by the way, finally arrived back at the hotel around 4pm so it was unquestionably the right decision to abandon ship.)

Cape Maclear & Lake Malawi National Park

On my 2nd full day in Malawi I decided it was time to get out and explore the lake a bit more. One of the Lake Malawi’s most scenic spots is on the southern end at Cape Maclear. It was about a 2-3 hour drive from Senga Bay so Jacob decided we should set out at 8:00am to maximize our time in the area.

Matola Malawi

A matola loaded up

It was my first time to get out on the roads of Malawi in the light of day and the drive through various small villages combined with long stretches of endless paved roads was fascinating. We hardly passed any other cars other than a few buses and matolas (local trucks overloaded with passengers in the back) but tons of people walking thru and between villages. Men, women and children were all going about their daily business on foot.

Sidebar: I’m constantly amazed by how African women can walk for miles while balancing giant items (sacks of corn, large pots, water buckets, etc) on their heads and with a baby trussed up on their backs. No matter the size of the item, it doesn’t even seem to faze them…honestly, I can barely keep a hat on my head most of the time.

As we passed through the Salima area, the closest real town to Senga Bay, it was all about bicycles. They were everywhere and not just for personal use but also providing local taxi services. Jacob explained that any bike with a platform seat on the back was actually a taxi and as I looked around they all seemed to be full. The main street in Salima was congested with people on foot, on bicycles, in the back of matolas and (of course) the occasional chicken, goat, cow or stray dog. There was so much going on I hardly knew where to look.

Women in Malawi

How do they do that?

After passing through Salima, it was mostly a quiet drive where the only traffic was of the two or four-footed variety and we made good time to Monkey Bay, the small town at the entrance to the peninsula of Cape Maclear.

It’s easy to see why Cape Maclear is Lake Malawi’s most popular spot for visitors. The long stretch of beach is framed by lush mountain peaks and the water is so clear and blue it doesn’t resemble any lake I’ve ever seen before – far more South Pacific lagoon than African lake. Honestly, I marveled at the fact that I was looking at a lake and not an ocean and several of the pictures I took today could easily be confused for Thailand.

Bicycle taxi Salima Malawi

A bicycle taxi in Salima

Much of the area around Cape Maclear is part of Lake Malawi National Park which was designated as the world’s first freshwater National Park in 1980 to protect its wide diversity of tropical fish (some not found anywhere else on earth). UNESCO added it to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 and the park area includes the lake, the land area around the cape and bay and islands up to 330ft off shore. There’s a ton to do around the national park area – snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sailing – and even a busy fishing village running directly behind the hotels and cafes along the shoreline.

Cape Maclear Lake Malawi National Park

My boat for the afternoon in Cape Maclear

As we approached the entrance to the National Park, there were a number of guides ready and waiting to offer their services. One of them was a friend of Jacob’s who came over to the car to greet us and see what I was interested in doing for the afternoon.

The Cape Maclear Tour Guides Association makes the process of hiring a guide for a boat trip relatively painless. All registered guides work to a set price list so there’s no need to haggle for a reasonable rate and they also wear helpful vests with their names on them so you know who you’re dealing with. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is.

Of course, my biggest issue was that I was just one person and the boat trips were priced for three people. The trip I wanted to do, to see Otter Point and then feed the fish eagles and snorkel at Thumbi Island was priced at $35 each for a minimum of three people. I knew I’d have to pay for more than one person but I didn’t want to pay for three. Jabob’s friend, Captain Enock, was certain we could come to a deal (of course) so after re-confirming that his boat indeed had a reliable and functioning motor, I decided to go with him.

We settled on $70 for the trip and since I’d paid for two people, I invited Jacob to come along instead of waiting for me at the car. As we walked down to the beach, Captain Enock’s first mate brought the boat around and I figured it looked at least a little sturdier than the boat to Lizard Island and it had a small tarp for shade which was a plus. The unpredictable January weather was, for the moment, looking clear and beautiful so Jacob and I hopped in the boat and headed out onto the lake.

Our first stop was a cruise around granite boulder-strewn Otter Point, which was similar in landscape to Lizard Island but surrounded by crystal clear water. Looking down from the boat I could make out huge boulders underneath the water’s surface surrounded by tiny, colorful fish. The giant rock formations along the lake actually reminded me a lot of the Seychelles Islands.

Otter Point Lake Malawi

Otter Point, Malawi

Next, we pulled alongside a fisherman in a wooden canoe so Captain Enock could select a few bait fish for the fish-eagles. Purchase made, we cruised over to nearby Thumbi Island and coasted along the shoreline until we spotted a fish-eagle sitting in a tree high above. Captain Enock whistled to get the bird’s attention and joked that these eagles really don’t hunt anymore they just wait for a tourist boat to come by and throw them free food. Apparently, there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Fish-eagle Lake Malawi

A fish-eagle grabbing his free lunch

After getting the eagle’s attention, the Captain hurled the fish in the air and instructed me to keep my eyes on where it landed. Seconds later, in swooped the fish-eagle snatching its lunch from the water with barely a splash. He threw a few more in succession as I snapped away with my camera but before long other birds in the area were getting in on the game and it was time to move on to our last stop, the other side of the island for snorkeling.

We stopped at a particularly gorgeous rocky outcrop surrounded by the clearest waters I’d seen yet and swarming with tropical fish. I started taking pictures from the boat first but Jacob wasted no time donning snorkeling gear and diving right in. As the fish swarmed around him he held out his hand and they literally started nibbling at his fingers (apparently used to being hand-fed in this particular area which is often used for picnics). We didn’t have any food but they didn’t necessarily need to know that.

Thumbi Island Lake Malawi

Jacob snorkeling at Thumbi Island

Seeing how much fun Jacob was having (he’s a pretty hard-working guy so I doubt he gets to play tourist very often), I grabbed my waterproof GoPro camera and a snorkel mask and jumped in myself. It was a terrific spot for snorkeling, better than many ocean spots I’ve seen, actually. Though the fish were all pretty similar in size, they were widely varied in color from electric blue to yellow-striped. For me, however, the spell was broken once the fish got a little too ambitious in their nibbling on my legs so I decided I’d had enough snorkeling and climbed back in the boat.

For the last part of our trip, Captain Enock brought the boat ashore to the main beach and we walked through the streets of the local village. Like most of the villages in Malawi, there’s no electricity or running water in the homes so the people get their water from local pumps.

After a stroll through the village, we headed back to the beach where we began the trip a few hours earlier and I thanked Captain Enock for a great afternoon. Jacob and I drove back through the village to one of the small hotels along the beach to grab some lunch before hitting the road for the drive back.

It was an awesome day and I enjoyed talking to Jacob on the long drives as he explained how the people live in Malawi and about the history of the area. I’d already decided that for my last full day at the lake I’d like to just relax at the hotel so I told Jacob to take tomorrow off and I’d see him Wednesday morning for the drive back to the airport.

Lack of Power Forces Actual Relaxation

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up the next morning with no real plan in mind. The hotel had such nice views of the lake that I wanted to just relax and enjoy them but I also had a million photos to edit and some writing to do. So I figured I’d start my morning by the pool and then spend the afternoon catching up on work.

But, as had often been the case this week, Malawi had other plans for me. As I was sitting by the pool one of the staff mentioned that the power had gone out. No problem, really, I hadn’t planned to use it for a while anyway and figured it would come back on before too long.

Baboons Safari Beach Lodge Lake Malawi

Sharing the pool with a couple of thirsty baboons

Unfortunately, due to a big thunderstorm in nearby Salima (odd because we heard thunder and saw dark clouds in the distance, but it never rained a drop in Senga Bay) the outage continued throughout the afternoon and as the power drained from my electronic devices one by one, I became concerned that it wasn’t coming back on. No power, no wifi and no charged electronic devices left me with little choice but to take up residence in a lounge chair, first by the pool and later down by the lake.

Sadly, the book I was reading was on my ipad so I was out of reading material by mid-afternoon. There were no other guests around but I wasn’t alone because the hotel’s large family of baboons had decided they’d also like to relax around the property and took turns sipping water from the pool next to me or napping across sidewalks that were the only path back to my room.

Baboons in Malawi

A baboon roadblock at the hotel

While they are kind of cute – especially the babies – you never want to get too close to a baboon. They have sharp teeth and claws and I’ve heard stories about aggressive baboons that leave me inclined to give them a wide berth. So while I took a lot of pictures from afar, I kept a safe distance. Luckily, they retreat to the trees at night so you don’t have to worry about them in the dark. And speaking of the dark, the power finally came on again around 5pm, hooray! And then it went off again at 6pm, boo!

I only had one outlet to work with since I just had one power adapter so I had managed to charge my phone, do a quick e-mail check (while the snow situation was going completely off the rails at home in Atlanta) and had just started charging my ipad when it went out again. Grr.

The hotel provided me with a couple of candles for my room and I showered by candlelight and walked over to the restaurant for dinner. Since they cook with gas, at least the kitchen was still functioning! I had the delicious chambo fish one last time and while I was eating the power came back on again, hooray!

It managed to stay on for nearly two hours this time and I caught up on a little work, the snow situation at home and charged my ipad so at least I’d have my book back if the power went out again (which it did around 9pm). After finally falling asleep I awoke with a start at midnight when the power came back on and my room was flooded with light and sound. I plugged in my laptop to charge and climbed back in bed. Thankfully, the power stayed on for the rest of the night and by morning I was back in business from an electronics perspective.

Touring Lilongwe

The next morning I said goodbye to the lovely folks at the Safari Beach Lodge and got back in the car with Jacob for the drive to Lilongwe. Jacob had suggested a brief tour of Lilongwe on the way back to the airport which sounded like a great idea to me since I didn’t get to see any of Malawi’s capital when I landed.

Malawi village

Malawi village

The drive back to the city was beautiful, so amazing the difference between making the drive in the daylight when you can see the green hills dotted with the thatched-roof huts of small villages. As we drove we were chatting a little about social media and he asked me which one I thought would be best for his business. I said Twitter, without a doubt, and explained a little bit about how to use it for his business so people traveling to Malawi could find him. I even told him I’d be happy to get him set up on Twitter if he knew a place in Lilongwe we could stop by for wifi since we had some extra time before my flight.

I also wanted to make one more stop by a pharmacy. During my forced relaxation the day before I’d been reading the Lonely Planet guide on Malawi in the reception area and discovered a warning about Bilharzia – a water-borne parasitic infection – common to Lake Malawi. The incidences have been relatively rare in recent years but the book still advised a course of praziquantel tablets no less than 6 weeks after your last swim in the lake.

After consulting with my personal pharmacist (my friend Dena), she suggested it was probably better to try to pick that up while in Malawi since it would be more readily available and not likely to require a prescription like in the US. Jacob took me by a pharmacy and even paid for the pills since I was out of local currency by then. The entire process took less than two minutes and cost 350 kwacha (about .75 cents). Quite a bargain if I do say so myself!

With our tour of Lilongwe complete we stopped by the lobby of a hotel to buy a wifi card and get him going on Twitter. I walked him through the process of setting up an account and now I’m happy to report that you can all find him on Twitter @RedRoseMalawi – he is going to be huge, I just know it! But seriously, for anyone heading to Malawi, definitely reach out to Jacob. Despite our rocky start, he was a terrific guide – very knowledgeable, professional and reliable. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him. Finally, Jacob dropped me off at the airport and I checked in for my flight.

With my stay in Malawi now complete, it was time to leave the continent of Africa after nearly three wonderful weeks. I’ve visited Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi during my stay on the continent and it’s been a truly incredible experience.

I’m sad that it’s time to leave but also so excited to move on to my favorite part of the world, Southeast Asia. Goodbye for now, Africa, I’ll be back!

Click Below to View the Malawi Photo Gallery

    View photos at SmugMug

    4 Comments

    1. 5-6-2014

      Lovely article! I also love your approach to travel, RTW once a year for 30 days, how cool is that! Malawi was a great travel experience for me, I especially loved Lake Malawi. I look forward to following your adventures!

      • Jenny
        5-6-2014

        Thanks so much, Sarah! Isn’t Malawi just fabulous? Love your site, too, what a great idea for a blog. Thanks again for reading and especially for taking the time to comment!

    2. 2-3-2015

      Beautiful article. Very desciptive and informative. Bravooooo!

      • Jenny
        2-26-2015

        Thanks, Jacob! Hope you’re doing well!

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