Country : Zambia (Luangwa) – Malawi (Senga Bay)
Distance : 419km
The 4am toilet run seemed to have barely finished, the sound of tent zips still echoing across the river, when the 5:30am alarms started going. Leaping out of our sleeping bags with all the enthusiasm of a ‘salaryman’ on a Monday morning we dragged ourselves out and started to break camp. By now we were becoming very proficient at the task so that by the time the sun showed its face we were well into completing it.
I took a picture of Dietwin’s coolerbox perched overlooking the Luangwa River. Dietwin had donated the coolerbox to me when he left SA to return to Belgium and I had taken the box with on the trip so that he could be there in spirit (or at least in beer!).
As the packing was rolling up we had a quick bite to eat so that we could quell the rumblings of our Bloody Mary starved stomachs (no drinking ’cause lots of driving today) and so that we could take our malaria tabs. A quick wash up of plates and faces and the back of Sharpie’s bakkie was packed along with the trailer.
Once the trailer was complete, and I had the Fortuner packed, we hitched them together and were almost ready to hit the road. A quick stop at the office on the way out so that Kwacha Man could finalise the account and we started off.
Next stop was the Mfuwe airport, where the banks are located (30km out of town but on the main route back to Chipata), so that Kwacha Man could refresh his pool of loot, grab a couple of cold juices and we hit the road in earnest.
The climb out of the valley and over a low range of hills offers a wonderful view which we duly stopped to take a few quick photos of. The ever present winter haze was already making its presence felt. The view in summer after a thunderstorm must be a thing of beauty with the forest of green spreading out below.
The route between Mfuwe and Chipata has (apparently) been under reconstruction for the past 3 years. The first part of the road (leaving Mfuwe) is not great at all but soon we hit the main roadworks where the detour (normally running parallel to the new road) was not too rough. After about 40km (could have been longer or shorter, I was too busy trying not to hit anything to take a close note), we finally hit tar!
A couple of hours later and we arrived in Chipata where we filled up with fuel (reports of fuel issues in Malawi, while ultimately unfounded, did have us ensuring that we would have as much as we could, extra tanks and all). We also stopped at stores to stock up on the more important liquid refreshments and foods for sustenance.
The border lies a few kilometres outside Chipata and proved to be a non stressful affair. The interesting thing being the 5km between the Zambian and Malawian border posts – and its full of people living, farming and goating (herding, that is). I’m still not sure which country they belong to.
Once we cleared the Malawi border the road opened up nicely and we started making good time. The land on either side was fairly actively cultivated but still predominantly subsistence farming. The population density was definitely greater than Zambia but (as we would find out later in our trip) nowhere near as dense as in the rift/lake valley itself.
Coming into Lilongwe we hit the first fuel station (with fuel, two non-starters were passed by) and then it was a short stop to find beer and mixers for the fridges. While stopping for fuel I took the picture below of an entrepreneur across the road (‘nyama’ means meat) waiting for the afternoon homebound rush.
Due to some not quite crystal clear instructions we ended up taking the wrong road out of Lilongwe. On realising our mistake, we turned around and rectified the situation while fortunately not losing too much time. However, by now it was rush hour which did make getting through/around Lilongwe a painful process.
Once we were back out on the open road the landscape began to break up as we moved off the highland plateau and started dropping towards the lowlands. The sun started setting fast behind us and it became patently clear that we were only going to arrive at our destination after dark (again!).
The last 20km were in pitch dark and through Salima which, believe me, is a lesson in missing bicycles which are the main source of transport here but more of that later. After passing through Salima we kept going until we finally arrived at Senga Bay and the Steps campsite where we were due to stay.
Although by now it was pitch dark the camp lighting and the moonlight overhead showed us the one thing we were desperate to see.
Not the lake…
Not the waves…
Not the sand…
Not the moon…
Not the trees but…
Despite the notoriety of “Malawi Gold” we are talking about the type you walk on, play on and lie on your back on to watch the clouds go by. Yup, after the last 12 days of dusty campsites, dusty game drives and dusty walks to and from the showers we finally got to set up camp on green green grass!!!
Oh, and the sand and water and waves and the moon reflecting off the lake were quite nice too. Probably even romantic. But when you are travelling and camping with 3 other guys then romance is pretty much on the polar opposite of your current experience barometer!