Malawi, above the water and underwater

Malawi, boven èn onder waterThe border between Tanzania and Malawi does not take much time and is perhaps the fastest crossing so far. Great, because this way we still have enough time to ride to the campsite after the delay of that morning (because of the fine). Today we are going to ‘The Mushroom Farm’ near Livingstonia, a campsite on the edge of a cliff overlooking Lake Malawi. Practically everyone we met so far advised us to go there. The steep road to the campsite apparently is quite challenging, but the priceless view alone would make the ride up more than worth it. Curious about this special place, we open the throttle and drive in the direction of Livingstonia.

From the border we ride along Lake Malawi for a long time. A tropical setting, with white beaches at the clear blue lake. Among the many palm trees are also a lot of huge baobab trees. Unusually shaped trees that look like they were ripped out of the earth as a whole and put back again upside down, with its roots in the air. The trees are gigantic, you would need at least ten people to make a circle around the stem of the tree. Baobab trees grow very slowly, so these trees have to be hundreds of years old. Magnificent!

Malawi, boven èn onder waterBefore we start our ride up to the campsite, we first stop to do some shopping and get supplies for a couple of days. A challenging route up a mountain is fun, but going up and down one time is enough. We do not have Malawian Kwacha’s yet to pay for the groceries so we first look for an ATM. And in Malawi that is quite a quest, because those devices can certainly not be found one every street corner. Moreover, it can happen that the machine is not operating or we are unable to withdraw any money with our European debit card.

After four attempts at different banks and with various bank cards, we find an ATM in Karonga where Peter can get money with his Visa card. He takes out the maximum amount of 40,000 Kwacha. It is a thick stack of paper, which only just fits through the slot of the machine. This should be enough, right? The exchange rate app on my phone shows that it is only €75. Enough for fuel, some groceries and a few nights at the campsite, but maybe not enough to get us to the next working ATM. Peter takes out two more stacks of money and devices it over all of the pockets of his jacket. It is just like a game of Monopoly.

Malawi, boven èn onder waterWe fill our fuel tanks and drive from Karongo further south, while we discuss the shopping list over the intercom. In every new country we have to constantly rediscover how the local supermarket is called and what stuff we can get there. In Karonga we did not see any supermarket. As we get closer to Livingstonia, we do see some stalls along the road where they sell tomatoes. We get off the road and park our bikes.

Even before I have taken off my helmet there is a large group of people around us. We are the attraction of that afternoon. From the houses around us stunned residents stick out their head. They must think; “What do those Mzungu want here?” I ask where I can buy bread. One of the girls points to a small house which has a sign for a ‘Corner Store’ painted on it. I can not enter the shop, but must request for my groceries through the bars of the window. While Peter is making new friends with the men from the village, the girls try to hear every word of my order. I buy two loaves of bread and a pack of sugar and at the stall some more tomatoes and garlic. For the other groceries they refer us to the next village. From the tone of their directions, I take it that they think it a bit crazy that we did not go there immediately. Everyone knows that you should go there, right?

Malawi, boven èn onder waterAfter a group picture we continue. And indeed, some twenty kilometers further we arrive in a town with a busy street with shops. It is still not immediately clear where I can buy peanut butter. I ask at several small windows whether they sell peanut butter, until the third vendor points me to a larger building across the street. On the wall it says: “Peoples! Cash and Carry”. It looks more like a bank to me, but indeed appears to be a supermarket. I can get everything that was still on our list. Peanut butter, jam, noodle soup, pasta, rice and some cans of vegetables, this should be enough for a few days.

We drive on and see green hills in the distance. We turn right onto a dirt road and begin our ride up to the campsite. The track turns into a narrow gravel road that winds up through several sharp turns. Malawi, boven èn onder waterThe curves are even numbered, it reminds me of Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps. And just like on that French mountain we come across a cyclist that is on his way to the top on his mountainbike. A true challenge in this heat. With the motorbikes it is a lot easier for us! The bikes may only be 250cc, they have no trouble with the steep slopes. It really is a fun ride up. On our way up we already see a glimpse of the magnificent view that awaits us at the top.

A cheerful sign points us to the campsite and not much later we park at The Mushroom Farm, where we are warmly welcomed by the American Maddie. Together with her brother Cameron and a bunch of friends she runs The Mushroom Farm. We feel right at home. We drag all our stuff to the campsite and set up our tent down on one of the best camping spots we have had during this trip. Right on the edge of the hill with breathtaking view over Lake Malawi and the sharply shaped hills. Even if it starts to rain later that day, the view is amazing!

Malawi, boven èn onder waterThe Mushroom Farm is no ordinary campsite, but an eco-cam. Electricity comes from solar energy, hot water from a wood-fired boiler, eggs from their own chickens and vegetables from the organic vegetable garden. The most special is the ecotoilet. A wooden toilet above a big hole in the ground where we do not flush with water but with ashes and a handful of dry leaves. In the course of time this creates compost, which -believe it or not- can be used in their vegetable garden again. A hole in the ground as a toilet is very common in Africa and is usually called a “long drop”. This is a very cosy long drop, with a rug on the floor, some plants for decoration and a beautiful view of the forest from the toilet. You do not see them like this every day.

Malawi, boven èn onder waterOur camping spot is not big, but does fit two chairs and a burner next to our tent. With a good book and a cup of coffee it is a great place to spend a few days. Yet we do leave our armchairs a few times to walk to the falls and to the village of Livingstonia.

Livingstonia is a mission which in 1895 was founded by Scottish missionaries and was named after Livingstone. It is a small village with a church, several houses and a well-run hospital. The stone buildings date from the early 1900’s and are built in a typical European style. That seems strange when you are in the middle of Africa you suddenly seem to walk in a Dutch village. The only thing that reminds us that we are in Africa, is the sound of the local gospel choir that is rehearsing on the square in front of the church. Dressed in beautifully coloured dresses they rocking their African hips  slowly to the rhythm of their song. Malawi, boven èn onder waterIt is so beautiful it gives us goosebumps.

After a week at the Mushroom Farm, we get itchy feet. We could have easily stayed a few more months, but we want to see other parts of the world as well during our trip. So we get going. We ride the hairpin bends down and continue along the lake to the south. It is quiet on the road. Most people are walking or cycling, we see almost no cars. Few cars also means that there are few gas stations. For the first time in a long time, we must take fuel from our spare fuel tank.

At the end of the afternoon we arrive in Mzuzu, a fairly large city where it suddenly also is a lot busier. This time the supermarket cannot be missed. At the intersection is a huge Shoprite, a South African chain where they really sell everything. They even have Dutch Douwe Egberts coffee and large Malawi, boven èn onder waterchunks of Dutch cheese. What a contrast to the ‘Corner Shop’ a few days ago. We do some shopping and again fill our pockets with thick stacks of Monopoly money at the ATM.

We continue our journey to Nkhata Bay, a small fishing village on Lake Malawi and find a camping spot at Mayoka Village. It turns our to be thé backpackers place of Nhkata Bay, complete with dormitories, lounge chairs with Gap Year students and a busy bar. The average age around us is 21 years. Most travelers who -like us- travel in their own vehicle through Africa are a lot older. Either around 35 (with savings in the bank and no children) or 50 + (with savings in the bank and children that have left the house). But we have not met any overlanders since we last met Ard and Tania in Uganda.

Once we thought we saw some overlanders on a campsite in Tanzania. We drove onto to a campsite and saw a well-equipped Toyota Landcruiser with two rooftop tents. Malawi, boven èn onder water In our enthusiasm we parked our bikes next to their car to -as we had grown accustomed to- have a chat. From behind their books four German tourists looked at us in surprise. An awkward conversation about their rented car and the beautiful weather followed. And as we had to get used to such holiday makers as of Tanzania, we must now get used to the backpackers. But fortunately it does not last long. Very soon we are slumped on a lounge chair with a beer in our hand staring at the waves in Lake Malawi to think over our lives.

We did lounge enough the last days, so it is time for some action. Not on the bikes this time, but wearing a wetsuit and scuba gear in the fresh water of Lake Malawi. We register at the local dive center for a course to obtain our diving certificate. A round the world trip would not be complete if you have not discovered a part of the underwater world too, right? While the Dutch soccer team crushes Spain in the first match of the World Cup in Brazil, we sit in our tent bent over the theory book. Malawi, boven èn onder waterUnder the inspiring leadership of Kelly-Ann, we work through the textbook in three days, we take exams and go into the water for exercises every day. After three days we both pass our final exam and we receive our scuba certification from Kelly-Ann! Yiehoe, this will be a lot of fun in South America and Asia!

Distance travelled to Nhkata Bay: 19,699 km (12,249 miles)

Click here to view the photos.

Previous story “In search of Livingstone” – Next story “Lazy loungers

| Leonie | AFRICA, Malawi

3 Reacties (Comments) - Malawi, above the water and underwater

  1. Sofie De Lille


    Wat leuk dat jullie het duikbrevet hebben gehaald! Tof om alles samen te doen.
    Ik schrok er wel een beetje van dat dit verhaal van juni dateert! Maar laat je er vooral niet door opjagen, laat de verhalen maar komen met de snelheid die voor jullie comfortabel is.


  2. Jan en Mariët

    Gefeliciteerd met jullie duikbrevet!
    Veel liefs,xxx

  3. Frederike

    He jongens, wat mooi allemaal. Ik ben wel blij met het blog, achteraf zouden we anders maar een fractie van het verhaal horen ( dit is waarschijnlijk zelfs maar een gedeelte)! En ik vind de alledaagse kleinigheden juist zo leuk! Tot de volgende keer, xxx