5 years ago

The warm heart of Africa | Lilongwe, Malawi

I considered a lengthy list of places to visit in southern and eastern Africa in advance of A Great Journey. Malawi was completely absent from it.

It wasn’t until a few¬†weeks ago, when I ran into a pair of Brits in Bulawayo, that I even knew where it was (sadly) and what it had going for it.

Then I met Andrew, a fellow RTW traveler 11 months into his trip, too, in South Luangwa, on the eastern edge of Zambia. He echoed all the positive things the girls said about Malawi. It was beautiful, affordable, had really nice locals, and an amazing lake.

When we met, I’d experienced what I wanted to in Zambia: the amazing Vic Falls, the best train ride I’ve had on A Great Journey, and a brief visit to South Luangwa National Park that ended up mostly disappointing. I say mostly because it was a pain in the ass to get to and the game & walking safari I’d heard so much about were just ok. But the camp I was at, Croc Valley, was chill, I met some good people, and the travel gods saved all the excitement for my last few hours there, which happened to be on October 31st.

I was so close…why not?

Things got off to a rocky start at the border, but not combative & laughable like the my experience getting into Bolivia. One step into the building, the health officer hassled me quite a bit for not having a yellow fever shot. Hey, I tried in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Vegas – the only 2 places that actually had it did not accept my insurance. But I talked my way out of it and got going after getting a surprisingly good exchange rate at the border, kwacha for kwacha.

Moments later, I was given two reasons to breathe a sigh of relief, smile, and be very comfortable with my decision to come to Malawi.

You see, after being constantly discriminated for my skin color and being looked upon as a walking, cash-flush ATM in Zimbabwe (not surprising, their current despot set the precedent) and Zambia, I was treated fairly by a taxi driver and a mini bus driver. Unlike my experience in Zim, where the dollar-based economy and lack of domestic production make even basics expensive, and Zam, I didn’t have to scoff at their abusive prices and haggle only to get taken advantage of by a smaller multiple of 100%.

It was aggressive, pervasive, and utterly ridiculous at times. I get it, they’re trying to make a living, it’s a broke nation and I come from the developed world. But, it’s the principle. And the fact that it’s been a year since my last paycheck.

A few hours after entering Malawi, I got to the capital, Lilongwe, on a hot, electricity-free, Monday afternoon. Load shedding and unexpected power outages are part of daily life (ha! One struck just as I typed that sentence) here, so it’s something you get used to. I truly feel for the locals in Zim, Zam, and Malawi. It’s not something I ever experienced in South Africa, which is Africa Lite in every sense.

With the sun going down, and unable to hop on the internet to look for a place to stay (cybercafes were down and out; T-Mobile’s usually good international plan is downright terrible in Africa), I chose the best-dressed taxi driver to get me to Mabuya Camp. Luckily, I’d jotted the name of the place down during my conversation with the Brits in Bulawayo. Paper and pen ftw, once again.

Malawi Taxi Driver

Mabuya was unimpressive with its dirty, ill-equipped kitchen, loud gate staff, expensive WiFi, and smoky bar, so I packed up early and starting walking to the bus station, where a 4-hour ride to Cape Maclear was on the agenda.

Then I walked by the Lilongwe Golf Club. And according to the sign on the street, they had camping!

It piqued my curiosity. So I decided to take a brief detour to the reception desk. Truly just for Ss & Gs and for future reference, in case someone asked for a recommendation on where to stay in Lilongwe.

I’m happy to report that my brief detour unexpectedly turned into a helluva 10 days at Lilongwe Golf Club. An adult summer camp, if you will (it’s 100 degrees here).

More about this great experience soon.

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