- Sun 09th Oct The Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge, Nyika Plateau
- Mon 10th Oct Sunga Moyo, Chintheche
- Tue 11th Oct Thumbi View Lodge, Cape Maclear
- Tanzania Border – The Mushroom Farm: 139km
- The Mushroom Farm – Sunga Moyo: 216km
- Sunga Moyo – Cape Maclear: 422km
Total KMs travelled: 4,752
The border town of Kasumulu was little more than a dusty outpost. A grand complex is under construction but still far from completion so the processing all of our paperwork was done in older offices on both sides of the border. The pace of life was definitely much slower here … everyone was smiling, chatty and seemingly not focused on checking forms and applying stamps to the necessary pages of passports and vehicle documents. Despite being pretty much the only people at the counters for almost the entire process, it still took well over 2 hours to complete all formalities.
At one stage, 2 older gentlemen from the UK arrived on a pair of one-speed bicycles – what we would call a black mamba in Kenya – so we had a brief chat and learned they had been cycling the length of Malawi and were now crossing up into Tanzania to explore further. They seemed to be having a great time but my mind flashed back to the steep, winding roads they would soon be climbing to Mbeya and I felt a little bad for them, but they seemed the sort of fellow who would take this in their stride.
Our road soon took us towards Lake Malawi and we were immediately struck by the number of people who were out and about – in Tanzania we had easily been able to find places to pull over and have a quick, undisturbed lunch but that wasn’t the case here. Malawi is about 10% of the size of Tanzania with almost half the population. When you consider that ¼ of the area of the country is lake surface, it’s little surprise that there are people everywhere.
The drive along the lakeshore was beautiful with the clear waters glistening on our left and mountains rising up on our right. We were following directions to The Mushroom Eco-Farm and soon reached a right turn off our tarmac road onto a dubious looking dirt track, which headed directly for the mountains. A quick consult of the map showed no other route so we went for it and were rewarded with a challenging climb along a narrow road, with tight switchback bends that seemingly went on forever … well the whole road was just a few km long but we climbed 750m from the lake below to our destination. The welcome sign to The Mushroom Farm reminds you they’re perched on a cliff and invites you to be careful, so we chose a nice-looking camping stop close to the edge and set ourselves up for the night. The farm is an eclectic mix of camping sites, cottages and permanent tents and had an equally eclectic clientele – English backpackers, Dutch overlanders, Zambian missionaries, a German yoga guru and then a father and son on an extended school run. All food served was vegetarian but the platters were enormous and food delicious, so we ate well.
When we crossed into Malawi we changed time zone and gained an hour. We didn’t think much of it at the time but were surprised when the sun was setting at 6pm and I hadn’t expected to be up before 5am, when it was getting light. Kian, good teenager that he is, managed to lie in despite being in a tent in the blazing morning sun, so our departure was probably later than it should have been.
After a ridiculously enormous vegetarian breakfast, we continued to climb up to the Nyika Plateau, stopping to view and climb down to the Manchero waterfalls, before continuing on to Livingstonia. This is a small missionary town that served as the base for the Livingstonia Synod, an organization that supported many fine projects across Malawi, including providing good education for all. It’s testament to their work that the first Malawian leader of colonial Nyassaland and the countries’ first president, Hastings Banda, both passed through this system. We visited an old, 2-room museum, which contained some interesting but moth-eaten exhibits but came away with the feeling that it was just a rather dated celebration of early missionary colonialism with no acknowledgement of the people who were already there. Apparently the first human being to set eyes on Lake Malawi was actually a 19th century Portuguese explorer … didn’t seem quite right …
By this stage, we had moved quite a long way inland and away from the lake so, as we headed south, our journey took us back towards the shore and we searched for accommodations for the night. We ended up at Sunga Moyo – we know ‘moyo’ as meaning ‘heart’ in Swahili but here in Malawi it means ‘life’ in Chichewa – a massive campsite on the lake shore, where we were the only guests. After a long and hot day on the road, the clear waters of the lake were inviting and we were straight in there to cool off. We camped in the shade of a mango tree facing the lake and got to see a blood-red full moon rising and reflecting in the waters just after sunset. Sunga Moyo is a really picturesque place, and I was surprised how few visitors they have … they definitely deserve more.
The following morning, Kian decided that our travels had been too sedentary so far so we unpacked our mobile gym … several push-ups, rope skips and complicated moves with a TRX rope device attached to a tree branch soon followed, mostly carried out by Kian but I also tried my hand a few … I suspect this is something I will need to ease into! We had hoped to hire kayaks from Sunga Moyo, but the wind picked up and the waves on the lake looked a little treacherous, so we ditched that idea.
We continued our journey south, the roads getting steadily narrower and more pot-holed, and also noted several long queues of vehicles at fuel stations. We’d heard about the possibility of fuel shortages so had filled as we left Tanzania and I was feeling confident that the 155L (40+ gallons) of fuel we had on board would be sufficient for our travel needs. A Percy Jackson audio book kept us entertained on the drive, though with the stereo still not functioning we shared a set of earbuds to hear properly. Note to self … try and fix stereo in Lilongwe.
Finally, we pulled into Cape Maclear as the sun was nearing the horizon. Our lodgings, a backpackers called Thumbi View Lodge right on the Cape Maclear Bay and we were immediately treated to a spectacular sunset. An early night followed as we prepare for our 4-day kayak and snorkelling adventure out to the islands of Domwe and Mumbo, which starts tomorrow morning.