Welcome back! Last week we had some incredible experiences in Tanzania where we went on safari in the Serengeti national park, wild camped on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and explored Zanzibar. Today we head to Malawi!
Malawi is a landlocked country, rich and green, full of banana and tea plantations. We saw vast areas of wilderness as well as highlands. It is truly such a beautiful country! We arrived at our next stop; Lake Malawi, formerly ‘Lake Nyasa’ which covers almost a fifth of the country’s area. The lake provides a source of livelihood for many locals particularly in the fishing trade. Fishermen use Bwato; dugout canoes made from hollowed out tree trunks, which we later get to experience in Botswana during our water safari.
Lake Malawi is famous worldwide for being the world’s most diverse, precious fresh water lake and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The lake is the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world stretching about 400 miles in length and is over 11,000 square miles. Over 1000 species of fish live within its waters, with new discoveries being frequently made. Most of the fish in this lake are not found anywhere else on the planet including over 600 species if Cichild. We camp on Kande beach where we get to chill and enjoy some water sports including diving and snorkelling in it’s clear, pristine waters. You can also kayak, sail and take cruises along it.
One evening Leteloy and Michelle told us we would be having a fancy dress party that night. We were given the task of going to the local market to purchase a costume for one member of our group to wear. We in turn, would have someone buying a costume for us and there would be a prize for the best costume. Well! I was right in my element. We chose the name of the person we would be buying for out of a hat and I had chosen a strapping tall man. I was very excited! I was gonna dress him good! We headed to the market with about £2 in local currency to spend on the costume. There were lots of stalls at the market selling interesting clothes and materials and I got very excited when I found a leopard print top and skirt. I thought; i’ll cut those down to make a mini skirt and belly top and he’ll look amazing! The man on the stall told me I should also get him a cool hat to wear which I thought was a great idea. He showed me some pink baby swim nappies….. I was confused. He told me they were “Malawi hats” that local people wore (I’m pretty sure he was having me on?!) I laughed and argued with him stating they were clearly baby swim nappies. He insisted however and who am I to argue with a local man?! On return to camp we each presented the costume we had bought for each other and then got dressed in them. The lovely, brave man I dressed proudly wore his belly top, mini skirt and pink baby swim nappy “Malawi” hat all night!! And I won the competition of having chosen the best costume! YAY! We all had similar costumes, and I think most of the guys were in dresses that night, absolutely loving and rocking the drag look! It was soo funny and so much fun! We spent all night pretending to be African wildlife and turned completely savage.
Above I showcase the ‘before’ pictures. The during pictures are not suitable for sharing and it’s fair to say we ended the night in a right state. The next morning we were lucky not to have an early start and enjoyed lounging about on the beach, recovering from Michelle’s punch. Cold water is definitely the best hangover cure and most of us spent long periods of time bobbing in the lake. Once we started to feel slightly normal again, we went for a long swim out to one of the islands and played volleyball on the beach.
Again we had the privilege of visiting a local village and meeting the people. These were not tribes people and the culture and lifestyle was different to that of the Maasai that we met in Kenya. Malawians are by tradition very friendly with the country being referred to as the ‘warm heart of Africa’. Sarah and I spent a long time talking to Cain and Fred who taught us how to play the Malawian Bao game, which I was quite good at, although i’m guessing they were going easy on me. Fred and Cain were brothers. As the eldest aged 25, Fred was responsible for providing for his family as his father had died. At 25 he was classed as ‘middle-aged’ due to the lower life expectancy there. When we first met them Cain had been reading The Da Vinci code and he later told us he was saving to be able to study to become a doctor.
It was great to pass time together. They told us stories about their lives and it felt like a real authentic cultural exchange. The people were always so happy that we were enjoying their country and would often give us recommendations on things to do and places to see during our down time. Fred and Cain gave Sarah and I local names; I was ‘Masozi’ which they told me meant “smiler’ as they said I was always happy and smiling and Sarah was ‘Mphatso’ which she wasn’t keen on at the time but they said meant “gift”. Fred and Cain made us T-shirts with our new names on the back and a picture of the route we were taking through Africa. Their art work was incredible and I still have that T-shirt to this day. I have since googled the names they gave us though and Mphatso does in fact mean “gift from god”, but Masozi means “tears”! I’m taking it that they meant “tears of joy” and not that looking at me made them wanna cry. We bought lots of cool wooden carvings made by our new friends and watched them make them. They were so talented, using only a rock and chisel to carve into the wood. I highly recommend buying the local Malawi table. Sarah bought one, but I didn’t and I kick myself now as they were so beautiful. I did however get some beautiful wooden carvings including a crocodile ashtray for my dad, some personalised key rings for friends and some art work which I have on my living room walls… My living room is like a little shrine to all the wonderful places I have visited in the world. Oh and obviously a bracelet from Malawi to add to my collection. Some people on our tour bought huge sculptures and furniture which they had to have shipped home directly from there. Fred and Cain were so incredibly lovely! They were so happy and humbled when Sarah and I bought so much from them, saying what a difference it would make to their lives.
It was in this village where they told us they had a well made for them by a water charity that we often see advertised on UK TV. They told us what a difference it had made to them, as prior to that they had had to walk for miles just to get water. It was great to see that something like that has actually changed the lives of people somewhere in the world. We visited the local hospital where a beautiful woman had just become a mama and proudly showed us her newborn son. We also visited the local school and met some of the children. The children asked us for books and pens so they could read and draw and were so happy when we gave them these things. They also enjoyed practising English with us and the boys seemed to like playing football with the men, especially when they thrashed them, even without wearing shoes!
Whilst in Malawi Sarah got ill with a cold. Leteloy made her a natural medicine from lemons freshly picked off the tree, local honey and whiskey. Sarah said it really helped and she felt much better for it. Each meal time we would stop and prepare food in our groups. Michelle had some incredible recipes and the food we ate every day was absolutely delicious. We bought local, in season food and ate everything from lasagne cooked in a stone oven and apricot chicken, to some amazing salads and fruit and veg, some of which we picked straight off the trees including bananas and papaya. We ate one particular fruit, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was the most incredible thing my taste buds have ever experienced. It was like eating lemon sherbet sweets but in a fruit!! We enjoyed BBQs quite regularly too. Leteloy had some incredible bushcraft skills that he taught us and the more time we spent in Africa, the closer and deeper connection I felt to its land. Our evenings where always very relaxed. If we were on a more secure site then we would venture to some bars and socialise. If we were wild camping we would sit around the fire pit chatting and then spend hours reading and writing in our journals in our little dome tents with our head torches on. On our way out of Malawi we stopped at Lilongwe where we were all very excited to find and have a cheeky Nandos!
The entire trip with Acacia Africa was so well planned and organised. As well as having some incredible experiences and seeing a new part of the world, it also felt like being there was making a positive difference to the local communities we visited. The values and ethics of the company and the visits we had felt like they were funding and empowering local projects and people. It was about giving as much as about taking, again as with all things in Africa it felt like a delicate balance, but one that was more or less right. We experienced that slow, deep travel where we connected to the local people and culture and learnt about their food, music and way of life. It was educational for both us as tourists and for the locals we engaged with. It was sustainable with money we spent funding communities, charities and conservation projects. We ensured we ‘left no trace’ and were eco-friendly in our approach to the environments in which we found ourselves. Living and being so close to nature made us want to do this naturally.
Check out the rest of the blogs in the series:
Chapter 1– Kenya safaris and the circle of life
Chapter 2– Safaris in the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and reflecting on Zanzibar’s dark history.
Chapter 4– Zambia, the African capital of extreme outdoor activities.
Chapter 5– Exploring the Okavango Delta and the importance of sustainable travel
Chapter 6- Coming soon!
If you’re interested in booking this or a similar trip with Acacia Africa, check out their web page here.