So after finally having made it into Malawi the first thing we needed to do was…..
….yep, sort out our Mozambique visas. Sigh. The Mozambique embassy have very exacting standards: our clothing, the back-ground colour of our passport photos, and the size of our printed form were all found wanting, but eventually, with our visa applications submitted, we were able to leave Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital city) and slow down for some more relaxing and fun travel.
The scenery in Malawi is beautiful and a big contrast to the deserts of Namibia. It’s hilly and lush, the red soil of Africa contrasting with tropical palms and flowering trees. About every 10km you hit a checkpoint of some kind, where either the police, army, or seemingly random civilians wave you through, often with a salute which never fails to make me smile.
We had a few days in the Viphya forest, where it was nice to reach for our warm jackets and sit around a fire in the evening to stay warm. From there we headed north to our first stop on Lake Malawi - a beautiful campsite sandwiched between the lake and the forest shrouded hillside. It’s owned by a family with two children, so the boys spent their days playing with them and Luke – a 20-year-old Dutch volunteer who was staying at the campsite to help the owners with community work, but who mostly spent his time entertaining our children. We hardly saw the kids apart from at meal times, giving me and Amy a much needed chance to sit around reading and relaxing.
After a few days we headed up the mountain to the Mushroom Farm, a legendary backpacker hangout, build on the side of the mountain, it has amazing views over the patchwork land and as far as the lake. We rented a small but beautifully situated cob house for a night to celebrate my birthday, which came with what must be the world’s most stylish composting loo with a view.
From there, we moved on to Usisya. The drive to Usisya is 55km of small dirt road winding through the north Viphya mountains, the first 30km being fairly good, after which it gets progressively worse for 25km until the road disappears and you are driving through a field of crops, and finally someone’s garden before popping out at, what must be, one of Malawi’s, if not Africa’s, most idyllic places. Dani, the German host, has built 3 basic open-sided thatch huts on the edge of the lake, with golden sand beaches nestled in secluded bays, dotted with rocks perfect for diving off. We were the only people staying there and it was simply paradise. The crystal-clear water was home to an array of colourful cyclid fish, and the trees were buzzing with sun birds and huge butterflies.
We really were in paradise, right up to the point when Jack started shivering despite the high 30’s temperature. He had developed a fever, which in Malawi in the wet season normally means malaria. He didn’t have any other symptoms, but we were taking anti-malaria tablets which can suppress symptoms, one of the draw-backs of anti-malaria tablets. We were a day’s drive from the nearest doctor, over a very rough road, at the weekend. Fortunately, Dani has lived in Malawi for 20 years, and is very knowledgeable about malaria. We had a really useful conversation with her about the practicalities of our options, after which we decided to put Jack onto a course of Malaria treatment as a precaution. The next day his temperature was down and his appetite was back. The Malaria treatments are miraculous, but not for the first time on this trip it highlighted the differences between being born a ‘rich’ westerner v a poor African. It was easy for us to spend £140 in the UK for 2 Malaria treatments ‘just in case’, while children in Africa who contract malaria at the same time as Jack might or might not have survived. A sobering thought.
That night, after a beer and while getting ready for bed I wandered outside with no shoes on, something I should know better than to do in Africa after dark, and stepped on a scorpion, which promptly and understandably stung me. At first if felt like a mild bee sting, so I thought I had got away with it (some scorpions here give a very mild sting). But as the pain spread up thought my foot and leg I knew I was probably in for a rough night. Fortunately, they don’t have lethal scorpions in this part of Malawi (some African scorpions can be fatal), and after double dosing on Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Antihistamine and whiskey I actually managed a reasonable night’s sleep, although my foot didn’t stop feeling numb for a good 36 hours.
It says something about Usisya, that we still count our days spent here as probably the highlight of our trip in Africa, in spite of Jack’s fever and my scorpion sting.