Languages: English (official), Chichewa
In 1891 the British grabbed the fertile hills around the lake by declaring the area a protectorate called Nyasaland. Missionaries and tea planters poured in and expropriated the best land with all the formal niceties of British colonial law as they had done in so many other places around the world.
As elsewhere, they eventually had to go and the republic of Malawi was born in 1964 under the leadership of Doctor Hastings Kamuzu Banda who declared himself "President for Life" in 1970. Banda ran Malawi like his personal household, even telling his people what to wear. In fact, after three decades of his dictatorship a third of the country's economy was controlled by his private company called Press Holdings.
Intense international pressure forced him to hold real elections in 1994 and he had to step down after the clear victory of Bakili Muluzi who initiated a programme of privatizations and reforms to promote growth and control inflation.
Backpackers can now visit Malawi without worrying about their dress or their hair style!
View on Lake Malawi from the heights of Livingstonia.
I got to the Malawi border on the back of a bicycle at the same time as a group of 30 British youths travelling in two large "Economic Overland" trucks. We went through the formalities together and they invited me to join them as far as their next stop, Des & Bones Beach Bar at Chitimba at the foot of the Livingstonia escarpment.
They were a good bunch, they adopted me and we had a ball... These Overland trucks are a great way for kids to have a taste of adventure and see the world on a minimal budget. This group had assembled in Nairobi. They carried camping gear and everything else required to be self sufficient. They were going to spend three months exploring Africa before dispersing in Capetown where the trucks would load another group for the trip back to Nairobi. Absolutely brilliant!
All they needed was a place to pitch their tents and set up their camp stoves. Each had his or her duties and as far as I could see there was no shirking. Andy, the 22 year old Australian leader of the caravan, was a thinking man who could talk all night on the truth of experience versus the travesty of structures. I couldn't help but to agree with a lot of what he said.
I travel light and did not have a tent so I rented this beach hut for 2 US$ a night. You can see the size of my pack by the doorway. A day's rest doing nothing on the beach and watching the preparations for the evening party was just great.
On the second day, these two fellows drove in with their 1917 model T Ford. They had driven it all the way from London and were planning to take it around the world! Next leg after Capetown, India. I was thrilled for I once had a 1924 Model T in Ottawa when I was their age a long time ago. What a fantastic adventure!
The two chaps with the Model T and I contributing our share, the happy gang bought a live pig from a neighbouring village. The beast was butchered, scalded and cleaned on the beach and lovingly roasted all day by these helpful locals. It was a truly great party with roast pork, sweet potatoes, yam, corn on the cob, loads of good Malawi beer and cannabis cakes baked by one of the girls. Wow!
The next day I went as far as Mzuzu with them and said fond bye byes. I was hoping to go down to Nakhata Bay to go down the lake by steamer but changed my mind and took a bus to Lilongwe when nobody could tell me when the boat would come.
In Lilongwe, I stayed at the City Council Guest House near the bus station in the old part of town for 3.60 US$ a night. It had a huge bar and was quite noisy but it had a pleasant atmosphere and was clean and safe. I rather liked it and stayed a few days, This is the market area in the old city where I bought two beautifully sculpted ebony heads. I shipped them home and they got there.
New Lilongwe is so clean and modern that it's like a foreign body in this environment a bit like Brasilia and Canberra. I had to go there to get the transit visa required to cross the "Gun Run" to Zimbabwe through the Tete corridor in Mozambique territory.
This is a baobab tree. From Lilongwe I travelled 8 hours by bus to Monkey Bay in the southern tip of Lake Malawi. Then, I had one more hour by another bus to get to Cape McLear. It's a small world, my bus was overtaken by the two Overland trucks going to the Golden Sands beach a few kms further than Cape McLear!
This quiet African village was just starting to gain popularity with backpackers when I was there in February 1995.
I just loved it, it had everything, great scenery, a nice beach, friendly and hospitable locals, some but not too many backpackers and unbeatable prices. I had a large room with two beds for 10 Kwasha (65 cents) and beer was only five Kwasha!
Food was mediocre but that's par for the course in Africa. I have come to realize that it takes centuries of civilization to come to see the act of eating as an art form instead of something necessary for survival. Africa has many attractions but the pleasure of the taste buds is unfortunately not one of them. As a whole, I found African food rather bland, dull and uninspiring even if it can be spicy at times.
This being said about food, Malawi and more particularly Cape McLear is one corner of the planet I hope to return to someday. Preferably with a nice girl...
Lilongwe is the capital but Blantyre is where the action is. This is the City Hall.
It is not a big city but Malawi is not a big country. Personally I think that if this were the capital, the decision takers would have a better chance of knowing what they are taking decisions about. The propensity for politicians and bureaucrats for isolating their ivory tower away from the towers of economic reality is universal, look at Washington, Ottawa, Quebec City and in the more extreme manifestations of this isolationism, Brasilia and Canberra.
In Blantyre I stayed a couple of days at Doogles, a guest house run by ex South African Dave Bradshaw where I met several interesting travellers, Bob and Dean, two Australians who had good pot, Tom O'Brien who taught science in a high school for the Peace Corps and Barbara Lotz who wanted to go to Harare with her friend Suzanne Hvaling.
I was also going to Harare and the three of us had the good fortune that Dave, who was going there on business, offered to take us with him. It was a long drive, we left at 7 AM and got there at 9 PM, but a very interesting one. In those 14 hours, Dave shared with us a wealth of information and understanding of Africa's problems and hopes. Here we are approaching the border between Malawi and Mozambique which we have to cross to get to Harare in Zimbabwe.