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July 13, 2013 / samwilson60

Hello Malawi!

Once we’d successfully negotiated our way through the border, and still blissfully unaware that the official money changer had fleeced us, we were back in rolling hills, these ones Malawian. Clearly the whole area had once been thick forest but now you could see for miles. There was evidence of tree felling everywhere, with stumps littering the hills and piles of timber lining the road. Fortunately for us, less so for the locals, the primary means of transporting all this wood seemed to be by bicycle! As we pootled along, we identified our first African Harrier Hawk, had our first glimpse of Lake Malawi and sampled the new street-side delicacies (meat samosas and doughnuts!).

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The lakeside stretches drew longer and the surrounding hills bigger until we reached the Livingstonia escarpment. Here we turned inland and up the almost-sheer rock face! The drive up the escarpment was as you would expect – really fun, with great views (except while we were in the trees, which was quite often).

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We didn’t get as far as Livingstonia but turned into a lodge just on the edge of the escarpment, where we camped alongside another pair of Cape-to-Capers. We explored the fantastic gardens surrounding our camp, taking in the stunning views and all that was going on around us.

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We would have loved to stay and explore Livingstonia itself but had to carry on south. Chris was arriving in 48 hours and we were still about 600km from the airport. We consoled ourselves with the possibility of bringing him back up here, and with a slightly indulgent loop back down the escarpment the following morning. It was actually an easier drive than expected (as proven by the young European girl coming the other way in a Micra) but a nice, scenic start to the day. The chameleon was an added bonus that involved yet another successful emergency stop.

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We hit the tarmac just 60km north of Mzuzu, where we hoped to find reflective tape for the car and a sim card for the phone. We got the first and soon forgot about the second, eager as we were to find our forest camp 100km further south. There was still plenty of tree felling going on but there were now a few more trees to speak of, which was reassuring.

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The actual forest, much like Livingstonia, merited a longer stopover but again, perhaps we could come back with Chris. We were keen to do something active and this would be the perfect place for it. In the meantime, we settled for a sedentary drive on to Lilongwe. There was no real checkpoint banter to speak of but one random policeman did flag us down for speeding in a 100km/hour zone. We were so stunned by the suggestion that we’d exceeded even our self-imposed 80km/hour limit, we laughed a lot and asked to see his speed gun. There was none and we all knew he was trying it on, so he waved us off in a “no hard feelings” kind of a way.

Lilongwe itself was pretty low-key. We managed to find our way all the way to the backpackers we were aiming for, via the Mozambique embassy and the Toyota dealership. At the embassy we were greeted by a sign announcing that, as of 5 July (it was now 4pm on 4th), no visas would be issued here. Then at Toyota they kindly told us they didn’t have the filters we wanted but if we could wait a month they’d be all-too happy to order an “express delivery”. We politely declined and headed off to our backpackers, where we settled down to all the other things on our to-do list. This went remarkably well – even booking flights home from South Africa for the end of August was easier, cheaper and less emotional than expected – and we rewarded ourselves with a rare cocktail to celebrate our ten months on the road.

We then had an even rarer second cocktail when we realised we were to be hemmed in by 20 or so obnoxious 20-somethings partying the night away alongside our tent. The barman had been too polite to refuse our request for a mojito despite having none of the required ingredients. After a full tumbler of what anyone else would call tequila and soda water, no amount of partying was going to keep us from our tent. As luck would have it, the revellers decamped to a local club at around the same time and we had a surprisingly good, tequila-induced sleep.

We spent the morning doing yet more useful jobs, then drove out to the airport via the shops. All we needed was a cash machine, a supermarket and a scanner, preferably in that order. We found three supermarkets and a scanner but no money. We did what we could with the limited funds we had but needed more. And if none of the cash machines in the capital worked, what were our chances elsewhere? At precisely the time Chris was due to be landing, we found one that would take our cards. We’d got a bit complacent about the time it would take him to get through security; we’d not thought about how long it might take us to inch through the inner-city traffic. We made it late but a minute or two less late than Chris so everyone was happy, including our friendly car-park attendant, Stephen.

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