Dec 03 2013

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Northern Malawi Trip with “The Bro”


“The Bro” behind Manchewe Falls, Northern Malawi

When we were born, we are crying while the world rejoices. We should live our lives in such a way that when we die, the world cries while we are rejoicing.” – Yogi Raman

Shout Out to My Bro – Happy Birthday

Exactly one year ago, my brother was on his way back home from Malawi. He came to visit me and we went to the following places:

  • Senga Bay
  • Cape Maclear
  • Mzuzu
  • Nkhata Bay
  • Livingstonia
  • South Luangwa (Zambia)

This is the last blog about his visit here. The first 2 blogs are found here:

I wanted to write about this because last year he celebrated his birthday by coming to Malawi. It was special because he turned 36 last year. Nothing really special there but it was special because we celebrated it in Africa and in the middle of the bush during one of our game drives in South Luangwa National Park. Oh and also, because we “nearly” died!

So, after our awesome trip to Zambia. We decided to rent a car again and go for a drive to the Northern part of Malawi. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do but we wanted to go North so I asked some of my fellow volunteers to recommend some places.

L to R: Genna, Gabi, Me, Erin, Paul

First, we went to pick up our friend Gabi from Salima then we headed North using the lake shore road. It was Gabi’s last day in Salima and Help2Kids organization. We drove for about 3 hours on the lake shore and decided to stop by Nkhotakota Pottery to grab lunch. After lunch, we proceeded to head north and stopped at Nkhata bay for some mango lassi at Mayoka village.

View from the restaurant at Mayoka Village

After our refreshing mango lassi, we started to head north again and by this time, I think it was already 3PM and we still had an hour to Mzuzu. We got to Mzuzu a little past 4PM and decided to fill up our tank since there was a fuel shortage. Luckily, the fuel station had petrol available so we filled up our tank but they weren’t allowed to fill our Jerry cans. I talked to the attendant for a minute and explained our situation that we were going far and promised him a bottle of coke :)… After sweet talking him, he gave in and filled up our 20L Jerry can.

Mzuzu to Livingstonia

I called the Mushroom Farm lodge in Livingstonia to let them know that we were coming up from Mzuzu. I told them that I am driving a small car very similar to a Toyota Corolla and see if the car could make it up. They said there are cars smaller that a Corolla that’s up there so it shouldn’t be a problem but just be very careful as it just rained and the rain exposed a lot of rocks. They also asked us to call them once we get off the main road so they can prepare our food before we arrive. I turned on Google maps on my blackberry and followed the directions. After a couple of hours, the GPS told me to turn left and follow the road. According to Google Maps, the distance between Mzuzu and Livingstonia is 124km or 1 hour and 50 minutes drive. So not knowing what lies ahead, I followed the directions. As soon as Google maps told me to get off the main road, I called the lodge and ordered our food.

See Map Below:

View Larger Map

As you can see from the map, the direction veered left past the middle and got off the main road. We turned at around 5:30PM. A few years ago, that was the main road but now they have a very nice paved road going up to Chitimba. Not knowing anything, I followed the direction and kept driving. Then an hour past and we got a call from the lodge and asked where we were. We passed a few schools and small villages and described most things we saw they didn’t recognize anything I mentioned. Then they asked how long I drove before turning and I said a little over an hour… *BAM* They finally realized that we took the old M1 road… So I had to make a decision whether to keep going or to turn back take the main road… We decided to continue driving since Google Maps said we only 30km away from our destination. However, our average speed was probably around 30km since the road was a bit bumpy. After 30 minutes of driving, the road condition started getting worse and worse and the road also started turning and switchbacks became present.. oh oh… The car started bottoming out and rocks were hitting the muffler and/or oil pan. We were forced to drive the car slowly and go a little over 10kph. By this time, it was already past 9PM and we were all hungry and tired. The GPS also stopped giving us directions so we were forced to use our instinct.. An hour later, we end up at a coal mine. The guard at the mine stopped us and asked where we were going. Here’s how the conversation went:

Him: Muli Uli? (how are you?)

Me: Nili makola, kwala imwe (I am well, how about yourself?)

Him: Makolaso (I am also well.)

*That’s how far my Chitumbuka goes (Chitumbuka is one of the dialect used in Northern Malawi) so I started using Chichewa.

Me: Tikufuna kupita ku Livinstonia (We want to go to Livingstonia)

*as I was talking to him, a group of drunk men approached our car and started interrupting our conversation with the guard. The saw my friend Gabi and they started proposing to her. The guard finally interrupted them so we continued our conversation.

Him: *saying something to me in Chitumbuka and Chichewa* then pointed up to my left.. *something something magetsi*

Me: oh.. So *pointed* that’s Livingstonia?

FML… We were on the wrong mountain! So we basically had to go down the mountain again and come back up. It was already 10:30PM so I called the lodge and told them where we were. I also asked them to call every 30 minutes since I ran out of units (prepaid service) on my phone. So we headed back down the mountain and started to climb again. We passed a couple of sketchy/scary wooden bridges that didn’t look like it was going to hold a car but there was nothing I could do but go over it… There were also lots of turns going up and after several turns, we had to stop while on a 45 degree slope because there were cows coming down. Then the car started sliding down.. I continued to step on the brakes but the car was still slowly moving down so I looked back and we still probably had 5 meters before the drop. So I accelerated a little bit and moved the steering left and right to gain traction.. By that time, cows were all over the road and I was afraid the engine noise would scare the cows and ram our car.. Luckily, there was a guy herding the cows and he steered them away from the car so we could go up… *whew*

The road was really challenging since we had a small car but we survived and got up to Livingstonia. We got a call from the lodge and they suggested that we stay at the Stone House in Livingstonia since it will take another 30-40 minutes for us to get to Mushroom farm. They didn’t have the number to the Stone House so they couldn’t call ahead so our only option was to show up and knock. By the time we got up to Stone House, it was already past midnight.

My brother knocked on the door and luckily the lodge manager was still awake!

Bro: Hi, we’re looking for a place to stay tonight. There are 3 of us.

Guy: Sorry, we don’t have a room for 3 but we have 3 beds. We have 2 bedrooms, each with 3 beds. 1 room has 2 beds available and the other has 1 bed available… hmm.. let me see what I can do.

Bro: Okay

Guy: Well, let me try to move the other guy into the other room so you guys can stay in that room.. Wait here!

Bro: No, you don’t have to do….. *guy walked away*

Bro: okay.. *laughing*

*Bro overheard the conversation*

Guy: *knocks several times*

Guy in Room 1: *guy woke up* Yes?

Guy: Can you move to another room?

Guy in Room 1: No.. *closed the door*

*Guy came back to my bro*

Guy: Sorry, we couldn’t move him but we have basement and we can place beds there.

Bro: okay, thanks!

Haha.. We laughed out loud from what happened. So a few minutes later, we unloaded our bags and went in the basement. The next day, we had breakfast and my brother found out that he was actually leaving in 2 days and not in 3 days so we couldn’t stay in Livingstonia for another night. We hiked to down to Manchewe falls then headed to the Mushroom farm for lunch. The couple who were managing the lodge were so happy to see us and we were to see them! Really thanked those guys for guiding us and making sure we were safe.

Behind Manchewe Falls



View of Manchewe Falls from the Loversnest view (Photo Credit: Farhan Syed)


View from the Mushroom Farm (Life on the edge)

After lunch, we headed down to the road using the alternate route (the fastest way to Livingstonia) which was only 15km away from the lodge. The road was still a really rough but it was a shorter route. We got to the main road around 4PM and drove South. After driving for almost an hour, we decided that we should spend the night in the area and leave early the next day. Since there weren’t any lodge in the area, we decided to drive North again past the turn off to Livingstonia. We stayed at a place called Chitimba Camp – a place where “overlanders” stop to and from Tanzania.

Chitimba Camp (Photo Credit: Chitimba Camp website)

Chitimba to Lilongwe

The following day, we headed South and went to Mzuzu. We decided to have breakfast at Mzuzu Coffee Den. Mzuzu Coffee Den is the only place at that time that was able to do latte art.

Mzuzu Coffee Den. The only place I know (at that time) that was able to create latte art. (Photo Credit: Farhan Syed)

So Gabi wanted to travel around North before meeting she leaves the country so decided to stay and my bro and I continued South to Lilongwe. Then on his departure day, we headed back to my site (my house in Mitundu) and picked up his stuff. He also said his good byes to my neighbors (my parents).

My bro with my neighbors (I consider them mom and dad)

After saying our goodbyes, we headed back to Lilongwe and picked up my friend Jess who was flying out the same day as my brother. We drove to the airport thinking nothing else could go wrong.. Well, nothing went wrong with my bro but Jess had a different experience. Well, the airport system was down that day so if passengers had an electronic ticket, they wouldn’t be able to check in. So passengers needed to have a printed copy of their ticket or they would have problems getting on the plane. Well, Jess didn’t have a printed copy of her ticket. What she had was a confirmation number that she purchased a ticket and not an actual ticket number.

Airport Worker (AE): May I have your ticket number please?

Jess: I don’t have it. I have a confirmation number..

AE: Well, we can’t help you because our system is down

Jess: But I have a confirmation number

AE: But you don’t have a ticket number

*this went on for 5 minutes and Jess called me*

Me: What’s going on?

Jess: The lady is telling me that I need a ticket number and I can’t board the plane.

Me: What does my friend need to get on this plane.

AE: She needs a ticket number

Me: How do we get a ticket number?:

AE: We have to issue it using the confirmation number but our system is down.

Me: okay, so my friend can’t board the plane because your system is down? Is that what you’re telling me?

AE: Yes

Me: Okay, if you can’t help us, then who can?

AE: Our system is down. Sir, can you please step to the side so I can help the next customer?

Me: No, if you can’t help us, the next customer will have the same issue. May I speak with your manager?

AE: Okay, let me call her. *calls the manager and explains the sitution*

Manager: Sir, we can’t issue her a ticket because our system is down.

Me: Okay, well, it’s not our fault that your system is down and my friend here needs to get on that plane so I need you to call South African airline in South Africa and get my friend a ticket here. Their system should be up.

Manager: Okay, let me try that..

*Jess and the Manager went in a room and got her issue resolved*

After several minutes, Jess finally came out of the room and got her ticket and she was able to check in. So my bro and I hung out for a few more minutes and finally it was time to say good bye 🙁

Last pic taken at the airport

I can’t believe he came here a year ago.. It seemed like it was just yesterday! My time here is flying by quickly and he and I are meeting somewhere in Africa. We are traveling after I close my service in Malawi. My service with the Peace Corps ends in May. Let’s see where life takes me…

Good bye for now.


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