Niamh Sacramento remembers Malawi’s welcoming people and rocky roads
Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, was the perfect place for my parents to join Giles and I for a week. The driving distances between sites of interests are relatively short, the roads are in a good condition, English is widely spoken and the people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming.
From Lilongwe, we were greeted by crowds of smiling excited children in Dedza and treated to a traditional dance, which the whole village enjoyed. The cultural significance of the spectacle was revealed at Mua Mission: a real treasure-trove displaying the work of Master Woodcarver, Thomas Mpiri. A Canadian priest who trained local men in the art of carving was studiously preparing a commission while we watched in awe as the craftsmen created their works of art.
At Kande beach, an overlander haunt on the shores of Lake Malawi, my parents rented a wato (a ‘wooden canoe’) to paddle out to an island for some breathtaking snorkelling. Later a bareback horse-riding trip led us through the local village and to the lake’s edge. We didn’t stop there though, as the horses continued into the lake; the opportunity to ride horses while they swam was magical.
The drive to Livingstonia was as enjoyable as the place itself! My parents and husband were remarkably quiet the whole way up the hill, on a rocky narrow road complete with 10 hairpin bends. There was a collective sigh of relief when we reached our destination, hopefully because of the road and not just my driving!
At the end of an action-packed week, my parents left satisfied that they had had a good taste of Malawi. We, however, still had three weeks left. In this time we explored Lilongwe and Blantyre, climbed Sapitwa (the highest peak on Mt Mulanje, (‘Sapitwa’ translated means ‘do not go there’!)), came scarily close to large crocodiles on a canoe safari in Liwonde National Park and found it almost impossible to leave Cape Maclear!
- Cultural dances can be arranged through the local chief in Dedza. Enquire at Dedza Pottery, where you can also buy beautiful souvenirs made by skilled Malawians.
- Mua Mission is easily overlooked but it well worth a look. The scenic location of the mission is home to a museum jam-packed with information and artefacts describing tribal beliefs and customs. High-quality wood carvings are displayed and it’s amazing to watch the craftsmen in action.
- Stay at Mushroom Farm, a short walk from Livingstonia, with spectacular views.
- Indaba Lodge is the only locally managed accommodation in Cape Maclear. It is a chance to stay directly on the lakeshore, without the resort feel. The food and service is excellent and they also offer boat trips. We planned to stay two or three nights but didn’t leave for two weeks!
- Diving in Lake Malawi is surprisingly pretty for a lake and it is a novelty to dive in freshwater. We did an advanced PADI course with Eco Lodge, which we would highly recommend.
- For a truly thrilling experience, do not miss the canoe safari in Liwonde National Park, where you can experience startingly close-up views of crocodiles and hippos.
- Hiking Mt Mulanje is very well organised and can be adapted to suit all levels of ability. There are good facilities and excellent guides. Contact the mountain club for more information.