Week 11: Ups & Downs in Hilly Malawi

Leaving Lusaka

We started the week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. We weren’t there for touristic reasons, but the highway north went right through it, so it was a good place to camp for the night and then run errands in the morning. Africa might be preparing for Christmas, but after struggling in the 40°C heat, we opted to gift ourselves with a fan!

christmas decorations
Lusaka prepares for Christmas in 40°C heat

South Luangwa

We rushed off to Zambia’s most popular park, South Luangwa, where we were told we’d be guaranteed to see leopards. Well, they weren’t quite falling out of the sky but we did see one just as we parked for a quick break.

There we were snacking on popcorn in front of the ranger’s vehicle, when his tracker said something in Nyanja, and the ranger gently suggested we snack on the far side of the vehicle instead – a leopard had come to a waterhole not more than a hundred meters from us and now was running past us back to safety! Ironically, I felt safer than I did around elephants, which we heard more horror stories about from the ranger (under his overarching theme of “Why I Don’t Do Walking Safaris.”)

However, none of the parks in Zambia are fenced so I was able to face my fear one more time as elephants came into our camp just as everyone started falling asleep. We had already locked up our food in the camp’s kitchen (we were told the elephants will smash windows when they smell food) and once I was sure the hum of our fridge didn’t piss the thing off (something I watched on When Animals Attack) I decided I was too tired to wait for it to come close so I could stare at it, and passed out trusting we’d be fine where we slept.

Mixed Feelings in Malawi

The animal sightings were great, but we were aching to get to Malawi to hit the beaches of its beautiful lake, the third largest in Africa, and so big that it looks like the ocean when you’re standing on shore.

We got into Cape Maclear, a teeny tiny backpacker beach town which was right in a village…and immediately wanted to leave. The reality was that as beautiful as the sunset on the lake was, as amazing as the mountains on the lake were, as quaint as the camp right on the beach was with its hawkers selling things to ‘please support their sister,’ we were exhausted, hot, and dirty, and what we really wanted, nay, needed, was a good dose of luxury.

view from Fat Monkey's
I know, I know, it sounds CRAZY to not be in love with this….

Of Peace & Serendipity

Luckily, we found another site a few minutes away that was a bit more private and quiet and opted to stay in a chalet a couple of nights. The owner had been in the South African Special Forces (like our James Finch) and due to his connections was able to give us a lot of useful info on our proximate travel into Mozambique, after which he invited us over for drinks and a braai the next night.

beach swings
*Insert relaxed sigh here*

Catamarans and Panic Attacks

The next day after some time on the beach, we set off for a sunset catamaran cruise on the lake. The lake is beautifully clear, and has some of the best fresh water diving in the world. But while Moreno and some of the other guests went snorkeling, I tried to come to grips with the steady panic I started feeling earlier that day: the potential dangers in Moz (which we always knew were there) all of a sudden terrified me and I could barely breathe, much less think straight. I knew my fear was irrational, but all I could do to not count down the days till we were home was distract myself with watching movies and sleeping.

The Roller Coaster Continues

After some wise words from Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”), I got over it just in time for Moreno to come down with a fever. Nauseous, vomiting, and feeling weak, Moreno spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in bed while I force fed him Ryvita crackers so he could hold down his malaria pill, and threw on episodes of The Pacific to help us both pass the time.

lake malawi
Children washing and playing on glassy Lake Malawi

We found out later one of our neighbours had also been sick in bed for the past 24 hours and the only thing we could come up with was that both he and Moreno snorkelled that day off the catamaran (me and his wife did not), so perhaps there was something in the mouthpieces, or in the water there. (Note: The lake is known to house bilharzia, but these are not the symptoms we’d expect, nor would they come on so quick).

What Next?

We will hang here until Moreno regains his strength and then we’ll head south into Mozambique for the gorgeous coast we’ve been craving for a few weeks of snorkeling, diving, surfing, and dhow-ing.

As always, thanks for tuning in! :)