Never before have I been to a country where the backpacker trail is so small and cozy. At every destination in Malawi I found a familiar face. I was able to travel and hang out with many new friends for more than just a couple days. At one point I stayed with a big group of friends for almost 3 weeks in Nkhata Bay. We celebrated Christmas and New Years Eve together in proper style: a giant dinner including a whole roast pig and goat at Mayoka for Christmas and an improvised costume party for New Years Eve.
After the holidays in Nkhata Bay, I ended up setting out on an adventure to the Nyika plateau with a big group of friends (Darlene, Becky, Dave, Sandy, Oezlem, Mary, Emma, Adam, Craig and Michael). Nyika is normally very difficult to access without your own wheels, but is said to be one of Malawi’s most beautiful and unique spots, so I eagerly accepted Darlene’s invitation to make the trip in her Land Rover. As we all learned over the next couple days, though, the 20 year-old landie is no longer up to the challenge of Malawi’s rough roads. In the middle of the night, a third of the way up the mountain road to Livingstonia, she stopped and refused to start again. We made the climb on foot up the mushroom farm, the lodge that Darlene currently manages, and contented ourselves with being stranded there for a whole week before the car was deemed roadworthy again. Sadly, a few people had to leave before the journey could continue - I had to say goodbye to Oezlem, Sandy, Michael, Mary and Emma.
It was not much more than 48 hours before she broke down again, this time leaving us about 14 km from Chelinda camp in the middle of Nyika. Four of us opted to walk back while the rest waited patiently for help to be sent back. It came in the form of a tractor which towed the car to camp to be fixed. Most of the next day was spent dealing with the necessary repairs, so we set off that afternoon, fingers crossed, for the mushroom farm.
The unpaved roads in Nyika have fallen into disrepair since much of the facilities in the park shut down earlier in the year. The car inched up several of the muddy hills before we had to make a routine of getting out and pushing it up each one. It eventually died and would not start again. We resigned ourselves to the idea of camping out in the wilderness until help could be sorted out, but a pick-up truck came bouncing up the road, miraculously, at just the right moment. It was headed to Mzuzu with no cargo so Terry, Michael, Karen and I hopped in and sped off. Darlene, Dave and Becky stayed with the land rover and ended up spending another hellish night stranded in the bush before help arrived.
My plan at this point was to catch the Ilala ferry at one of its stops on Lake Malawi and ride it to Cobue, where I would cross into Mozambique. I realized in the truck that I might be able to get all the way to Nkhata Bay in one shot and spend the another couple days there before I left, so thanks to the helpful truck driver, I arrived that night at Mayoka for a surprise visit. I ended up missing the ferry (it only runs once a week) and enjoying 3 more beautiful days in Nkhata Bay. My justification for missing the ferry was news of disastrous flooding in Mozambique - I quickly formed a new plan to go instead to Tanzania via Karonga in the north. So I said goodbye again to everyone at Mayoka and stopped in Mzuzu on my way up and ran into none other than Miss Terry-Lee Quail and Mr. Michael Constantaris, friends from the earlier ill-fated adventure in Nyika. They told me of their plan to spend a few days hiking around Mt. Mulange in the south before returning home to South Africa, so I spontaneously decided to join them.
One marathon 2-day traveling session brought us to Mulange via Blantyre. From there we hired a guide and one porter to accompany us on the 4 day trek. We were prepared for, and expected, heavy rains throughout the trip, but luck prevailed and we stayed dry almost the whole time. In all, it was a fantastic hike and we were treated to some beautiful mountain and forest scenery. On the third day we met Julian, a biologist who lives and works in Mulange. He shared some wild stories about his experiences on scientific expeditions in Africa before leading us down the most treacherously steep mountain path I’ve ever seen for our return to Mulange. The next day, with Julian’s help, I set off early for the Mozambican border at Mulange/Milange and made my way east towards the coast.