Now here’s a familiar sight…
Having dropped Muriel, Philip & Caroline at Livingstone airport for their flight back to Scotland, we just had time to get the car in to Nick Selby at Foleys Africa for the brakes to be looked at. The pipes and callipers have been ‘Bush-repaired’ so many times now that they basically fell apart. There was little alternative other than to replace the pipes and fit 2 new rear callipers. Not a cheap exercise, but noticeably better once done.
Then we were off again. Heading 1,800km north, up to Lake Malawi, about 2 hours south of the Tanzanian border.
Four months ago, on our way south, when we had stopped in at Chitimba Camp on the lake shore for a catch up with the Dutch owners Ed & Carmen. All we did was enquire how they were: just being polite really. Somehow, 24 hours later we had agreed to run the place for a couple of months after our Zambia trip, while they went back to Europe for a holiday!
Now we had to stand up and back up our offer. Their flight was booked and, with the delays getting the car fixed, we had 7 days to get there and learn the ropes before they left.
The 2-day drive to the Malawi border at Chipata was pretty gruelling. So much of the Great Eastern Road From Lusaka is being replaced at the moment that at least 70% of it consists of rough, dusty diversions alongside the roadworks. Slow going, but when it’s finished it will be a tremendous improvement for travel between Lilongwe and Lusaka.
One of our biggest concerns was getting a 3-month Visa for Malawi. We were given the normal 30 days at the border (Visas for Brits used to be free, but in October 2015 they imposed a new $75 fee) and then went straight to the Immigration Office in Lilongwe to see if they could help.
We were expecting a bit of a fight and a lot of begging. Actually, they couldn’t have been more helpful. All we had to do was fill in a short form, pay the $20 uplift and we were granted 90 days on the spot.
Of course, ‘on the spot’ means one thing in Europe and another in Africa. It did involve going to 3 different offices to get receipts, pay fees and get numerous rubber stamps pounded onto our paperwork. The actual process took about 7 minutes. The waiting in line took about 3 hours.
We stopped overnight at Ngala lodge. A lovely camping spot on the lakeshore, about 200km south of Mzuzu.
View from The Penthouse…
In a country as poor as Malawi, the lake is obviously a major, versatile resource for villagers along its 352 mile length. Washing, watering, fishing, laundry, irrigation, it all happens along the shoreline.
…about 30 minutes later, as the overnight fishermen returned to shore hoping to be first to the market with their catch, the rising sun looked like a fake, cheesy backdrop from a badly staged Disney show…
In Mzuzu we had an unscheduled overnight stop at Mzoozoozoo (a pretty tatty, cheap backpackers, well past its prime) and wandered round the excellent hardware market to find some small bits and pieces to make some repairs to the rooftent. The market is a fascinating rabbit-warren of alleyways and stalls, with everything from new European-style bathroom fittings, to piles of used nuts & bolts sorted by size and heaped up like mountains of cumin or paprika in a Moroccan spice market.
We arrived at Chitimba Camp a little behind schedule, but Ed & Carmen assured us that the 4 days we had for a handover would be plenty of time to pick up the reigns. Chitimba Camp is simple, friendly and welcoming, with a great bar and a no-frills / fresh food restaurant. It has a sandy campsite for up to 100 people and a variety of rooms for 40 people, in the shadow of the Nyika Plateau with its own scaled-down version of Table Mountain as a backdrop, overlooking the lake.
What a great place to be holed up for a couple of months.
Ed & Carmen have owned Chitimba Camp for about 9 years and, as their home, have built the place up from a scrappy little overlanders beach camp to a comfortable, stylish, unpretentious place to stop for any travellers between Tanzania and Zambia, Mozambique or Zimbabwe. Our job would be to manage the 25 or so staff, deal with the cash, salaries, stock, taxes, wages etc oversee housekeeping, maintenance, the bar & restaurant and act as hosts to variety of guests who either have long-standing bookings, or can just turn up any time day or night.
Four days later, training completed (?), Ed & Carmen headed off for the 500km drive to the nearest airport and we were suddenly ‘Bwana Scott’ and ‘Bwana Helene’ for the next couple of months.