In April 2022, I travelled 5,000 kms through Malawi in 24 days. I started my trip in Livingstone in Zambia, drove two days to Malawi, did a big loop through the country, and then returned the vehicle to Livingstone.
I travel in Africa on my South African passport. I do not need visas for countries in southern Africa which makes border crossings quicker and cheaper. Most national parks and many hotels offer discounted rates to citizens from the fourteen Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries, which includes South Africa.
The principal source of information for this trip was the Bradt Malawi Guide, Edition 7 published in 2016. This was a huge source of information even if all prices and some accommodation had changed. I could not find a more recent guide. The Facebook group ‘DriveMal’ was very useful, focused and up to date. I read blogs of people who had travelled though Malawi including Ina Kuhn’s at https://2wrinkledtravellers.wordpress.com/ . I had collected recommendations from people I had met on other trips including Conny Kebbel and Bruce Marais. Finally, I gathered information as I travelled in the country, from other travellers and lodge managers.
I knew that this trip to Malawi was going to be different from trips to most other southern Africa countries. Most importantly it is a small country with close to 20 million people making it the most densely populated country in the region. Compared to nearby countries the number of people per square kilometre is as follows:
One does not go to Malawi to find vast areas of wilderness because there are people living in every corner of the country. It was also the wrong time of the year to visit game reserves because, at the end of the rainy season, the vegetation is full of leaves making it difficult to see far from the road. The animals can also find water easily in the bush and do not need to come to water holes to be seen by tourists.
I did not book accommodation for my whole trip in advance, as I normally do. That meant that I had the freedom to move on early or change my route. The downside was that I spent a lot of time, on the trip, booking accommodation and, especially over Easter, found hotels booked up. Malawi, like most southern Africa countries, has a mobile phone network that is extensive and in some of the most remote places, it is still possible to connect. I bought an Airtel sim for £1 equivalent from a roadside vendor, added some airtime and then bought 50gb mobile data (for a month) for MK10,000 (£9). This generally worked well except on Easter Monday in Chembe, Cape Maclear where the network (which had been strong the day before) went up and down like a yoyo. Local hotels were very variable with telephone numbers in the guidebook being declared as non-existent, many not being answered, and some being answered by previous employees. Voice calling, texting, WhatsApp messages and emails were all used to make contact, sometimes with complete failure.
I love camping with people but do not enjoy camping alone. Travelling alone is a lonely business. I do not want to compound that loneliness by camping alone. And so, this trip I have stayed in hotels all the way, which has given me some contact with people. It was easier to do this as many hotel prices were still COVID reduced. On a few nights, however, I was the only person in the hotel.
The foreign tourist trade has not recovered from COVID, and hotels are still battling to fill beds. Most of them have current rates that are heavily discounted, in some cases to 60% of prices quoted in my 2016 guidebook. Some examples are Huntingdon House (2017 price: $225 v $130 now) and Mumbo Island ($240 v $150)
Malawi is a malaria area so daily I took an Atovaquone and Proguanil 250mg/100mg single tablet, which are Malarone generic tablets. All the beds I slept in had mosquito nets. However, despite being the wet season, there were very few mosquitoes around.
The temperature was comfortable with a daily high of about 28⁰C only occasionally going up to 32⁰C. Nights seldom went below 17⁰C. Temperatures were lower in Nyika National Park at an altitude of 2,300 metres. The temperature range there was 12⁰C to 22⁰C.
Malawi has plenty of rain with an annual range of between 725mm to 2,500mm. At this time of the year the country is very green with lots of vegetation. The east of the country is dominated by the Great Rift Valley and contains Lake Malawi at an altitude of 500 metres. There is an escarpment at about 1,200 metres on the west of the country which includes Lilongwe and Blantyre. The southern part of the escarpment is generally flat while the north is mountainous.
When I quote prices, I use the original currency. At the beginning of my trip the exchange rates to the GB pound were: South African Rand 19.33, Zambian Kwacha 22.90, Malawian Kwacha 1,062 and US$ 1.31. I have used these rates throughout this report, irrespective if rates changed or the actual conversion rates differed.
Day 1 – Livingstone, Zambia to Lusaka – 583 kms
I flew into Johannesburg from London yesterday and then on to Livingstone in Zambia. I was collected from the airport by Nick Selby of Foley’s Africa, who was storing my Fortuner and trailer and had serviced both and done some repairs. I spent an hour organising myself and transferring items from the trailer to the Fortuner, as I will be travelling without the trailer. Nick had extended my third-party insurance for Zambia to the end of the year and off that policy had bought Comesa insurance for Malawi (effectively extending the third-party cover to that country). I filled up with diesel and was amazed to see 150 litres go into my tanks which had a capacity of 142 litres. I transferred my spare gas bottle from the trailer to the car and was surprised that it was empty. I had it filled with gas and topped up my airtime and data on my Zambian number that was still working, despite me not using it since November.
I was awake at 05h00 this morning, Friday 8th April 2022, reorganised my bags, had breakfast, attended at Med-Prof for a PCR test for Malawi and departed Livingstone at 08h00. A few kilometres later I stopped at a road toll station to be told that the the Toll Tax that I had paid when I arrived in Zambia from Tanzania in October had now expired and that I needed to pay another $20. While they processed the payment I studied their 2022 corporate targets and felt comforted that they were daily seeking God’s providence.
The tar road to Lusaka was in good condition except for 50km of potholes. Traffic was light and I easily passed about ten trucks each hour. I arrived at the 4×4 and camping store, Mudpackers, in the southeast of Lusaka, at 15h00. On the journey up I had felt tired from time to time, had then smelt gas and had opened my windows to disperse it. Mudpackers confirmed that the gas bottle was leaking and that the valve needed to be replaced but that they could not do it until next week. I bought a new filled gas bottle and a holder for it on my roof rack. They emptied my old bottle, and I took it with me to have the valve replaced at a later date. While they were working on my vehicle I popped into the neighbouring butchery, Butcher Block, (+260 764 921 557 email@example.com), which, in addition to very good looking meat, also had boerewors, biltong and droewors. I stocked up on droewors (the translation to English of ‘dry sausage’ does not do it justice).
I booked a room at the hotel, Latitude 15 and on my way there I passed by the Old Leopard Hill municipal cemetery. Two grave diggers told me that there were over 5,000 graves with the earliest being dated as 1963. They dig the graves by hand to a specification of 2 metres deep, 2.5 metres long and 1 metre wide. They told me that a grave site costs ZKW2,025 (£88). Posters at the entrance advertised gravestones and landscaping.
Day 2 – Lusaka to Chipata – 466 kms
I left Lusaka at 08h30 and found that the road had deteriorated over the rainy season as there were a lot more potholes than when I had travelled the road in October last year. Just like last year the 30 kilometres before the Luangwa River were particularly bad with potholes. Thereafter the road was in excellent condition. Traffic was light although there were about fifteen trucks on the side of the road with mechanical problems. For about 300km the road wound through low level mountains. At every village the speed limit was reduced to 40kph aided by speed bumps. During my journey in the last two days, I have passed through about 25 roadblocks maintained by the police, army, immigration and veterinary services. A third of them were not manned or womanned. My passport was checked by Immigration. Otherwise, I was waved on with attention focused on truck drivers. I arrived in Chipata at 16h00.
Day 3 – Chipata, Zambia through the border to Lilongwe, Malawi – 159 kms
I did some admin and then followed a tip on a Facebook Overlanding Group and asked on the forecourt of the Engen Petrol Station for Malawian Kwachas. It is a good thing that I had Googled the rate and knew that it was about US$1 = MWK 700. I was first offered US$1 = MWK 50! We settled on 700 and I converted $50 for MWK 35,000.
I left Chipata at 10h30 and twenty minutes later I was at the Mwani/Mchinji Border. The departing Zambian post was in a very small building which was crowded with six travellers in it. I cleared immigration and had my carnet stamped in ten minutes. I met three Dutch motor cyclists who had spent five weeks travelling from Cape Town and were heading for Djibouti.
On the Malawian side my PCR test was accepted. The Dutch three were refused at Immigration because they should have applied online for visas and had not. My South African passport did not need a visa, so I was stamped without delay. Customs started processing my carnet and then told me to pay MK 11,500 carbon tax and $20 Road Access Fee at the adjacent bank counter. I waited 40 minutes in the queue with only five people ahead of me. I would have waited longer but a local told me that I needed to prepare deposit slips in four-fold for each payment and gave me the deposit slips already stapled and with carbon paper. He then guided me through the slips. Otherwise, I would have reached the front of the queue and then had to complete the deposit slips. The easiest way would have been for a box of slips to be left nearby and advertised. I suspect that does not happen because the touts take them all. Instead, one needs to push to the front of the queue and ask for the forms. If one does not have a carnet and needs a Temporary Import Permit instead, then a further MK20,000 is payable and must be deposited.
The woman in front of me drives the return 1,400km trip twice a month from Lilongwe to Lusaka to buy dresses in Lusaka for sale in Lilongwe. Her van was overflowing with merchandise. She was paying the import tax.
Once I had my receipts in hand, my stamped carnet was released to me by Customs, and I was free to go. My helper was then unhappy to discover that he could not sell me third party insurance because I had already organised it. I gave him $5 for his trouble. As I left, I saw the three Dutch leaving the office of the Chief Immigration Officer. I hope that he agreed to issue visas to them. The whole border crossing had taken 90 minutes.
In the next 70kms I was stopped at six police roadblocks. Three of them enquired about my plans and wished me well. The other three wanted to view either the receipts from the border or my driving licence and one asked to see my insurance. He then told me that my Comesa Insurance cover only commenced tomorrow and that I was driving today without insurance. (No idea how that went wrong.) I was told to pay a MK 50,000 (£47) fine. When I said that I only had MK 20,000 left, the fine was reduced to that figure.
I arrived in Lilongwe at 14h00 and became worried when the Standard Bank ATM refused my debit card. It was Sunday afternoon, and the city was relatively quiet. I am not sure that I found the town centre as there was a sprawl of buildings with no high rises. I did a U turn and was immediately pulled over by two police on a motor bike behind me, who told me that such a manoeuvre was not permitted at that point. (I could not see what prevented it.) They wanted to fine me MK 20,000 but forgave me when I told them that I was lost and that I had no Malawian Kwachas. I drew the maximum I could of MK 120,000 (£113) from a National Bank ATM.
Experienced African overlanders say that one must fill up with fuel whenever one finds fuel. My tank was half full in Chipata, but I did not fill up because, according to Google, diesel is 8 UK pence cheaper in Malawi. Five filling stations in Lilongwe were sold out of diesel with replenishment possibly tomorrow or the next day. I finally found a filling station with diesel but then had to limit my fill to MK 100,000 (66 litres) (a lot more expensive than Zambia) because they did not accept credit cards. I bought a Malawian sim card from a roadside vendor.
Day 4 – Lilongwe to Blantyre – 351 kms
I set my alarm for 05h30 so that I could be at the tobacco auction by 06h00. Nine buyers bid for the produce of thousands of small farmers during the harvesting season from April to September. The Nyasa Times reported recently that the farmers were complaining that the prices they were receiving were too low. To my amazement the President said that the government will intervene. I was told that this early in the season, auctions were only held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I arrived to find a deserted auction floor and was told that the amount of tobacco on offer today was so small that today’s auction had been cancelled and the produce moved to the Wednesday auction.
I had breakfast earlier than I expected and then made calls to book accommodation for the next few nights. I left the hotel at 10h30 and crawled through town in heavy traffic. I stopped at a shopping centre and walked through a Game Discount Store, part of a South African store group. I was surprised at the fact that a lot of the goods for sale were expensive, probably because they had come from South Africa. In the car park I came across an overlanding vehicle with a Dutch and a Belgian woman. They had sold their restaurant in Hermanus in South Africa and were travelling for up to a year. They left Cape Town 15 weeks ago and had travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. They might try and ship their vehicle form Djibouti to Europe. Their blog is at: https://www.facebook.com/Potjie2Pint-101979068985849/?ref=page_internal . The lucky ladies were given my experience of Tanzania.
I diverted off the main road to Blantyre to look at some of the Chongoni Art near Dedza. There are a total of 127 rock faces over a 126 square km area, which were painted on up to 10,000 years ago. I went looking, for what my guidebook said were the most rewarding paintings, which are located near the village and mountain, both called Mphunzi. The guide on site, Misidende, led me to Panels 1, 5 and 7. I am in awe of the fact that these paintings have lasted 10,000 years but they are now very faint and need a guide to explain what they are. They were not worth the 2.5-hour diversion.
On the way on the bad road to Mphunzi I stopped and was enchanted to watch a class of four-year-olds respond to their teacher.
On the way back I purchased a few dough balls that were fried on the edge of the road.
I joined another road and was soon stopped at a police road block, who wanted to see all the documentation obtained when crossing the border. I then realised that the road I had joined came from the Mozambique border close by.
When I arrived at the main Lilongwe to Blantyre road, I was told by a policeman that I needed to wait for about twenty minutes until the presidential cavalcade had passed, coming from Blantyre. I found a spot high on a bank to make a video of the cavalcade but was stopped by a policewoman who told me that it was illegal to photograph the presidential cavalcade. Two lead police cars lead the way about a minute apart followed by the presidential cavalcade of eighteen vehicles travelling at speed. Among them was a camper van. It was not clear if this was officially part of the group or was merely an innocent bystander swept up by the passing vehicles. About another twenty vehicles followed the main group and my policewomen friend told me that those were VIPs.
For the next 20km I saw police officers by the side of the road, who had clearly been holding back traffic to allow the president to pass. Hundreds of police must have been utilised to allow his fast passage, all the way to Lilongwe. Such use of police resources plus the endless roadblocks, seems a huge waste of people.
The road was in good condition, passing through hills and surrounded by pleasant green vegetation. I had now got used to the fact that everywhere along the route there were people. The temperature has been in a comfortable range of between 18 and 27 degrees C each day. Clouds gather in the afternoon, threatening rain, but at most, a few drops fall.
I arrived in Blantyre in the evening rush hour which got worse as it got dark before 18h00.
Day 5 – Blantyre to the Satemwa Tea Estate near Thyolo – 38 kms
A familiar sound for me in developing countries is to wake to the sound of sweeping. I had my breakfast on the veranda overlooking the car park of the hotel and watched a tall man sweep the car park with a broom that was 800mm long. He had to bend at an uncomfortable angle to sweep. He probably sweeps this yard for several hours every day. I was sorry for him. He was probably grateful for a steady job.
With the prospect of having to pay cash to fill my vehicle for the rest of the trip, and having had difficulty drawing cash, I stopped at a large bank building and was delighted to be able to draw MK200,000. I used a second card to draw more.
I filled up with diesel at a Total filling station and was pleased that they accepted my credit card. My windscreen has been bothering me because it seemed to be a mess. I asked the car wash at the filling station to just wash the outside and inside of my windscreen. I wondered if my windscreen wipers were part of the problem and needed replacing. Local vendors had approached me on the forecourt, offering me food, car charging adaptors and leather bags, all of which I had refused. As I stood there wondering if I should go to the Toyota dealer for replacement wipers, a vendor arrived offering me exactly that. A deal was done (clearly overpaid judging by the response of the car wash man) and the wipers were replaced.
I drove for about an hour south towards Thyolo and just before reaching the town turned off on to the Satemwa Tea Estate and drove through tea fields to Huntingdon House. The house was built in 1928 by Maclean Kay, a Scot who developed the estate which today extends to 1,500 ha on which is grown tea, coffee and timber. A member of the third generation now runs the farm and having built a more appropriate house elsewhere on the estate, runs the house as an hotel with five bedrooms. The house is magnificent with large communal and bedrooms, all beautifully furnished in a colonial style. I was given ‘The Father’s Room’. There is also a Mother’s Room, Children’s Room, Planter’s Room and The Chapel Room.
At 16h00 I joined five other hotel residents, in a 4×4, to a picnic place, high on the hill. for sundowners. The guide, Lemack, told us that 1,500 staff were employed on the farm, increasing to 2,500 in the wet season. Most of these staff were plucking tea. Pluckers throw the tea leaves they have plucked, into a large basket carried on their back. Each basket, when full, weighs 12kg. An average plucker will collect 100kg of leaves in a ten-hour day. Such a person, working six days a week, will be paid MK 75,000 (£71) per month, plus accommodation for his family, medical services, schooling for his children, food at lunch and tea for home. (This seemed to be low to me but was later told that it was excellent compared to the MK 20,000 per month earned by a car guard in Lilongwe.) The drive through the tea plantations was beautiful and the view from the picnic spot, was magnificent.
This was a day of four experiences.
It started at 07h00 with a guided walk by Lemack through the tea fields to a place where pluckers were working. I was shown how they lay a stick over the bushes and pluck all leaves above the stick. I was then fitted out with an apron and a basket and made feeble attempts to pluck for a few minutes. We then walked through coffee plantations and saw the berries growing. In a few weeks’ time when they turn red, they will be picked. There is a distinction between plucking all leaves above a stick from a tea bush and picking berries from a coffee tree. We ended the walk by inspecting the nursery where tea and coffee plants are grown from cuttings for later planting in the ground.
At 10h30 I was taken to the tea factory and shown a video about the tea making process. All teas derive from the same leaves but are then flavoured in the drying process. I was then presented with a display of twenty teas, showing the dry tea leaves, the tea leaves after being in hot water and then the tea ready for tasting. I tasted ten and was very confused by the end. My love is still Rooi Bos (Red Bush) which is only produced in South Africa.
At 11h30 I left the estate to cross the mountain to Majete Wildlife Reserve. The quick and easy route was back to Blantyre on the tar road and then down the escarpment to Majete. My map told me, however, that there was a shorter road from the tea plantation directly over the escarpment. Charles, a waiter and a lay preacher, said that he would guide me to a point from where I would be able to find my way safely. He tied his bicycle to my roof rack. We twisted left and right between the tea plantations and then entered community land where people had houses along the track. It had clearly once been a track good for a vehicle but now it was in a bad state and principally used by motorcycles. We were descending all the time with huts and people all along the way. After a few kilometres my satnav locked in showing me that it knew the way to my destination. I was concerned that Charles was going to have push his bicycle a lot of the way back because of the steepness of the road. He insisted on staying with me to the point where the way would be absolutely clear. After an hour and eleven kilometres he declared that we had reached the designated place. He removed his bicycle from the roof rack, accepted my payment and went his way. I continued for another five kilometres to where the track joined a more significant gravel road. I had dropped 1,000 metres in 17kms. It had been slow going but was easier than ascending because much of such ascent would have to be done in low range.
I arrived at Majete Wildlife Reserve just before 14h00. The reserve has been run by African Parks for over 20 years and is seen as a model for how they do things well. Fences and roads are well maintained. Poaching is negligible. A wide variety of game has been introduced. I stayed at their lodge, Thawale Lodge. When I arrived two elephant and a herd of Nyala were at the water hole in front of the lodge. I paid US$140 per night for full board, laundry and one game drive a day. This COVID price was the best accommodation deal of my whole trip. There must have been an even lower rate for Malawian residents because expatriate teachers from Blantyre have been doing repeated trips to the lodge for the last year.
I did a game drive at 16h00 which is included in my report tomorrow.
Day 7 – Majete Wildlife Reserve
I did four game drives in the two days that I was in the reserve. I was alone with Osman who knew the reserve and the animals well. There is a well-established network of roads which are in good condition with several loops near the river. This was, however, the wrong time of the year to be doing game viewing. The vegetation was thick, and it was difficult to see far. There was a lot of water around and the animals did not have to go to water holes or the river. As a result, we saw very little. There were a lot of impala and water buck. We kept seeing an old bull elephant near the lodge. Zebra and giraffe exist in low numbers and Osman was very pleased when we came across a few of those. The environment was lovely, but the game viewing was hopeless.
Rain has been threatening for days and today it delivered on the afternoon game drive with a twenty-minute downpour.
After my game drive and breakfast, I left at 09h00 for Mulanje Mountain. I climbed the escarpment to Blantyre. The road and town were quiet as it was Easter Friday. My satnav led me on a side road to avoid going into the centre. I was quickly slowed down by an Easter procession approaching me on the road. Ten minutes later I came across a second procession, but they fell to their knees in prayer, stopping anyone getting past. I escaped down a side road which led me to the centre of the town.
I took the excellent 70km tar road to Mulanje, which rises from the plain like Table Mountain in Cape Town. The Malawi Mountain Club maintains ten mountain huts to allow multi day hikes on the mountain. My Bradt guidebook (2016 edition) advised that, if one was not hiking, a good way to see the mountain was to circle it by road. I was pleased by my decision to do that as I drove between beautiful tea plantations as I approached Thornwood at the southeast corner of the massif. Thornwood is a busy border town to Mozambique. My Tracks4Africa map (which is normally the most correct) showed me that I could traverse the full 35km eastern side of the mountain to Nkulambe in an hour and four minutes on a gravel road. In the event it took me three hours. Many rivers run off the mountain. Seven bridges were down. Four had local diversions. The other three required me to find a local to guide me through each 3km diversion. This had once been a good road. Now it is a nightmare with motor bikes travelling a lot faster than me as I battled through eroded ways. Tens of thousands of people live along this road and have to live with its deficiencies. At some point I misjudged a wet incline and my vehicle slipped into a wet ditch. I tried to reverse which made things worse. Wise men gathered quickly and ten of them then pushed me forwards, backwards and then forwards and out. I gave the three most prominent men, MK2,000 each. Instantly ten hands were through my window grabbing at my money. I handed out to fifteen people. I am sure some grabbed twice and some who had not pushed, received. I hope that all who had pushed received, but I cannot be sure. There were certainly some dejected faces.
I finally reached Nkulambe at 16h00 and my satnav told me that I was 60km from my overnight stay. I wondered if I would get there before it got dark at 17h45. The next 10km was on a reasonable (everything is relative) gravel road and then a tar road. A few days previously I had attempted to book an overnight stay at the Zomba Forest Lodge, which is described as an eco-lodge with no electricity. Petal, the owner told me that they were fully booked, so I could not stay there. For tonight I had booked at CCAP Likhubula House. When I called to book, I was told that they had no electricity. This caused me to think that this was also an eco-lodge. How wrong I was. In the dying light I could make out a huge complex of buildings all without light. The night guard told me that they normally had power, but something had gone wrong recently. A chicken and rice dinner was cooling in a vast dining room, and I ate by the light of a candle. My chalet was once lovely but had not been maintained, although I could see little by candlelight. I was exhausted and slept well.
(I should have been more comfortable. I later discovered that CCAP stands for Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. A long time ago I was confirmed in the Presbyterian Church. Perhaps if I had been more devout, they would have been more welcoming?)
Day 9 – Mulanje Mountain to Liwonde National Park – 289 kms
The day started badly as there was no water in the shower.
At 07h00 the reception area of the place I was staying at, was busy. This is clearly a start point for hikes on to the mountain and a party was preparing to leave. Other guides approached me offering to guide me into the mountains. Paying my MK20,000 (£20) bill took time as first one, then two and finally three people tried to work out how much I owed. The crucial fourth person, who apparently knew all, was not contactable. Finally, they accepted my cash payment when I said that I did not need a receipt.
I was heading to Zomba, and my map showed that there was not a direct road from where I was, but that I could, apparently get there, crisscrossing between roads. Although this was clearly the shortest route, I was concerned that I might find more bad gravel roads. My mind was made up when my satnav told me that the quickest route was via Blantyre. There were no Easter processions to hold me up in Blantyre.
Zomba was the capital of Malawi until 1971, at which point it was transferred to Lilongwe. It is not a big city. I ascended the Zomba Plateau on a good 15km tar road with vendors selling fruit and wood craft every few hundred metres. The road ended at an hotel and not at a view site. I asked directions of Roderick, who offered, for a fee, to show me the Emperor’s View. He led me back down the tar road for a kilometre and at the trout farm we turned on to a 6km bad gravel track. (The cynic in me suggests that the local guides have removed any signposts, at this junction, to the Emperor’s View.) The view was marvellous over the town, with Mulanje in the east and Lake Chiwa in the north. The view site was named after Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who visited in 1965. A view site 200 metres away was similarly named after the British Queen Mother who visited in 1957. On the way down Roderick took me to see Williams Falls which were pretty. I was amazed by the number of conventional sedan cars attempting to use this very bad road.
I then headed for Liwonde National Park. The two lodges in the park were fully booked so I had to settle for Bushman’s Baobabs a few kilometres from the gate. Having secured my bed for the night I headed into the park.
As a SADC national I paid MK 12,240 (£12) per person and MK3,264 (£3) per vehicle entrance fee per day. Liwonde National Park has been managed for only a few years by African Parks and have, surprisingly, not made their mark as well as they normally do. The check in process at the gate was cumbersome. The map that I was given was difficult to make sense of. The initial road sign is completely confusing. Disappointingly there is a single road (called the Spine Road) that runs the length of the park with road loops off it. Most of the road loops were closed because they were either still wet from the rainy season or not yet repaired after rain damage. 25kms from the gate further access is prevented by the height of the river. (Presumably the day will come when they build a bridge to allow further access in the wet season and hopefully create another north south road.) (Mvuu Lodge, further north in the park, is accessed through a different gate with guests then transported over a river, by boat, to the lodge.) The park is not as full of vegetation as Majete with many open tree studded plains, so animals were more visible. But the animal count was still low. There were many impalas, water buck and kudu. I saw three elephant and that was about it. Everyone I spoke to reported the same, with the lion pride proving to be elusive. I quickly decided that it was not worth staying the two days I had planned and that I would leave after doing a game drive the next morning.
I returned to my miserable accommodation. Dinner was served at 19h00 and was a roast chicken dinner. A small chicken was offered that needed to go ten ways. Everyone held back and took a small amount, to the extent that there was even a second helping for a few hungry boys. Together with roast potatoes and vegetables it was a surprisingly tasty meal.
(Later in the trip I met two different groups who had experienced their best game viewing in Malawi from Mvuu Lodge, further north in the Park. I could not get a booking there because they were booked up over Easter when I was there.)
Day 10 –Liwonde National Park – Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi – 211 kms
A German family of four left ahead of me on the ancient rattling game drive vehicle of the lodge. When I arrived at the gate of the park, I noticed that a family of seven had been picked up on the way and the four Germans were squeezed on to a bench seat for three. I wonder how much each family paid for their drive. Presumably the Germans’ discomfort was compounded by the fact that they saw as little as I did.
After my game drive I left the Park and headed north. Three times, since arriving in Malawi, I have been warned, by oncoming motorists flashing their lights, of mobile speed traps ahead. The third time was this morning. I dropped my speed to 60kph as the sign required and ensured that I kept to the speed limit. When I was stopped for doing 71kph, I was outraged and insisted on seeing the film. When it was shown the officer recognised that the vehicle going away from them was doing that speed, rather than me. An apology was issued, and I went on my way.
Ten minutes later, with no prior warning, I was stopped again and told that I had not dropped to 60kph by the time I passed the relevant sign. I was less sure of my facts, but my outrage resulted in me being ‘forgiven’.
I must have been stopped a further five times for various documents to be examined. What a waste of resources!
I headed into the peninsula that extends into the southern part of Lake Malawi. Monkey Bay is the resort town at the end of the tar road. I travelled a further 20km towards Cape Maclear, wound my way through the sizeable village of Chembe to the resort of Chembe Eagles Nest. The resort has been developed by a South African couple in an attractive way on the beach. Most of the Easter guests were expatriates from Lilongwe and Blantyre.
I had been warned that bilharzia is prevalent along most of the lake shore. Additionally, the rivers flowing into the lake bring water that is polluted by people washing clothes and generally using the rivers as dustbins. I swam in the pool rather than the lake here, although felt more comfortable swimming in deeper water the next day.
Day 11 – Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi
Most of the Easter guests left the lodge. I spent the day writing this report and confirming my bookings for the next week. The latter was not easy as the Airtel network was very temperamental.
Wikipedia: ‘Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lago Niassa in Mozambique, is an African Great Lake and the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system, located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is the ninth largest lake in the world by area—and the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world, including at least 700 species of cichlids. The lake is 580 kilometres long, and about 75 kilometres wide at its longest and widest points. The lake has a total surface area of about 29,600 square kilometres and is 706 metres deep at its deepest point. The largest river flowing into it is the Ruhuhu River, and there is an outlet at its southern end, the Shire River, a tributary that flows into the very large Zambezi River in Mozambique. Evaporation accounts for more than 80% of the water loss from the lake, considerably more than the outflowing Shire River. The outflows from Lake Malawi into the Shire River are vital for the economy as the water resources support hydropower, irrigation and downstream biodiversity. The Lake Malawi National Park is located at the southern end of the lake.’
At 16h00 I embarked on the lodge’s catamaran on a sunset cruise around the uninhabited Thumbi West Island. As we approached the island, the captain, Moses, whistled and threw a fish into the water. A fish eagle swooped down from the trees, turned to have the sun behind her and then dived to pick up the fish. Her partner followed for the next fish. As we moved along the island the exercise was repeated with two more pairs of fish eagles. Fascinating to observe. Moses told me that are twelve pairs of fish eagles on the island. We anchored in a bay and Moses threw bread into the water to be rewarded with hundreds of fish grabbing the bread.
As we crossed the bay, we passed close to a boat with three dugouts and about ten men loaded on it. Moses told me the dugouts will be offloaded into the water, that nets will be stretched between the dugouts after dark and lights will be used to attract fish into the nets. This happens every night. Tonight, the fishing will be ended when the full moon rises. Moses confirmed that, because of overfishing, the yields are reducing. He confirmed that along the full 580 km length of the lake fishermen are fishing daily.
After a swim we completed the circumnavigation of the island and as the sun set, we cruised along the three-kilometre length of the shore. The shoreline was filled with buildings with many lodges and even more locals houses and villages.
I was charged $10 for entering the Lake Malawi National Park which includes the area around Thumbi West Island.
Mumbo Island is an eco-resort in the area and was fully booked over the Easter weekend. This is a six-bedroom lodge on Mumbo Island, about 45 minutes boat ride from the mainland. I drove the three kilometres from Chembe Eagles Nest to the Mumbo Island reception compound on the other side of the bay. As I drove, I realised that a village extended the full length of the bay behind all the buildings fronting the shoreline.
Day 12 – Chembe Eagles Nest Resort to Mumbo Island Resort, both near Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi – 3kms by car 7kms by boat
On the way to the island, we diverted to Thumbwe Island to pick up two passengers. When I asked the reception manager what happened at Thumbwe, he explained that it was a simpler form of Mumbo Island and those that could not afford Mumbo go to Thumbwe!
I could see that there were five chalets and a communal building grouped around a small beach. The couple form Copenhagen, who were transferring to Mumbo after spending three nights at Thumbwe, said that the mountain behind was too steep and the forest too thick, to be able to move far from the camp.
A genius of design created the resort on Mumbo Island. A small rocky, but tree filled island contains four wooden chalets, each with views over the lake and private from each other. My veranda was a huge rock. This small island is joined to Mumbo Island proper by a 30-metre wooden slatted bridge with a rope handrail. An eighty-metre-long beach has loungers, kayaks and snorkelling equipment available. Hidden in the forest on one side is a family chalet and hidden in the forest on the other side is a large open sided dining hall and a lounge area. All electricity is provided by solar panels and there is no electricity or light in the chalets except for a handheld torch. The couple from Copenhagen did a long walk to a high point on good paths. It is a wonderful environment.
Unfortunately, the current owners have left the running of the resort to four staff who try hard but are not properly trained and speak very basic English. The food is best described as being mediocre.
I enjoyed a lazy afternoon swimming, chatting to other guests, reading and napping.
The boatman took me on a sunset cruise around the island. When he realised that I was expecting to see fish eagles being fed he turned into a cove on the island where a dozen local fishermen were grilling fish over a makeshift fire. We bought ten fish from them. We found only one fish eagle who dutifully dived for the fish but had her fill after three fish.
I woke in the night and through the open door of my chalet I could see at a distance, twenty lights on the lake. The fishermen were all busy.
Day 13 – Mumbo Island Resort to Bua River Lodge, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve – 316 kms
The lake was choppy, and the return boat ride took 55 minutes.
By 10h30 I was on the road but stopped 20km later at roadside stall called Toys R Us owned by Ronard Thomas. I had been alerted to his work by Ina Kuhn of the blog https://2wrinkledtravellers.wordpress.com/ . Before I left Livingstone, I had fifteen photos taken of all sides of both my Fortuner and my Echo trailer and had those printed. On my way to Cape Maclear, three days before, I had stopped at the stall and given the photos to Ronard. On my return he presented me with a 60cm long model in wood of the two vehicles with the ability to link them together. I was delighted. I paid a total of Mk45,000 (£42). I could probably have bargained the price down, but I was mindful of my wife’s principle to respect the craft that had produced this item, that I was so happy with.
(For those who plan to go to Cape Maclear and want a wooden model from Ronard Thomas, here is how to find him. His stall is located at coordinates S12.23.8823 E032.10.6395 which is 1.7km from the junction of the M10 road from Golomiti and the M3 road from Mangochi. His mobile and WhatsApp number is +265 994 453 040, although his English is poor, so it is probably best to send him a message of your expected arrival time. If your photos are good, you do not need to have the vehicle there, as is evidenced by the fact that I did not have my trailer with me. Make sure that your photos include the inside of the car as well. He cannot accept digital photos, so they need to be printed.)
The tar road was narrow, with many potholes and eroded sides so the going was slow. The going became dangerous when large trucks came from the other direction and the road was too narrow for both of us. I was also getting used to the police road checks at every town. I arrived at the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve gate at 16h30 and paid $10 for myself and $3 for my vehicle per day.
A few kilometres further and I arrived at Bua River Lodge where I will stay for the next two nights. I was told by the managers, Delene and Mike, that as no one else was in camp I had been upgraded to an island tent. The communal area of the lodge and three other tents are on the riverbank and two tents are on an island in the Bua River. My tent on the island was large and comfortable with a beautiful view of the river.
My tent was more remote than any that I have been at a lodge. It is 300 metres from the communal area. I was quite comfortable with this, but I am sure that some people are not. I was fetched for dinner by two unarmed guards and returned to my tent after dinner with the same escort. I must assume that their instructions are that, in the case of an attack by a wild animal, they must sacrifice themselves for me. The risk is real. In November a guest from the UK, in one of the tents on the riverbank, went walking unescorted, and was killed by an elephant.
Day 14 – Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve – 50 kms
I woke to the sound of running water in the river. (I was later told that the river dries up in the dry season.)
I had a shower with hot water last night. This morning, from my open-air bathroom, I could see the nearby donkey boiler smoking. I have previously written about donkey boilers which are a fire heating a tank of water. Thousands of workers in lodges across Africa, get up before guests, to light donkey boiler fires so that hot water is available when the guests wake. On this morning that effort was wasted as I had no need for hot water.
Mike had told me that the only accessible road in the Reserve was the 22 km road to the other lodge in the park, Tongole. There is a loop road along the river but that is inaccessible along the way because of a river crossing. As I had to drive to Tongole for my game drive, at my request, Delene had organised that I could have lunch there. (I was amazed to discover that although Delene and Mike have been managing the lodge for two years, and that the only game viewing road is to Tongole, they have never been to Tongole.)
The drive to Tongole brought home to me that this reserve was a big natural forest. The only animals that I saw, in the time that I was in the reserve, were baboons. Despite the number of trees there seemed to be few birds. I was later assured that there were 500 elephants in the reserve. I certainly saw evidence of elephants but saw none. I followed the loop road but turned back after 4 kms when the track became too wet. Although I was not seeing game, I enjoyed the drive. The track was bad enough to require skill to drive, but not so bad as to slow me to a crawl. (I was later told that there is no serious attempt by Africa Parks to improve the tourist facilities of the Reserve as it is essentially seen as a place to grow animals for later transfer to other parks. I do not know if their policy is as explicit as that.)
At Tongole I was greeted by the manager, Yobe. The lodge is located on the Bua River and the communal area has a magnificent view of the river. The roof has a high ridge with a mezzanine at a high level. He showed me a room that was certainly a lot more comfortable and interesting than mine. They had no guests today and tomorrow. (It struck me that for close to 40 hours I will be the only tourist in the reserve.) We had a delightful lunch together on the mezzanine level.
Day 15 – Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to Makuzi Bay Resort – 142 kms
I continued to risk my life on a narrow tar road, made narrower by erosion with up to 30cm drops on the edge of the tar. Oncoming trucks were taking up 60% of the road width and felt that they had right of way. Fortunately, I did not have too far to go to Makuzi Bay Resort.
The resort was started by a Malawian, Lara, thirty years ago and was joined by Brett (from South Africa) when they married. They built the current lodge which are several bungalows along a beach on Lake Malawi. It is a thoroughly lovely place to be at. They also have a mobile phone mast on the hill above the lodge giving an excellent signal.
I had a number of pressing issues in London which needed my attention, so I settled down and worked all day. Every now and then I would look up and see the gentle waves on the beach.
Day 16 – Makuzi Bay Resort
Another day of work, writing this report and sorting out photos.
I relaxed with a swim mid-afternoon.
Brett and Lara popped in to have a chat from time to time.
Day 17 – Makuzi Bay to La Rondavelle, Chilumba – 245 kms
The road heading north was immediately better than road getting to Makuzi Bay. I made good progress and arrived in Mzuzu at 09h00. Throughout my trip I have seen advertisements offering funds transfer services with the main country from which funds come being South Africa. There are many Malawians in South Africa. Their remittances make a big contribution to the Malawian economy.
I was looking for a jumper or jacket to protect me from the expected cold on the Nyika Plateau. Brett at Makuzi told me to go to the Swahili Clothes and Textile market opposite Shoprite. This is an indoor market 100 m x 100m filled with stalls selling second hand clothes (and also a few sofas). On this Sunday morning at 09h00 only a small number of stalls were operating. Brett told me that these traders buy the clothes in bales from charities like Oxfam who ship them from places like the UK. The content of the bales is uncertain, but the traders then share the contents as each stall specialises in one type of clothing. I tried on some jackets but could not find one big enough for me.
I went shopping in Shoprite for provisions for when I would be self-catering in Nyika National Park. Once again, I was shocked by the high prices. I was intrigued to see the bakery section selling cream cakes. Presumably they must sell them although their customers are not obvious.
At Mzuzu I had come to the end of the secondary M5 lake road and had now joined the M1 which is the main road which runs from the north through the country, through Lilongwe to the Mozambique border. The road was reasonably good until about the Rhumpi turnoff. Thereafter the road climbed into the mountains and deteriorated significantly with lots of potholes. I noticed a moment of madness as one tanker ovetook another on the mountain road. The advantage of the road was lots of lovely views of the lake.
I have noticed that there are water hand pumps in most villages. That means that water is available in the village and, unlike in many other African countries, that means that the women and girls of the village do not have to walk many kilometres to rivers to collect water.
I arrived at La Rondavelle in Chilumba to find a curious setup. Patrick and Francoise from Belgian, purchased a 99-year lease from eleven separate residents of the local village two years ago. They have created a modern restaurant in a purpose-built roundhouse, overlooking the lake, which would not be out of place in Belgium. Customers have told them that they are the best restaurant in Malawi. They are proud of the fact that they source all their food locally, either from their own gardens or from the village. All their employees are from the local village and have been trained by them to function in an hotel environment. They are very eco with all power provided by solar and toilets that do not flush but one’s deposit is covered with wood chips. They have six rooms, in a second roundhouse, which are simple but work with communal showers which are very nice. They also offer more basic wooden cabins which I think, are very basic.
I feel, however, that this project is doomed. The 3km of tracks from Chilumba to them are awful, needing at least a vehicle with high clearance, and are insufficiently signposted. Francoise has a background in hospitality but is currently visiting family in Belgium. Patrick is an engineer with little obvious aptitude to hospitality. He greeted me with a cigarette in hand. (In fact, every time he went outside, he lit up.) When I suggested that it might be a good idea to have a shelf in the shower and hook in the bedroom, he seemed to take umbrage, and told me that I could record such opinions in the survey I would receive on departure. When I sent the roasted beef back because it was as tough as my boot, he acknowledged that he was in Belgium when the fatted calf was killed and inferred that he had to keep feeding it to customers until it was used up. There was no adjustment to my bill. They were unable to buy all their land on contiguous plots so to get from the reception, restaurant and parking area to the bedrooms, one needs to work alongside a plot that they do not own. Unfortunately, their leases have not given them exclusive use of their land because fisherman leave their dugouts, and work on their nets, on the beach near the accommodation. For the fishermen to get to the beach they need to pass through a gate belonging to the lodge. Curiously, Patrick has decided that everyone passing through the gate has to record their movement in a register. That cannot be popular with the locals. Patrick recently returned from working as an engineer for six weeks for Siemens in Belgium to fund the current loss-making Malawi dream.
Day 18 – Chilumba to Livingstonia – 62 kms
It rained heavily during the night and twenty drops found their way, through the roof, to my pillow.
I was delighted with a freshly baked baguette for breakfast.
I had now reached the northernmost point of my trip. I turned south for about 10km on the M1 and then turned off on the road to Livingstonia. As I approached, I could see that heavy rain was falling, which had stopped by the time I reached the Livingstonia road. Road is an exaggeration. It starts as a small muddy track. The motor bike ahead of me skidded in the mud. I felt my back tyres slide and feared that the ascent of the Gorode Pass was going to be dangerous. As it happened the soil had been eroded off the ascending road leaving a stable, if sometimes uneven, rocky base. I shifted into second gear in low range and crawled up the mountain. It took me just over an hour to do the 9kms and 600m height rise. There must have been 30 hairpin bends Only one required a three-point manoeuvre. The reality of the steep drops on the side of the road was mainly hidden from me by thick vegetation. Seven steeper switchbacks and about a kilometre of the road were concreted. I had to remember to come out of four-wheel drive for these concrete areas. (Four-wheel drive is designed for uneven gravel and rocky tracks, which allow the wheels to slip. One will damage the system if one turns on an unforgiving concrete or tarmac road, when in four-wheel drive.) I met no vehicles on the pass, but ten motor bikes came from the other direction. The nightmare must be if one has a puncture on this road because changing a wheel will be very difficult.
Towards the top of the pass, I arrived at the Mushroom Farm. This is an eco, vegetarian lodge with seven rooms and a 20-bed dormitory, all on the edge of the cliff, with wonderful views over Lake Malawi. One can do day hikes and can even learn wood carving. My forest cabin was some distance from the communal area. The showers and toilets are communal. The American owners, Paul and Katlyn, were about to visit friends in the valley, so they greeted me and left on the back of taxi motor bikes. The lodge is run by Fiskani Mhango who wields an iron fist.
I met Pierre, a 25-year-old Belgian who left his home twenty months ago on a bicycle, went to the northern cape of Norway and is on his way to Cape Town. He started the tour after he finished his six-year chemical engineering degree. He came up the Gorode Pass yesterday in about three hours!
This place is too healthy for me. The next couple I met are Claudio (53) (tax accountant) and Eveline (52) (IBM project manager) from Zurich who have been on a cycle tour from Turkey for a year. They are also runners and once ran the Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
There was an interesting difference between these two sets of cyclists. Pierre could see that, as much as he wanted to, he would have to stop his trip in Cape Town as his money would have run out. He is camping or in dorms, most of the time, but has no hesitation to wild camp, which saves him money. Claudio and Eveline made it clear that they are cycling because they love it, but their aim is to stay in an hotel every night. If they cannot find an hotel, they can camp but that is a last resort.
I had a lovely Nasi Goreng for lunch.
In the afternoon I drove the 7km into Livingstonia.
I stopped off at the Manchewe Falls which were impressive.
I could not find a centre of Livingstonia. It seemed very spread out for a small town. I popped into a curio shop and found nothing of interest.
I came across the large Presbyterian Church. A guide told me that it took thirty years from 1916 for the church to be built. I was shown a stained-glass window of David Livingstone. I was told that the congregation numbered 2,500 with a regular Sunday attendance of 200. I had just persuaded the guide to sing a hymn for me when an elder walked in and spoilt the moment.
I next visited the Livingstonia University which was built in 1989 as a school and in 2003 converted to a university. Students told me that they were studying four-year degrees in education and environmental management and were paying MK1,100,000 (£1,000) per year. This campus has about 1,000 students. The campus was filled with happy, optimistic young people which is a joy to see.
Everyone in town must have owned chickens because everywhere I drove, they skurried over the road. Why did chickens cross the road?
As I drove around the town, I was conscious that although we were already at an elevation of 1,100m, that mountains still towered over the town. The Nyika plateau is on top of those mountains, which is where I am headed tomorrow. Paul at Mushroom Farm had earlier told me that they could organise guides to lead a three day, 40km, 1,000m height rise hike to the Plateau through the forest.
Over pre dinner drinks Claudio and Eveline asked me my view of the best route for them to cycle from Livingstonia to Cape Town. Two hours late they probably regretted asking such a question of such a blabbermouth. They were too polite to say that.
The vegetarian ‘meatballs’ for dinner were far better than I anticipated.
Day 19 – Livingstonia to Nyika National Park – 181 kms
I was woken at 02h00 as the skies thundered, lightning lit up the night and rain descended. Even though I was in the forest I tried to close the open windows and failed.
This is the fourth lodge where the toilets are waterless. At Bua River Lodge they used a special tank which allowed liquids to drain away. One covered one’s deposit with an ash and sawdust combination which eliminated any smell and encouraged decomposition. At Bua they then emptied the tank quarterly and used the contents as compost. Here it seemed to be a more conventional long drop with the ash sawdust combination still used.
I was enjoying lovely coffee with a beautiful unclouded view of the lake by 06h00.
Fiskani arrived at 07h00 bearing a chicken that had been grilled on a fire. I am staying at Chelinda Lodge in Nyika National Park tonight. They no longer offer meals, but they do offer a chef who will cook your meals using your ingredients. I had thought that I would buy a chicken at the supermarket in Rhumpi but yesterday, on a whim, I asked Fiskani if she could source a chicken. She told me that she could buy a live chicken in the village for MK5,000 and could pluck it and grill it overnight. She now proudly showed me the results of her labours and told me that she had negotiated the price of the chicken down to Mk4,500 because the chicken was so skinny.
I left at 08h00 and passed Claudio and Eveline about 35 minutes later, about 25kms on the way to Rumphi. I stopped to take a photo of them.
The road to Rumphi was a good tar road except for about 10 km where they were tarring the road. At Rumphi I filled up and on the edge of town, stopped at a few roadside stalls and bought 4 eggs, 4 onions and 4 tomatoes to be added to my meals for the next two days.
The road to the gate of Nyika Park is a gravel road that deteriorated as I progressed. It started climbing and at the gate was at an altitude of 1,680 metres, about 600 metres higher than Livingstonia.
The cost of entry to the Park was MK8,150 (£8) per person and MK2,445 (£2) per vehicle, per day. Incredibly cheap!
The road in the Park was significantly better. For about 15km the road ran on the border with Zambia. I noted that this road was also a transit road to a northern gate and beyond to a border crossing to Zambia. (I was later told that this road is impassable in the wet season.) I noted evidence of elephants but saw none. About 40km before Chelinda Lodge I was thinking that the going had been dry all the way which had made things easy, when I came across a patch of heavily rutted mud. There were three further such patches, fortunately all on places where the road was flat. There was evidence of a vehicle having been stuck in one of them. I tackled them in second gear, low range trying to keep a balance between speed and control. I was quite uncertain whether I would get through. Fortunately, I did.
A vehicle came the other way and the American driver told me that he had come to Nyika specifically to see zebra. He was delighted that he had seen them in great numbers. I have never heard of anyone going to a game reserve, to specifically to see zebra. It is an indication that there are few of them in Malawi. Besides elephant at lower altitudes the other animals in the park, in large numbers, are eland, roan, reed buck, bush buck and zebra.
The road kept climbing and at an altitude of 2,000 metres the number of trees reduced dramatically with rolling bare hills exposed. By 2,200 metres almost all the trees had disappeared. Near the lodge, however, three commercial pine forests have been planted and are now being, partly felled.
I had been warned that the total journey from Livingstonia to Chelinda might take seven hours. I had taken two hours to Rumphi, ninety minutes to the gate, two hours to the lodge with some time spent in Rumphi and at the gate.
I arrived at Chelinda Lodge to find an alpine style lodge, with wooden interiors. There is a large comfortable living and dining area and eight separate bedroom cabins. There are fireplaces in both areas. The full board rate in my 2016 guide was $300 per night (which would have included full board and a game drive). I am paying $100 per night room only but with their chef preparing the food I brought with me. The chef, Amon, was underwhelmed by the food that I had brought. A skinny chicken to last two nights, rice and beans.
A little while after I arrived it started raining and continued for over an hour which discouraged me from going game viewing.
There is a constant process of chopping and stacking wood. A wood fire burns all evening in the lounge area. Hot water in the rooms come from donkey boilers, which constantly call for wood.
My chicken was bland. The village chicken did not eat top class food.
When I got back to my room a wood fire was blazing.
Day 20 – Nyika National Park – 132 kms
It rained for many hours in the night.
I had a wonderful day. I was out for seven hours, leaving at 10h00.
Shortly after leaving the lodge, I stopped to talk to an oncoming vehicle, driven by Gavin from Magaliesburg in South Africa. He is a road engineer and is responsible for the maintenance of the roads in the Park. He was quick to say that that did not include responsibility for the transit M9 road which is ‘cared’ for by the Malawi Roads Department. The four bad mud patches are on the M9. He made the point that the roads had been built by the Colonial British to high standards. Since then, roads like the M9 had been graded and graded and its level reduced, in places, to below the water table. That is why parts of that road have banks on either side.
I started by going to the Chosi Viewpoint and enjoyed the view. The clouds were low and periodically rain splattered.
I turned south expecting to do a loop via Juniper Forest back to Chelinda. The track deteriorated. This route had clearly not been used for weeks. The going got wetter, muddier, slippy and slidy. This was not comfortable. I drew comfort that if something went wrong, I could contact the lodge with my Garmin inReach system. I came across a game fence and then a hut where Clive told me that he and his colleague were responsible for maintaining the fence. He explained that the fence kept the elephants in. He told me that I had three options. To return the way I had come, which I did not want to do. To continue with my planned route, which was worse than the route I had travelled here. He used the term ‘very slippy’ which scared me. Or to continue for a while and then head west to the transit M9 road. That would mean that I would be travelling on the road I came in on yesterday and would have to negotiate the four treacherous mud areas. Unhappily I decided to do that.
After I left him, it became clear that this was the route that he used to get to his station (not that a vehicle was obvious) as the track was well used. At the junction I ignored the Chelinda track and turned towards the M9. Immediately I came across a break in the elephant fence. The way was blocked by three strands of cable strung between the two gate posts across the road. I concluded that I had to use the orange handholds to unhook each wire. I was very wary. These wires must be carrying a current sufficient to deter an elephant. Gingerly I unhooked each wire and laid it on the other side of the gate. I drove through and hooked the wires back in place.
I was now surrounded by forest and noted that my altitude had dropped to below 2,000 metres. I saw the back of a fleeing elephant but nothing else. Ten kilometres from Clive’s hut I reached the M9 and another gate in the fence. I now approached the electrified wires with more confidence.
The sun was now shining and the four mud patches on the road did not seem so frightening. I tackled them with confidence.
As I approached Chelinda I saw about 100 zebras in the space of about a kilometre. Shortly afterwards I turned onto the Northern Loop. It was a magnificent drive. The roads were positioned on the ridges of the rounded hills with views stretching for thirty or more kilometres. The clouds were constantly moving in beautiful ways. The track was in a reasonable state. Occasional antelope took fright and bounded way. This was the most remote I had been in Malawi. I was happy.
I reached the junction for the last 3km to Domwe Viewpoint. I looked at the time and realised that if I was going to get back to the lodge before dark, I had to stop dawdling. In fact, I did not have time to visit Domwe Viewpoint. I picked up speed and passed the spur roads to Jalswe Viewpoint and Nganda Peak. The track was covered with grass and the car was shaking. I was pleased that I did not have passengers because they would have been pitched about. I was bracing myself against the steering wheel. I heard a thud and saw, in my rear-view mirror, my gas bottle on the track behind me. I recovered it. If it had come loose on the roof rack, what other bolts were coming loose on the vehicle. All the more reason to have them all checked before the next trip. A jackal ran across the road. I arrived back at the lodge at 17h00.
I popped into the kitchen to order my omelette for breakfast. The kitchen was very dark. The Generator God was not going to start the generator early. Yesterday, on arrival, I was told that the generator would be on from 18h00 to 21h30 each night but might be turned on at 17h30. Last night I was battling to see the keys on my laptop at about 17h20 and asked if the generator could be turned on. The Generator God told me sternly that I would have to wait until 18h00. He relented at 17h50. Tonight, he was more generous, probably because there is another group in the lodge, and turned it on at 17h40.
I met the four guests from Switzerland before dinner. One of them is a medical man and works for one month a year in a clinic in Harare. He and his wife (this time with friends) like to do a leisure trip each time. They have visited many of the places that I have in Malawi, staying in the best accommodation in each place. After Nyika they will be ending the holiday at a lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi. When the colonial powers drew the borders between Malawi and Mozambique, it was agreed that the border would run through the middle of the lake, but the British managed to keep Likoma and Chizumulu Islands as Malawian, despite them being on the Mozambique side of the lake. A ferry takes many hours to the islands, but the Swiss will fly in.
They mentioned that they had seen a single cyclist just after leaving Rumphi. I assume that must be Pierre. They did not see Claudio and Eveline.
I livened up my bland chicken rice with Kambuzi Sauce ‘Africa’s hottest peri-peri sauce’. My lips tingled for an hour.
Day 21 – Nyika National Park to Luwawa Forest Lodge, near Kacikhomeni – 263 kms
It rained for several hours in the night.
I was on the road by 07h20. The clouds were low, sometimes reducing visibility to 100 metres. The road was very wet.
I negotiated the first muddy mess even though it was horrible. As I approached the second, my heart sank. A fifteen-ton Scania truck was firmly stuck in the mud. The owner and driver, Bonavento, was a complete gentleman. He apologised for being in my way and suggested that there was a diversion. I was sceptical of this and started walking up a drainage ditch which was too narrow to drive my vehicle down and with high banks that would prevent one from coming from the side. After about 100 metres, when the drainage ditch had petered out, I was about to give up, when Bonavento went a little further and found a track. We walked back along it to the road. While we walked, in answer to my questions, Bonavento, confirmed that he had been stuck since 23h00 last night, would need a truck of equal or larger size to pull him out, that he was fetching timber for merchant in Mzuzu, had been doing that on and off for six years, that his truck had been imported from the UK and had 600,000 kms on the clock when purchased for about MK20 million (£18,800) and had now done 800,000 kms. I wished him well. I followed the diversion, which had not been used much, and after about 450 metres delivered me to the other side of the mud and truck. We waved to each other.
Seven kilometres further down the road a tractor approached from the other direction. I wondered if it would be strong enough to pull the truck out.
At the Park gate I asked if they had seen any cyclists. She said that one had arrived last night and pointed to a tent and bike under nearby trees. Pierre returned from refilling his water bottles. I explained what I knew to help him get the most out of the Park and gave him my map. He was disappointed to hear that I was not going to Vwaza Wildlife Reserve because it was too wet. He had hoped to ride through it. He told me that he had met Claudio and Eveline in Rhumpi and that they were cycling up to the gate today. I left him, marvelling at his resilience.
Just after the gate the road splits between the main road and a short cut. I took the short cut and as a result, missed seeing Claudio and Eveline. Ten minutes later as I descended to a bridge, my heart sank as I saw a minibus stuck in the mud on the ascent just past the bridge. The driver, Victor, told me that he worked for the Park, was transporting people to a funeral and would be very grateful if I could pull him out of the mud. There was space for me to pass his vehicle. I produced my very clean towing rope and two shackles, and the vehicles were connected. One of the passengers, Julius, was appointed to facilitate communication between the drivers. With the other seven male passengers pushing and me pulling, the minibus came out easily. Everyone was grateful. Julius announced that he was actually not going to the funeral and would go with me to Rumphi. Three hundred metres further on a group of five women waited for the minibus. That minibus was overloaded! In the next few kilometres, the road will certainly have been a challenge to the minibus. I hope they got through.
Julius asked if I had USB socket where he could charge his phone. As it received charge, his phone burst with WhatsApp message notifications. I wonder if the WhatsApp management realise how much of the African population are completely reliant on their application. Many mobile phone operators offer a cheap reduced data package that can only be used for WhatsApp messages.
We started passing smartly dressed pedestrians heading to the funeral. After we passed the site of the funeral, pedestrians and vehicles kept coming to join the event. The deceased certainly had a good send off. I have left money in my will for my wife to rent a crowd to add to the fifteen true mourners who will be at my funeral. If you want to earn money after I die, contact my wife now to be added to the waiting list.
After Mzuzu the M1 was a delight as it climbed and wound its way through tree covered mountains. It helped that the road surface was probably the best that I had experienced in Malawi.
I turned off the main road for a few kilometres on to a gravel road to Luwawa Forest Lodge which I reached 7.5 hours after leaving Chelinda.
Day 22 – Luwawa Forest Lodge, near Kacikhomeni, Malawi to Chipata, Zambia – 292 kms
I woke in the night to hear snoring that seemed to be in my room. I lay still trying to understand it. I concluded that it had to be the lodge dog, Bob, asleep on my veranda by an open window. And in the light of the morning, he was still there, fast asleep on a veranda chair.
I was on the road by 08h00. It was an excellent road. The mountains had largely disappeared, and I was now on a plain that extended south to Lilongwe and Blantyre at an altitude of about 1,200 metres.
At some point a police car, presumably containing a dignitary, came wailing from the other direction, accompanied by twelve police motorbikes. Do the police in this country do anything other than escort dignitaries and man roadblocks?
Twenty kilometres south of Kasungu I turned off the M1 that was heading to Lilongwe, on to the M18 heading to the border with Zambia. I noticed once again that there were no road signs, and it was my satnav that alerted me of the need to turn.
I was stopped three times at police roadblocks to have my documents checked, the last one being a kilometre before the border.
I arrived at the Mchinji/Mwani border post just before midday. I whipped through the Malawian side quickly. I approached the Zambian side with some advantages: Because of my South African passport I would not need to pay for a visa on arrival. Because of my vaccination certificate I would not have to undergo a lateral flow test. Because of my carnet I would not have to pay for a Temporary Import Permit for my car and also avoided having to produce the dreaded certificate from South Africa confirming that the vehicle was not stolen. Because I had paid a fee for Toll Charges shortly after leaving Livingstone it was still valid and I did not need another. Because I had renewed my third-party insurance until the end of the year, I did not have to buy insurance from a broker at the border. Because I was carrying Zambian Kwacha I had no need to buy any from the touts. I stood needlessly in the health queue to be told that, because of my vaccination status, I could move on. (It struck me that as no one checked this again, if one skipped this tent completely, no one would know.) The immigration officer spent a lot of time on her computer before finally stamping my passport. I had to help the customs officer complete the carnet. I paid a Carbon Tax of ZMK168 (£7). Clutching my gate pass I headed for my car to be waylaid by an officer of the Chipata City Council who required me to pay, in a separate shed, council tax of ZMK50 (£2). I was through in an hour which was a surprise and a delight.
I failed to agree an acceptable rate from the currency dealers at the border and at the Chipata Engen Filling Station so am still the owner of MWK 26,000 (£22).
As I drove into Chipata, it struck me how much more prosperous Zambia felt than Malawi. Zambia is still a poor country compared to any European country, but here I was seeing properly maintained shops selling a wide variety of goods.
The drive from Chipata to Lusaka takes eight hours. (I know because I have done it twice in the last six months). I could not get there before dark. I know of no comfortable hotels on the way, so I checked into the comfortable Chipata Protea Hotel. The receptionist said the best rate she could offer was $100 B&B, so I went online and booked a room on the hotel’s website for $76 B&B.
Day 23 – Chipata to Lusaka – 544 kms
I was on the road by 06h00 and after eight hours of hard driving reached the Orchard Farm Shop (about 25 kms from the centre of Lusaka) for lunch.
As I drove, I listened to podcasts and specifically to the BBCs’ Desert Island Discs’ interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1994. He was incredibly optimistic for the future of South Africa. I wonder how his views were later affected by (a) his experience as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which revealed terrible atrocities and (b) the blatant corruption of the Jacob Zuma era.
Day 24 – Lusaka to Livingstone – 473 kms
I left an hour later than planned because I got talking to Andrew at breakfast. He is a 39-year-old Yorkshireman who has lived for fifteen years in Berlin and moved to Lusaka, four months ago, with a girlfriend from Zambia. The girlfriend relationship ended but Andrew has decided to stay in Lusaka and build a software company. He lives near the hotel and was there for a morning coffee. He is very clever, switched on and opinionated. He was quick to tell me that it was a good thing that I had a manual gearbox on my Fortuner, because the automatic gearbox was not up to scratch. He knew enough to comment that Credit Suisse (my previous employer) was going through hard times. He believes that Zambian education and technology education is good and that he can train such people to be outstanding software engineers and that the market for software services in Zambia is huge. The new Amazon date warehouse in South Africa can provide him with all the cloud services he needs. He believes that the new government is very supportive of new businesses. I didn’t understand all the technical references he made. I was intrigued with him because he had such confidence. He told me that he owned a software company in Estonia, with clients worldwide which he was running with a light touch and two on site managers. I wondered why, despite the apparent success of his Estonia company, he was starting up a new software venture in Zambia. I hoped that he had long standing friends from the UK and Germany because, at age 39, he was not in a long-term relationship and couldn’t have yet made meaningful friends in Lusaka.
On a Sunday morning the traffic on Lusaka (which is normally bad) was very light. I was intrigued to see busloads of young people gathering in the street. I was the stopped from proceeding, and had to divert, because the president was expected. Are the young people here to cheer the president on?
I passed eight men cutting the grass of a roundabout with long handled pangas. I had seen hundreds of men doing the same besides the road in the last month. The action of cutting the grass this way, ten hours a day, week after week, must do huge damage to the operators’ bodies. In this particular case a powered lawnmower could have cut the grass of the roundabout with one man in an hour.
The city roads might have been quiet but the T2 national road heading south, was busy and initially slow going. Zambia is a land locked country, and its imported goods are trucked from Dar Es Salaam and South Africa and so those roads have huge trucks on them all the time. About 60 kms south of Lusaka at the junction with the T1 I estimated that there were fifty trucks waiting to go over the weighbridge.
As I drove, I listened to the first four episodes of the excellent podcast ‘Battleground: The Falklands War’. The analysis and testimony from senior people involved in the war was fascinating.
And so, I arrived in Livingstone on Sunday 1st May 2022 at the end of my trip.
Malawi is a very different country from its neighbours. The high population, relative to its size, means that it is difficult to find wild, open, uninhabited spaces. The game viewing is far less rewarding than most other Southern Africa countries. That is particularly true in the wet season when I travelled. Lake Malawi is interesting, as all large lakes are, but the shores are dirty from lots of people and filthy rivers.
My highlights were:
- The northern loop of Nyika National Park is a beautiful place and the only place where I really found solitude. The views from tracks on the ridges of the hills were spectacular.
- Mumbo Island is a lovely island in Lake Malawi without the disadvantages of lots of people. The lodge is extremely well designed but remains simple. Linked to this location, although accessible from the mainland, the experience of seeing fish eagles dive for fish thrown from the boat, was amazing.
- The experience of staying, walking in and appreciating the Satemwa Tea Estate and Huntingdon House was unique.
- I liked The Mushroom Farm near Livingstonia. It is an eco-lodge, vegetarian with minimalist bedrooms and toilets some way from the rooms. It, however, has a buzz to it with interesting people passing through. It also has the most amazing views.
- The views from the Zomba Plateau were amazing.
- Even though the vegetation was very thick I enjoyed driving in Majete Wildlife Reserve.
- I liked the more open spaces in Liwonde National Park.
The day after I reached Livingstone, I spent several hours sorting out my vehicle and trailer and packing them to be ready for my next trip. I spent an hour at the car wash.
While I was unpacking and packing in the hotel car park a vehicle came in pulling a trailer with eight motor bikes on a trailer. The driver was Johan Olivier, who is a part owner of the tour operator, Wild@Heart Adventure. Their clients fly into Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, use the bikes provided by Johan, and do a tour lasting 10 – 14 days. Very efficient for the clients. The logistics of getting the bikes to the right places are significant including that Johan has ten carnets (for the vehicle, trailer and 8 motor bikes). Going through borders must be a challenge.
I went to Shah Hardware seeking a new valve for my gas bottle, and met the founder and owner of forty years, Jay Shah. He is a character, and I enjoyed chatting to him. I was intrigued by his view that, on some products, the quality of goods coming from Zimbabwe is far superior to those manufactured in Zambia.
I went for lunch on the veranda of the bar at The Royal Livingstone Hotel. It has a wonderful setting on the banks of the Zambezi River just above the Victoria Falls. The hotel is in a protected area although the only game one normally sees are a few tame impalas. Imagine my surprise when a giraffe walked past between me and the swimming pool! A lovely way to end my trip.
On the day I got back to London I received a message from Eveline and Claudio regretting that they had missed me near Nyika but saying how much they enjoyed cycling near Zebra. The mud patches were a challenge. They had met up with Pierre. I will spend time on refining my route recommendation for them.
Descriptions of Accommodation
The assumption is that decent Wi-Fi was available in the lounge/ dining area at no cost unless mentioned.
Protea Hotel, Livingstone. US$132 (£101) (last-minute walk-in rate) per night including breakfast. Comfortable with large, secure parking area. Good WIFI throughout.
Latitude 15, Lusaka. US$179 (£136) (last-minute walk-in rate) per night including breakfast and laundry (which they did on the evening of my arrival). Good WIFI throughout. Bloody marvellous although I avoided the skewers of crocodile tail marinated in garlic and thyme.
Protea Hotel, Chipata. US$76 (£58) per night including breakfast. Probably the best hotel in Chipata but well-worn and three items on the menu that I requested; they did not have. Good WIFI throughout.
Latitude 13, Lilongwe. US$189 (£144) per night including breakfast and laundry (which they did on the evening of my arrival). Wi-Fi supposed to be in room but very weak. Another lovely Latitude hotel.
(The manager of Latitude 15, Guy Maranzana, explained to me that the principle of Latitude Hotels was to purpose build hotels in African cities where there is a large number of visiting business, diplomats and NGO people as well as tourists at the beginning and end of their safari holidays. The hotels have a very modern African décor with their buildings having an Art Deco style. They are currently in Lilongwe, Lusaka and Kampala and have raised $7.5 million to build three more in Addis Adaba, Nairobi and Harare.)
Casa Mia Restaurant and Lodge, Blantyre. MK58,000 (£55) per night including breakfast. Comfortable but with some irritating edges. Wi-Fi was weak in the communal areas and bedroom and died completely for several hours. The dinner was surprisingly adventurous and delivered well with my dinner choice.
Huntingdon House, Satemwa Tea Estate near Thyolo. MK99,000 (£93) per night dinner, bed and breakfast and sundowner drive to a high point. Old world comfortable house and room. No Wi-Fi. A special experience.
Thawale Lodge, Majete Wildlife Reserve. $140 (£107) per night for full board, laundry and one game drive a day. Additional game drives at $25. No Wi-Fi but a good Airtel 4G connection. A lovely lodge with great staff. The best deal of the trip.
CCAP Likhubula House, on the slopes of Mulanje Mountain. Mk20,000 (£19) per night bed only. No electricity, no water in the shower and no Wi-Fi. A low point.
Bushmans’ Baobabs, near gate of Liwonde National Park. MK40,000 (£38) per night dinner, bed and breakfast. No electricity in the room except for a solar battery that ran the lights for an hour. No Wi-Fi. Would have stayed elsewhere if there was an option. Surprisingly good roast chicken dinner.
Chembe Eagles Nest, Cape Maclear. MK 60,000 (£56) per night bed and breakfast. No Wi-Fi. Situated at the end of the bay against the cliff so is completely private, unlike many of the other lodges in the bay. Comfortable and pleasant even if the owner penny pinches.
Mumbo Island, Cape Maclear. $90 (£69) per night bed only. Three meals extra $60 per day and boat crossing $15 each way. No Wi-Fi but weak Airtel signal. Wonderful experience. Pity the lodge has been left to be run by the waiter.
Bua River Lodge, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. $120 (£92) per night full board. No Wi-Fi. Lovely location but needs a lot of maintenance. Dalene and Mike, the managers, are curious characters.
Makuzi Beach Lodge, Makuzi. $80 (£61) per night, room only in a standard chalet. (I was upgraded to a superior chalet because of a lack of other guests. That would normally be $130 per night.) The rondawel that I had was spacious and very comfortable except that the bathroom was thirty years old and needs replacing. The meals were separately priced, with a large selection and very tasty. The location is spectacular, and the hosts are a delight.
La Rondavelle, Chilumba. MK36,675 (£35) per night bed only with good, shared ablutions. Good meals available except for my roast beef which was as tough as my boot. No Wi-Fi but good Airtel signal. Terrible road to access. Patrick, the host, is a curious character. Not sure that they will be there for long.
Luwawa Forest Lodge, Livingstonia. Mk16,000 (£15) per night, bed only with shared ablutions. No Wi-Fi but weak Airtel signal. Lots of interesting people passing through.
Chelinda Lodge, Nyika National Park. $100 (£76) per night, bed only and with services of chef to cook food that I brought. No WiFi but good Airtel signal. Lovely room and communal areas.
Luwawa Forest Lodge, near Kacikhomeni. $83 (£63) per night, dinner, bed and breakfast. The pepper steak for dinner was great but everything else is very worn and the bathroom is a mess. The owner has two separate, potential buyers from Europe coming in May to inspect the lodge and associated timber plantations. He is hoping to sell for $875,000. I think he is in for a rude awakening.
Protea Hotel, Chipata. US$76 (£58) per night including breakfast. Good WIFI throughout. A good place to relax halfway on my trip back to Livingstone.
Latitude 15, Lusaka. US$200 (£152) per night including breakfast and laundry (I made sure that my end of trip laundry was principally done here). Good WIFI throughout. This hotel has a great buzz about it.
Protea Hotel, Livingstone. US$165 (£126) per night including breakfast. Comfortable with a large, secure parking area which is great for unpacking and packing my vehicle and trailer, in preparation for my next trip. Good WIFI throughout.
Description of my vehicle and equipment
I drive a three litre, diesel 2010 Toyota Fortuner which I bought in 2014 with 76,000 km on the clock. At the beginning of this trip, it had done 192,000 km. I have added the following: ARB front bull bars, Fortuner bash plate, Safari snorkel, enhanced coils, springs and shock absorbers, secondary battery system, 72 litre built in extra diesel tank, Rockshockerz purpose built rear bumper and carriers for two spare wheels reduced now to one wheel carrier), Front Runner roof rack, a pull out awning fixed to the roof rack, Front Runner stainless steel/aluminium camp table, two diesel jerry cans and a 60 litre Engel Combi fridge/freezer.
For when I get stuck, I carry a box of towing and snatch ropes, a high lift jack, two other jacks, an ARB portable compressor, two Desert escape sand tracks, a 9000-winch fixed to the front bumper and a spade.
The vehicle carried me comfortably all the way with no breakdowns en-route.
I was travelling alone so did not take my Echo 3 trailer with me.
Whenever I can, I stay in hotels or self-catering units, but if these are not available, I am ready to camp in relative luxury with an Oztent RV5 tent, camp bed, one sleeping bag for temperatures down to 7⁰C and another for temperatures below that, Oztent Goanna chairs, a selection of pots, pans and cutlery, braai grid and a sixty litre tank of fresh water.
I used Garmin InReach technology on this trip. Travelling alone in remote areas might be risky. Garmin has several hundred devices intended to help a wide range of sportsmen, including hikers, runners, boaters and overlanders, to monitor different aspects of their activity, often including the route that they follow. Many of these devices use the GPS satellites, just like the Garmin in your car, to track your route. Garmin developed the inReach system which allows one to communicate with those at home, using text messaging, using the Iridium Satellite network. The most important feature is a SOS function which sends a message to, a Garmin operated emergency centre in the USA, which then tries to exchange messages with the sender of the SOS and begin coordinating a rescue. They also have details of your emergency contacts who are advised that you have initiated a SOS signal. The inReach facility is integrated into some devices, particularly those used for hiking and marine activities. They also have a device called an inReach Mini which has minimum functionality (besides the satellite communication) and is cumbersome to use alone. It can, however, be Bluetooth paired to other devices, which makes it very powerful. I have both the inReach Mini and the Garmin Overlander. The latter is a very fancy GPS device providing all the normal Garmin vehicle routing and guiding facilities but also providing other information useful when off road. I have set my inReach mini to send my location (when on) every five minutes to my Garmin MapShare page and internally log my position every 30 seconds. The MapShare page is a website page which others can see, and which includes my current location (when my Mini was last on and out of a building) and my track using the locations sent every five minutes. In an emergency this will be enough for rescuers to find me. When I have access to the internet, I can sync my Mini with my MapShare page allowing the 30 second logs to fill out the track of where I have been, thus providing a full record of my trip. To use the inReach facility one needs to subscribe to a Garmin satellite communication package which has three different levels from emergency use only to unlimited messages. (On all the plans there are unlimited SOS messages.) One must then choose between an annual plan, paid monthly, or a plan which is only activated for the months when needed. The cheapest emergency use monthly plan is £12.50 per month and the most expensive unlimited messages, occasional use plan is £65 per month. I used the latter plan for the period covering the period of my trip.