Want to see Malawi? Just drive there! Philip Ven­ter and his friends did an epic road trip to the lake via Namibia and Zam­bia.

Want to see Malawi? Just drive there! Like Philip Ven­ter did with his wife Adri and some friends. They didn’t book any ac­com­mo­da­tion be­fore­hand ei­ther. Here’s their story…

go! - - Contents -

Our friends Gert and Re­nate Heese farm near Au­gra­bies Falls Na­tional Park. In De­cem­ber 2016, one of their em­ploy­ees, a Malaw­ian called Freddy Soda, drowned in the Or­ange River in a freak ac­ci­dent. It was the mid­dle of the har­vest sea­son and they couldn’t at­tend Freddy’s fu­neral in Malawi. A few months later we agreed to join them on a trip to pay re­spects to Freddy’s par­ents and to visit his grave. If we were go­ing to drive all the way to Malawi, we de­cided to also visit a few other coun­tries along the way. We’d all travel in my Audi Q5 3.0 TDI, tow­ing a hired off-road car­a­van. Our planned route was about 11 500 km long and we gave our­selves three weeks. On the itin­er­ary: clas­sic des­ti­na­tions like Etosha, the Zam­bezi Re­gion, Malawi and Botswana. On 6 May last year, we ar­rived in Uping­ton to col­lect Gert and Re­nate. We filled the tank and four jer­rycans with diesel and set off. We drove to Wind­hoek and stayed with friends of Gert’s for a night, then made tracks to Okaukuejo rest camp in Etosha. When we re­fu­elled in the park, the hose of the diesel pump was too nar­row for my ve­hi­cle and the fuel flap wouldn’t open. This had hap­pened be­fore so for­tu­nately I had the right size hose in my emer­gency kit. On the way to Na­mu­toni rest camp we

saw springbok, gems­bok, ze­bra, gi­raffe and blue cranes. At the vet­eri­nary check point just out­side the gate, our car­a­van was searched with a fine-toothed comb. “We have to check whether you’re hid­ing a gi­raffe in there,” the in­spec­tor joked. That night we camped on a patch of green grass at Mu­ru­rani Camp ( 00 264 67 240 355; 00264 81 295 7585) about 100 km from Rundu, and the next night we slept about 5 m from the Zam­bezi River at Is­land View Lodge ( is­land­view-lodge.com) near Ka­tima Mulilo. It is a scenic part of Namibia and the sun­set over the Zam­bezi River was breath­tak­ing.

On­wards to Zam­bia

We ar­rived at the busy Kazun­gula bor­der post just af­ter 11 am. It took for­ever to get through and we only set foot in Zam­bia at 3.30 pm. We soon came across the first of many road blocks that we would en­counter in Zam­bia and Malawi. Most of the time we passed through with­out any prob­lems and we were never asked for a bribe. The Zam­bezi River was in flood dur­ing our visit and Vic Falls was an amaz­ing sight. The spray of the wa­ter­fall drenched us in min­utes. Some­one rec­om­mended we take a taxi to the wa­ter­fall in­stead of driv­ing there in our own ve­hi­cle. It’s quiet dur­ing low sea­son and ve­hi­cles parked on their own are easy tar­gets for crim­i­nals. The taxi ride cost US$20 (R246)

there and back and the en­trance fee to see the falls was US$10 per per­son. We reached Lusaka late in the af­ter­noon and got stuck in peak traf­fic. It took us nearly two hours to get out of the city, due in part to a truck that had bro­ken down in the mid­dle of the road. We looked for ac­com­mo­da­tion and pulled over at Malangano Camp about 40 km out­side the city. We had our doubts about the place, but we were so tired we de­cided to give it a chance. The camp’s fa­cil­i­ties turned out to be fan­tas­tic – power, hot show­ers and a well­stocked bar ( 00 260 96 348 5833).

A son to be proud of

The next night we stayed at Bare­foot Sa­fari Lodge ( bare­foot-sa­faris.co.za) near Li­longwe, the cap­i­tal of Malawi. The fa­cil­i­ties were a bit old, but the lawns were freshly mowed. At the lodge, we asked the man­ager to help us find Freddy’s par­ents. He called Freddy’s fa­ther, asked for direc­tions and drew a map in my di­ary to guide us there. The Soda fam­ily ap­pre­ci­ated our visit im­mensely. A big group of peo­ple wel­comed us and we all vis­ited Freddy’s grave to­gether. Also present were a pas­tor and two tribal chiefs from the area who spoke English. They asked about Freddy and the farm. “Freddy was an ex­cel­lent em­ployee – he made my job so much eas­ier,” Gert told them. “You can be re­ally proud of him.” Later, Adri gave ev­ery­one raisins pro­duced on Gert’s farm and stationery for the kids. In the af­ter­noon we drove to Senga Bay on the shore of Lake Malawi and camped at Sun­bird Liv­ingsto­nia Beach Ho­tel ( sun­bird malawi.com). The ho­tel had power, hot wa­ter and the ser­vice was great. A lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur took us snorkelling at nearby Na­malenje Is­land and we saw many colour­ful fresh­wa­ter fish species. Din­ner at the ho­tel was tra­di­tional Malaw­ian fare: fresh fish from the lake and spicy chicken, which cost only R150 per per­son in­clud­ing drinks.

The next morn­ing we headed to Blan­tyre, where we would stay for two days with Jo­hann and Retha van der Ham. There were many stalls next to the road sell­ing fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles. Some also sold field mice on skew­ers, a lo­cal del­i­cacy. Jo­hann and Retha have been do­ing mis­sion­ary work at Crown Min­istries in Blan­tyre for 18 years. They also make films, build or­ganic toi­lets and teach peo­ple how to farm sus­tain­ably. They even make cheese on their plot of land! The cou­ple took us to see tea plan­ta­tions and cof­fee farms around Mount Mu­lanje (3 002 m). The indige­nous forests in among the tea plan­ta­tions are pro­tected and it’s great to see what pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions have done to aid con­ser­va­tion. Still, some trees are in real dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion. Like the Mu­lanje cedar, the na­tional tree of Malawi – Jo­hann told us that there are ap­par­ently only seven left on the moun­tain. De­spite this, many crafts­men still use wood from this tree to make their crafts. Look out for yel­low-coloured wood with fine brown stripes and make a point of not buy­ing prod­ucts that come from this source.

We crossed the Mwami bor­der post back into Zam­bia late in the af­ter­noon. This time, Garmin and Google weren’t very help­ful when it came to find­ing a place to stay and we ended up set­ting up camp at a mis­sion sta­tion west of the town of Katete af­ter dark. The next af­ter­noon we ar­rived in Lusaka and shopped at a new mall – one of at least four new malls that we no­ticed in the city. We left Lusaka on the Great North­ern Road and came across a nice green spot called Fringilla Lodge ( fringillalodge.com) just be­fore sun­set. We made camp and the next morn­ing we asked whether we could leave our car­a­van there while we vis­ited friends at the Kalum­bila mine near the town of Mwinilunga. The road there was the worst I’d ever driven in the Audi, but we made it with­out in­ci­dent. We had a lovely time catch­ing up with Colin and Jo-Anne du Plessis and once again we were im­pressed with the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in the area.

One last coun­try

Early on a Sun­day we started our jour­ney back to Lusaka. The road be­tween the towns of Sol­wezi and Kitwe was in a poor con­di­tion. We stayed over at Fringilla Lodge again and set off for the Kazun­gula bor­der post early the next morn­ing. This time we crossed in less than an hour. In Botswana we spent a night at Kwalape Sa­fari Lodge ( kwalape­sa­far­ilodge.co.bw) and an­other at Se­popa Swamp Stop ( se­popa-swamp­stop.com). At around 200 pula (R250) per per­son, the camp­sites in Botswana were more ex­pen­sive than the other places we had vis­ited. Af­ter a few days we de­cided it was time to go home. The fi­nal day’s drive was a 1 800 km epic. We ar­rived at the farm at 3 am, elated and ex­hausted. What a trip! We had en­coun­tered no se­ri­ous prob­lems – not even a flat tyre – and the four of us were still good friends…

RIVER TIME (op­po­site page). Sun­set over the Zam­bezi at Is­land View Lodge near Ka­tima Mulilo in the Zam­bezi Re­gion.

SLOWLY, SLOWLY (left). The big­gest chal­lenge on the hol­i­day was cross­ing the Zam­bezi River by pont at the Kazun­gula bor­der post. It took four hours to get through.

RUB-A-DUB-DUB (be­low). At Senga Bay, the group boarded a leaky boat that took them to an is­land in Lake Malawi for some snorkelling.

CAMP HQ (bot­tom). Camp­ing at Okaukuejo in Etosha was one of the trip’s high­lights.

CHURCH AND STATE. At the many road­side stalls in Li­longwe you can buy any­thing from a yel­low sa­chet of cook­ing oil to fur­ni­ture (top left). You can even get a bi­cy­cle taxi to take you to your des­ti­na­tion (above). Adri ad­mires an Anglican cathe­dral in Blan­tyre af­ter hav­ing vis­ited Freddy Soda’s fam­ily, where she handed out raisins and stationery (top and above right).

PUT THE KET­TLE ON. Malawi is known for its tea and cof­fee plan­ta­tions. Make time to visit one and walk around the farm, like Re­nate Heese did (top). The farm house on Satemwa Tea & Cof­fee Es­tate in south­ern Malawi dates from 1923 (above). These days it’s a bou­tique ho­tel where you can en­joy a great cup of tea or cof­fee in a gar­den set­ting.

WHERE TEA COMES FROM. Mount Mu­lanje stands guard over this tea plan­ta­tion in Malawi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.