Arriving back in Mzuzu the air feels cooler, coming back up over 1,000 feet in elevation the temperature difference is very noticeable and welcome. The lower altitude temperature by the lake being much higher, but then there is a lake to jump into if you get too hot.
Before travelling to Nkhata Bay and Mayoka Village lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi, I had left some kit at Joys Place a lodge/hostel in Mzuzu and returned there for a day off before continuing my journey further south. On arrival at Joys Place, I immediately set about some bike maintenance. The bike needed to have the front brake pads checked and changed, so out came the front wheel and I went to get my multi tool to remove the worn pads… er…problem, it wasn’t there! Along with my cycle computer which had been filched at Mayoka Village, so had my multi tools. The cycle computer was a nicety, the tools on the other hand essential to my travel. Whilst Mayoka Village and its owners were wonderful the loss of items marred the stay somewhat. Most vexing was that I had specifically checked the multi tools were there when I noticed the computer had gone. They were both in place, whilst checking they were in place the security guard had watched me check from his point above me. I had said a cheery good morning despite my computer missing as he watched. In the time it took me to settle up my bill and gather my bags, the tools were also taken. Unable to prove categorically who’d taken them, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out the most likely suspect. I have since heard of other cyclists who have had similar problems in almost identical circumstance. A real shame for such a wonderful place to stay.
Hastily rushing around Mzuzu hunting for decent tools in the hardware market area, a maze of small shops and stalls each seemingly selling almost identical goods to the next I was able to procure some cheap Chinese hex set keys and a pair of long nose pliers to then enable me to carry out the work. Hopefully these limited tools should see me to Johannesburg where I am able to procure good replacements including chain breaker etc.
Work carried out, bike ready and rested again I set out of Mzuzu, heading further South in Malawi. A small climb out of Mzuzu and then a different Malawi came into view. Away from the lake and main tourist routes, travelling higher the trees start to thin out and in some places disappear completely, a result of deforestation.
The timber is lined up beside the road, products being mainly cut timber for building, fencing stakes or having been turned into charcoal. The latter becoming a real problem as lots of charcoal is lined up on the side of the roads, being used by most people for cooking. The quality however of the charcoal compared to the UK is almost unbelievable, giving out so much heat and for so long, cooking with it requires water to cool it down and it appears to burn for what seems like an age.
Away from the lake, the road winds in and out of the hills, roads that are wonderful to ride on. Well wonderful if not a little hilly with a loaded bike. Most cyclists like going downhill, I am no exception. The trade off for the fast speed rush of a downhill, more climbing to follow, not so fun.
More roadside goods being sold, ranging from the normal fare of fruit and vegetables to villages that seem to specialise in certain items, one village making what looks to be homemade footballs as I’d seen previously being used by the local children, Rural Africa’s version of Intersport.
Arriving in Kasungu tired and stopping overnight, I decided to put into action the philosophy I had set out on this trip with. If deciding to do so, turn left instead of right, changing route as I went along and wished. Eventually after a little consideration I decided to miss out Lilongwe the capital of Malawi and change course to a more direct route heading toward Zambia. The fact this alteration in route took out 60 miles, a larger climb to Lilongwe to only come back down again to the same destination had nothing to do with the decision! Turning right off of the M1 onto the M18 heading South West instead of staying on the M1 to Lilongwe. I’d checked on Google Maps satellite view, the road was virtually all tarmac and would also take full of advantage of the current wind direction, plus it was pretty level with hardly any hills. The road was extremely quiet with a decent, hardly used tarmac surfaced road. A fast enjoyable wind assisted ride along the M18 to Mchinji was fantastic. After riding slowly up and down hills for quite a while a change to fast riding was more than agreeable and at times it was possible to almost forget that I had almost 30kg of luggage on the bike. Riding at speeds of over 20mph for nice long stretches was a refreshing break from the slower more normal speeds of touring which tends to average around 11-12mph.
The scenery rushing by, people riding their bikes, working in the fields, others bent over vigorously scrubbing their clothes in the river. An old unused rusty bridge across the river, twisted and warped, how it ended up in this state is hard to imagine.
Evidence that the seasons are changing here can be seen just by looking forward or up. Cloud formations can change very quickly, clear blue sky’s one minute, full of white or dark clouds the next. Rainy season on it’s way. Apparently the rains having arrived in Botswana properly already.
More Chameleons in the road in need of rescue, this time an older larger one who I didn’t see until I nearly ran him over. Camouflaged against the tar road almost perfectly.
Getting closer he hisses at me to get me to stay away, but without moving him he faces almost certain death from a car or lorry running over him, he narrowly escaped having a new pattern on his back, a 50mm wide Schawalbe Mondial tyre pattern from my bike.
In many parts of Africa, local people are scared of chameleons believing they are evil and have special powers, women believing they will become barren if touched by one. So it raises some eyebrows as I’m seen assisting them across the roads.
Crossing into Zambia was another easy change in Country. I originally intended to cross over into Zambia on the Tuesday, but Mike a contact who lives in Zambia had emailed me to say I may wish to leave it a day as my timing coincided with the late president Michael Sata’s funeral. The late presidents funeral was declared a national holiday, therefore shops would be closed and little to no opportunity to obtain supplies and a new Zambian sim card as I came through Chipata. I had a day of rest at the Reward Lodge in Mchinji, recommended by a policeman it was very comfortable with a breakfast thrown in for 5,000 Malawian Kwacha, about £6.60.
Crossing into Zambia early the next day, again it was another easy crossing. $50 for the visa on arrival and easy passage into the 13th country since leaving home. I was able to change money before the border and there were money changers after. My XE currency app on my phone showing the exchange rate to be 13 Zambian Kwacha to 0.0753 Malawian Kwacha about £0.0013. When changing the money I was offered a lot less and soon realised that Zambia had removed the zeros which makes sense, 1 Zambian Kwacha now being £0.10.
Since deciding to switch sides to East Africa, I have been helped along the way with advice and offers of places to be put up, Les from the DDC (Devizes and District Club) was a great help researching things on my behalf and also putting me in touch with people. I have been helped by other friends of friends, firstly Ben through my cycling mate Paddy, and again in Nanyuki, Kenya by another friend of Ben and Paddy’s, Paul. In Tanzania I was put in touch with Leon through Peter from the DDC and his daughter Brigitte. Unfortunately Leon was a little too far off of the route I was taking for me to stop. In Zambia, another Peter from the DDC put me in touch with Mike in Lusaka Zambia. All of the contacts and help have been very much appreciated even if I haven’t been able to sometimes take advantage of all of the offers.
Mike gave me some great tips on good places to go and stay. A must visit location was Wildlife Camp on the edge of South Luangwa Park and on the way to there a stop off at Mama Rulas in Chipata (http://www.mamarulas.com/). After getting some supplies in town, a Zambian Sim card and more money from an ATM Mama Rula’s was where I headed, cheap camping with lots of shade, a swimming pool and beer! The road to Mama Rulas is a bit of dirt track, but not too far.
The bar although not open when I first arrived is set back in an A-Frame building, after a shower and a swim the bar opened and I quickly set about emptying the fridges of beer. Mosi being the local Zambian beer and is amongst the best I have had so far in Africa.
Although I hadn’t noticed many so far in East Africa, there were lots of Overlander trucks using Mama Rulas as an overnight stop. These vehicles are lorries that have been converted for carrying passengers and camping equipment overland as the name suggests. Many that I have seen now are travelling much the same route, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.. Much the same as the route I have been following. These tours look to range from a budget way of travelling to an expensive way of touring depending on how much work you expect the crew to do. One I looked at out of interest going from Nairobi to Cape Town over 71 days was over £3,000 plus a kittie of over $4,500 USD, total around £5,000 which included entries to pre-arranged parks & activities etc, food other than while stopped in hotels.. I prefer the freedom of the bike..oh and the cost…
After a night at Mama Rulas, I went 80 miles North to Wildlife Camp (http://wildlifezambia.com/) on the edge of the South Luangwa Park. Again the camping was cheap but the main reason for going there.. Wildlife. Mike had said I would see plenty there, and he wasn’t wrong. After setting up my tent arriving after dark I could hear animals in the distance and then some that didn’t sound quite so distant.
Early in the morning, the monkeys and baboons wake up, firstly stealing my tomatoes. My own fault, foolishly leaving them outside the tent thinking I would have time in the morning to put them inside before the monkeys spotted them. A little later in the morning while talking to some English travellers in a landrover, I was alerted by one of the camp employees that there was now a monkey in my tent! I had zipped up the tent but the monkeys had learnt how to unzip them! This one complete with child slung underneath it’s belly had gotten in and was happily munching on my bread up until it saw me. The thieving primate then decided to defecate IN the tent then panicked and couldn’t find its way back out, manically running from side to side, bouncing off of the mesh sides until I undid the door completely and it could easily get out.
A little while later, elephants walked through the edge of the camp and a hippo came down to the water.
They were pretty close and I had heard from others they sometimes come right through the camp in between the tents. On the second night there was a hippo just outside my tent munching on the grass. Taking a photo and letting a flash off into his eyes may have been a foolish thing to do, so I refrained from taking a photo. The camp does have armed guards at night to protect visitors from the wildlife and it is made very clear that under NO CIRCUMSTANCE should guests walk between the main part of the camp and the camping locations at night without either an armed escort or being driven between the two.
Speaking to the barman and Cameron the manager the next day they both regaled stories of very close encounters around the camp. Only a few nights previous some guys travelling overland on motorbikes came in along the dirt track to the camp….. being chased down the dirt track with dust flying by lions!
The previous year two male hippos were fighting right behind the building that housed the bar, causing a massive racket and the victor killing off his rival. Several of the camping guests wanting the carcass left there to see how the hyenas and other animals come in and pick a carcass clean in little time. Cameron explaining this wouldn’t be such a wise idea as within two days the smell would be unbearable, therefore a tractor was required to tow the defeated hippos carcass far enough away not cause any problems at the camp. On the Wildlife Camps website there is a page showing how quickly nature takes over an elephants carcass, very interesting reading here (http://wildlifezambia.com/october-2014-recycling/).
Another time the barman working happily behind his bar early in the morning before any guests came in and started drinking (It must have been very early!) was treated to two lions sauntering past through the bar.
The camp also offered wildlife experiences in the form of either walks or drives. I opted to be lazy and went for a night drive after speaking with a Danish girl I met in one of the overlander trucks at Mama Rulas who had done all of the options morning and night walk and drives. Her recommendation was a night drive.
The land rovers that are used for the game drives are especially fitted out for the purpose. Three or four rows of bench seats to allow each person a good view and a tarpaulin cover for protection from the sun and occasional rain. Other guests joined the drive, Craig and Jasmine from Newcastle and their friend Alex a farmer from near Lusaka in Zambia. Leaving the camp almost immediately there were Giraffe.
There are several types of giraffe, differentiated in one way by the pattern of their coats. The ones in South Luangwa that I saw being the Rhodesian Giraffe or Thornicroft’s Giraffe.
One of the animals I have been looking forward to seeing in its own environment was Elephants.
I wasn’t disappointed on the night drive, we saw lots of Elephant, our experienced game driver James explaining that the elephants in South Luangwa tending to be smaller than others in Africa and there being many theories for this, but none of them conclusive. One being that the bigger males have been killed off with poaching and another that they are simply a naturally smaller beast.
Further along the trail we were treated to the sight of a family of warthogs, the mother suckling her young whilst the father looked on. The dugout holes they spend the night in for safety being on a first come first served basis. Each family tries to get into one quite early as it offers a little more protection than being on the ground. Our knowledgeable guide explaining even a Lion will think twice about entering a warthog hole, a charging male warthog with large tusks coming out of a hole at you is a rather dangerous beast.
Rounding some bushes and dropping onto a small plain, the wildlife numbers increased, Elephants, Warthogs, a large herd of Cape Buffalo, Impala, Water Buck, Bush Buck and a fish eagle flying across the area.
A number of game drive vehicles had congregated on the area to watch the bounty of wildlife.
My little Samsung compact camera being a little on the small side compared to some of the other camera equipment on show, I felt a little inadequate…
Another stunning site was the herd of Cape Buffalo moving toward the water to drink, complete with iconic Red Billed Oxpecker birds riding on their backs.
As the Buffalo meandered slowly to water, James drove us up ahead of them, after many years of doing these tours he knew where they were most likely to cross, carefully placing us in front of them to have the complimentary ‘sundowner’, that was a beer for me, but others chose wine or cider.
After finishing off drinks and popcorn, the sun had set and there were still a couple of hours more tour to look at the animals that came out at night. Many of them I was unable to photograph but did get a few. A crocodile waiting in the edge of the river, not far away a baby elephant crossing with the herd. James confirming the two large elephants flanking the baby would be more than enough to protect the vulnerable baby, disappointing some in the vehicle hoping to see a kill..
A couple of days before I arrived at a camp a female Cape Buffalo had died while giving birth. The carcass doesn’t lay around for long, my photo being almost 48 hours after the animal died and there was not a lot left. First the lions go in, but the flesh soon turns in the heat and is less palatable, lions preferring fresher meat, the hyenas go in after.
Overnight the heat at the camp was high, the camp being almost 2,000 feet lower than Mama Rulas, enough to make a massive difference in heat, sleeping can be difficult. I managed to sleep but just before light was awoken by the sound of rain. I looked through the side mesh of the tent and was confused, there were no clouds in the sky. Then without warning a couple of larger thuds on the tent followed by more ‘rain’. It didn’t take long to work out where this mystery rain was coming from, I was camped under the trees for protection from the sun during. These same trees at night being ideal for the monkeys to roost in. Much like humans the first thing they need to do when waking is go to the loo. Within a few minutes what seemed like hundred’s but was in reality probably only five or six monkeys had urinated and defecated on my tent. It took me a long time to clean off satisfactorily. Another lesson learnt, don’t camp under trees that Monkeys are likely to roost in!
In the end the visit to the Wildlife camp was all very worthwhile, I saw lots of wildlife from what I can remember I saw:
- Giraffe (Thornicroft’s)
- Cape Buffalo
- Fish Eagle
- Woodland Kingfisher
- Brown Hooded Kingfisher
- Water Buck
- Bush Buck
- Impala (Including a newborn hidden in the bush)
- Elephant Shrew
- Red Bill Oxpecker
- Plus lots of others I can’t remember at the moment!
I would definitely recommend going to this camp and thanks to Mike for suggesting it. It is worth the detour and a more affordable option for people on tour compared to the more expensive safari in the big national parks.