After immigration was easy to find the driver I had hired, as he was waiting just outside arrivals with my name on a sign. The lodge I was staying at said they knew a driver who could do the transfer for me, and while expensive, I decided to go with him. I asked around to other people who were either from Malawi or knew it well, and they all agreed that while expensive it was pretty much the going rate for the transfer.
The day before I arrived the lodge owner e-mailed me, and asked if I’d mind splitting my transfer with someone else who was arriving the same day…I may be a bit of a travel princess at times, but I really don’t need an entire car to myself for five hours…and it meant saving $100 on top of it. I’m in! The guy I was sharing with turned out to be a nice American guy from New Mexico who in addition to keeping costs down was interesting company on the long drive.
We stopped a couple of times along the way, either for water/snacks, bathroom breaks, or because there would be absolutely torrential downpours that made it impossible to see the road. Malawi had been going through extremely heavy rains the past month, and as a consequence many roads and bridges were washed out. The shortest route to the lake was only about four hours, but the bridge was washed out so we needed to take a slightly longer route which added another hour to the trip.
After a few hours, we got stuck behind a funeral procession of several hundred people taking up the whole road. We couldn’t’ exactly ask them to move out of the way, and they showed no signs of caring that they were blocking traffic, so that added maybe another 30 minutes to the trip as we slowly inched along behind them:
When we finally got clear of the funeral procession we got stuck behind a group of cattle. Despite lots of honking of the horn, it still took around 20 minutes to get around them. Ah African road hazards:
Finally after about five hours of driving, around 5pm, we arrived at the Thumbi View Lodge. After going through reviews of all the different options on the lake on TripAdvisor it was still really difficult to make a decision on there to stay. None of the lodges seemed to be very “nice” by city standards, and none of them appeared to have air conditioning either. It was definitely going to be a roughing it by the lake experience. I mentally prepared myself and chose the Thumbi View.
Based on the view from my room onto Lake Malawi, I’d say I chose well:
Checked into my room, which was pretty basic with two single beds (plus mosquito nets hanging from the ceiling) and only had one power outlet, which meant either I could use the small stand fan or charge my phone, but not both. Roughing it indeed! It was basic, but clean and comfortable, so ticked the most important boxes.
The lodge was running a special of $50 per night, with breakfast and dinner included. You really can’t beat that! Shortly after we arrived dinner was served around 6:30 and was a spicy beef dish over rice along with salad. Nice basic home cooking, and was rather tasty! Especially when washed down with a few Savanna Dry ciders! After dinner we ended up playing cards with the lodge owners and several of their friends for a few hours before finally passing out around 11. I had a a long day of doing absolutely nothing planned the next day, and wanted to be rested up!
Despite no AC (and a nasty cold/congestion) and jetlag, I managed maybe six hours of semi-decent sleep and woke up to go grab breakfast at the lodge’s restaurant. Given the price I expected some toast and instant coffee, and instead got a full english breakfast! Two eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, fruit, and coffee. I was seriously impressed! A nice filling breakfast to prepare me do nothing…except read on the beach:
After a bit of reading it was around 11am, and I was exhausted from all the hard work, so decided to head back to my room for a short nap…2 hours later I was feeling rather refreshed and ready for some lunch. I asked the lodge owners what the recommended, and they recommended a small “local restaurant” near the lodge called Thomas’s Restaurant. I admit, when I sat at the table and could see into the “kitchen” I was a bit nervous:
Ordered the “chicken curry” since in Africa “curry” is code word for “cover up the taste of anything that might not be up to par.” I figured at least if I was going to get sick it should taste good! When it finally came it was plenty hot and steaming, so I decided anything that had been on the cutting knives (which were definitely being reused from chicken, to veg, back to chicken, etc, from what I could see through the kitchen door) must have been killed and it was safe to dig in:
It was rather tasty, a rather expensive $3.50 or so, and four days later I’m not sick, so looks like Thomas’s is a reliable place. The only sketchy moment was as I paid the cook asked me: “was it good?” and when I told him it was great, he said “good, because I never cook before. Normal cook is in the hospital.” Uh, way to inspire confidence…
After lunch it was back to the beach for more reading and relaxing….watching the locals stroll down the beach (when not being harassed by ones trying to sell boat rides or small trinkets) and doing absolutely nothing all afternoon. It was exactly the kind of relaxing day I needed to recover from the long travel days that it took to get there.
Sunset over Lake Malawi:
Noleen, the lodge owner whipped up some creamy chicken over pasta for dinner tonight, which was just as tasty as the previous evening’s meal. After dinner, it was more sitting around and chatting…and then we lost all power. After about 30 minutes I considered just going to bed super early because I still wasn’t sleeping well due to some jetlag, but just then the power came back on. Managed to stay up and be social with the other guests a bit longer before crashing.
Unfortunately, I woke up at 5am again, and couldn’t fall back asleep. My driver was scheduled to leave at 7a, so I just spent more time on the beach watching the sunrise and enjoying the relative peace and quiet. We set off at exactly 7a for Lilongwe so that I could catch my flight back to South Africa. Stopped for Red Bull along the way to wake up a bit, and we were off. Sign outside the gas station where we stopped for Red Bulls, 100m from the Mozambique border. Driver said the road WAS the border in some places, so I made a point to hop off and cross the street. I’m all about illegal border crossings lately, hahaha!
Just before 12 we arrived at the Lilongwe Airport, and it was time for the next leg of the adventure!