After two weeks in Tanzania we have crossed the border into Malawi - a country called warm heart of Africa. The border crossing was quite a relaxed process, however it was made unpleasant by the immigration officer who's first question was "what is the purpose of your visit?" to which I replied that we are tourists. After that he refused to issue us transit visas (which cost 50 USD per person and are valid for 7 days compared to tourist visas which cost 75 USD per person and allow you to stay in Malawi for 3 months) and gave me a comment saying "you tourists are here to spend money, so you have to pay for tourist visa and then go ahead and spend your time and money in our country". We didn't have a plan to spend more than 7 days in this beautiful, but small country, so having to pay 50 USD more (which is our full day's budget for food, petrol and accommodation) than what other travelers have reported to have paid, felt like a scam. Another fee, the road tax of 20 USD per vehicle (no matter if it is a six axle truck or a motorcycle) added to the bitter feeling at the border crossing and made Malawi the most expensive African country for us to enter...
Meanwhile, Malawi is a very poor country and it was obvious from the moment we entered - the sight of a car is quite rare in the suburban areas, the little shacks around the road are all very basic... However, Malawi was the first country we visited in Africa, where most of kids and adults we passed by on the road would smile and wave friendly at us. So apparently the name warm heart of Africa was given to this country not only because of the crazy hot weather, but truly warmhearted people that live there.
The first turn off the main road which crosses the country from North to South, was towards the old colonial town called Livingstonia, which sits high above lake Malawi, on the rocky mountain that rises up sharply just on the west side of the lake. The road leading there was marked on the sign at the main road as if it was a proper regional road. We knew it was 12 kilometers of gravel switchbacks going up the steep mountain, but we didn't expect it to be all covered with giant boulders which were very often too big for my bike to have ground clearance high enough to ride over them without hitting them with my bash-plate... So we crawled our way up slowly, jumping over those boulders, making tight hairpin turns and stopping often to take a breath at heat of about 30 degrees centigrade. I dropped by bike twice on that 12 kilometers stretch which took us about 50 minutes to complete, but the views from above were rewarding and the ascend was an adventure in itself.
We spent a couple of days there camping on the edge of a cliff at the place called Mushroom farm before exploring the actual town and stopping there for a cup of coffee in a local coffee shop. It was a bit mind-bending to see a well preserved colonial style buildings and neatly dressed locals (even the kids) of the town, walking down those streets as if they were dressed up for church or some important occasion while everything we saw in the rest of the country, were dusty kids, playing around the shabby little African style huts...
To return from Livingstonia onto the main road, we had two choices - go bumping down the same road we came on, or to take a longer, less steep dirt road towards a town called Rhumpi, which, as we were told by the locals, becomes almost impossible to navigate after a heavy rain as the red mud covering the surface of it gets awfully slippery and sticky... But luckily, even though it has been raining earlier that week, we had two sunny days in a row, so the dirt road wasn't bad at all. It winded back down into the valley and about an hour's ride later we were back on the main road going South.
Apart from being poor, but very friendly people, Malawians are also very religious and have lots of superstitions. We have been told that locals strongly believe in existence of vampires and other dark powers and the foreign travelers have even been attacked by people, who thought that they were some mythical creatures coming to harm them. Lucky for us, we were never mistaken for vampires there, but we did see an extraordinary sign (literally!) related to Christianity... :)
Since we were visiting Malawi mainly because of the famous lake, which is a home to a lot of endemic species of fish, one of which are the cyclid fish, which Linas used to have in his fishtank at home (not every day you get to visit the natural habitat of your pet, right? :) ), we simply had to spend a few days near the lake. But accidentally we came across a lovely horse stable not far from the beach and decided to take a dip in the lake in a bit unusual way - on a horse back! Alright, Linas did not go for that and opted for a traditional swim, but we both enjoyed the experience before continuing South to a town called Mzuzu.
So after a fun evening sharing a few beers and a lot of stories, next morning we made a stupid picture of us all together (and had great fun in the process) and went our own ways: them - up North on their way towards Europe and eventually Norway, and us - South, to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.
time spent: 24 days (from February 20th to March 16th)
distance ridden: ~1840 kilometres (not excluding all the short commutes in Lusaka)
fuel price: about 13,75 Zambian Kwacha (about 1 Euro) per liter of unleaded 95 petrol.
As the capital of Malawi didn't make an impression on us, we decided it was about the time to cross the border into Zambia. Again, an easy (and much cheaper this time) border crossing it was as off we went towards South Luangwa National Park. There we had a pleasant evening at the campsite on the shore of Luagwa river, with lots of hippos nearby, who all night long were making this funny noise that reminds me of slow ironic laughter of a fat man :) We joked that they kept telling anecdotes to each other an laugh on them all night long :D
We, however did not have so much fun that night: the day was hot as hell and the blazing sun was heating up the dry mud on the ground. Right after the sunset we pitched our tent on the spot which was in the sunshine all day long. We cared the most about the shade we want to have early in the morning and did not take into consideration the fact that we actually now had a tent with the heated floor. And as the air temperature did not cool down much at night, that heated floor effect made the temperature in the tent nearly unbearable. Meanwhile clouds of mosquitoes buzzing all around, prevented us from getting proper airflow inside and as a result we spent the night marinating in our own sweat in that tent...
But the morning was rather cool and pleasant and we had plenty of shade over our camping spot. And to make the experience even better, we had an unexpected visitor pop up not far from our tent - a mother Elephant came to graze and brought her baby along!
After a nice morning at the campground with monkeys running around, trying to steal our breakfast, we got back on the bikes and on the road. In two days we reached Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. And right after entering the city, my blue bike had a small "anniversary" - we hit a 100 000 km mileage mark! :)
A Lithuanian guy Šarūnas lives and works in Lusaka. He hosted us there for over two weeks as we had to get our South African and Namibian visas finally sorted. Our visa applications were not accepted before in Uganda and Malawi as High Commission of South Africa would only accept applications from residents of those countries. We were no residents of Zambia either, but apparently the staff of High Commission there was more flexible (or open minded?) and agreed to make an exception. Otherwise we would have had to send our passports all the way to the representation of South Africa in Sweden which is responsible for processing Lithuanian visa applications...
As Šarūnas is an enthusiastic enduro rider who also competes in African enduro league, a few days after we arrived, he took us to the local motocross track. The things local riders do there are incredible - their speed and the height of their jumps is fascinating! Inspired by their performances and offered to make a few laps on the track on Šarūnas's KTM500exc we couldn't say no :) And now we can both confirm that it looks much easier than it actually is!
We were rolling around that track looking and feeling like kids on a slow classic carousel, managing to rip the wheels off the ground just a few centimeters on the jumps that set experienced riders a few meters up in the air. This was something completely different from what we are used to doing on two wheels! I asked Linas to attempt a higher jump for a picture and he did. But now we know that it is much easier to set the bike airborne than to land it safely on the ground... Linas landed well, but the KTM's suspension got fully compressed and he bounced back up before landing on his face a bit further down the track, scraping quite a bit of skin off his nose with the sun visor of his helmet...
As no serious injuries were sustained and luckily the bike was fine too after loosening the bolts and putting the handlebar back into its' place, we ended the day in with an upbeat mood and a few beers. The next day, however, Linas had a headache and a fever. We thought it could be a mild concussion from his fall the previous day, so he took a painkiller and we carried on as usual. In the evening the headache was gone and his body temperature got back to normal, so we stayed up late, sharing stories and over the drinks with Dominykas, another Lithuanian, who works together with Šarūnas. However, in the early morning hours, Linas woke up all covered in cold sweat and we knew there was something wrong. The first thing we thought about was malaria, since we were not taking any preventive pills and were not champions in avoiding mosquito bites either. A small portable blood test proved that we were right. He took the pills from Malaria that we were carrying with us all along and first thing in the morning we went to a local clinic to do a proper blood test and consult the doctor. Linas surely looked like a wreak that morning: still a bit hungover from the drinks last night, with a big red wound over his whole nose, lame because of the sore muscle from the fall, sweating and shaking from the chills caused by the virus. The diagnosis after his blood test read "severe malaria"... But the doctor confirmed that the pills we had were suitable for treatment and so we agreed to show up the next day for another test to check if the pills have the desired effect on the virus and were sent home.
A few following days went by slowly, but looking at the positive side, at least Linas had a comfy bed to lay in instead of being stranded somewhere in the tent in the bush, far away from any proper clinic... And a few days later he started feeling better. One course of pills unfortunately was not enough to get rid of malaria, so he was prescribed an additional course of anti-malaria pills and antibiotics. Those helped and almost two weeks later from the first symptoms he did the full blood test and it showed that the virus was gone and the organs which may have been threatened by it, were fine.
Meanwhile we worked on the bikes, cooked dinners all together, relaxed by the lake, shared lots of stories and jokes and generally had really great time with Šarūnas and his friends during our stay in Lusaka.
Finally, after both South African and Namibian visas were already stamped into our passports and Linas has fully recovered from malaria, we had to get back on the road.
In a one day's ride we reached the touristic town Livingstone (yes, both Livingstonia and Livingstone are both named after the same explorer David Livingstone and I'm sure that I've heard many more towns all around Africa named after him) and went to see the biggest waterfall in Africa (and probably in the world) - Viktoria falls. Since at the time of our visit it was the peak of the rainy season in the region, the whole experience was extremely wet! :)
Sorry, this video is in Lithuanian, but it shows well our experience in Livingstone and at Victoria falls ;)
Crossing the order between Zambia and Botswana was an adventure in itself - we had to get on a small floating platform to cross the river! But apparently the bridge is being built, so this "attraction" may not be available much longer, but it was sure fun!
Our agenda in Botswana wasn't big and pretty much consisted of one thing: to see more wild elephants! And this we successfully did on the very first day! We saw over 50 of them right next to the road which is informally called Elephant highway. There were families with youngsters, lonely males, big ones and smaller ones. Most of them ignored us passing by and went on with whatever they were doing at that time, but one had his ears spread wide and trunk up in the air and seemed like he got really irritated by a few cars, a truck and us preventing it from calmly crossing the road. That animal looked massive! And it was an amazing experience to seem all from so close!