Jul 01 2013


We were surprised as we arrived in Lilongwe – for a capital city, it was a rather calm, quiet affair. The roads were single lane, not the hectic speeding we had seen on the roads coming in. No real traffic jams – just a steady flow. Even more surprising for us, was the contrast between the typical African roadside stalls and markets and the more South African style open shopping centres. Shoprite, Spar, Pep and Mr Price were all well represented.

We headed directly for Mabuya, a backpackers run by Tom and Janey who drove through Africa many years ago in their big yellow unimog, and never left. They were very helpful, friendly people, with a wealthy of information. Tom also recommended his auto-electrician to sort out the burnt out relay switch. Best of all, it was all taken care of at the campsite while we could relax from the trip in. It seems he was slightly over-eager with his fixing, though, and the lights are akin to alien spaceship landing lights now!

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Tom and Jemina – the tandem cyclists we met in Zambia – were also there. Always nice to see a familiar face when you are on the road – especially those whose company you enjoy. We spent a most enjoyable few days together.

Our days were filled mainly with exploring the markets. Together with Tom and Jemina we wandered up to the big produce market to source items for meals. The variety and quality of fruit and vegetables was impressive – I suppose we had visions of poverty stricken Malawi with little to eat or drink … Far from it – we feasted like kings! We stopped at a local restaurant to enjoy a cheap and cheerful local meal and watched the numerous tailors at their pedal operated sewing machines.

There were also – to my enormous surprise – old style Passap knitting machines – identical to the one my mom had when I was growing up.

Another fascinating market was the clothing flea market. Next time you donate your clothes to a charity shop in Europe, you’ll know where they end up. The Asians (not sure if this is Chinese or Indian) apparently buy them in bulk and ship out to a large depot in Malawi when the local traders buy their choice to then sell them on at their stalls in the flea market. There was all manner of clothing, mostly in good condition. Some stalls had gone to the effort of hanging up their wares; other stalls just had a pile of clothes on the floor, dumped from a bag. The flea market was a real rabbit warren – we wandered around getting deeper and deeper into the maze. It was fascinating. People were friendly, and desperate to find you something you’d like – but in a very gentle, non-hassling way. Viking Explorer emerged with a brand new pair of Gap trousers – US price labels still attached.

We shared some excellent meals and relaxing company with Tom and Jemina. Jemina is an excellent cook, but somewhat hampered by being on a tandem. We offered her our meagre kitchen and she cooked up an excellent Indian curry. We reciprocated with a chilli con carne, and then the last night together we made a fire and together cooked a delicious chicken potjie.

The backpackers was quite a busy place, with many people starting or finishing their journeys there. We met so many interesting people, of such a variety of ages. While the backpackers did descend into quiet through the night, the surroundings were less so, and we struggled a bit with getting a solid 8 hours every night.

Next morning, we were all back on road again. Tom and Jemina heading to the shores of Lake Malawi while we were heading north along the M1. We hope to meet them again along the shores.

1 comment

  1. Vic

    That tandem is an impressive piece of kit! A stretch tandem!!

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