The Sunbird Ku Chawe hotel provided a welcome change of scenery for the African Adventure, and everyone enjoyed the comfort of a proper bed and warm shower. After breakfast we followed an scenic, muddy and rocky track to the top of the mountain range to the spectacular viewing site called ‘Emperor’s View’ in order to capture a memorable photograph of the entire group of 28 people and 10 vehicles that make up this year’s adventure.
Although the early-morning clouds hampered the view somewhat, it was still a breathtaking sight standing 1 800 m above sea level and gazing at the vast Zomba Plateau, over 1 000 m below, stretching off into the distance. You can even see right to the mighty Mulanje Mountains that border Mozambique on the horizon.
As soon as the scene was captured for prosperity it was back down the forest track, and then onto the snaking and thoroughly entertaining tarmac pass that returned to Zomba. Once out of the town we headed on towards Blantyre on an impossibly bumpy tar road that soon made way for treacherous road works.
Malawi’s largest southern city signalled the end of the road construction, and we stopped at a large shopping centre to restock supplies and also to refuel the vehicles. The region’s conspicuous wealth become immediately apparent as we drove out of the city, with ornate palatial-style mansions and compounds dominating the scenery – yet with poverty still surrounding the opulent homes. We skirted past Blantyre Airport just as an SAA plane landed, but were surprised by the decidedly shoddy and run-down appearance of the airport terminal.
The main road passed through Lirangwe and Zalewa to the Mwanza border post, which was despatched in less than half-an-hour. We thought the Mozambique border had been missed, as it is rather strangely located several kilometres away near the summit of the mountain range.
Although the immigration formalities were a breeze, it took nearly an hour-and-a-half in searing 37 deg C heat for the obligatory insurance requirements to be completed for all 10 vehicles.
The convoy crossed over into the fifth country for the 2013 African Adventure just after 4 pm, but all too soon the excitement made way for total frustration as the main road towards Tete is in a shocking state of disrepair.
The gaping potholes didn’t stop until we arrived in Tete, over 120 km away, which made the going painfully slow as the convoy had to weave constantly between the never-ending stream of hazards – all the while watching out for similar antics by oncoming cars, trucks and the ever-present small motorcycles, plus some downright dangerous overtaking manoeuvres by local drivers.
Indeed, Malawi’s bicycles mutated into Mozambique’s cheap Chinese motorbikes, which are ridden mostly without helmets, often without lights and in similarly unpredictable fashion.
Despite boasting a 100 km/h maximum speed limit for this road, we only managed an average speed of around 50 km/h. As a result we lost a significant amount of time on this route and had to abandon our push for the Zimbabwe border.
We settled on the only campsite found in the area – a very rudimentary, run-down set-up located on the bank of the Zambezi River, with Tete’s impressive new bridge just off to the right. Camp was hastily set up and supper prepared with the heat simply not fading away, staying around the 30 deg C mark for much of the night.
Incidentally, on the way into town we were chased down by Martin, a South African working on the mines in the area who has been following the African Adventure online. He had been watching our progress via the daily Facebook updates and had been looking out for us, and eagerly greeted and welcomed the crews.