On day 14, the General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure waved goodbye to the fabulous Lake Malawi, having departed Fat Monkey’s Lodge at around 9:30 am – but only after witnessing an incredible scene of a brown-banded snake eagle performing remarkable feats of acrobatics in order to nonchalantly raid the nests of the local weaver birds high up in the branches above the lodge.
And we can’t forget being treated to one of Adventure Junkies’ trademark breakfasts. You know that you’re on a Wimpie Smit trip when you get dished up a huge three-meat breakfast comprising scrambled eggs laced with biltong, a tangy steak ensemble with onions, plus a bit of bacon on the side. Forget about Wimpy breakfast, this is Wimpie’s Awesome Hunger-Buster Mega Bush Breakfast!
We also stopped in the Cape Maclear fishing village on the way out, in particular to have a look at an interesting and very rare late-1960s Toyota Land Cruiser half hidden behind a local carpenter’s reed gates. Ironically, the Cruiser still bore its CA registration plate from Cape Town and its licence disc that was last renewed in 2001.
Back on the main road once again, we had to halt at the local version of Toys ‘R’ Us, which boasted a dazzling array of intricately and accurately carved wooden Land Rover Defenders, Toyota Land Cruisers, diggers and large-scaled graders – many of which are now making the trip back to South Africa.
Then we hit the road through to Mangochi where the vehicles were filled up, but once again only after standing in long lines to draw cash. There the crews also interacted with the bicycle taxi riders, gaining some interesting insight into their business. Apparently it costs the equivalent of around R1 000 to purchase a new bike, and the riders earn between 50 and 150 Kwacha (or roughly R1,25 to R3,75) per lift, depending on the distance.
There’s a Katie Melua song called “Nine Million Bicycles (in Beijing)”, and there has to be a whole lot more than nine-million bicycles in southern Malawi – because the country’s roads are literally flooded with them. You see them absolutely everywhere, being used to carry passengers, logs, huge bags of charcoal, sugar cane, bread, chickens, goats … and just about anything else you can imagine. Neither trucks nor taxis rule here – the country’s rural economy runs on pedal power!
From Mangochi we continued south on the M3 through Liwonde, and then began our climb into the beautiful Zomba mountain range. In the early afternoon we arrived in the town of Zomba, which is easily the largest, busiest and most developed centre we’ve seen so far in Malawi.
The convoy didn’t hang around in town, instead turning right toward the Zomba Forest Lodge, and following an amazing winding tar road that climbed over 700 m to an altitude of over 1 500 m in just 11 km – and unravelled a breathtaking view of the Zomba Plateau stretching off far into the distance.
During the recce in January, the team struggled to find any decent accommodation on the route to Blantyre for the 10-vehicle convoy – and it was a great surprise for everyone when the majestic Sunbird Ku Chawe hotel rolled into view and was selected as the overnight stop. No setting up tents, no rolling out mattresses and sleeping bags or cooking by the fire – it was a welcome splash of luxury after 13 straight nights of camping.
The hotel is perched near the summit of the mountain, with an impressive view of the plateau and magnificent terraced gardens. It also boasts fascinating architecture, with arches dominating the design both inside and out, creating a castle-like ambience – clearly paying homage to the strong Colonial heritage that defines this former British colony.