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Malawi

As soon as I crossed the border there was a perfect new tarmac road, virtually no vehicles, but many people walking between villages. I had been riding all day so stopped in the town of Karonga, and found a great place to stay by Lake Malawi.

The following morning I woke at 5am and walked down to the beach, the sun was rising over the mountains across the lake in Tanzania. The activity was great to see, men in traditional dugout boats fishing, the women sorting the fish and taking the small ones to dry in the hot morning sun.

After many months of desert, dry arid landscape, with the odd jungle in between, whilst a fresh water lake, it felt like I was on holiday at a seaside beach resort. Had I been in holiday for the past months? Adventure travel doesn’t feel like a holiday, it’s something different. Holidays are generally enjoyable the whole time, whereas overland adventure travel for me is a complete mixture of emotions and experiences.

Malawi feels very different to Tanzania, very different to all the countries I’ve visited in Africa. Lake Malawi runs down it’s eastern side, separating Tanzania, Mozambiqu and Malawi, it’s the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world, and is one of the major rift-valley lakes, dating back millions of years. As I rode south, sometimes the road was alongside the lake, other times, it twisted and turned high up into the mountains. Jungle, monkeys and virtually no traffic. I stopped in many villages for a rest, no coffee on offer, just bananas and water.

The last 50 miles were some of the best riding ever! Starting high in the mountains, it took me an hour to descend down to the lake. The road had new, smooth tarmac, and I only saw a few vehicles the whole way down. Up and down, round and round, I couldn’t resist the urge to speed up. My smile was a mile wide, even though I was totally aware that I was in Africa, where the European rules of the road don’t apply. At any moment, around any corner I could be faced with a vehicle oncoming in my lane. A vehicle parked on a bend… Safety is usually paramount to me, but on occasions I know my behaviour is reckless. It doesn’t occur often, but when it does, I’m helpless to do anything other than ‘indulge myself’. Other than slowing down in villages, I pushed my old bike to her limit. The tyres were wrong, the bike was too heavy, and my skills are average, nevertheless, I seemed to ‘stick to the road’, as I leaned into every corner. My smile was a mile wide…

These times rarely come along, but when they do I seem to be taken over by adrenaline, and a sense of determination to maximise the experience. If you’re a biker, this may resonate with you!

Rian, a Namibian friend I met In Nairobi, recommended I stay at Makuzi Beach Lodge. As I approached I could see the inviting blue water of the lake, I was eager to get there and refresh myself in the water after the heat of the previous five hours riding. I turned off the main road in the small village of Kapeska and was confronted by sand. I still had over two miles to go, the sand was fine and deep in places, and my confidence in these conditions is poor. I know the skill to ride in these conditions, but confidence is everything! I stood on the pegs, increased my speed, and I was all over the place. I nearly dropped the bike, but didn’t. Sand bloody sand! I really need to get some lessons and prepare better for it. It took me quite a while to ride those last few miles, and then I arrived in paradise.

I pitched my tent in between a few trees for shade, and ran into the clear, blue water for a swim.

The following morning I woke at 5.45am, wandered down to the shoreline and watched the sunrise over the mountains, across the lake. I love camping at times. Over the next hours I did some maintenance on the bike, washed my clothes and at 7.30 I went for a coffee. What a antidote Malawi is to the harsh riding I had experienced at times.

I thought I would sit in the sun and relax all day, however, by 8am it was too hot for me. Shade for the rest of the day…

My last day in Malawi involved heading west, having generally been heading south for many months, this was a major change in direction for me. West across to the west coast of Africa. About 20 miles from the border, I stopped to get a drink, what I didn’t realise was that I stopped outside a school at lunchtime. Within minutes, over 50 children gathered around me, they stayed with me for 20 minutes, laughing, talking pretty good English and curious. It’s times like this I love, engaging with people. It’s all about the people…

Malawi has a problem. Malawi has a problem with plastic. The world has a problem with plastic. I haven’t travelled through a country before with such a disregard for the environment, regarding plastic!

More than 15 African countries take the issue seriously, with either complete bans on plastic bags or a tax. Malawi really need to join this group, as the abundance of plastic throughout the country is a black mark on an otherwise great country.

Malawi has been one of the highlights of this adventure. The people are so positive. It’s beautiful, both lake Malawi and the countryside. I hope to return one day.

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