Wow, this trip was a doozy! Just myself and Fiercely went on this trip, made possible by the lucky placement of a Fabulous family living and working there for 2 years. Mama and Papa of that family have 5 children, including twins born in Malawi who joined them there, and had gone to work as MDs there. They extended from one year to two and the wanderlust wheels of my mind started turning. During the last few months of their stay, we joined them for about 2 weeks of adventures. This is how it went.
Fiercely and myself in the airplane (Left) and at the J’burg airport
Fiercely and I had never been to Africa. How do you even start? Well, for us it involved a bus to NYC, sleeping at a friend’s house in Brooklyn, then taking a taxi to John F Kennedy airport, then a plane to Johannesburg, and another plane to Lilongwe, Malawi. The JFK to J’burg was pretty darn long – 16 and a half hours long. The airline tries to help you with the jet lag by announcing that the lights will be off for about 10 hours and you should sleep, but that didn’t work so well for us. I think Fiercely watched about 6 movies. We ended up sleeping for 18 hours once we arrived at our friends’ house!
our friends’ house in a walled compound in Lilongwe (left) and the view from one of their balconies
Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi, a small landlocked country just Southeast of the center of the African continent. Malawi has a narrow, somewhat curved shape that largely mimics its defining feature, the large Lake Malawi in the Northeastern 2/3 of the country. Due to its location (kind of where a heart would be if Africa was a person), climate, and relative peaceful vibe, it is known as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. The money is called ‘Kwacha’ (rhymes with ‘gotcha!’ and worth about 335 MK to the US $) and the language is Chichewa (chi-CHAY-wah).
Typical sidewalk scene (left) and a fancy shopping center downtown
We spent about 2 weeks with the Fabulous family, and as I mentioned they both work as MDs and have 5 children so we spent a fair amount of time just hanging out in Lilongwe. We went to an outdoor market, a nature sanctuary, and a high-end restaurant/landscaping business when our friends had free time, and joined them at work or hung out with their kids when they didn’t. We also took a trip with them, which I’ll describe in Part 3.
Scenes at the Lilongwe market, including Fiercely and myself on a toll bridge (bottom Right) we had to pay to cross, kind a Malawian version of the Tappen Zee!
Lilongwe had surprisingly little to do as far as organized tourist activities. I kind of liked the lack of fast food restaurants, chain hotels and resorts, but I was surprised at the lack of museums, libraries, and cultural/environmental institutions. We stayed a ways out from the town center and traveled by car, Mama Fabulous driving expertly on the left side of the road. Public transportation, overpacked vans as far as I could gather, confused me and I found the language difficult. Just saying good morning/afternoon/evening was a challenge and I am generally good with languages. I just stuck with “muli bwanji”, which is a greeting that was not always correct but seemed to work, and plenty of enthusiastic “zicomo”s – “thank you”. Compared to Central America, I found Malawi much more difficult to navigate and with far fewer options for things to do. Also expensive – gas was about $12 a gallon! A day trip I considered to a neighboring village (where they made pottery and, incongruously, cheesecake) would have set me back about US$ 170 which was out of our budget for sure! Even if the cheesecake was included LOL. Lilongwe is very spread out, so distances seemed long to me as we went from the house to the market or the hospital or the store. Maybe it was my short length of stay, but I was surprised.
Clockwise from top Left: Fiercely with our tour guide, me learning about how to avoid crocs, a porcupine resident of the Centre, and part of a play structure at the Centre.
The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre was one of the only tourist-type places in the area. We spent maybe 4 hours here, the first hour of which was a guided tour. The Centre houses several recovering zoo animals, such as a lion that was from Eastern European zoo who was not being cared for properly. There was a river next to the property and a trail system with warnings about crocodiles. I took a hike on the trail and considered the possibility of getting lost (Fiercely decided to read her book and stick closer to civilization instead).
Fancy cafe at Four Seasons in Lilongwe. There is a landscaping/nursery business here, several shops, a cafe and a bar/grill. We ate vegetarian quiche, excellent salads and baked goodies here. Bottom R photo has a lizard on gate at about 12’o’clock
OK, that’s it for part 1- check back for part 2!