Malawi At Ground Level: Chipata to Mua

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Entering Malawi things were immediately different. The mood was new and life at ground level looked vastly different from its neighbor Zambia still only 100 meters behind us…

One thing that distinguishes Malawi from other countries is the absence of cars. Other than mild congestion within major towns, such as the capital Lilongwe, there is rarely any traffic. Sometimes we pedal for hours without seeing a single automobile. The ones that do pass provide ample elbow room and make Malawi the most bicycle friendly place we’ve cycled to date. Even more so than in Zambia, the bicycle is the (non-auto)mobile of the Malawian people. Thus, we ride beside and amongst locals all of the time.

When we first decided to travel in Africa, we most wanted to have an authentic experience…to meet Africans and be with the people. Clearly, we stand out from the crowd. We are a little lacking in melanin; We wear funny clothes; Our communication skills (unless you count charades) are pretty atrocious; We eat with sporks, and our bicycles and gear are clearly a step up (or twenty) from the locals’ Chinese made varietal. They scream “I have money” to the locals who may cycle as many as 50-60 kilometers in a day just to earn a couple dollars selling wood at the weekend market. Despite all of our glaring differences, being at ground level with the people has bridged at least part of the gap.

While the cycling here has thus far been pretty non-strenuous (which Gin and her non-padded derriere do appreciate), it can get a little monotonous. Albeit a wonderfully beautiful country, there are some long stretches of road where the landscape varies little… just more hot tarmac rolling past fields of corn, cassava and cane. There are also endless single lane bridges under which there may or may not be children playing in the stream below, depending on whether there are crocodiles known to inhabit the waters. Thankfully, there are are always the people. We generally say or reply, “Hello, how are you?,” or, “Fine. And You?” about 350 times per day. While this can become a little exhausting after several dozen kilometers, the genuine squeals we hear from surprised children or the toothless grin and thumbs up from an elderly woman provide the inspiration and interest that keep our pedals turning.

Here are photos and captions from our trek from the border to Cape Maclear:

Bike Touring Malawi - Kids

The little girl with maize flour all over her was adorable.
Bike Touring Malawi - Vargo Titanium Stove
An audience around Gin as she works on a meal while camping at a Police outpost on our fist night in Malawi.
2014-03-malawi-1_03
This is a fairly common profession here… massive loads.

Bike Touring Malawi - Portrait

Bike Touring Malawi
Mountains begin to loom as we near the Great Rift Valley.

Malawi Bawo

Malawi Bawo is played everywhere. It is difficult to keep up with as gamers move the beads over the board with blinding speed.

Malawi portrait

A photo shoot ensues as we duck under the portico of a mosque in a small village.
Malawi portrait
Malawi portrait

Malawi portrait

Malawi portrait
Malawi bicycle
Death sleds, as we call them, carry goats bleating sad sounds as they are taken to market.
Malawi portrait
Ducking out of rain under the porch of a house, I captured this guy doing the same.
Malawi portrait
The building under which we decided to take shelter was once a tea house (shown at top), but now a home as we were greeted at the door and invited in to a very dimly lit dirt floor abode.

Bike Touring Malawi

Weather moving over the rift valley escarpment range.

Bike Touring Malawi

Bike TOuring Malawi

Malawi portrait

Bike Touring Malawi - snack

A new found roadside snack of fried potato wedges… delicious.

Bike Touring Malawi - toys

Malawi is a very poor country and these toys made from Shake Shake (cheap local beer) cartons are a reminder.

Malawi portrait

A portrait of a man in Dedza Pottery (a major pottery school that we accidentally discovered when we ran out of steam and took off at a sign pointing down a dirt road).

Malawi Kids

Some kids are slightly shy here.

Malawi Kids

Bike Touring Malawi

Most houses and structures were once a store.
Malawi sign
No comment on this sign.
Malawi carving
Carvings are abundant in central Malawi.
Malawi carving
Malawi Küche Küche
Unfortunately the beer has gone down hill here… only one brewery, the local Carlsburg. Kuche Kuche is their best offering and a bomber, like this one, is usually a buck-fifty.

Malawi carving

They saw us coming from a mile away… literally.

Malawi rift escarpment road

Unfortunately, one of the most scenic passes here, going down the Rift Valley Escarpment, was not so scenic as a major three day rain event was in play.
Cape Mclear Malawi
Cape Mclear on the southern shore of Lake Malawi.

Cape Mclear Malawi

Fish drying by the shore…
Cape Mclear Malawi

Cape Mclear Malawi

A child waits as mother washes laundry at the lake side.

Cape Mclear Malawi

Cape Mclear Malawi

Cape Mclear Malawi
A fine specimen at the run down Cape Mclear National Park museum.

Cape Mclear Malawi

Gin shows off her riders tan at Otter Point.
Cape Mclear Malawi
Baobob trees in the village roadway.

Cape Mclear Malawi

The Lucky Band plays us an African revision of Who Let The Dogs Out.

Cape Mclear Malawi

Cape Mclear Malawi

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  • Michael Viglianco

    It’s interesting that you find Malawi to be a bit monotonous. We stayed there much longer than expected as we found it more varied than what we had been experiencing elsewhere.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    No, we love the country, people and places here. Maybe that sentence didn’t come off right… just the riding is a bit flat and boring. Not many good off road options… just long tar stretches. Going up towards Nyika in the mountains soon though, so it should get interesting.

  • Michael Viglianco

    You will find your off road options there for sure. It’s pretty cool up there. Is there and end in site?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Yeah, we didn’t make it down to Zomba or Malanje… the ferry no longer runs so it would have taken another 3 weeks. So we went to Cape Maclear then followed the lake back up. We’re in Nkhata Bay now. Not sure about an end date yet… if it was up to me I would go all the way up to Central Uganda, then turn around and head back down through the Caprisi (SP?) Strip through Namibia, but that probably won’t happen.

  • Michael Viglianco

    Caprivi. It’s not terribly interesting but tons of wildlife and one of the coolest camps I’ve ever seen. Have you seen many solo bike tourists? I’m hoping to get there next year about this time.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    One, a Japanese guy doing a solo around the world. Saw 2 couples doing Cairo to Cape Town. Heard there were a couple of South Africans a week ahead of us. Also heard about a couple on a tandem somewhere nearby.

  • Michelle

    Don’t forget you have to be home in time for the wedding!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Yes, that is a given…

  • http://Www.adventurefamilyinmotion.com/ Adventure family in motion

    They need cargo bikes! Surly Big Dummies for all the hard working people of Malawi.

  • Ruthe Holden

    Riding Malawi in a few months … Your great photos are making me super excited!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Nice! Enjoy it!!

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