Johnie does Malawi – Part 9

By Johnie Jonker

Day 17-18: Zomba – Tete


Zomba tot Tete

[Source: Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

The first leg of the route to Liwonde is very boring. Although it follows the lake shore closely, it is too low to be able to see it. As soon as the Shire river is crossed, things change for the better.

The landscape starts undulating and the road winds along various hills. Very scenic.

Upon our arrival at Zomba we went straight up to the plateau. This is a great road – reminiscent of Chapman’s Peak with sweeping bends and provides great views of the valley below, until entering the cloud base. The cloud base would normally not be this low, but it had started raining that morning, and was sporadically to continue so for the next 4 days, until we crossed back into South Africa.

We intended staying at the Trout Farm Chalets, but these were not available. The Sunbird Hotel franchise has accommodation all over Malawi – also here at the Ku Chawe Inn – but these are decidedly upmarket establishments, which is why we always avoided staying here.

So down the pass we went again, in the meantime telephonically getting hold of Annie of Annie’s Lodge fame in Zomba. She could not accommodate us all in town, and agreed to meet us a few kms out of town at an establishment called Black Diamond.

This turned out to be a disco-type clubbing establishment with loud music playing – but likeable Reggae. Mmmmm.

A short while later, the Black Diamond herself arrived in a top-of-the-line Range Rover. One notices these things as it contrasts wildly with any other transport we have seen to date, including that of tourists from better-off places.

Annie showed us the available accommodation – 3 chalets off to one side of the dancing hall and a house separated only by a farm road from the hall. As we could securely park our cars and all fit into the house – which was still in the process of being renovated – we took this option.

After our resident negotiator argued her price down to what she had originally quoted over the phone – it had crept up a bracket or two since then – we started unpacking and moving in.

The accommodation was OK, The fridge was on and the stove worked – the plates could not be switched off other than at the mains switch on the wall, though. The rooms were strangely – almost randomly – scattered throughout the house. Three of them were ensuite, although not everyone had hot water, or for that matter even a hot tap – ours was broken off the sink.

So we could cook, get cleaned up and sleep, which was all we needed. But we could not shake off this nagging feeling that somehow this house is one of those that the Animals sang about in a song with words that start like this: “There is – a house – in New Orleans, they call….” etc. Especially after the children found some used evidence to this effect in one of the rooms.

So the next day we were off early via Blantyre – which has a well-stocked Shoprite-anchored mall. Then onwards towards the border post at Zobue.

Other than getting flustered by the annoying swamping of the money changers offering Meticals for Kwachas, this was the only place where we were subjected to an incident which left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. Up to that point, we had not come across any criminal element, or even felt threatened, anywhere during our travels – we left those people behind when we crossed the border.

Returning to our cars on the Malawi side after going through immigration, a local was leaning against the front of the Freelander with his back towards us. When he saw us coming round the back of the car, he sidled around the front and came up to me suggesting that I reward him for his efforts of looking after my car so nicely. I declined his offer.

This guy could however not take no for an answer, and kept following us around even after we were already in the car – walking next to us as we rolled towards the exit boom.

By this time his insistence that he deserved a fee, had escalated to arrogance. But WHY not? I finally explained to him that as I had not asked him to look after my car – he was not even there when we parked – I was not going to reward him.

We thought nothing of this until later that afternoon when we stopped at Tete, where we were staying the night.

While we were unpacking, someone noticed that except for one, all the stick-on reflectors – that I put on especially for Mozambique – were missing from the car. They were still there very recently – a photo of the car the previous night shows them all to be present.

On closer inspection of Adriaan’s car – who was parked next to me at the border post – his was also all missing, with just remnants of the double-sided tape remaining. Armas had also lost one off his trailer.

From this we learnt that it is better to rather use the reflective white and red stickers, which can be bought widely at home. This is not so desirable an item as those rectangular reflectors. What does he want to do with it? Stick it on his bike, or maybe put dots on them so he has a white and red set of dominoes?

Fortunately, we could restore the Freelander to “Moz legal” as a number of spare reflectors had been brought along just in case one fell off.

But I hope someone catches that Malawian “car guard” in the act real soon, and twists his ear a bit. If this privilege befalls YOU, please say “Hi” from us.

At Tete we also came super close to a second traffic fine – but not for speeding. The bridge off-ramp on the northern side is constructed as an under-pass. So you turn left at the end of the bridge and then drive underneath it to get onto the road leading along the river bank.

All straightforward from the top of the bridge, but when you try to get on the bridge from below, things are not as clear, resulting in us entering the bridge via the off-ramp. Being Sunday afternoon, there were no traffic from the front to give us an indication as to what we were attempting, until we got to the bridge entrance – and after paying the M10 toll – were pulled off and asked for our driver’s licences and passports.

This is it – I thought – one of those horror stories we were forewarned about – especially in Mozambique – where the traffic official walks off with your documentation and you have to buy it back.

It was only once I got out of the car and overheard our chief negotiator profusely thanking the traffic official for being so kind as to point out the mistake we had made, and that we would now know better next time, that the penny dropped. They had every right to fine us for our transgression – but they handed back our documentation and let us go. Thank you, kind sir!

This is about the only drawback – oh yes, and the dust also – when driving in a convoy. If the leader commits an offense, so does everyone else.

We had a most enjoyable time at the restaurant that evening. Can’t remember the name, but its right next to the bridge on the southern shore, forming part of the accommodation complex. This is in the process of being renovated and expanded, but even so, was the best ensuite room we had stayed in all holiday. But you can still negotiate the price …..

Bridge view from the restaurant.

Seeing as we were in Mozambique, we felt obliged to eat Portuguese food. The restaurant serves a beautiful line fish, expertly prepared. The prawns are impressively huge, but from some cross-tasting, the verdict was that my fish was the better choice.

A live band was playing outside with some up tempo music – all sung in Portuguese – and this later turned into a Karaoke evening. Oh, what fun!

Our credit cards did not work (we tried 4) so we had to pop around to the ATM and draw money there. VISA works fine.

We were beginning to feel that we were nearing home, although there was still 5 days to go.

Days 19 – 21: Chimoio, Great Zimbabwe, Tshipise

We left the next morning for Chimoio, enroute to Espungabera. The plan was to visit friends of ours – the Reyneckes – at Siyabuzana (near Dombe on the R431), where an outreach group was in the process of constructing a house for a new missionary.

We did excellent time, and could maintain an average speed of 80km/h over the 382km, which was the best over the whole tour.

Arriving at Chimoio at other mission friends of ours, we were advised not to continue to Espungabera due to the continuous rain and poor road conditions.

We contacted Jinx on his Iridium satellite phone and he confirmed our doubts. He predicted an average speed of 20km/h, over a period of 4 hours when we exited towards Espungabera – that was if we could get out. We were therefore invited to stay with McCurley and Glenschella that evening – which we gladly accepted – and decided to make our way towards the Great Zimbabwe Ruins one day earlier, which would give as two days at Tshipise to recuperate.

As an aside, you can visit the most fantastic/exotic places, but if the people you’re with – or the ones you meet – are not nice, you’ve achieved something purely academic. Been there, done that. Fortunately, our trip did not evolve that way. Pick your travel companions carefully. Thanks again, Curley and Glenschella!

Back again the next morning on that road (E6) with the missing top layer, through the Moz/Zim border post (quickly), across the Birchenough Bridge to Masvingo, turning left off the A4 to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.

This road leads through the yard of the Great Zimbabwe Hotel to the chalets in the park, where we negotiated a good rate – down from $160 to $107. Don’t ask.

Good thing we did, as the accommodation was lacking maintenance – considerably so. On top of this, Zimbabwe was load sharing their electricity supply. Yep, exactly like a few years back at home. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Power only on from 8 pm. Well, maybe.

It did come on around 8:30, although only two of the three chalets had a working stove and geyser.

But the next morning the tour – $15 p/p, plus $3 for the guide – was absolutely worth it. Our guide – Lovemore – was an expert at explaining the history of the complex.

Most interesting was where the name Zimbabwe comes from: Zi is a prefix meaning large, so ZiJannie would describe a person of large stature. Mba is the local word for house and bwe means stone. So literally, great house of stone.

The place had been dug up a number of times – archeologically and by looters, the latter being convinced there was more gold there.

Restoration had taken place at some of the locations, but except where wooden lintels were used across door openings and due to the rotting has since caused walls to collapse, large parts of the original structure is still intact.

It was remarkable to see the craftsmanship and artistic way in which these walls were built, and also its longevity.

After a 3 hour guided tour, we departed for Beit Bridge. On the way there we stopped at the Lion and Elephant Motel again, this time ordering and eating THEIR food. Payback time, if you like.

This would be a good place to stay when northbound from South Africa, departing from Gauteng, as one should get there before dark if departing early morning. Accommodation is basic, but safe. Contact details: +263 773 284 637 (cell) or +263 14 336 (landline). Email: .

From here the border clearing was relatively quick (compared to the outbound journey) and after stocking up our groceries at Musina, arrived at Tshipise, where we had MEAT and a braai (chicken does not count) for the first time since crossing the border.

Counting the Cost


Perhaps of use to prospective overlanders, is typically what a trip like this could cost.From the first episode you know the fuel cost over the distance. This would have to be adjusted for your specific vehicle’s consumption, but over 5600km, aroun R8500.

But prior to leaving – depending on your risk profile – there is a huge expense in terms of medication and other precautionary measures. The list below summarizes the activities and the resultant costs:

• Book two dogs into the kennel – R2800
• Visit your local travel clinic and get advised and issued on various medical precautions – R6500
• Take out travel insurance which will airlift you home in case of a medical emergency – R1850.

The medical precautions may sound like a few pills and jabs – for a family of four – but let me just enlighten you:

The Malarials are obvious. You get 2 types – cheap: R120 to R150, and expensive: > R1000. They are equally effective, but the side effects differ.

The cheap ones – starting two days prior and continuing for a month after your return – either daily or once/week – has the drawback that it could be hallucigenic/disorientating. So if you intend doing scuba diving – snorkelling is OK – you can’t take these.

They also trigger attacks of manic depression in people prone to this. So in my family, we could get away with only two cheap prescriptions.

Then injections against the other horrible things you don’t want:

• Hepatitis A – caused by infected body fluids like blood and semen – two injections a week apart
• Hepatitis B – caused by dirty needles, as in intravenous feed – as above, plus another within the next 6 months
• Polio – you all know what that is – combined with
• Tetanus – for the rusted nails and can opener accidents
• Typhoid – for the dirty water
• Influenza (including swine flu) – just in case

I just needed some boosters – 4 – but the rest of the family all needed 7 injections.

Plus a whole dispensary full of stuff for cuts, bruises, muscle ache,  saline with administrator so you know the needle is clean, stomach cramps, diarrhoea – guaranteed you’ll get this, just wait your turn, etc.

Originally we were to tour Zambia as well, but when they declared it a Yellow Fever zone just prior to departing, we scratched it. That would have been another R2000 for each family.

Of course, all the above is optional, e.g. we decided to not take the Rabies injection. So you could go on holiday without a single pill, plaster or injection, but all I can say here: “You’re on your own, mate”.

Africa is “a tough country” in more ways than one.

A sobering thought – you have not even left home yet, and you’ve already spent more than R11000!

Actually more, if you add all the other paraphernalia that the various countries require: Fire extinguisher, two reflective vests, emergency triangle, blue triangular sticker for the front of the car and the rear of the trailer if you tow, stick-on white reflectors for the front, red for the rear, REGARDLESS of whether this is built into your lights. Failing to produce these upon demand, could result in a spot fine.

Oh yes, and the international driver’s license – you don’t legally need this, but in case it gets confiscated, you could drive off without it. In fact, two, just in case I get tired and my son has to drive. About the only thing we southern Africans don’t need when travelling in neighbouring countries, is a visa – passports are sufficient.

The adults in our group stayed in fixed accommodation where possible – 17 nights. Only two nights in the car tent and two nights camping on a wooden deck on Domwe island.

So if you camp, you could get away a lot cheaper.

The grand total for this holiday came to R36000. This may sound like a lot, but put in persepective, over 22 nights for 4 people, this works out to just over R400 p/p per day, all costs included.

PS This then concludes the trip report.


One Response to “Johnie does Malawi – Part 9”

  • Hi Johnie and the rest,

    I greatly enjoyed the read, especially some of the closing comments on some of the articles. I am glad that we could accommodate you all together on Domwe, and thanks for being considerate to the other guests as promised.