Lilongwe to Ngala
Lilongwe to Kuti game reserve (Salima); 107km
This was our first real day. We always knew this would be a wee bit gruelling; it’s a hilly day, and add to that heat and heavy loads, it turned out to be quite a long one.
After a later than anticipated start, and a relaxed coffee with Karima, we set off through the cool early morning. It was nice to pedal easily out through Area 43 and its fragrant Jacarandas and Jasmine. Despite very little sleep, we waved goodbye to Lilongwe with good energy, and a fair bit of excitement.
By 10am, the heat was full on, and a strong wind at our front. We crawled up the hills in our lowest gears.
The sights and sounds of the road were comfortingly familiar, and of course the many hundreds of cries of “Wazungu, give me money” accompanied us all of the way. This road is particularly exposed, and the focus of attention and begging is never more than a few metres away. We are used to it by now. Eating lunch or mending punctures can result in big audiences here.
At Salima Boma, we found no suitable food to buy, so we stocked up on peanuts and headed off the blacktop to Kuti game reserve. We carried on through sand traps and dirt, to Landirani Camp, a quiet corner of the reserve. Kuti isn’t cheap, but the surroundings are really special and you can often see animals without trying too hard.
We had some mixed feelings about leaving Lilongwe, but these feelings are mostly connected to people we will miss. The elastic is stretching…as we head further north, it will soon break.
Salima to Nkhotakota; 101km
Our start was delayed today by having no water at Landirani. It cost us an hour, and the grill of the sun was already heating up as we navigated our way through rough tracks, sand traps, and strong winds.
By the time we hit the road, it was hot; very hot! This turned out to be the most challenging day I have ever had on a bicycle… ever!
Luckily Annette was feeling strong and she got me through the day.
By lunchtime I had sunstroke and got pretty sick, alarmingly quickly. We slowed down almost to walking pace with frequent periods of just lying at the roadside. the nausea was difficult to handle. I was pretty worried, as this should have been a straightforward day.
Annette flagged a truck down with an English couple, who very kindly provided some water and fruit juice. As I was lying at the roadside, I was offered assistance twice by concerned Malawians; once by a family who offered us a place to sleep, once by some men who were coming out of a roadside mosque. I was aware though, that I needed much more than a place to sleep. On both occasions, the attention stirred me into action and I started pedalling again. I was so exhausted that when Annette fell off her bike in a sand trap, I was unable to help her up.
We eventually made it To Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge as darkness fell, and I was asleep very quickly.
Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge again, is not cheap, but it was our wedding anniversary and we wanted a treat. It has South Africa stamped all over it, and standards of everything are high. If you are passing this way, it is definitely worth a visit, even just for lunch.
I was nowhere fit to go again the following morning, so we rested up there, and a swim in the Lake was just what the doctor ordered. We were well looked after, and made quite comfortable. However, we were still keen to get on.
Nkhotakota to Ngala; 96km
It was with a little nervousness that we set out shortly after dawn. We took in the sunrise over the lake and set off through the sand to catch up with the road. We warmed up gently, stopped off in Nkhotakota for supplies, and then set off in earnest.
The first few hours were slow but we were ticking along. It is a wee bit up and down, but nothing of note. The cries for "give me money" have all but stopped now as we near the north.
The road through the wildlife reserve was pretty spectacular and the bush was thrumming with insects. This was good riding, on good road.
By mid-day, the heat was terrific, and with a strong headwind, we were working far too hard. We started to be concerned that we wouldn't make it before nightfall, but we did, just. We made it in time to pitch the tent in fading daylight and order some food.
Ngala Beach Lodge is very expensive to stay in the lodge, but camping is reasonable, and as you would expect for another SA run lodge, the food is pretty spectacular. There are a few cheaper camping options further on, but Ngala, for us, was definitely worth a visit.
The campsite is pretty stunning especially closer to the beach, and the sunrise is in the perfect place. Although it was very hot in the tent overnight, it was beautiful breakfasting beside the tent, and watching the sun rise over the Lake.
Things are looking up!