Most countries have their ‘hot spot;’ a place or experience that attracts tourists in their thousands and that basks in the light of international fame. In South Africa, it’s Table Mountain. In Zimbabwe, it’s Victoria Falls. In Botswana, it’s the Okavango Swamps. And in Malawi, it’s the lake. Offer me the lake with a steady supply of Malawi gin and tonic and sunsets that give me heart palpitations because they are just so damn spectacular – I’ll usually jump at the opportunity for a lake break! But after 7 months of living in Malawi, I’m discovering that there is much more to Malawi than just the lake.
Malawi is a small country in comparison to its neighbours and for short-stay travellers, this is great news. Getting away for just a night is very possible. I’m well aware that after living in central Mozambique for 7 years where going anywhere meant travelling for at least a day, that having things to do and places to see in such close vicinity is a real novelty. Suddenly my husband does not need to take ‘leave’ just to get away for the weekend!
So this last weekend we had a free Saturday night with no plans – and most exciting, it was Valentine’s Day. I can’t remember the last time I had a Valentines dinner somewhere other than the Club with a group of mostly bachelor work colleagues drinking beer and eating big chunks of fried meat! This Valentine’s day would be different. We’d go away for the night – somewhere romantic like Mulanje, surrounded by the ever-green tea estates and clouds that pour down the mountain like frothy milk.
When you are a family of 4 with 2 small kids and don’t have ‘granny and grandpa’ next door to babysit for the evening, it’s going to have to be a ‘family room’ in a small country lodge! We filed into our room, one by one and scrambled for our beds with the kids claiming the double bed for themselves and suggesting that mom and dad take the bunk beds! Desperate for a pee after a long trip, I let my husband battle out the bed story and fled to the toilet. I sat, with immense relief. But neglected to look down into the depths of the toilet bowl before getting comfortable. Then I looked down and there beneath me sat the biggest, dangerous most vicious looking rain spider I have ever seen in all my life! Lord have mercy, that was me almost done! Who says white(wo) men can’t jump??!!!
After that, it was straight to the bar for a stiff drink. We sat and watched yet another stunning Malawi sunset and eventually allowed ourselves to relax and enjoy the ambience of a mountain lodge. We noted the menu and the glorious smells of BBQ chicken wafting out from the open kitchen window, tantalizing the senses and tempting us. It reminded me of the famous Mozambican Piri Piri chicken I so desperately missed!
Then I heard it. It got louder and louder and more frantic by the second. It was our dinner. Mozambican Piri Piri chicken, killed and cooked by a real Mozambican chef too! With a tendency to be ‘wimpish’ when it comes to seeing and hearing my meat being slaughtered, I opted for the tamer abattoir-style beef fillet– which was delicious. My husband and the kids on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed their ‘fresh’ and slightly more ‘gamey’ than usual tasting chicken!
It was time to retire to our family Valentines shack, shattered after a busy day and looking forward to a night of deep sleep. We noted the busy restaurant. The ladies were dressed in red – tippy-toeing in stilettos, men were dressed in black – wooing their women while simultaneously texting their friends and taking photos of their ‘hot’ dates with their prized phones. Waiters were racing from table to table with practiced smiles and the atmosphere was exuberant as triple spirits flowed in a smooth wave from the bar to the bedazzled lovers. Lurve was in the air!
We opened our door and flicked off our shoes. Brushed teeth, washed face and ordered the kids to bed! Aaaahhhh, blissful sleep – come hither! We lay in our bed, like spatch cocked birds, staring up at the ceiling. Silence.
Then my husband nudged me and whispered, ‘do you see what I see?’
I said ‘yes’ and gave a little groan.
The ceiling was a thin layer of planks. And we were on the ground floor on a Valentines night in a small, busy mountain lodge!
The next morning couldn’t come sooner! After a tiresome night and a hearty breakfast of Ricoffy, eggs and baked beans – we went for a walk through tea fields and forests. And there it was that we discovered the most magical place…
Until next time…
“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.”
– Nick Miller