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Sorry this report has taken so long to get started but being as its roots were laid in 2013 then a couple of months is a mere blink of an eye! So, back in 2013, we got a very intriguing proposal for a tour of Malawi from Mary-Anne Bartlett of Art Safari, who specialise in running group painting holidays in Africa & many other places. Although we didn’t take it up at the time, heading off to Madagascar instead, we kept it “on-file” as a future possible. After “bit of a financial windfall” and very nearly 25 years after our first taste of Africa, we thought it might be nice to have a “family” holiday again, so offered our not-so-very youngsters a “one-off, never to be repeated offer” of a free holiday - not surprisingly they jumped at the chance!. I came up with 4 possibilities, including the original Malawi trip and in a democratic “single transferable vote” ballot, the Malawi trip won in the first round. After a few discussions with Mary-Anne and Lareine who runs Close Encounters Africa,the tailor-made division of Art Safari, we arrived at the ”almost silver jubilee” itinerary below, leaving LHR on the evening of 2nd June. Day 1: Arrive Lilongwe airport & light-aircraft transfer to Nkhotakota (Bua River Lodge - 2 nights). Day 3: Transfer to Salima Bay (Livingstonia Hotel 1 night). Day 4: Transfer to Mumbo Island (3 nights). Day 7: Transfer to Liwonde NP (Mvuu camp for 3 nights). Day 10: Transfer to Zomba Plateau (Zomba Forest Lodge for 2 nights). Day 12: Transfer to Majete Wildlife Reserve (Thawale Lodge for 3 nights). Day 15: Transfer to Blantyre airport for international flight home. So, late afternoon on the 2nd June saw 2 cars converge at the long stay T2 car park for our Ethiopian Airlines flight from Heathrow via Addis Ababa to Lilongwe and after a perfectly acceptable & on-time pair of flights we were met airside by a representative from Ulando Airlink who sped us through the multitude of checks that is Malawian immigration. After collecting our bags, sorting what we were going to take with us on the light aircraft to Nkhotakota & changing some money we met Eric from local agents Land & Lake Safaris who was taking the rest of our luggage and would be our driver/guide after Nkhotakota in a couple of days time. Formalities done, we had time for a quick drink before, we were taken out to meet Stuart, pilot of the “shoe-box with wings” for our hop over to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Although none of us are great fans of light aircraft this was as smooth & pleasant a flight as it gets and soon the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and Bua River were underneath us. before we banked round to land at the airstrip. And yes, that airstrip is as short, sloping & tree lined as it looks! Unfortunately, this is where things unravelled in a big way as, and the more eagle eyed amongst you may have already noticed this on the above picture, there was no-one to meet us! Initial thoughts were well, that’s OK, perhaps there are some elephants on the track or they’ve had a puncture, we’ll wait a bit, but after ~½hr it was clear that no-one was coming. This, though was just the start as there was no mobile phone signal on the airstrip and just to compound things, Stuart was anticipating heading off to the south of Lake Malawi after dropping us off, ready for an early flight the following morning. This meant we’d taken off from the long tarmac runway at Lilongwe with a heavy fuel load and wouldn’t be able to take off from the short sloping dirt strip we were on with that fuel load & 4 adult passengers It was clearly time for some creative thinking but the best we could come up with was for Stuart to take off, climb until he had radio/mobile reception, try to contact someone and arrange for us to be picked up & taken to the lodge however if he couldn’t do that he would fly back to Lilongwe & come back again having taken fuel out or swapped aircraft & take us back to Lilongwe. With this “plan” in place, Stuart departed and circled above us for ~30min before heading off to the south so as the shadows lengthened and only a distant warthog family for company we waited…. Time elapses very slowly when you are standing out in the middle of nowhere and previous experience of being out in the bush counts for nothing when you’re there on your own, constantly looking round and listening out for the rustle of leaves or, more optimistically, first hint of an engine noise but suddenly the familiar shape of a safari Land Rover appeared from the opposite direction we were expecting and as it got closer we all let out a huge sign of relief. Our relief was somewhat short lived however as the occupants of the Landy knew nothing about us! It transpired that they were from Tongole Lodge (George, intern at Tongole & William, new guide) and, having no guests stopping, had taken the opportunity to go and do a bit of fishing and were heading back to the Lodge when they spotted us on the airstrip & came to investigate. They were quick to offer to take us to Tongole Lodge where although they didn’t have mobile phone reception they did have internet access so we could attempt to contact the outside world. After a very welcome cold drink and with Skype & WhatsApp attempts proving fruitless, George offered to drive us over to Bua River Lodge (on the other side of the park!) and about half way there, as dusk was falling, a cloud of dust heralded the arrival of Sam Kamoto (African Parks Nkhotakota Park Manager) who had received a call (from David Kelly, Tongole Lodge Manager who was in Lilongwe & hence in mobile phone contact) to say that we were stranded on the airfield. Sam who at the time was in Nkhotakota town, some 1hrs drive away, had immediately dropped everything to come and pick us up and take us to the main gate where, apparently, we were to be picked up by the Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge & taken there for the night. Sam also said that according to the Park records, neither Bua River or Tongole Lodges were due to have guests but being as neither George or William had anything better to do, had never been over to Bua River Lodge and it was pretty much on-the way, we opted to call by on the way and allow Sam to get back to finish off his work. By this time it was pitch dark and sure enough Bua River was empty with only Godfrey the manager there on his own. Clearly we couldn’t stay there so we headed to the gate but, once again, there was no sign of anyone to pick us up! Unlike the airstrip however, the gate staff were still there to tell us that Sam had told them on his way out that the Pottery Lodge were on their way and would be with us “soon”. Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before the roar of a big diesel disturbed the peace and in a scene reminiscent of “Close Encounters” a bank of intense white lights pierced the darkness to announce the arrival of Harold in his ex.Berlin Fire Truck! After saying a heartfelt thank-you to George & William, we all piled over into the truck for the 1hr journey to the Lodge where, absolutely exhausted and nerves shredded, we ended our first day in Malawi - As the old “New Labour” slogan went, things can only get better!!
Has anyone got a comment on this proposed itinerary for a family trip to Malawi next year? There will be 4 of us and our initial thoughts are to go early/mid June? We like this because it’s a nice mix of the bush, the beach & a chance to see something of Malawi, plus, it’s “linear” - flying into Lilongwe & out of Blantyre so avoids back tracking. We’ll have a driver for all the transfers & to take us “sightseeing” both en-route and around Zomba. Day 1: Arrive Lilongwe airport & light-aircraft transfer to Nkhotakota (Bua River Lodge for 2 nights) – game drives, walks etc, right in the elephant translocation area. Day 3: Transfer to Salima Bay (Livingstonia Hotel) ~2½hrs - on the bank of Lake Malawi & there is a cichlid breeding centre nearby Day 4: Transfer to Mumbo Island 3-4hrs including boat transfer, 10km offshore in Lake Malawi, for 3 nights of relaxation, kayaking, sailing & snorkelling. Mua Mission cultural museum is en-route. Day 7: Transfer to Liwonde NP (Mvuu camp for 3 nights) ~4½hrs including boat transfer –game drives , boat trips, walks including in the Rhino Sanctuary Day 10: Transfer to Zomba Plateau (Zomba Forest Lodge for 2 nights) ~2½hrs – the old colonial administration centre +, from the top of the plateau, “the best views in the British Empire”. Day 12: Transfer to Majete Wildlife Reserve (Thawale Lodge for 3 nights) ~2¾hrs – a final fix of game drives , boat trips and walks. Day 15: Transfer to Blantyre airport <2hrs for international flight home All feedback appreciated Thanks
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