Lilongwe - the capital not-so-city of Malawi


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Africa » Malawi » Central » Lilongwe
January 24th 2019
Published: February 7th 2019
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Getting to Lilongwe took a little longer than we had anticipated. First, once the minibus was full, it headed down to Salima where it dropped off all but three passengers. Those three (ourselves included) were then herded onto another minibus which waited by the side of the road and drove around filling up for what seemed like hours. Eventually it was full to the point of suffocation with baskets hanging off the back and fish tied to the windscreen wipers at the front. Well, at least they were not inside. A painful journey of incredibly fast driving, brake being slammed on, and passengers both getting off and getting on then ensued. It was raining as we reached the edge of the capital and that was when we were made to change bus again. So much for "Lilongwe Direct" as promised!

We jumped off the final minibus before the bus station and jumped into a tuk-tuk which took us the Crown Hotel. There we had the full-on Fawlty Towers experience. The room we were shown was not the one we had booked. We were then moved into one but the fridge and TV didn't work. We weren't bothered about the TV but we really wanted some cold water! In the end we moved the fridge from the first room into the second room ourselves because the staff there seemed to have to have a conference about it and, who knows, maybe carry out a risk assessment, before they could do anything about it. An hour later there was a knock on the door and we were being asked to move again which also would have involved lugging our stuff up two flights of stairs so Trish told them in no uncertain terms what they could do with that idea. The pictures on the website are really nice, but who knows how old they are when the paint and the bed linen was fresh! We used the local supermarkets to good effect and had a great Chinese meal in Noble China, just round the corner from the hotel. You know it's good when it's full of Chinese diners.

The real purpose of this whole trip was to visit our friend, Karen, who is currently working in Lilongwe on a project which has drastically improved the electricity supply in the country. Everything else was simply built around that one objective. She came to collect us the next morning and we then occupied (I'm certain that's the right word!) her visitors' room for a few days. It's eight years since we stayed with her in Washington and now she is married with adorable young twin girls so many things have changed. We had so much fun with Karen, Dylan and the girls and t was a wrench when we finall had to leave. Other than relaxing and living in the diplomatic bubble for a few days, we did get out and about a bit.

Lilongwe is the capital city of Malawi but it doesn't really have a city feel to it. There's no modern high rise business area. It's more like a collection of villages joined together by green spaces. It is the seat of government and the location for the mausoleum of Hastings Banda, the father of modern Malawi who took the country forward from independence from Britain. The mausoleum was nice enough, and our guide explained that there is still some dispute about what to do with his body. It is currently kept in a vault underneath the mausoleum. Not far away is the War Memorial where we went just to see the statue of Banda in front of the giant clock tower. While we were there a guy called Horace came out of a nearby building an introduced himself as being from the Ministry of Tourism. He asked if we would like to climb up the clock tower. Who were we to say no?! It was a fairly challenging climb with many, many wooden steps and then a few levels of rusting ladders, but the views were amazing. The base of the tower is inscribed with the names of those who died serving with the British Army in both World Wars, and also those who have died serving their country elsewhere. Four Malawi soldiers were killed last year on United Nations duty in Mali last year, and their names will be added soon. A board with their names on had already been installed, but it fell off in a storm. A rather unfortunate event which will soon be rectified.

A rather unusual thing about Lilongwe is that there is a large green space in the centre which is a Forest Reserve. We went there and walked one of the forest trails but there wasn't a lot of wildlife other than the monkeys. They do have an animal sanctuary too, and we started to walk around it but they insisted that we had a guide and we didn't have enough time for that. There were information boards outside each compound so a guide would have been unnecessary. A real highlight though is eating, or drinking coffee, in the cafe at the entrance to the park. Now that was excellent!

Karen took a day out of her schedule to drive us several hours away to Mua Mission one day. This incredible place consisted of an art gallery and cultural centre, the mission church, and the lodge/restaurant. First of all, we had a wonderful guide who explained the history of the indigenous communities to us, and how their lives were changed by the missionaries. Inside the beautifully decorated circular buildings we saw all manner of carvings and tribal masks, each with their own story. Sadly there was only time for a select few. After a simple, but nice, lunch we had a look around the church which was quite plain inside. Then there was time for a quick browse of the gift shop before the drive back to Lilongwe. Along the way we saw countless bicycles carrying huge sacks of charcoal, and the occasional live chicken seller by the side of the road. At one stage the rain was so heavy that we had to pull over. We made it back safely though.

All too soon it was time to pack our bags (full of very clean clothes thanks to a washing machine. If you've never backpacked, you have no idea what a treat that was!) and move on further south. We had arranged a taxi to the bus station but he offered us a great price to take us on to our next destination. It was certainly much nicer than travelling by minibus.


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8th February 2019
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Monkey
You are having a great trip. Thanks for sharing your stories.

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