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Published: February 28th 2019
Driving back to Blantyre was a breeze as we took in most of Malawi's motorways in one journey! We travelled on the M10, the M5, the M8 and the M1. Motorways they are not though, and at times it was frustrating as we got stuck behind the occasional lorry. The M8 was a short diversion off the route to visit the Arthouse
in Balaka. Way off the beaten track, it's a place we would wholeheartedly recommend if you have your own transport, but it would be a bit more difficult by bus.
At the Arthouse we met Tamara who has been in Malawi for 17 years. After her peace corps work she just couldn't leave and she set up an art cafe in Balaka which has recently moved to new and improved premises. It's a beautiful spot today, but there are great plans for the future including two guest rooms where the price will include gourmet Italian food prepared by her Italian partner. As well as producing amazing works of art, and wonderful souvenirs, training on reuse of materials is provided for local women. They also have a programme for helping people to change from cooking over open fires to more
ecological cookers which use twigs and fallen branches rather than having to chop down trees. In addition to this initiative, they are also planting indigenous trees to help preserve them. We were there mid morning so only had coffee (and cake!) but their menu looks fabulous and the reviews certainly suggest it's worth stopping for some top quality food.
On we went to Blantyre where we had booked an Air B&B for our final three nights. It was a bit out of town and the final road was very rough and ready but our car handled the conditions admirably. We can't recommend Fiskani and Fwasani
highly enough. Sadly they were out of town but their housekeeper, Rita, made sure everything was perfect for us and made us put on any weight we might have lost with her hearty breakfasts! Once we had returned the car, we were left with a 40 minute walk to and from town each time but we wanted the exercise. Minibuses were available and Rita organised a taxi for our last evening in Blantyre and to get to the airport.
There were a few things we wanted to do in Blantyre this time. Having visited one
art cafe previously, we wanted to go back again for lunch. La Caverna
proved to be as good as we had hoped when we ate lunch there. We were a bit damp when we arrived as the heavens had opened on our way. Luckily we had our umbrellas with us and managed to find some shelter near the tourist office which is located in one of the oldest buildings in town. The restaurant is located in Mandala House, another of Blantyre's historical buildings. When we were browsing their souvenirs and artwork we noticed that the Society of Malawi Archives
were on the upper floor. Very soon we were being escorted round this wonderful collection of old photos and memorabilia. It was a fascinating insight into the colonial era of the country.
It isn't the only art cafe in town though. We also visited Kwa Haraba
in the business district. This was an amazing place full of beautiful works of art, both paintings and sculptures. They also hold poetry readings each week but on a Wednesday so we missed out. It was a tranquil place in which to relax and contemplate the wonders of human creativity. They also run art workshops which must be a
lot of fun.
Just over the fence from the cafe is an abandoned aeroplane. Luckily for us, the staff of the cafe had a little information about it. When Air Malawi went bust a decade or so ago, its aircraft were sold off for scrap. A Korean man bought one of them and intends to turn it into a restaurant. He's also in the process of building a hotel but that looks many many years away from completion so we doubt anything substantial will happen any time soon. It made a curious sight to wander around, and if you visit, keep an eye out for the wings and tail which are stored alongside the construction area of the hotel.
The other place we wanted to visit in Blantyre was the Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Following the instructions from their website didn't make it any easier to find! There is no signpost and the whole cemetery is very overgrown. This has been reported and hopefully the commission will rectify the situation soon. It's something we have found in Malawi with the war graves, and they are a very sad sight.
Blantyre signalled the end of our trip. It has been an
amazing eight weeks and we decided to mark the conclusion of this adventure in what we had been told was Malawi's best restaurant, 21 Grill,
which is part of the Protea Marriott Hotel. We feasted on perfectly cooked ribs and pork belly washed down with a rather expensive bottle of wine. The food was surprisingly cheap and justified the recommendation we had received.
The next morning we headed home. It was a long journey which began with an early morning taxi to the airport. Unfortunately when we got there things did not progress well. Kenya Airways couldn't associate our ticket with the flight, whatever that means. It came as a bit of a shock as we had been into their offices to reconfirm our tickets just two days before. With no assistance at the airport forthcoming, and constantly being told to wait because someone was trying to get through to the office on the phone (even though we knew the office didn't open until 9am) Russ took to social media where Air France remained silent and KLM shirked all responsibility saying our tickets were with Air France despite the flight being their code share. We were allowed to board the
plane at the very last minute. It was a stressful few hours. At Nairobi we had 11 hours to kill so we bought lounge passes for Kenya Airways' Pride Lounge.
That was $80 well spent but we thought it could have been offered as compensation for what happened at Blantyre. It has taken weeks to get a less-than-satisfactory explanation from Kenya Airways; KLM have finally responded to the criticism of their washing their hands of the matter; and as for Air France, the silence is deafening! The dangers of code-share tickets when nobody will take responsibility I guess.
A 10 hour lay-over in Amsterdam then followed but we found out that Russ's cousin was in the city on business so we met up for lunch. A great day in the end! But finally we were home. And very happy to be home too. Will we venture back to Africa? Probably, but we'll be better prepared for the frustrations next time.
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