I realised that while I’ve written about the weather, the food, and the house I’m staying in I haven’t really talked about the wider area of Blantyre except in passing on other subjects. Seeing as this is where I’ve been based while I’m in Malawi, and where I’m spending the majority of my time I should give a better picture of the city of Blantyre. Settled in the shire highlands area of southern Malawi, 1,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by a number of mountains. It is the oldest established city in Malawi, first chartered in 1896 and named after David Livingstone’s birthplace in Scotland.
What struck me when I first entered Blantyre was the distinct lack of city, few high rises, groups of built up areas, lots of parks, open spaces and fields right in the heart of the city, not sprawling landscape of glass, concrete and steel, I would normally imagine when thinking of the economic capital of a country.
Chileka Airport to the north of the city, did fly out to Lilongwe as well as to some international destinations like South Africa, Kenya etc., though after worries about safety, renovations are being made, so at the moment only small aircraft are able to use it. Because of the good road links, the bus and coach station in both the central business district and Limbe provide good transport to the rest of Malawi, including Lilongwe, the lakeshore road and Mulanje, as well as Mozambique and through Mozambique to Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The main central business district is a compact centre around Victoria, Haile Sellassie and Glyn Jones roads. With the main headquarters of the larger banks (National, Standard, FMB and NBS) all close together as well as the Malawi Stock Exchange and main post office. The larger (and more expensive) hotels like the Sunbird Mount Soche, Hotel Victoria, and Protea Hotel Ryalls, are all in the CBD, though there are also the smaller (cheaper), back-packers lodges (like Doogles). There is also a great curio market down Chilembwe road with lots of carvings etc. that can be used for presents. Though I sometimes find it easier just to buy off the guys walking round with backpacks of stuff, at least they don’t crowd round as soon as a mzungu walks past (though they can follow you down the street)and one on one you can usually get them down to a more reasonable price. This is where I usually go to use the internet, there are plenty of cafes and although connection speed can vary, generally it’s not too bad (but not good enough to try downloading files and it can just get annoying using youtube), also a range of restaurants including an Indian, a Chinese, a steak house and a few fast food places.
Limbe was once a separate suburb of Blantyre but has now become part of Blantyre as it expanded. Connected to the CBD by the Masauko Chipembere Highway and the smaller Kenyatta Drive through Chitawira and Soche districts. Again only really based around a few streets (Churchill Road, Livingstone Avenue and Market Street), but is a centre for various businesses and has a lot of covered arcades. Limbe has several churches and mosques, including the catholic cathedral on the Zomba road and the Mpingwe Mosque. It also has the St John headquarters along Churchill road.
Along the highway there are a couple of districts worth mentioning. Ginnery corner with the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) and the Beit Cure Hospital, as well as the Polytechnic University and the Malawi College of Accountancy. Chichiri has the Kamuzu stadium, used for football matches and outdoor events, my gym the wanders club, and the Chichiri Mall, a largish mall that sells a lot of South African products that wouldn’t be found in Malawian shops, it also has a food court (I really like the pizza) and a cinema. Chichiri also has the Museum of Malawi that has some interesting exhibits and the French Cultural centre that holds shows, concerts and exhibitions.
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