May 1st is Labor Day in Malawi, this is to show appreciation to the workforce of Malawi, this year the theme was ‘giving opportunity for reliable work’, because 1st fell on a Saturday this year the public holiday was moved to the Monday. I’m only really telling you this to give a background for why I had a day off work, I had nothing to do with any events going on and I only know the theme because I saw it on a poster out the bus window.
I decided to take the opportunity of the 3 day weekend to go away, unfortunately we had schools program training on the Saturday, which was annoying but it’s what I’m here to do so I really shouldn’t complain. Anyway I stayed around to do the training and then left the next day. I’d decided to go to Liwonde national park; I’d heard good things about it and wanted to go before but not had the chance. It’s a 50km long, 10km wide stretch of protected area just south of Mangochi, with a fantastic variety of wildlife (but I’ll come to that later).
As usual after waiting around for ages I caught the bus from Limbe bus station. We were going well till about half-way when the driver suddenly pulled into the side of the road and people started to get off, because all the discussion was in Chichewa I had no idea what was going on until someone explained there was a problem with the brakes and the driver had pulled in to try and repair them. After about an hour by the side of the road, the brake lines were fixed, the wheel back on and we were able to set off again. At Liwonde I caught a bicycle taxi to the national park, it’s really amazing just how fit these guys are, he was able to cycle along at a good speed for 6.5km with myself and my bag on the back at midday, then turned strait round a went back. It would have killed me.
He had dropped me at the entrance to the park where I phoned the Chinguni Hills Lodge to come and pick me up (you’re not allowed to walk or cycle around the park). While I was waiting I had a look around the information and the park ranger showed me where a family of elephants had passed by earlier in the day. For such a small park Liwonde really is packed with wildlife, even on the short drive to the Lodge I saw impala and yellow baboon’s right next to the road. After a quick spot of lunch at the lodge (fish and chips, very nice) and talking to a couple of the other guests I found that the lodge ran safaris around the park, so I booked myself onto the sunset drive and the morning canoe safari’s.
The sunset drive was simply amazing. Apart from the herds of impala and waterbuck strolling around, the yellow baboons everywhere and the warthogs running through the undergrowth, we saw a crocodile waiting in the water and were able to get close enough to a family of elephants that one of the bulls had to trumpet a warning at the car. At sunset we stopped beside the river, having a drink and watching hippos in the distance.
Dinner at the lodge was nice, everyone sat around a big table talking and chatting. It’s always remarkable the variety of people at these places, there was English, Welsh, American, Italian, Portuguese, South African and Australian folks. It was one of the guys birthday so we headed out to the bar for a drink, while we were sitting around chatting amidst the calls of hippos and hyenas (really close) the two string banjo behind the bar was picked up and a song knocked out, which was just so cool.
After breakfast the next morning I took the canoe safari, 2½ hours of being paddled through the reeds and down the river. It was so peaceful and we were able to see all kind of birds (Malawi is famed for its bird variety) as well as a herd of hippo’s close up and elephants feeding in the distance. When we got back we had some time before lunch, so Peter (one of the guys running the lodge) took us up to the tree-house, a viewing platform with spectacular views over the park, then back down to the lodge for lunch.
I left not long after lunch; having packed up my things and said my goodbyes to the guys I’d met. It was an excellent trip, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I’m defiantly going back again before I leave, there’s still so much more to see, a rhino reserve further up, the night time drive and the other animals I never got the chance to see.
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