How camping on Lake Malawi went all wrong

The Songwe border crossing into Malawi was easy as pie (no paperwork issues, and no touts trying to earn money by guiding us through the border), and we made it through in a matter of minutes. The border guards reminded us to stick to the speed limit, so we did.

The main road south was narrow and winding, littered with speed signposts, and there were lots of people and bicycles about. It didn’t take long for us to realise just how poor a country Malawi was. People’s clothes and houses were noticeably more worn than those of Tanzania. We saw a fully grown, live pig tied to the back of a bicycle, quiet and well behaved as the rider pedalled down the road. Malawi was going to be fun.


We did our dinner shopping in the town of Karonga. On the menu was another typically weird throw-together of ingredients: canned crab meat on bread rolls, with Nali, a super spicy chilli sauce. Nali was a specialty of Malawi, a peri-peri flavour made from Africa’s hottest chillis. On the bottle was written ‘friends take care‘. On Scoville’s scale of spiciness, it sits at 175,000 – much higher than Tabasco, and on par with a habanero chilli.


Karonga was nearby to Lake Malawi, a gigantic worm-shaped lake covering most of the eastern part of the country. It yawned lazily into the horizon, so vast that you couldn’t see the other side. Without visible land on the other side, it looked like the ocean, and as the last rays of orange sunlight flickered over the waves, we opened a few beers. We were the only campers at Karonga Guesthouse, and a helpful employee helped us pitch our tents.


As darkness crept in, so too did a swarm of tiny flies. We sat around our fire, swatting them away. In a matter of minutes, the itchy swarm had swollen to several thousand. They landed in our hair and clothes, and crawled on our skin. The swarm of flies fell onto us like a blanket. Under heavy insect bombardment, we scrambled to put the fire out and retreated to the tent. We zipped the tent closed, as fast as we could.


The flies were tiny and no bigger than mosquitos. A few made it inside the tent, so we swatted them all. Under torchlight, we prepared crab meat on rolls under torchlight. With a generous blob of Nali, of course.

It was our first time experiencing the fury of our newly acquired chilli sauce, and we didn’t know the dosage. Within seconds, my lips were stinging in pain, and my mouth was agape, as I swallowed water in an effort to extinguish the fire on my tongue. I realised that this volcano-red sauce was not to be trifled with. The real punishment from Nali came first thing in the morning, and I ran to the bathroom to experience the burn of Nali for a second time.

As we packed up our tents that morning, and we visited the campsite employee for a chat. We gave him a little bit of money for his help, as well as the Crocs that Wessel and I wore in Zanzibar. He was grateful, and took us for a tour of a little farm he had set up on the far end of the campsite. He had a pet dog, kept pigs in indoor enclosures, and grew oranges. He gave us a few oranges for the road. We said goodbye and headed out onto the highway again.

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