After spending a couple days in Zambia we flew down to Lilongwe, Malawi. The first place we passed on our way from the airport to Lilongwe was the school that Madonna is building and later several chinese construction projects. The Chinese government has just built a new parliment building for the Malawian government and has a giant space dome structure hotel in progress.
We stayed at the Sunbird Capital Hotel the first couple nights- its located across the street from the new chinese hotel and in a decent location. The Sunbird Capital was ok, but when we checked in there was a couple at the front desk complaining that there backpack with passports and credit cards had just been stolen from their room. The place was dingy, worn out, and just didnt have a good vibe.
One day for lunch we asked a taxi driver to take us to a relaxing place for lunch and he delivered us to the Sanctuary Lodge just a couple blocks away from the Capital Sunbird. It was like walking into the garden of eden- it was clean, quiet, calm in a nature preserve and surrounded by green trees. We ate lunch on an open veranda and i was amazed by the tranquility. We immediately checked out of the Sunbird Capital and moved into the Sanctuary Lodge and stayed in a cabin/hut that had wifi access, but no tv.
The next day we decided to drive to Livingstonia on Lake Malawi and rented a VW Polo sedan (like a VW Jetta) from Avis. Unfortunately we couldnt find a good map and ended up navigating off the map in the Lonely Planet guide and missed the turn for route M14 to Lake Malawi (wasnt marked either). We ended up traveling 20 km up route M1 and turning on the only paved road we could find outside of Lilonwe. The asphalt quickly turned into a dirt road but since the road was in good condition we decided to keep going. The road paralleled a new road construction project and started winding into the mountains and 30 km later we arrived in the town of Dowa.
We found ourselves on the map again and saw that the road we had followed, the route M7, continued south and eventually linked up with the M14 to Livingstonia so we decided to push on. The road south out of town wasnt as nice as the previous road and we climbed over a ridge to discover it quickly became more and more rutted. We decided to push on started to scrape bottom a couple times, but kept the hope that soon it would improve again. The VW Polo wasnt made for dirt road travel (no 4x4 vehicles were available when we went to rent a car) and about 6km and 30 mins of nail-biting travel later we almost high centered the vehicle and decided it was time to turn around.
After a dicey nine-point turn on the side of a steep cliff in the middle of nowhere and out of cell phone reception we started to make our way back up the hill to Dowa. We almost didnt make it out- several times we scrapped over rocks, ledges, and drop offs and said "We shouldnt have made it this far- what were we thinking?" The people in Dowa looked at us like we were crazy when our dusty faces rolled back through town and 60 km later we were back in Lilongwe and were able to find the M14 to Livingstonia.
As we cruised along the M14 we passed the point where the M7 connected and the road looked like hell and traversed many rocky ridges back to Dowa, out of sight behind the mountians. There was no way the tiny VW Polo could have made it through.
On the approach to Livingstonia we saw more and more mosques and the people began to dress more conservatively. We saw several wearing suits even though it was just a Thursday afternoon. Livingstonia was an average town and we quickly drove through to the lake and ate lunch at Sunbird Livingstonia on the lakefront. It was a beautiful sight, and the resort was plush. The food was good and it was nice to relax on the shores of Lake Malawi.
We eventually tore ourselves away from the relaxing scene and drove back to Lilongwe with no incident. We did stop to check out what the kids were selling on side of the road-
Later that night the Sanctuary Lodge held a silent auction as a fund raiser for a local wildlife refuge. A local artist contributed 40 wildlife paintings and a large crowd had gathered. I was quickly outbid on my favorite painting of an elephant crossing a river and most painting sold for over $300 USD.