Located in the south central part of the African continent the tiny nation of Malawi finds itself not easily seen or noticed on a world map. However, this is the only time Malawi makes a mark on the heart and soul of the visitor. Its size is no measure of its character. Malawi is considered by many to be the very essence of Africa. By any determination it is nearly impossible to define within itself, but perhaps it is better defined within its comparison to the entire African continent. The Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Wildlife explains it this way. Malawi “is not quite east, central or southern Africa, but contains elements of each: a touch of East Africa’s sensual magnetism, some of the mystery of Central Africa’s tropical forests, and the sheer delight of southern Africa’s exuberance.”
Parallel to the Great Rift Valley
To the visitor this land of intrigue and splendor is a place of magnificent contrasts. It is landlocked from all of the oceans, yet is a nation of fishermen, since one fifth of the country is occupied by Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. Nearly its entire length is trapped within the southern end of the Great Rift Valley. It clings to the land like baby birds cling to their nest, and offers sweeping vistas of wooded forests and undulating plains that seem to roll on forever. It holds a setting of beauty that is bathed by the African sun, and drenched by tropical rains that nourish the land. In the south a short drive from the commercial center of Blantyre takes you to the spectacular highlands of the Mulanje Massif, the highest mountain in Central Africa, then a little way north to the top of Zomba Mountain.
Near the center of the nation, in Dedza, the visitor can stop for a time and see the artisans making fine pottery, or explore caves where the writings of the early inhabitants still cling to the ceiling like chalk markers from the past.
Moving north the road undulates into the central plains, then slows for the surging masses of humanity that make up the heartbeat of the capital city of Lilongwe. Passing near the seat of government just to the north of Lilongwe’s Old Town highway M-1 chases the contour of rolling hills all the way to the giant forested Viphya highlands, and the splendid rolling grasslands and mountain peaks of the Nyika plateau.
Tiny Villages Dot the Landscape
Along the way one will want to stop at one of the busy trading centers in order to add to the memories of the visit to Malawi, as well as a visit to one of the tiny mud-hut thatched roof villages that stand on the same spot their ancestors inhabited several hundred years ago. An overnight stay in one of the game parks should not be missed as it may bring the excitement of a grazing hippo or elephant that can be heard eating his way around the tent of a sleeping guest. Nor would you want to miss the view of a hungry crocodile as it plies the waters of the Shire River, or a tiny tree monkey as he scampers close to the visitor to see if there is something he can snatch up and run away with to eat or explore.
Third Largest Lake in Africa
Almost the entire length of the county, one can turn to the east and in just a short distance reach the end of the road as it slides down the sandy, sometimes rocky, shores of Lake Malawi. The pristine beauty of the lake from atop the mountains in the north offer some of the most beautiful scenes found anywhere in Africa, and the lake itself is home to the largest variety of fresh water fish found anywhere in the world. Referred to as the calendar lake because it is 365 miles long and 52 miles wide, Lake Malawi holds the distinction of coming in at the number 12 spot in the size of fresh water lakes in the world. Tiny resorts offer the visitor a chance to “kick back and cool down” from the rigors experienced in the interior of the country.
David Livingston, the Scottish missionary, first saw Lake Nyssa, now Lake Malawi, in 1859 and dubbed it, “a lake of stars”, alluding to the myriad of tiny light reflections that wink back from the lake’s surface. One description gives a vivid picture of the lake when it says, “from its surface rocky islands seem to float above the water line like fragments of fantasy, crowned with jungle. The whisper of the waves softens the yelping call of fish eagles.”
Plague of the Slave Trade
When Livingston reached the lake he arrived long after African tribes had entered this land. In spite of being a late comer to its beauty he gazed on the pristine exquisiteness that winked back at him, then settled into this quiet land that had not shared the disease, war and conflict that inflicted so many other parts of the continent. But Livingston was forced to see another scene that turned his heart cold, and forced him to lament and speak out against the scourge that confronted him; the view of dhow sails, and the sinister signs of the ships that were transporting ivory and slaves to the east and the long march to the sea, then into oblivion in the slave markets of Arabia and India. Today simple dugout canoes with village fishermen have replaced the infamous slave dhows as they harvest fish for their families from the bounty of the inland lake.
Malawi is a breathtaking land that has been hidden from the world’s view for time immemorial, but today her people are opening its doors for the world to see its treasures. It is a door worth walking through.