34 – Scorpions, Mushrooms & Bao

34 – Scorpions, Mushrooms & Bao

When researching Malawi, other travellers and online blogs had recommended we visit “Mushroom Farm”, an eco-lodge overlooking the Great Rift Valley in the North. We added it to our list of places to go.

Ipinda > Chilumba > Mushroom Farm

Getting there was a mission: from Chilumba we took two motorbikes, then a taxi to Chitimba, at the foot of a mountain (that was the easy part). Then, we had to get to the top of the mountain (that was the tricky part). Mushroom Farm is seven miles up a winding dirt road with at least twenty steep hairpin bends. Standard cars do not dare make the journey, only 4x4s, trucks or motorbikes.

We were hoping to hitchhike a truck up the mountain, like the locals do. Alas, there were no trucks in sight. Stanley, an employee of Mushroom farm, welcomed us into his stand where he advises tourists how to get up the hill. He assured us he was there to stop tourists getting ripped off, but him being there meant the prices were fixed, so we could not negotiate. He explained that there would not be a truck this afternoon so we either needed to take a moto-taxi for 5000 Kwachas each (£5.44) or trek for three hours on foot. The price was steep for just a short journey and we knew that motorbikes and hills were a bad combination (cf. article n°27). We went and bought two bottles of ice-cold Fanta to refresh ourselves in the heat and to give us some thinking time. As per usual, we had to reassure the Fanta guy that we were not going to run off with his refundable glass bottles.

Stanley sat and chatted with us. He pointed to a big billboard at the side of the road; on it, a plump guy in a suit looked proud. Behind him, was a large photo of a road and a few lines of text in Chichewa (Malawi’s official language). Stanley told us that the guy in the photo was the president of Malawi and the text brags that thanks to him there is a brand-new road from here to Livingstonia. He then pointed to a rocky road, with barely a few metres of concrete and sighed, “Can you see a road?”. It was clear after chatting with him for a few minutes that the authoritarian President is far from popular. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and probably the poorest we have visited on our travels. Though international aid arrives in abundance, it is misused or misappropriated. Malawians are often forced to flee the country in search of work elsewhere. They have had enough.

Our Fanta break had confirmed to us that we would be taking motorbikes up the mountain. We strapped our bags on the back, along with boxes being delivered to Livingstonia, then sandwiched ourselves between the wall of luggage and the drivers. The drivers’ sweaty backs pressed against our chests. We soon understood the price: the road was catastrophic. The wheels bounced and skidded over the rocks and sand. The drivers fought hard to keep control of the bikes; every now and again, their feet would descend to keep us upright. They should be professional off-road racers! It felt like we were on a rollercoaster, at any moment a flash in the trees would reveal photo of our grimaced faces. We held on tightly and counted the bends, whilst baboons laughed from the roadside.

You will be pleased to hear we made it to the top of the mountain in one piece, albeit a wobbly piece! The view over the valley was superb: fields, farms and Lake Malawi spread out before us. No wonder tourists brave the road to get here.

Chilling with a view

We recharged ourselves with a hearty lunch, made with fresh produce from the garden and local farms.

Mushroom Farm was so popular that all the double rooms and covered camping spots were already taken, only a dormitory tent was left for us.

Though the staff were not very friendly, we bonded with other travellers. There was an English/South African couple in their fifties road tripping around Africa with their 4×4 and tent. Two Belgian and American girls, based in Tanzania, were touring Malawi on bicycles. One of them had even cycled up the monstrous mountain we just climbed – amazing! Finally, there was an Anglo-Danish couple who had spent several months in Malawi and were about to take the Tazara to go to Zanzibar.

For the first time, we felt like we had met our match with adventurous travellers. It was so fun listening to their fabulous stories and the Danish guy even taught us how to play Bao. It is a shame we could not have spent longer with them all, but hey, perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.

Bao: a popular game with a wooden board & stones
Photo by Moongateclimber

Though we had found fun, hardcore travellers, we still all lifted our feet up when little scorpions made an appearance in the evening on the terrace! Hehe. 🦂🦂🦂

Riding back down the next day with the Anglo-Danish couple

For our next tune from Malawi and footage from our descent down the mountain, click the play button below:

2 Replies to “34 – Scorpions, Mushrooms & Bao”

  1. Fabulous ! Oh I so want to be a “couple in their fifties road tripping around Africa with their 4×4 and tent” How about it Daddy Drummond? 😉

  2. Sounds like things are quite different to when we toured Malawi on our bicycles (hardly surprising – it was 30 years ago). People we met were really positive about their Government in those days and people were not wealthy in fiscal terms but well fed, largely healthy, occupied and super friendly and proud of their reputation as ‘the warm heart of Africa’.

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