Not only friendly people but also a big billboard with the inscription ‘Exit the land Jeito welcome to the land of Chishango’ greets you as you enter Malawi from Mozambique through Mwanza.
As a first traveler to the southern Africa country, you would be surprised why a country proudly aligns its identity to condom brand.
However, despite the condom advertisement, Malawi just as its neighbor Mozambique has hardnosed measures regulating sex work.
Realizing that the sex industry can not be controlled the two countries make sure they warn tourists in advance of the importance of safer sex during their days of stay in the country as they are some of the countries having a high HIV and AIDS prevalence rate.
Reaching the border post on the Malawian immigration side you would have already started feeling as if you chose a wrong destination for your holiday.
Occasionally you see children begging; however, these are just some of the few-orphaned children that survive from the arms they get from the several travelers going in and out of Malawi.
The blur of some reggae music from the bars just near the border post will soon greet you to the warm-hearted nation. As you wait for the immigration and customs officials you probably will be enticed to go and try one Malawian beer and even food as most of these bars also have restraints serving a wide range of Malawian and Portuguese cuisines.
“The first time I traveled to Malawi from south Africa I found the border at Mwanza very boring. I felt like I had landed my self at a wrong holiday destination over my home in Ontario,” said Christen Hoffman a Canadian national based in Johannesburg South Africa.
She recalled that whilst she was regretting having chosen Malawi out of all tourist destinations in southern Africa, she was approached a black market forex vendor who asked her if she wanted some local currency.
“I did not have any local money at that point and I was feeling very hungry having traveled the whole day from Johannesburg to Mwanza and the polite way he approached me just made me feel like I was in my second home,” she recalled.
She said as opposed to young men from other countries she has traveled, the young vendor treated her very politely that she instantly fell in love with Malawi.
“The good thing about Malawians is that they are very polite and usually happily come to your assistance when you need help,” she said.
Driving from Mwanza towards the commercial city Blantyre a 110-kilometer drive takes you about two hours and as you drive in the December heat, the cicada tweeter greets you as you enjoy scenery of Malawi’s natural beauty.
The traditional mud huts along the m6 that connects Malawi to the rest of southern Africa will make their way in your camera even before you reach the shire river, one of the would not miss spots taking a shot to show back home.
However never be worried by the rude treatment you will receive from police officers at the police check as they undertake their routine search.
A tour guide, Edward Sakwata said in interview police officers are usually very hard on tourists when dreadlocked tour guides accompany them. He said they suspect them of drug peddling.
“When a police officer sees a European tourist accompanied by a young dreadlocked tour guide their impression is that the two are involved in a drug deal,” he said.
Arriving in Blantyre you will be feeling very tired. However, you have just started your Malawian adventure for nightlife in Blantyre is the most thrilling experience to many tourists.
If you did not have advance bookings for accommodation, there are several backpackers’ packs offering a variety of affordable prices for tourists.
Most of these clubs do not close until the early morning hours and you will actually realize why the condom billboard greeted you at your entry in Mwanza when you are at such clubs.
Girls that earn their living through commercial sex would not leave the bar counters until they drop or they have hooked one client for the night.
Chris Johnston British national on two-week vacation to Malawi said his first day in Malawi was the most interesting one.
“Upon arriving in Blantyre I did not have an idea of where I would sleep for the night as I was proceeding to Mulanje Mountain the following day, however when I went to the Blantyre tourist market I met this young girl that showed me the other side of Blantyre,” he said laughing.
Ironically, Johnston almost mistook the Soche hill that is just within the city premises for Mulanje Mountain.
Mulanje Mountain is one of the Malawian tourist attractions one would not miss while in the country. The mountain has a rich cultural history.
To some hikers most of the myths attached to the mountains Sapitwa peak would sound as fairly tales, however when the locals advise you take notice of their counsel.
Recently a Brazilian hiker, Gabriel Bushman got lost on the mountain peak and was only found 10 days latter dead.
Some locals said Bushman was found because the spirits in the mountain liked him released him so that he meets his people, but he might have been unfortunate to have fallen on his way back.
People of Mulanje have different theories on people that go missing on the mountain. Others say these people might fall into the Ruo River just near the mountain and get washed away.
However, the spirit tales dominate.
“When one wants to go to Sapitwa he needs to offer special prayers other wise he will not return,” said Maxwell Chifika a local from the district.
After Mulanje, the Malawian adventure will not be complete if you have not tasted the warm of the fresh waters of the Lake Malawi.
The bus drive from Blantyre to Mangochi will take you four hours. The road from Blantyre to Mangochi has a rich variety of Malawian tradition.
All along the way you will see women wrapped in the traditional Malawian Chitenje ‘Wrapper’ and by the roadsides you are not to miss the arts and craft that are skillfully displayed in roadside kiosks.
Zomba would be the next good stop over even for a night as the town that used to be the administration centre during the British rule has some interesting tourist spots.
Most of the Victorian houses that used to house the British administrators have now been turned into lodges.
However of much interest would be a visit to Ku-Chawe just on top of Zomba plateau.
The trout farm on the plateau and the Chingwes hole have been some of the wonders that have made the Chawe adventure a must not miss for tourists in Malawi.
The emperors view just on top of the plateau can give chance to view to places as far as Mozambique, many tourists have looked the view in the evening when the dark night can give you a fair chance to admire the twinkling light of distant towns below.
“My Malawian experience could not have been complete without the Kuchawe sojourn the climb on the plateau on a fair evening gives you an opportunity to enjoy the Malawian romance,” said Catherine Pereira a Canadian tourist.
As you go to your final destination, Mangochi, you will find lots merchandise that would be good for a home take back.
However, Namwera turn off offers a wide variety of sculptures and paintings of high quality.
For Catherine Tamayenda a Malawian national staying in the US she usually has time to stop at Namwera to buy her friends some African crafts from this place.
“Every time I come to Malawi for holidays I make it a point that I visit Namwera to buy some arts I can give friends back in the US,”she said.
She said the unique thing about the arts and crafts at Namwera was that they had straightforward themes.
By the time you arrive in Mangochi, you really would have understood why the accolade the warm heart of Africa befits Malawi.
The beautiful lake birds and the nice people you will meet on the way could have long made their way in your camera and the beauty of Malawian culture should have by now bewitched you.
However, the best time at Mangochi is in the evenings. Most resorts at the lake shore district organise cultural activities targeting the tourists.
Dances as Gule wa mkulu that UNESCO recognizes as one of the protected Malawian heritage dominate in the evenings.
But take care not to flit with the so many sex workers that flock into thse area looking for some pleasure, fun and money from tourists.
Malawi has a high HIV and AIDS prevalence and sex workers have been the major transmitters of the infection.