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What's madness is not Malawi but typing up a trip report ten years after the actual trip (2007)! :D but there's not much on here about Malawi and after reading through a great TR from @AfricIan I was motivated to contribute a bit in hopes of adding to ST's base of knowledge about a BEAUTIFUL African country that had surprisingly good wildlife viewing!


My dad has often traveled with me to Africa and was game to go again (and again) but typically I had make the argument that we'd not visited "this place" or "that place" yet...so after hitting most of the countries in East and Southern Africa, and missing out on Malawi due to an airline strike by South African Airlines a couple years earlier (and thus an impromptu road trip from Jo'burg to Cape Town via Oudshoorn, Knysna and Plett Bay) Malawi was back on the list.


The itinerary went something like this:


Day 1---leave the US

Day 2---Jo'burg to Blantyre to Liwonde National Park

Day 3-5---Liwonde NP

Day 5-7---Cape McClear/Monkey Bay to Mumbo Island

Day 7---Monkey Bay to catch the MV Ilala

Day 8---MV Ilala to Likoma Island and Kaya Mawa

Day 9-10---Kaya Mawa

Day 11---depart Likoma Island to Jo'burg via Lilongwe


Jo'burg to Antananarivo, Madagascar

Because a week in Madagascar makes so much sense as an add on to Malawi :D!!!


Day One in Africa after an overnight in Jo'burg was supposed to be simple.  Get rested, eat breakfast, go to the Jo'burg O.R. Tambo Airport and fly to Blantyre but the baggage sorter was down.  3000 bags needed to be sorted and we were leaving with 78 bags not on the plane!  We were told that the bags that didn't make it would be flown to Lilongwe and driven overland from there....that's all well and good if you're staying in Blantyre but our plans were to immediately drive to Liwonde NP.  Of course it was chaos at the baggage claim but miraculously my dad's and my luggage made it!


The "Warm Heart of Africa" Indeed!  I enjoyed the drive to Liwonde.  Many safaris hop from air strip to air strip and bypass the towns and villages that make up most of Africa....I rather enjoy seeing Africa from the road.  We drove past colorful markets, the quirky signs of businesses:  "When God Says Yes" Salon and Boutique, "God's Plan" Electrical Company, as Everlasting, our driver, pointed out every government and administrative office he thought we'd be interested in.


Road side snacks in Malawi are quite different thank pulling over to a Stuckey's for a pecan log!



I didn't remember it as a particularly long drive but we hit the gates of Liwonde NP and it was already dark...what I remember most was crossing the Shire River in a small boat, a beautiful wide African river under a close-to full moon...that's one of my favorite memories from Mvuu Lodge/Camp.  It was magic!


Liwonde is a worthy park to visit.  When I visited in 2007 there were very few predators in the park.  Perhaps no lions. A fenced sanctuary for black rhino was of keen interest to me.  I really did not know what to expect.  What I can tell you is that it is a very scenic and beautiful park with great elephant, hippo and crocodile interaction.  Since then, African Parks has taken over and as usual with what happens when African Parks is involved, things have changed dramatically for the better.  Here is what they said on their website:



Situated in Malawi, the ‘warm heart of Africa,’ Liwonde National Park has been the home of incredible wildlife translocations and reintroductions, and transformations.  When African Parks assumed management of Liwonde, in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in 2015, the park was riddled with tens of thousands of wire snares – more snares existed than large animals – and it had some of the highest human-wildlife conflict levels in the region. People were poaching wildlife in the park, and tragically were also being killed by elephants and crocodiles. It was lawless and fraught with challenges.

African Parks assumed management of the park and immediately began constructing an electric fence to keep wildlife inside the park and illegal activity out.  Just one year later, Liwonde was at the epicentre of one of the largest elephant translocations in history, where a total of 336 elephants were relocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi to help restore that reserve. This translocation not only helped reduce pressure on Liwonde’s natural habitats but also helped address the deadly human-wildlife conflict situation. Since 2015, over 36,000 snares have been removed, and poaching has been significantly reduced and is now under control.

After restoring security to the park, we began to re-establish Liwonde’s predator population. Cheetahs were reintroduced in 2017,  bringing the species back to the park after 100 years. A founder population of 10 lions was also reintroduced from Majete Wildlife Reserve and South Africa in 2018. Wildlife populations are on the rise, and so are the number of people who are coming to the park to witness at the revival. The number of tourists has increased by 25 percent and revenue has increased by 70 percent since 2016. In just two short years, Liwonde has been given a second chance and it is being restored and transformed for the benefit of the wildlife, and for the people who live here.

Liwonde Highlights

  • The construction and constant maintenance of a new 117 km of electrical perimeter fence has decreased the incidence in human-wildlife conflict, resulting in zero human fatalities since July 2016.
  • Poaching has been brought under control and more than 36,000 wire snares have been removed.
  • A ranger training center has been constructed providing a critically needed training ground for rangers in Malawi and on the continent.
  • 336 elephants were translocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to repopulate  the park, and to reduce habitat degradation and human-elephant conflict in Liwonde.
  • 900,000 people live around Liwonde and depend on natural resources for survival. These communities directly benefit from community development and increased job opportunities that the park provides.
  • In 2017 seven cheetah, the first to return to Malawi in 20 years, were reintroduced to Liwonde and the population has already doubled with the birth of eight  cubs.
  • In 2018, 10 lion were reintroduced to Liwonde from Majete Wildlife Reserve and South Africa after they were last seen in the park 10 years ago.  
  • Prince Harry joined African Parks’ for the historical elephant translocation as part of the 500 Elephants initiative.

So already it may be a dramatically different place than when I visited in 2007.  There is a camp and a lodge, Mvuu, and we stayed at the camp on a little lagoon off the main river.  The crocodiles were extremely active.  I could sit on the balcony and watch mating activity, the blast of air from their nostrils, tail slapping, bubble blowing, the arching of their tail and neck, the low rumbles that made the water dance off their back...and occasionally a large male croc chasing off a potential rival.  Hippos also were quite active.  During our stay one floated by like a Macy's Parade Balloon, dead from a fight with another male.  We found another bloated corpse on our river safari.


Birds were everywhere.  Malachite kingfishers, a roost of white breasted cormorants provided lots of action for predators like fish eagles and Nile monitors, bee eaters and wire tailed swifts, owls too.


Elephant activity was very strong.  One was feeding on a tree outside our tent in the evening.  We were escorted to dinner by one of the guards.  The same elephant was still in camp when it was time for bed.  The guests in single file were led back to their rooms by torch light.  The elephant crossed the path and moved toward the kitchen so the guard gave dad and I the green light to return to our room, however, the elephant turned back onto the path, my weak torch pointed upward as a ten foot elephant filled my view!  We turned and ran!  The next day,  the guests that chose a morning nature walk to look at the little things got more than they bargained for...likely the same elephant came at them and it took five shots in the air to convince him to turn back!


Croc Country!



Hippos too!


And elephants:



From the Lodge:



Birds too---the cormorant rookery was fragrant to say the least but fascinating to see the activity and action surrounding it:




wonder if @AfricIan 's wire tailed swallow is a descendant of these guys---a nesting pair on the boat with a nest :D


more birds:



And antelope in the rhino sanctuary---we saw waterbuck, impala, roan and sable, also duiker and bush pigs but no rhino.  In fact, they're rarely seen.  It appears there are about ten currently as the fence was in disrepair and several were poached before African Parks took over.  We searched but did not find.





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Edited by gatoratlarge
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6 hours ago, gatoratlarge said:

Many safaris hop from air strip to air strip and bypass the towns and villages that make up most of Africa....I rather enjoy seeing Africa from the road.

Yes I agree with you @gatoratlarge.

Hope you're enjoying reliving this safari - I'm certainly enjoying following.  Great sable sightings and elephant interaction plus also seeing roan and bushpigs!

Be interested to hear about the trip on MV Ilala in due course.

PS I well remember being caught up in a South African Airways strike in Joburg in 2005 - it was a close thing but eventually and very belatedly made it to Dar thanks to Air Tanzania coming to the rescue!

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@gatoratlarge I visited Liwonde last year, and have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. In fact I have to say that it's one of 10 favorite national parks or game preserves in Africa. I found it stunningly beautiful and have to say that it enjoys a superb wilderness "vibe". There is also a wide range of activities offered at Mvuu Lodge. I had great sightings of  bush pig, roan, sable, elephants and much else. The bird watching was just superb. 

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@Caracal yes I can relate!  We had plans to fly onward to Lake Malawi after a safari in Botswana but had to quickly make alternative plans and rent a car (I suppose we were lucky to get one with everyone having to scramble) and since we were to wind up in Cape Town after Malawi decided to drive and divert off to see as much of the Garden Route as we could....turns out South Africa is a huge country and the driving distances seemed to take us much longer than it appeared on a map but we did have an adventure and were lucky I guess :D


@optig I agree --- the river was one of the most beautiful I've been on in Africa and the wildlife was plentiful if not as diverse as other parks.  Looks like they are taking steps to repopulate the wildlife and African Parks as you know does an amazing job at protecting and enhancing these sanctuaries...birders would be in heaven I'm sure!

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Very interesting report Joel, thanks for diving into your archives. I particularly love the river shots with all the palms in the background - beautiful. And look at all those African Skimmers in "Croc Country", fantastic! Sable and Roan are always a draw for me as well.

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We departed in the a.m. but not before that nostril blast from the crocodiles in the small lagoon off the back of the room, mating time again!   Next stop was to reach Mumbo Island off the southern coast of Lake Malawi.  We crossed the beautiful Shire River one last time and made our way north through village after village.  Children ran and waved, many playfully showing off their karate moves...Bruce Lee must be big here :D  More stores:  Philadelphia Tuck Shop, Slow But Sure Min Shop, Toy R Us with the carved wooden trucks and cars...


We had decided to kayak to the island from Cape McClear which seemed doable...I'm no pro but I've certainly paddled a kayak on a number of occasions...but while my notes say the swells were 3', I suspect they were actually much less --- my pride was showing even in my journal which no one reads but me --- at any rate, after ten minutes of paddling the swells of Lake Malawi, my dad and I capsized clinging to the kayak until the boat with our luggage reaches us for the rescue....two French ladies help pull my dad onto the deck like a tuna,  he's soggy dead weight.  Having determined that is must be him that was the cause of my kayaking woes, I got back in the kayak but called for the rescue myself not long after---what was I trying to prove?  :D  Wasn't much fun watching the luggage boat chugging toward the island without me!


The water of Lake Malawi is gin clear with hundreds of unique species of cichlids (700 species in fact) swimming around the rocks and boulders.  We arrived at Mumbo Island and it is very much like something Robnison Crusoe would have put together.   Planks and boardwalks and thatched huts scattered between the boulders with beautiful views of the lake all around.  The plan was to snorkel and swim and kayak and relax.  Some of the kayaking and snorkeling areas were cut off from us.  The family that had left Mvuu a day or to before us were now at Mumbo and they had been kayaking amongst the boulders and caves when they entered a narrow cave and surprised a crocodile!  The staff said it's rare but sometimes a croc will ride a floating island of vegetation and wind up staying for a while...



Getting ready to leave from Cape McClear (apparently I have a very punchable face as the kids were in karate kid mode:



Pics of Mumbo Camp:



Our hut:


Room with a view:



Sunset cruise:


I tried my hand at sleeping in the hammock the nights we were there---it worked out great, but one of the nights the wind picked up and I had to seek shelter indoors :D




By Moonlight:



We did spot an otter swimming about in the little bay at Mumbo so it was not without adding a new species to my list---most likely the spotted necked otter!  

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Thanks @michael-ibk my photography game has improved (a little) since this trip but you would make it look a lot better with your photography skills---it's a beautiful place for sure!

So of course we had a way too early departure from Mumbo to reach Monkey Bay and the MV Ilala which was supposed to arrive at 9A --- we were forewarned that the Ilala has a pre-set schedule but rarely follows it.  It is the main cargo and transport around the lake.  Wikipedia describes it like this:

MV Ilala, formally Ilala II,[1] is a motor ship that has plied Lake Malawi in East Africa since 1951.[2] She is operated by Malawi Lake Services and based in Monkey Bay, Malawi (on the southern end of the lake);[2] every week she crosses the lake all the way north to Chilumba, Malawi, near Tanzania (about 300 miles (480 km) from Monkey Bay)[2] and then returns to Monkey Bay. She carries both passengers and freight, and calls at major towns on both the Malawian and Mozambican coast, as well as at the two inhabited islands of the lake (Likoma and Chizumulu). While the ship is often late (reportedly by as much as 24 hours or more)[3] and has sometimes broken down[4] she remains the most important means of long-distance transport for the people living on the coast of the lake.[2] She is 172 feet (52 m) long overall, has a gross tonnage of 620 tons and can accommodate up to 365 passengers and 100 tons of cargo.[5][6]


We were supposed to depart at 9A but that turned into 11:30A which wasn't bad to tell the truth  The people were the easy part but loading of the cargo which included produce, bags of feed, small boats...they waited until it was all on board.  We had rented a small cabin which was actually plain, simple but clean.  we were on the front of the boat with some windows.  It had its own bathroom.  But the action was really on the top deck.  That's where many back packers soaked in the sun and drank beer from the bar and slept.


We hung out there too, met some of the other passengers and watched the world go by on the lake.  I loved it.  Things got busy when we would would reach a "port" most with no dock.  The small boats would usher passengers and cargo to and from the shoreline.  The food was fine, chicken, rice, beef...


 But first a shot of dad having been pulled out of Lake Malawi from our kayaks :D



Now from the MV Ilala---not exactly a cruise ship :D:

1934170_12505043487_6506_n.jpg.a56fdd990b97342666069ba0388eaad1.jpg1934170_12504893487_3872_n.jpg.0937cb201571f38a9bf3e99f524aa499.jpgoutside our room window:908573003_MalawiMad425.jpg.c7f37e0bd4447187c3d3e2f4beca6d65.jpg165952223_MalawiMad258.jpg.e77829dc9f3c3a6e8166c353354e00df.jpg1011879314_MalawiMad424.jpg.01c8617b405687270572bbb2f33fc2b9.jpg



The locals are friendly and smiling.  DO you have a business they ask?  One shirt read "Get Rich or Die Trying"...Warm Heart of Africa indeed...1934170_12504293487_5850_n.jpg.6559f8dc235bb94571a999a38e4a971e.jpg


The upstairs is partially covered and has a bar---quite a pleasant place to wile away the time---backpackers and characters of all sorts---one traveler opines he had lost his wife last night and proceeded to get blotto.  The barback and crew surrounded him with his luggage so he would not roll off the deck.  "Safety is very important" they tell me..."He is our friend"...it was nice to know they cared for strangers...the traveller was off on the first small boat to shore when we reach Mozambique WITH his wife...so the story had a good ending...the back packers get very territorial about the best chairs and seating -- you snooze you lose up here as it's survival of the fittest...




One traveller brought her Jack Russell named Tank aboard:1338634724_MalawiMad413.jpg.de1f0f8c12c042f3727653c3ff844d8e.jpg


The Ilala would stop and load up intermittently---one of the last Malawi ports loaded up with a bumper crop of grain, fisherman and their dugout boats covered the decks below.  It was chaotic and of course fascinating...I could only assume we were getting way off schedule...our first stop in Mozambique:



The night shift of bar matees:



We arrived at Likoma Island in the middle of the night (about 2A) which is hours late---Likoma is about mid lake toward the Mozambiquan side--- half awake, crawling over bags of grain, and  produce and squeezing through a tunnel of people, it was dark below, and the displaced people were a bit grumpy, but there was no other way off the ship----we arrived --- a motor boat swirled us away from the Ilala and took us around the dark island under a bevy of stars and the shimmer of moonlight its warm but comfortable--- a shooting star streaks low in the sky---I try to take it all in...I really enjoyed the time aboard the Ilala---the thrum of the engine plying the lake, the beautiful lakeshore and villages.  I loved it all...


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It's Saturday night and I have some time to wrap this TR up :D


According to Wikipedia again:  Likoma Island is the larger of two inhabited islands in Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa), in East Africa, the smaller being the nearby Chizumulu. Likoma and Chizumulu both belong to Malawi, and together they make up the Likoma District. Although both islands lie just a few kilometres from Mozambique, and are entirely surrounded by Mozambican territorial waters, they are both exclaves of Malawi.


There are two inhabited islands in Lake Malawi and Likoma aka "The Isle of Baobab" is one of them.  We awoke the next morning to villagers washing pots on the lake shore, children bathing, playing soccer on the beach, smiling and waving---still not jaded by the tourists...the cottages at Kaya Mawa are quirky, each one different.  We ate breakfast on one of the little atolls connected to the mainland by raised walkways...banana pancakes, eggs, banana muffins...one of our meals was fish wrapped in banana leaves, delicious and fresh.


We began to explore the island which you can use bikes or take a boat into town.  We visited St Peter's Cathedral which was just letting out the service.  After the Lord's Supper, we were able to climb to the top, and tour the sanctuary.  The cross is said to be made from the tree under which Livingstone died.  A very enthusiastic and spry old man showed us around proudly --- even at 65, he climbed the stairs like a much younger man.


We ate lunch at a place called the Food Clinic and explored more of the village.  The rest of the time on the island we swam and snorkeled.  Water sport activities are available. And generally enjoyed the easy island life in the "Warm Heart of Africa"....we definitely agreed with the slogan...


Kaya Mawa was quite the charming place and I loved that the villagers were not cordoned off but used the beach as their own as it should be...dad in the door way---he appreicated there were two rooms so he got  a break from my snoring :D probably the first good night of sleep he had since the trip began!


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St Peter's

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Our stay at the baobab island was over but the warm memories live on :)



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Don't you wonder what all those children are doing today?


Very tropical feel.  Your scenery shots rival the wildlife.  That sunset (rise?) shot in #8 is gorgeous.  The moon in #6 is a great shot too.   I love the various signs for business along the side of the road too. Funny "Safety is very important" tale to demonstrate the "Warm Heart of Africa."  Thanks for sharing and I bet it seems like you took the trip just a few years ago, not 12.


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@Atravelynn  yes it's fun to go back through the journal, try to decipher my own horrible handwriting and piece it back together as best I can :D

it does bring a lot of it back and refresh the memory.  Liwonde was a beautiful park (there are some drone shots on the ATR website that really show it off) and with African Parks reintroducing lion and cheetah and better protection for rhino, the future of the park looks very bright....then there's this spectacular rift valley lake to the north...a Malawi holiday is really a great option if you've explored the more traditional safari areas and want something a little different.  We really enjoyed the cultural part of it --- so many times you go to Africa and don;t get the chance to be around many Africans which seems odd...I'm sure a "messy" tourist is not uncommon on the Ilala so it was nice to see the dutiful concern by the staff to not have anyone roll off the top deck into Lake Malawi never to be seen again :D


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@gatoratlarge I will without a doubt return to Malawi, especially since it will combine soon well with my next visit to Zambia. I want to visit Majete National park. and Nkhotatakota game preserve, They both have good lodges now.

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Thanks so much for delving back to post this @gatoratlarge, the "mouse kebabs" picture had me hooked from the start :D.


Your impressions of Liwonde tie in so well with ours, its a wonderfully picturesque park and "messing about on the river" is such a pleasant way to while away the hours - It would be nice to think that our wire-tailed swallow was a descendent of yours.


As well as the places we visited, it was great to read your account of your trip on the MV Ilala and at Likoma Island and Kaya Mawa, places we didn't visit but look equally fascinating,. With all the re-introductions that AP are carrying out it's making Malawi so much more of a destination to visit in it's own right and not just as an add-on to Zambia.

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On 6/14/2019 at 5:42 PM, gatoratlarge said:


Road side snacks in Malawi are quite different thank pulling over to a Stuckey's for a pecan log!




Holy God!  


I’m betting a lot of readers don’t even know what you’re talking about, but as a kid growing up in the USA in the 1970s, that one line immediately brought back so many memories.


The annual summer family road trip (being from Texas, we usually went to Colorado); the games our parents invented for us (you kids shut up, and whoever spots the most out-of-state license plates wins — you’ve got 2 hours); and the inevitable stop at every Stuckey’s along the way (clean bathroom for Mom, a styrofoam cup of 5-hour old scorched coffee for Dad, and candy galore for the kids and their parents who were too worn out and road-weary to say “no.”   


And the pecan log was the holy grail of them all — my 11-year old self is totally envious, because my parents were never too exhausted to succumb. 


Great report.  What an adventure. 


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Ha!! That is really funny---yes I wasn't sure anyone would get the reference---wasn't sure it wasn't just a "southern thing" :D and your summer family vacations sound like our family with dad driving, his arm flailing around into the back seat trying to swat me and my brother who were constantly agitating each other---windows rolled down, stifling heat---what fun! :D




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What's really funny is that I never even thought about readers NOT getting the reference to Stuckey's and the pecan log.

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@AfricIan  i wouldn't exactly call them great (pecan logs) but it was something to look forward to when on a monotonous road trip or family vacation----Stuckey's seemed to reach its zenith in the 1970's and then went out of vogue though it looks like they're making a small comeback---probably more than you ever wanted to know :D





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@gatoratlarge and @Alexander33 - you made me laugh out loud.  


As a fellow southern boy who grew up in the 1970s,  I too was treated to a stop at Stuckey's on special occasions. 


Some of my older relatives went there for fireworks, but I always looked forward to Chick-O-Sticks!



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On 6/21/2019 at 2:35 PM, offshorebirder said:

@gatoratlarge and @Alexander33 - you made me laugh out loud.  


As a fellow southern boy who grew up in the 1970s,  I too was treated to a stop at Stuckey's on special occasions. 


Some of my older relatives went there for fireworks, but I always looked forward to Chick-O-Sticks!



Now the Chick-o-Sticks are beyond me.

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On 6/21/2019 at 1:35 PM, offshorebirder said:

Some of my older relatives went there for fireworks, but I always looked forward to Chick-O-Sticks!

Can't believe I've found a fellow chick-o-stick fan on ST. 

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Thanks for reaching back in time a bit @gatoratlargeto post this.  A great trip report and putting Malawi back on the map for me.  Also interesting to look at your photography skills then and now (which are amazing).  I guess there is still hope for me.

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@kilopascal thanks very much---I have friends say flattering things about my pics from time to time, but I tell them that I get pretty impressed sometimes myself but that a visit to this website quickly humbles me----there are different levels for sure and some of the folks (quite a few on here) are truly fantastic photographers, amateur only in that they don't make a living from taking pictures but the quality is every bit as good as the pros....it's incredible really... I'm not sure I'll ever make the jump from a "bridge" camera to the giant lenses that provide the clarity that I see from some on here.  It's tempting but I think I'll have to be satisfied with not ever getting to that level :D


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  • 3 weeks later...

Great little report on a very beautiful little country @gatoratlarge. I didn't do anything safari related there way back in 2002 but you're pictures capture the vibe of what really is the friendliest country I've ever seen. Definitely thinking of a return soon and I agree that the only way to see Malawi is a road trip.

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  • 1 month later...
On 6/15/2019 at 12:42 AM, gatoratlarge said:



@gatoratlarge for a moment I was like: "Omg, that's a giant warthog!" But then I realized it was a hippo grazing :D


A TR from a 2007 trip. That's 3 years before my first safari ever. Thanks for sharing this, even after so many years. Nice to see all the non-safari pics as well. I also prefer to travel over land. Your pics give a good picture how the people are and live. Would love to discover this country on a 3 weeks trip one day :)

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