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Face to face with awesome wildlife in Malawi – the warm heart of Africa

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I only wanted a photo of the gigantic crocodile skulking by the bank of the Shire River, but it looked like it wanted a snap of me too as it stretched open those huge jaws

BY MALCOLM TATTERSALL

I ONLY wanted a photo of the gigantic crocodile skulking by the bank of the Shire River.

But it looked like it wanted a snap of me too as it stretched open those huge jaws.

Up to that point, everybody had been friendly in this landlocked African country — they don’t call Malawi “the warm heart of Africa” for nothing.

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My heart sank when I first flew into the colonial-style Blantyre airport and picked up the local paper. Two stories leapt out from the front page. The first told how farmers were suffering after an abnormally dry summer.

The second warned that the country was about to be hit by a deluge of rain, which wasn’t due to stop until the day my trip ended.

Fortunately, Malawi weathermen are no more accurate than our own Michael “there’ll be no hurricane” Fish and his chums.

So it didn’t quite rain every day. But you don’t come to Africa to sunbathe by the pool for a week.

It’s supposed to be an adventure. And in Malawi that’s exactly what you get.

Despite my brush with the croc, you DMeaslpawitei mthyat’sbruesxhactwlyith wthhaet cyroouc ygoeu wouldn’t want to miss a safari in Liwonde, with its lions, hippos, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and countless other creatures — especially as this was safari luxury-style.

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My “tent” at Mvuu Lodge had a bath carved out of stone and two showers — one a rain shower open to the elements — and was more luxurious than many top hotels I’ve stayed in. Instead of a phone to summon room service, there was a nativestyle drum.

Crawl out of bed in the morning, give it the same number of bangs as your tent number and within minutes a waiter is outside with a steaming pot of tea.

After breakfast it’s off to see the animals, either in a 4×4 vehicle with one of the rangers, or sailing down the Shire, where I encountered my crocodile chum.

Come dusk there is a special sundowner drive out into the bush, where you can sip gin and tonics while watching the huge orange sun slip behind the trees across the river.

Then, back in the open-sided, thatched-roof restaurant, it’s time to compare notes with other visitors while tucking into a dinner so delicious you forget you are in the middle of the African wilderness.

Chef Kezias’s food is presented so artistically it wouldn’t disgrace some Michelinstar restaurants. The wine’s not bad either — and at £1 a glass, a heck of a lot cheaper.

But Malawi, which was called Nyasaland before independence in 1964, isn’t all about safaris and animal-spotting.

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