It doesn’t seem that long since I was in Nepal to run a marathon, and to do a few days of volunteer work. We’d worked with the local community of a remote village to dig trenches and lay water pipes to give them a reliable, clean water supply. Whilst voluntourism can be bad for communities, this was something we could be sure would make a positive difference. The organisers are good people and had done their research; afterwards they even produced a report of the impact this event had. It had been an amazing week with like-minded people who were there not just for the running, but for a new experience.
That had been the first event they’d organised, and I think they did a very successful job of it. They’d already started to expand the efforts to other countries. Of the places to choose from, Malawi was one which would fit in with my other plans for the year. There wouldn’t be anyone on this trip I already knew either, which meant as difficult as it can sometimes be, I knew I’d have to get to know other people. After booking, I had my doubts about whether it would be a good idea once I found how much effort is needed for their visa, and to get there.
The visa requirement is mostly standard, except for needing three months of recent bank statements. I wasn’t keen on this as statements include enough information for a bit of identity fraud. Their website also says that you can get the visa on arrival, and that you shouldn’t get it on arrival. A little contradictory. It also says that you need an appointment at the High Commission in order to get the visa, but one phone call later indicated this was wrong.
They wanted a covering letter, which is something I’ve not needed before, and didn’t know how to write. I found myself scouring the internet for tips before asking Impact Marathons what they recommend. The visa application also requires hotel confirmations. As I’d be staying in the athletes village there wasn’t exactly a booking confirmation. I’ve not been this stressed getting a visa since I went to Mongolia, but Impact Marathons were incredibly helpful (thanks Lisa!).
The Malawi High Commission only accept passport submissions on a Monday, and will allow it to be collected on Thursdays. Although they allow you to do it via post I didn’t want to risk this - I needed their confirmation my paperwork was okay, and couldn’t risk my passport getting lost in the post this close to the flight.
The flight to get to Malawi would be long - I’d have to overshoot Malawi and land in Johannesburg, just to fly a few hours back on a local airline to land in Lilongwe. I’d have liked to have spent some time exploring Malawi at the end, or maybe even a few days in Johannesburg, but after getting entry into the Chicago Marathon later in the year my time would be limited - just four full days even though with travel this would be an eight day trip.
I felt I could pack relatively light - I’d use the same travel pack I took to Morocco instead of using a suitcase. This would fit my race kit, and enough for a couple of days of training runs, along with day-to-day clothes and other requirements. My main concern was making sure I could get my travel tripod there and back safely so it was all about arranging the ziplock bags of clothes just right to maximise protection. The ziplock bags are a recent addition to my packing due to how much space they save. Everything else, except maybe my camera gear, would be minimal. I admit I’d still be packing two camera bodies and three lenses along with my iPad to use for writing,
Protecting my tripod wasn’t all I had in mind. After working my hands raw in Nepal I decided this time I’d pack a pair of old fingerless cycling gloves to use when working - the padding would help.
Travel vaccinations would normally be numerous for this trip, but staying up-to-date has its benefits. It meant I only needed a typhoid jab, but I’d be staying in an area with a high risk of malaria. I often get bitten by mosquitos, but here I’d need to be very careful to avoid them. I’d also need to take malarone anti-malaria tablets with me just like when I visited Kenya and Tanzania. My main issue would be when running - I figured mosquito repellent bands would be worth a try in addition to high strength diethyltoluamide - more commonly known as deet. It’s useful I’d learnt a bit from my previous African trip.
With everything sorted the doubts washed away, and I started to look forward to this short adventure.