In 1859, venerated Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone saw in Malawi a “lake of stars”. In this encounter with our Lilongwe Bureau Chief SAMUEL CHUNGA, a tourist from Oman unravels the astonishing beauty of a hidden bright star.
Malawi has outstanding natural must-see sites for adventure-seekers worldwide.
This is the first impression of Maher Albarwani, from Oman.
In a first, the soft-spoken tourist on a motorcycle recently spent over a week in the country on a trail-blazing tour of least 40 countries in Africa, Europe and Asia by 2020.
“I have fallen in love with Malawi,” he declares having been to nine countries in 19 months. “Very few countries can beat Malawi in terms of the natural beauty of sites, the good climate, peace and-on top of everything-the friendly people.”
But he urges players in the tourism sector to aggressively market the country globally and build more resorts.
He reckons millions of tourists would flock to the Warm Heart of Africa if they were informed of a small bit of its astonishing tourist attractions.
“Malawi is a bright star, but very little about its lustre is known to the world. Something must be done to utilise the country’s tourism potential,” says the biker from south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula
Albarwani seems determined to put Malawi on the world map after being pleasantly surprised by the stunning weather, sights Malawians’ warmth.
He states: “My main goal on this tour is to make the world know and better appreciate the Sultanate of Oman, a country few people know about despite its beauty and wonderful and peaceful people.
“So, Oman and Malawi have much in common and I want to play a part in helping to forge better relations between the two countries’ governments and peoples,” he adds.
Very few tourists have enough credentials to challenge Albarwani’s virtual gut assessment. Since the start of his voyage on July 22 last year, he has clocked just over 28 000 kilometres across the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
Last week, he left his 270-kilometre-per-hour motorcycle in Lilongwe and flew home to reunite with his wife Bahja and daughters-Remass, 8, and Amal, 5, for Christmas and New Year festivities.
“My wife and children are the pillar of my support. They have sacrificed much by allowing me to undertake my vision. But they will feel proud as history will acknowledge me as the first Omani to be on his country’s special charm offensive with the world,” he says.
While home, he intends to buy some motorcycle spares for the motorcycle which had suffered some wear and tear-and it required replacement of both tyres once.
When the motorcyclist returns to resume his trip, he will speed off to Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Nambia, Angola and Congo.
He also wants to visit Cameroon, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Jordan on his way home via Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE.
He picks the breakdown he experienced at Kabanga Border Post between Tanzania and Burundi as the worst setback so far.
“I had heard much about Tanzania and I was excited to enter the country, but my bike’s rear suspension collapsed. It took me 10 days to fix it,” recalls the traveller.
The youthful engineer normally repairs it singlehandedly having grown up assisting and watching his father run a busy garage.
But Tanzania proved a high point of his tour after he received a government minister’s sponsorship to fulfill his goal of reaching the peak of Africa’s tallest mountain.
“I made it on October 6 this year and the climax was my lifting the Omani flag on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s a memory I will cherish the rest of my life,” he enthuses.
He urges Malawi to learn from Tanzania on how to “aggressively and creatively market” tourist attractions. Malawi must open its door to the world by putting in place user-friendly laws, affordable visa fees and a road network with broader shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians.
But Albarwani is happy that reforms positioning tourism as a major source of forex have already kicked in.
He testifies that apart from being wowed by stunning physical features, immigration and tourism officials went out of the way to make him and other foreign visitors feel at home.
“I felt particularly special when the whole Minister of Tourism [Francis Kasaila] took time out from a session in Parliament to meet me, as soon as principal secretary Dr Ken Ndala informed him that I was in the country.
“The world has already known, though my busy social media platforms, about such special hospitality visitors may enjoy in Malawi,” states the traveller who has over 15 500 followers online.
Bagging bragging rights all the way, does he have any wish?
Oh yes” he roars. “I wish I could meet the President to personally tell him how privileged he is to be leading this special gem of a country! A photo opportunity with him would complement the book and marketing write-ups I will be sharing while touting destination Malawi.”n