Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chitimba Beach to Likoma Island, Malawi . . . "Happy Birthday Phil"

After speeding through Zambia, the plan was to spend 3 to 4 weeks in Malawi, starting with the Lake. When Livingstone first saw the huge expanse of water in Malawi in 1859 he asked his local guides what they call it. They replied "nyasa". Livingstone promptly declared it "Lake Nyasa", presumably not knowing that "nyasa" meant "lake". Now it is simply known as Lake Malawi.

Lake Malawi is a huge expanse of crystal clear fresh water lined with amazing beaches. We arrived at a place called Chitimba beach and quickly realized that we should spend at least a few weeks on the Lake. We made a quick stop at Livingstonia, a picturesque old mission village on the top of a mountain plateau, and decided to head straight for the tiny island of Chizimulu.

Just about the only way to get to Chizimulu is on the Ilala – an ancient ferry that carries passengers and cargo slowly up and down the Lake. So we jumped on board with hundreds of others at midnight on a Sunday night. About 24 hours later the Ilala cruised towards Chizimulu, passed the bay where it was supposed to stop and crashed into the shore. Almost simultaneously it started to pour with rain. Rumours abound as to exactly what the captain was doing when the ferry ran aground. I am not one to spread malicious gossip, but I can say that it is generally believed he was below deck engaged in non-nautical activities.

I was slightly panicked that the ferry would sink until Phil reminded me that as it had run aground we could probably jump onto land from deck. However, as the ferry had crashed on part of the island that was nowhere near our accommodation, we decided to accept the offer of some local fishermen to paddle us around to the backpackers’ place where we planned to stay. Along with some fellow backpackers, we abandoned ship, piled into the small, wobbly row boat and proceeded to bail out water as the fishermen paddled. It was about 2am by that time and as the now lopsided ferry’s lights faded into the distance we found ourselves in complete darkness. Luckily our rescuers somehow knew where they were heading and we were having a drink with the owner of the backpackers’ place by 3am. Very happy to be on dry land again.

Our stay in Chizimulu was much less dramatic that our arrival and we kept ourselves busy doing nothing: reading, playing cards, diving (Phil) and snorkeling (me). After a few days we decided to visit Chizimulu’s neighbouring island, Likoma. We wanted to take a local sail boat or ‘dhow’ (not ‘dahl’ as I thought they were called before being corrected by Phil) across to Likoma, in preference to a 30 minute ride in a speed boat. Perhaps not a great decision, we were crammed into the dhow with the Chizimulu football team and, in the absence of wind, three men started to valiantly paddle across the Lake. Six hours later we arrived at Likoma, a mere 11kms away.

We got to Likoma a few days before Phil’s birthday and after spending a couple of nights at a backpackers’ place, we upgraded to Kaya Mawa’s luxurious but ‘eco friendly’ cabins on the beach to celebrate Phil's birthday. The owner of Kaya Mawa (which means “maybe tomorrow”) kindly gave us the ‘honey moon’ cabin which is on its own islet. Very beautiful.

Phil didn’t really experience the 40th he would have in Australia or London but we did celebrate with appropriate quantities of good food and wine. Celebrations were helped along after dinner when we joined the owner and a friend who were also celebrating a birthday. Who knew that one could play so many drinking games with flaming zambucca? Who knew that one would still be interested in drinking games after the age of 30? Anyway, a lot of fun was had by all. I have a burn mark to prove it.

Phil is now 40 but he still looks ten years younger and seems the same to me. I should note that there has been some evidence of occasional hearing loss . . .

(eg. Tomato seller: Hello. How are you sir?
Phil: Fine thanks.
Tomato seller: And how is home?
Phil: How is Rome?)

. . . and some clumsiness (he dropped both our mobile phone and my digital camera into the Lake on separate occasions) . . . but I am sure many would argue that he displayed both these traits prior to his 40th.

After a few days on Likoma Island, more diving and some canoeing, we sadly said goodbye to Kaya Mawa and made our way back to the Malawian mainland. This time we took a speed boat.

So we are half way through Malawi and about half way through our African trip. We have zigzagged our way through southern Africa travelling close to 15,000 km so far.

More on the rest of Malawi next. Hopefully I will be able to post the next entry in a week but internet access continues to be problematic so it could be longer.

PS- We bought a cheap mobile phone to replace the one that Phil drowned and can be contacted on Phil’s UK mobile number if anyone wants to reach us. Text messages are probably the best option.


Blogger Nic said...

Likoma Island is definitely at the top of my list of African Island.

4:45 PM  

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