Tuesday, December 21, 2010

North to Nkhata Bay - Malawi

Hi all, I am now in Zanzibar so it is time to recap on my last few weeks in Malawi. I left Monkey Bay on the Ilala - a 50 year old ferry that does the lake run from Monkey Bay to Chilumba in the North. I decided not to take a cabin as the prices were pretty high and I had my sleeping bag for dozing on the deck. At first the ship was not too full and the weather was good for nearly the whole trip. When we arrived at Nkhotakota the ferry was unable to dock due to a build-up of sand by the jetty. The lifeboats were lowered to ferry people to and from the shore and small boats from the beach came out to join the madness.

Soon the boat was significantly fuller with people, huge boxes of fish, a bed and two sofas. After about five hours we were off again to repeat the process at the next port on the coast of Mozambique where this time the transfers were done in darkness. The top deck was never too busy however so it was easy enough to sleep and I was woken up by the sunshine slowly roasting me on day two of the boat trip. Food was the usual Malawian fare of either chicken, beef or fish with a choice of rice, chips or nsima and prices were reasonable. We stopped at two islands in the lake - Likoma and Chizumulu - that are Malawian although they sit on the Mozambique side of the lake and then it was time for the final stretch to Nkhata Bay. We docked at a jetty this time and I soon found my way to 'Big Blue Star' backpackers and booked my dorm bed for 700 Malawian Kwacha (4-5 dollars).

The next day I went exploring and soon found that counter to all the advice I had found, there were actually banks with ATMs in the town. Walking in town was a riot of colour activity as it was market day with people selling all sorts of clothes and grains as well as the usual fare of mangos, drinks, Usipa (small fish a bit like whitebait) and Batala or Butterfish as many know it. I found the dive centre 'Aqua Africa' and booked myself in for the PADI open water course starting the next week having recently met Jakob from Germany who was travelling with his Polish girlfriend Ola and was in the middle of doing the course himself. The dive instructor was a Canadian called Rob being assisted by Sam, an English dive master in training.

Having completed my 'work' it was time to settle down for some well earned relaxation so the next few days were spent meeting travellers and locals, and checking out the bars in the area as well as finding out which places had the sattelite channels for watching football. On the Friday I had a bit of a shock as I ran a fever all night and was sweating heavily for an hour followed by some intense shivering the next. This continued all night and by morning I was asking the advice of Sarah the proprietor who figured she had malaria and I was suffering from the same. That day was better but I found myself lethargic to a degree I have never before experienced. I wandered over to the hospital but it appeared there was no-one who could help me that day so a return to Big Blue was on the cards where I munched on some mangos and practised my Bau game. That evening was similar to the last as regards the fever so the next day an American Peace Corps worker called Greg recommended I head over to a nearby private clinic. Once there the test came up negative but I was advised that my anti malarial drugs could be masking it. Regardless, the doctor asked me to leave it one more day after which he could get me what I needed to treat it. I had another non-day at Big Blue where the only excitement was when a crocodile decided to swim by on it's way south prompting a mass exodus from the water as people realised. I asked around and it appeared that it was the first croc spotted in the area for many years.
The next day was much better and while still tired I regained my appetite somewhat making me very glad as the dive course was due to start the next day. Thanks mum and dad for the genes, as if it was malaria I appear to have kicked it in record time!

On the Monday was dive day one so it was off to Aqua Africa where it turned out four other people had signed up - a couple from England, John Moon from the US and Bianca from Canada. Visibility was 7-8 metres and the lake water was a lovely 27 degrees. The week flew by and by Friday Bianca and I had decided to continue with the advanced course over the next week. Saturday evening was our first night dive with the couple who had been on our course. As part of the advanced course we did some navigation where you swim off in a direction counting fin kicks and using a compass for orientation - we did make it back but I have to say the few minutes where we could not see any torch light had me quite nervous. During the night dive we also did some pass throughs where the rocks formed small tunnels and we saw dolphin fish which are great fun.

They like to follow the torch beam and woe betide any cichlid that gets caught in your beam away from the shelter of the rocks as they get snapped right up. The next Monday the advanced course continued with our deep dive where we went to 30 metres and tested out the effects of nitrogen narcosis - this is when divers go past twenty four metres and generally results in the diver acting as if he/she is drunk. Obviously awareness of these effects is pretty important and I highly recommend NOT attempting maths problems at such depths! Other parts of the course included navigation, peak performance and buoyancy (swimming through hoops) and finally search and recovery which was fun and immensely satisfying when we found the anchor and returned it using a lift bag. Hey presto we are now advanced divers wooohooo!

After the course I moved into a friend's house in the bay - a simple afair with no electricity or running water where a new daily ritual evolved. First act of the day was filling our buckets with water from a tap at a nearby house, followed by going down to the lake for a wash and to say hi to everyone who would either be doing the same or washing clothes at the shore. Next came a trip to the shops in order to find fish, charcoal and any other necessities.

Then was the day's cook up generally consisting of Batala, nsima and some vegetables followed by a visit to Big Blue to see what was happening that day. Sagi, the Israeli barman at Big Blue told me one day that it was Chanuka so I nipped off to find some candles while he made a Chanukiya and Eshkar (an Israeli girl who also got stuck there) made Latkes!

I stuck around a little longer having switched from learning Chichewa to learning Chitonga - the main language of the villages around Nkhata Bay area. After four weeks at Nkhata Bay I finally decided I was settling in a little too much and the time came to move on up to Tanzania. A shared taxi got me to Mzuzu, the third biggest city in Malawi, followed by a bus up to Karonga and another shared taxi to the border. I arrived quite late and not finding any place to stay I wandered over to the border post even though I knew it was closed. There I was told by one of the security staff that I should cross the border anyway and come back in the morning to stamp out and get my visa. Being in need of a bed I did that and after a 200m walk taking me over the Songwe river I was finally in Tanzania.


  1. Wow! the adventures are getting more exciting by the minute. Post more pictures please.

  2. More pics coming soon :D Happy Chrimble all!