Already we seem to be more on a backpacker trail here, as the place is full of young people. We take a Taxi to the Axa Luxury Bus terminal, where tickets come on sale at 11:00 precisely, and not a moment before,, so the lady in the ticket booth tells C. C queues again, reaching the booth at 11am, but still she is told that they are not yet on sale. The woman behind the counter is going by her watch, and not by ours, or the clock in the bus terminal. Eventually, we are able to make our purchase, and are told it is free seating on the bus. Outside, we wait in the sun, buying some provisions for the journey from the street sellers. The bus arrives and it's very busy. C manages to get a seat as E loads the bags into the back. Onboard, E has to wait for a seat, which becomes available after half an hour ('Luxury' bus indeed!) We pass through pine trees on a plateau and reach the town of Mzuzu by sundown and find there are no further cabs for the 1 hour journey to Nkata Bay. We manage to negotiate a shared cab and head to an ATM. The ATM seems to be rebooting at the time E puts his card in, which is duely swallowed. Pffff. But in a reversal of fortune a lady appears who works at the bank. She takes E's passport and enters the back of the closed bank, coming out 3 minutes later with the card.
We reach the hostel called Mayoka Village in Nkata Bay on the edge of Lake Malawi sometime after 7pm, and have a wonderful dinner of homemade pie. Our hut is delightful, and sits on stilts looking directly out on the water.
The next days are spent swimming in the lake, and taking a hike along the coast through villages to small secluded beaches. The water is crystal clear and a deep blue. The sun is hot.
The ferry boat called the Ilala which normally runs on the lake is out of action as it is getting new engines fitted, and there are numerous rumours as to when it will be back, ranging from a month to 6 months. It's a very sore point as it is having a huge impact on tourism at the places that are harder to reach. Smaller boats now ply their trade ferrying passengers and cargo to and from the islands of Chizamulu and Likoma, and up north to Ruware. We get ourselves aboard one of these boats, the Malungo (which means 'Malaria' in the local language...do we really want to catch this?!), and depart nearly on time, just 1 hour later. We sit on a top deck and head out onto the lake, which is calm and flat. In 4 hours or so we see the island of Chizimulu, and as we approach a small boat comes out to meet us. Aki helps us swap boats and we arrive at a small jetty by a sandy beach with landscaped paths and palm trees. We meet the owner English owner Nick and barman William, and enjoy a drink in the Wakwenda Retreat bar, which is built on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay. It is perfect for sunset.
We spend the next days exploring the island, walking over the top of the hill, passed fields of cassava. From the far side of the hill there is a great view down over the island to the mainland of Mozambique.
We also walk the coastline around the island, through the village and try out our few greetings in the local Tonga language. At the beach we see a baby goat that is but a few minutes old, taking its first wobbly steps by its mother. The locals are very friendly and engaging. We meet William by the empty market and join him for some of the local beer that has been brewed from maize on the island. It is similar to the banana beer and choya of Tanzania. It's sweet, thick and fairly strong stuff. We chat and hear that the main source of income on the island is fishing. With the Ilala ferry out of commission, the islanders rely on the small boats not only to bring supplies from the mainland, but also to take the crates of fish (Usipa) to the markets on the mainland. Sometimes the boats are too full to take all the produce, which has to remain on the beach until the next boat arrives.
Dinner in the evening is a delicious fish from the lake called Kampango, which is served as a filet, and in this case given a Japanese twist by Aki and his wife Mika.
The following day we take the small boat called the Lamani to Likoma island. Joining us on board is Elke, a lady from Germany. Also onboard is an Englishman called Chris who happens to run a new lodge on Likoma called Ulisia Bay Lodge, and has some very good deals. The journey is about an hour to the bigger island of Likoma, which is only 45 minutes or so by boat to the Mozambique coastline. The bungalow we have is right on the beach, and pristinely new! A short stroll takes us to the bar and restaurant with a veranda looking out to Chizzi island over which the sun sets.
Like Chizumulu island, Likoma is also very untouristy. There are no tourist shops, or touts trying to sell guided tours. There are few tourists it seems as the main ferry is out of action.
Walking on the island we reach the town and see the amazing cathedral, with its corrugated metal roof. In town we meet Lester who is a local volunteer teacher, giving free lessons on plate tectonics. He invites us into his makeshift open air classroom for a brief lesson, and it is just that, within 2 minutes he has sped through the technicalities of continental shift. We then seek out the Immigration officer to investigate the possibility of going to Mozambique from Likoma, as we are so close by. We meet him at his house where he has just had lunch, and it seems we have met him before, last night at the bar of the lodge where ewe are staying!
Later we chat with Elke and other guests under the stars and crescent moon which slowly descends growing orange in hue. C has a local beer, called Kuche Kuche, and E a red wine, most decadent!
The next day we are invited by the owner Chris to join on a boat ride down to another lodge on the island called Mango Drift where he is going for lunch with his daughter who is visiting from the UK.
Elke also joins us and it's a lovely ride down along the coast line, passing small bays and villages, and baobab trees in which we spot a fish eagle. At Mango Drift there is a circular bar on the beach, and it looks a very laid back place! We snorkle and have a drink. Back at our lodge in the evening we play cards and Elke teaches us the rules to Canasta which we have both no played for years.
As we near the end of the week, we plan to return to the mainland by boat, and not go over the border to Mozambique yet. The morning we take the boat, the wind has got right up, and there's a pretty big swell. We are on the smaller of the two boats leaving the island, and the crossing to Chizimulu island is rough. The boat is full of people and produce and on reaching Chizzi, we both decide that we don't want to spend another 5 hours on it, so when we see Aki with the boat bringing people from the lodge, we hop aboard and are soon greatfully on shore. A mixture of the rolling water and the larium malaria pills taken that day have made E particularly queezy, and he sleeps for the afternoon. The next day we take a boat to the mainland, which leaves in the afternoon. The captain calls for some of the already loaded produce to be unloaded from the boat as it is too full. This is a good sign! On the lake the sun sets and the stars come out, and the engine stops....it takes 20 minutes before it's going again, by which time we have drifted in a circle on the calm lake. There then follows a discussion amongst all aboard as to which way is land! We can see the Southern Cross constellation and we're soon back on track.
We arrive back in to Nkarta Bay after 9pm, and make our way to a backpackers where they open the bar for us.