A Travellerspoint blog

Nkhata Bay, Chizumulu and Likoma islands on Lake Malawi

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.

Posted by bumble_bee 07:11 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Crossing the border to Malawi

n the morning we look for Forex to buy some Malawi Kwatcha, but come away empty handed. We find a shared taxi to take us to the border, and before long are on our way. Within 30 minutes we reach the boarder, and are surrounded by guys wanting to change money with us. We go through immigration and then change our Zambian Kwatcha for Malawian Kwatcha. We walk across noman's land to the Malawian Immigration where the visa is free!! We then take a taxi to the minibus stand and find a bus to Lilongwe. On the way we buy a new SIM card. We pass through several police checks, which are a feature of this country. Arriving into Lilongwe's minibus station has us on edge. It is swarming with people, and we see pickpockets in action. People looking into the minibus to see what is there, we close the windows. As we get out, a guy tries to open the front pocket of our small backpack, E shoves him out of the way, we grab our bags and seek shelter by a wall. We watch the same guy take something from a lady's bag and is gone, blending into the crowd. We ask where taxis are and quickly negotiate a price to take us to the backpackers. We feel we can relax once we reach our lodging, securing a bedded tent for the night. We then wander back into town for ATMs and the supermarket. Many children are begging for food, and money, and we as Muzungu are targeted. There is no beer for sale in the supermarkets. Carlesberg has a monopoly on selling beer here, but they are moving production to a new factory, and supplies have run out. Fortunately the hostel bar is well stocked with Carlesberg 'Greens' and 'Browns' (regular and 'Special Brew', though not the same potent brew found in the UK!) At the bar we meet Lee who has just finished working further north for 6 months, who is a wealth of knowledge about Malawi and we pick his brain.

Posted by bumble_bee 07:09 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

South Luangwa National Park

Rain? In the dry season? In Africa? Are you sure? Strange but true. Our plan after breakfast is to walk to town and find a minibus to take us to the town of Mfuwe and our lodge near the national park. In town we find a minibus with the help of a local guy, and board it at 09:30am. Over the next few hours we depart the town, and run errands before returning to the exact same spot. After the 4th time, we are convinced that the minibus will never take us out of the town. C then seeks out the guy we have paid our fare to, and demands alternative transport. We are swapped to a different van, in which we run further errands, and pack the minibus to the brim with goods and people. Our bags are tied securely at the open hatchback of the bus, while a bag of frozen meat lies on the seat infront of us. At 13:45 we set off from town and before long the road becomes unsealed. The rain we have had has already turned the dirt track into a muddy mess, and our driver, driving at speed, skids, slips and slides on the road. The paving of the road has been an ongoing project for over a decade, and when dry, the road is manageable, but in the wet, it's a different beast. We reach Mfuwe and unload most things, and they prepare to take us to our lodge. C's backpack is missing! It's no longer in the minibus. The driver makes a call, and locates the bag at a previous stop, and promises to deliver it next day. We struggle to reach the Wild Life Camp Lodge, and have to run back several times until we find a road that is not too rutted. Finally we arrive after another arduous day of travel. We are greeted by the owner Dora who is from Switzerland, and then taken to our hut, and then brought back by 4WD (no walking after dark at the camp, owing to all the wild animals) to the restaurant. We are seated with Wolfgang and Andrea from Germany and tuck into a 3 course dinner of soup, Shnitzel, and apple pie. (We have booked ourselves into an all inclusive 24 hour period, which includes meals and 2 game drives.)
We book a 5am alarm call to bring us for breakfast prior to the morning drive.

The nightwatchman wakes us at 05:15 and we are collected at 05:45, joining Wolfgang and Andrea for breakfast of cereals and toast, and hot ground coffee. Over E's shoulder an elephant has wandered into the camp, and stands in the fading darkenss. We are spellbound.
We board the converted landrover with 3 rows of high mounted seats and with our guide, BJ, we reach the gates of the park as the sunrises. At the bridge to the park we pass baboons, we see hippos in the water, and once in the park we soon see impala, waterbuck, puku, warthog, lion, vulture, lilac breasted roller, crocodile, more hippo, and fish eagle. We return about 11am and have an early lunch at 11:30am of delicious mousaka and salad. Then we wander back to our tented room, through the campsite and by the river front, watching the hippos in the water. Before our evening drive, we have afternoon tea. Back in the park we see giraffe, before a sundown beer at the riverside, looking down on the hippo and crocs. After dark we see hyena and leopard. The rush to see the leopard is abit of a frenzy as the 4WDs race with their spot lights to the location of the siting. The leopard, in the spotlight glare, seemed to lose some sense of the natural setting. He was, however, beautiful and so impressive, and we were slightly mesmerised and knew we were lucky to spot 3 different leopards that night. We return at 8pm, and greatfully sleep.

The following day is another early start and we leave for our morning walking tour. We are joined by 2 English medial students Martin and Amar. The walk with armed guard begins as we leave the vehicle and find ourselves close by to several giraffe. They look even taller from down here! We pass near elephant and waterbuck too. We are treated to a wealth of information from our guide James, including the detail of why hyena droppings are white in colour, owing to all the bones they eat.
We later board the 4WD again, and visit the river beach where lion are lazing in the sun, before seeing buffalo wading in a nearby lake. We return to camp for lunch and plan our next moves.
We arrange a shared taxi for tomorrow with Martin and Amar, and spend the rest of our time cooking at the campsite and watching the hippos and crocodiles in the river.

Next day we bid farewell to Wolfgang and Andrea and board our taxi, which is now a minibus. Here we go again, as the 'private' taxi looks to be becoming a shared taxi. We load up and zoom off. No rain for 2 days means the road is no longer a mudbath, and the driver puts his foot down. The poor girl in the back is soon throwing up as we career along the winding road. We all stay at a hotel in the middle of town, so it is easy to get transport in the morning. So ends our last night in Zambia.

Posted by bumble_bee 07:08 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Lusaka the Captial, Jungle Junction and Victoria Falls

After breakfast we wander into modern Lusaka town, consisting of walled compounds and luxurious shopping malls, both quite new to us since we reached the African continent. We use internet, ATM, etc. We are nearly knocked over by a slow reversing pickup. The pickup stops, asks where we are going and offers us a ride! We pass the mausoleum of the first President. Doesn't look too appealing. We are dropped outside the Dutch embassy, which happens to be opposite the Oriental Garden Restaurant with delicious Indian food! It costs us nearly USD 25 but we are very well fed and watered. We decide to shop around for a tent, since accommodation prices are much lower and our planned dates for visit to the Victoria Falls coincide with a National Holiday and high season because of a lunar rainbow. We contact Kim, a local with a tent on offer whom we met in Mutinondo, to see if the tent is still available for us to borrow. Since she is delayed with car problems, we are juggling our plans: lack of accommodation in Livingstone owing to the national holiday, waiting for tent yes/no and wondering about buses. We decide to wait a further day in Lusaka as we have a spare day in which we can get ourselves properly organised. E is still suffering with a nasty cold so no need to rush things. We have a beer at the Frog pub and are back at the backpackers for happy hour. Supper is pies we bought in the very expensive shopping mall! And they are really good pies, got to watch this, they are becoming addictive.

Next day we are waiting to hear from Kim if we can borrow a tent, and so decide to wander down the motorway of a road to one of the shopping malls to price up camping gear, and stumble across a bit of western culture as the cinema multiplex is showing a morning screening of the latest Batman film. In we trot and are the only people in it...we wonder if they will wait till it is full before starting the film, like they do with their buses!

The tents are too pricey, Kim says the tent is also not available, but then we contact again the accommodation in Livingstone (Jungle Junction) and it seems they have room after all.

Next day we take a bus to Livingstone which begins at 10am with the usual money requests to store our bags in the bus from the baggage handlers (we stand our ground and refuse, patiently repeating the price is included in the ticket costs), followed by a very loud young preacher blessing the bus and all of us inside, and continues with a bumpy ride where all and sundry falls from the overhead storage on to the unsuspecting passengers, and ends around 5:30pm arriving in Livingstone.

E quickly purchases some cold beers from the SPAR supermarket and we hop into the back of the waiting pickup truck that is taking us to Jungle Junction at Bovu Island which is about an hour further up the Zambezi river. We enjoy the ride, sitting on our packs facing the back of the truck, beer in hand, we leave town and pass through the edges of a national park, where we see giraffes. The sun sets, and the brilliant stars come out as we come off the main road on to a dirt track. 30 minutes later we are loading into a small canoe to make the final section of our journey to the island. We are paddled across the fast dark water under galaxy upon galaxy.
We are shown to our hut by Alice. It is a Fisherman's hut, located along several winding paths. We then gainfully join a small party of folks celebrating a 40th birthday, eat chicken 'n chips and have a few drinks.

The fisherman's hut walls that are waist high and then open to the roof, with open front. It's a cool morning and the fluttering of small birds on the low wall of the hut wakes us. The showers and toilets are outdoors, and are cleverly constructed. A wood burner is on the go for hot water for the showers. It's a beautiful place to walk around, following the paths in the sand that have been cut through the undergrowth. The communal areas are full of carved wooden posts built round large trees, and given bamboo and dry grass roofs. The bar overlooks the river. We breakfast by the water and watch for hippos and vervet monkeys. We walk along the island and take a leisurely day, with a plan to had back to Livingstone in the morning and visit the falls.

At 10am the following day we take a pickup back to Livingstone and check-in at the Jolly Boys hostel. In town we get some supplies (pies) and make a reservation on the bus to Lusaka leaving tomorrow afternoon. We then find a shared taxi to take us to the Falls. By midday we are entering the park. The man at the kiosk tells us about the walks and also about the baboons, who may try and take your bag as they look for food, and if they do, let them a) because they are wild animals with big teeth, and b) because they will run off down the valley with whatever they have taken. Wise words, which soon become a reality for us!
Inside, we soon reach the first viewing deck and the awesomeness of the falls presents itself; a wall of foam whiter than white and so much water thunderously cascading into the cavernous gorge below, behind a curtain of spray that covers us. Walking along the paths we reach a view of the bridge to Zimbabwe. Here C looks round to see a small hairy hand grasping the water cooler bag she is carrying on her shoulder. The hairy hand has a hairy arm attached, and a hairy body and a head with large teeth. She calmly turns releasing the cooler bag from her arm and the baboon gleefully scampers to the far side of the viewing deck with his prize. The cooler bag has been of great use to us as a carrier for water bottles, keeping them cool in the African days. We watch as with simian strength the baboon tears the bag to shreds, opens the bottle with a foot, pouring out the water and drinking some. A small crowd has gathered laughing and joking at our misfortune. A lady near the front turns to leave, and the baboon's hand reaches out and takes hold of her handbag, no doubt containing many important things. She lets out a shriek and begins pulling the bag, and a tug of war ensues. It is at this point that E & C turn from the scene with hidden smiles and wander off.
Later we follow a path down to the riverside at the base of the gorge. The path leads us through thick undergrowth heavily populated with baboon tribes. From our right comes a terrible high pitched scream and violent thrashing of branches in the trees. Out of the bush race several baboons in a wild and fervent state, tearing down the valley towards the path, stopping at the edge to scream at each other. The path is littered with baboons, and we must walk between them, stepping over them in some areas, an altogether quite intimidating experience. The views of the river and the falls are splendid, but we are happier once we have returned to the top of the gorge, away from the daunting primates.
The next path takes us above the falls and we have a spectacular view of the profile of the gorge, and then the placid Zambezi as it approaches the lip of the falls. People are walking out over the small islands above the falls going to the edge. We decide against this rather rash idea, and rest on the banks in the late afternoon sun.

After a night of watching some of the Olympics at the hostel, we check out and then take a taxi back to the falls, hoping to visit the Zimbabwe side. However, we find that we are no longer able to simply obtain a day pass to the other side. Infact we must exit Zambia, and on our return buy a new visa. This procedure with visas for Zimbabwe plus park entry fees proves to much, so we dispondently abort the plan. Instead we walk over the bridge to the Zim side before turning back. We then walk to the nearby Livingstone hotel which has beautiful grounds along the Zambezi, and armed with our binoculars we happily spot hippos, elephants and impala.
We then take the afternoon bus back to Lusaka, and purchase onward bus tickets to Chipata near South Luwangwa National Park.
Our bus next day is a cockroach infested rust bucket of a bus, but it gets us to Chipata, and we stay at Dean's Lodge, awaking the following morning to, of all things, rain....

Posted by bumble_bee 07:05 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Mutinondo Wilderness

Our accommodation in the wilderness is another Hansel & Gretel hut! We have sandwiches on the rock hill behind our hut for dinner, as the sun sets and the moon rises. We yet again enjoy a couple of drinks at the bar by the outdoor fire and meet everyone staying there. Temperature has dropped here, making E instantly suffering from a cold!
We check the map of the trekking possibilities and decide to hike towards Caterpillar Rock. We pass two small waterfalls which are beautiful, cascading over these smooth sloping rocks. Such clear waters. The day is clear skies plus a cold breeze. On we go, using map and compass and a couple of hours later we can see the large rock hills through the trees behind us. We climb Caterpillar Rock and look back over the most incredible landscape. Here we lunch in awe. We descend again and go back through camp and over to another enormous rock. Up we go, E till the very top which C due to vertigo decides to surpass. We cook spaghettis back at camp, which we eat by the fire to keep us warm.

We breakfast on noodles and coffee, offered to us by two mzungus running a lodge in another camp nearby. It seems all lodges are run by mzungus! We book swap 4 of our books for Penguin classics, E's favourites, and ask Mike to drive us to the main road. He has helped book us tickets on the post bus, which is, as the name suggests, a bus that delivers the post, as well as people. It's about 1,5 hrs late. We wait by the roadside, hoping we didn't miss it. It's getting warmer. Young children from the village come by and ask our names; trucks and 4WD's zoom passed scattering dust in billowing clouds; there's a bush burn going on behind us which looks like it's out of hand but nobody looks worried; E and C kick stones around and juggle, which entertains the kids and then do silly walks; we cross the road and sit in the shade. The bus approaches; C holds out the sign that Mike has made for us: 'Postbus Kapiri'.

The bus is full, E sits at the front until the seat at the back is freed up. About 5 pm we reach Kapiri where we get out at Continental service station. We again visit the pie emporium and devour our purchases with gusto. Then we wander around and consider our options. We take a small bus for 40.000 each to Lusaka. It's cramped but fine. We arrive at Lusaka after 9pm and take a taxi to the Backpackers. Beers in the bar; we retire after midnight.

Posted by bumble_bee 07:04 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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