African shoestrings – Malawi Day One Hundred and Five-Six – Nkhata Bay Malawi

No sooner than had we settled in and despite our fatigue, we were out exploring. We came across a couple that we had met in Chimanimani, Patricia and Jonathan. Patricia was a short attractive French girl who liked to talk whilst Jonathon was her antithesis, tall, balding, quiet and English. They too were staying here and told us that the Njaya resort next door was probably nicer but a lot noisier.

We went to see for ourselves. Run by an English couple, it had a sort of up market backpacker hostel feel to it. But it did have a great bar high on the hill overlooking Lake Malawi and it had a satellite TV. By now the world cup cricket was well under way and as we going to crash here for a few days, we could allow ourselves the luxury of being couch potatoes for periods of time.

Lake Malawi is an awesome sight……….. Taking up one fifth of Malawi its located in the Great Rift Valley and forms a natural border with Tanzania in the north and Mozambique in the south. It is about 500 kilometres long and an average of about 48 kilometres wide. The area of the lake has been estimated at 27,785 square kilometres and its surface is a surprising 472 metres above sea level. Looking at it from the shore or even from the Bar of the Njaya resort it seems to have that slight concave surface of a large body of an ocean as if it were hugging the contour of the earth (which it is of course). It looked so tempting in the hot humidity of the afternoon. But there was one thing holding us back. Bilharzia!

Bilharzia is a disgusting disease. It’s not the disease itself that is so bad, although it’s pretty serious, but the way it’s caught! Its carried in freshwater by minute worms that initially live in a certain type of snail and then after an increase in numbers hit the water ready for any poor unsuspecting humans.

It will then enter through the skin and find its way to the intestines and bladder and from then on it’s all downhill. It’s found in slow moving bodies of water like the shallows of rivers and streams and lakes. There has been a long debate as to whether it exists in Lake Malawi and the bottom line is that it does in some parts. However, we decided to risk it on the basis that we were assured that the area around Nkhata Bay was clear of these horrible little bleeders. It did actually make sense. One look at the small swell and waves that seemed to continuously wash the beach meant that water was moving and the absence of reeds where the host snails were found was also comforting. So I took the plunge!

That night at the restaurant we met the other two residents. Stephan, a Swede who had been travelling all over the world for around five years (three in Australia) and Lucy another Pom. The six of us were the only guests in the resort and for the next few days we saw a lot of each other.

Nkhata Bay was a smaller quieter lakeside version of Blantyre. Ramshackle building and stalls lined the dusty streets that became small paths in and out of small pockets of more ramshackle buildings and stalls. Banana sellers were everywhere offering their produce for almost next to nothing in western currency.

As the others had been there longer they had already acquainted themselves with some of the more extrovert individuals of the tourist curio trail. We meet Chester, Comfort and Shosho amongst countless other sellers. Shosho to his credit showed us how to play the local game of Boa a game similar to checkers played on an indented board with Mahogany seeds. Later in the day he found us on the beach and chatted with us all the time hoping, we would buy some of his wares.

We also met Happy, Happy and Fraser, three young boys who were selling home made postcards. That’s the key to these people they wanted to learn about you and practice their English but most of all they wanted to sell you something.

I arranged to have a shirt made for the ridiculous price of US$2.

And that’s all there was to do in this tranquil place. Browse, eat, drink and swim.

The next day (Tuesday) we decided that whilst this might be a little bit of paradise it was time to move on and get to Zanzibar. We found out that there was a bus leaving to go to Dar es Salaam that night from Mzuzu. So after another eventful day of doing nothing, we said our good byes to the others in our regular lunch spot, the beautifully located Safari Restaurant and headed back to pack and leave. By the time we had walked back we had changed our minds at least four times. I felt that we were acting out that song that goes “should I stay or should I go”. In the end we decided to stay and would see if there was a bus any earlier than Saturday. We were just not ready to face yet another bus ride especially a much longer one than the last two.

Footnote:

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Lake Malawi's eastern shore

Lake Malawi’s eastern shore

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