July 9th to 17th
09.07.2010 - 17.02.2011
We wanted to spend a few days at the south end of Lake Malawi, and so headed off for Cape Maclear. It was quite close to where we landed, but was not very easy to reach. Our first, more urgent task was, however, to get some Malawi money (kwatcha), so we had to make a detour of about 50 km to the nearest town (Mangochi) with an ATM. All went without a hitch and we were well re-stocked with money, or so we thought.
The minibus from Mangochi back to Monkey Bay dropped us at the turn-off to Cape Maclear. Almost immediately, we found a small open-backed truck that was going to go to Cape Maclear, but was full of people and their stuff. I wondered how we were going to fit! We somehow managed to find a wee space for ourselves. Then who-knows-how-many-more people got on?! The trip was only about 17 km in length, but the road was poor and hilly. Chris was perched on the side of the truck and hung on as best as he could. I sat on the floor trying not to crush all the women's feet! It was an adventure! Why else are we here? We got to our destination safely, though each of us knew we would not travel back this way again. Once was enough!
In the Lonely Planet guide, we had picked out a place to stay called the Chembe Eagles Nest located right at the far (north) end of the beach. It seemed like it would be a perfect place to camp for a few days - and it was. We had a small upper campground to ourselves as it was under construction, but it gave us a great view over the lake, and we had no close neighbours. We paid only $10 US a night to be there which was pretty good. We treated ourselves to some great meals in the elegant dining room, so really had the best of both worlds. The managers of the lodge, Mike and Carol, kept the beach as a local free zone, so guests weren’t hassled too much.
One of the first things we did in Cape Maclear was hire a boat to go across the lake to an island where there is good snorkeling. The area is called “the aquarium” and is aptly named. It was a real treat to see the myriad brightly coloured fish, all of them types of Cyclades (apparently, there are over 900 species in Lake Malawi) for which the lake is fittingly well known. I felt relatively safe, though I have to say that I could never quite forget that there are crocodiles, just not - purportedly - there. I could not get out of my head, though, that there might be an exception to the rule! Still I did not let that stop me from getting in the water to see the fish. The next day, we hired a two-person kayak to explore another part of the lake and had a great time, though Chris was very uncomfortable due to the style of kayak which had little back support. We again snorkeled and saw more beautiful fish. It is so unusual for a lake to have such an abundance of colourful fish.
It was in the fishing village that we met Gideon on a Saturday morning. He invited us to come to the church service which would be starting at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. We were delighted to be invited to the service in what proved to be a humble little church just behind where we stayed, and arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. only to find that there was just one other person in the church. As we sat there, we watched her engage in praying in a way neither of us had witnessed before. She started with an impassioned monologue to God as she walked back and forth. After a few minutes, she was joined by a man who commenced to do the same thing on the other side of the church. We sat through all this, watching, listening, and really feeling the intensity of their conversations with God. They continued for about half an hour, after which a few more people drifted in for the service. For our benefit, the first man - who proved to be one of the pastors - translated the bible readings and the sermon into English which I am sure must have made the service considerably longer than usual. Some three hours after it started, the service ended. By that time, the congregation had pretty much filled the church but I must admit that I was ready to go! What I found really beautiful during the service were gospel songs sung by various combinations of members of the congregation as well as by individuals, with, at times, all of us joining in. There was such joy and aliveness in their worship. There’s a way that Christianity is so alive in Africa and is practised so wholeheartedly. It's very touching, I must say.
After the service, we met Gideon’s family which was lovely.
Several times we walked through the village. One of the most delightful things in Malawi is how open the children are to tourists. As we walked, they would run up and want to hold our hands and, sometimes, to be lifted up and carried. I had lots of fun taking photographs of them; they would roar with laughter when they saw themselves on the camera's screen. Several times we were invited into people's homes as well. For both of us, Malawi was a place where we felt the ease and privilege of connecting with people at more than a passing, superficial level.
One afternoon we visited the little fishing village beside where we were staying - all we had to do was walk around a little fence which separated the village from the Eagles Nest. Gideon accompanied us as on this visit, which made communication with the people there easier than it might otherwise have been. I took my camera and was happy to take some photos of the children and parents there. I try, when asked, to send copies of photos that I take to the people in the pictures once I am able to print them, though I worry a bit about whether they ever arrive. I hope they reached their destinations. I also gave away the last of my pencils and sharpeners that I had brought from Canada. I asked one of the women to give them to the children as she would do it in a much better way than I could. Such small things are appreciated.
The sunsets were absolutely amazing there. Most nights we sat out on the rocks near our tent and watched the sun go down.
One of the last things we did before we left was to visit Gideon’s family again. This time his father, who is a pastor, was there as well (he had been away leading a service elsewhere the Sunday we attended his church). It was a total delight to meet him. He sang us a song and said a prayer to bless our journey. What a sweet way to end our time there.
That evening, Chris discovered that his hiking boots were missing from our tent. It was a strange that we were in this place where we felt so warmly welcomed and safe, yet the boots were gone. The next morning there was quite a search and some of the local children were questioned, but in the end the boots were not to be found. Amazingly, the owner of Eagles Nest said that we need not to pay our bill as this would just about have covered the cost of replacing the boots, but we didn’t take him up on this offer as we had already settled the bill and had some hopes that the boots might turn up in due course. It was, though, a very kind - and deeply appreciated - offer. Chris was sad to say goodbye to his boots, but luckily found some good ones a few weeks later when we were in Cape Town.
We had originally planned to be in Cape Maclear for only two or three days, but had extended our stay to five days as we loved being there. It meant that we did not get to visit southern Malawi as we needed to get to Livingstone, Zambia, for our overland trip beginning on July 17th. We left Cape Maclear on July 15th in a taxi that was going to Lilongwe. From Lilongwe, we caught a bus to the town nearest the border and then a little mini-van which stopped abruptly in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The mini-van driver and other occupants all told us that we needed to get into a taxi that was sitting in front of us and that it would take us to the border. By this time it was dark and I was uncomfortable with the situation but what to do? We got in the taxi and took an immediate dislike to the driver, who drove very erratically. When I asked him to slow down, he just laughed - not the response I wanted. At last we arrived at the border and were confronted with the reality that we needed $100 US for a visa into Zambia for each of us. For some reason I thought it was free for Canadians and we had spent our last US dollars paying our bill at the Eagles Nest. There we were - 9:00 p.m. at night with nothing other than Malawi kwatcha. The border official, a woman, kindly invited us to sit down in her office and called her boss. Luckily we were allowed pay the visa fee with our kwatcha. That was close! I cannot tell you how appreciative I was of that border guard. I think what she did was very unusual. It was a great welcome to Zambia.
We once again had to catch a taxi, which took us to Chipata where we would stay the night and catch a bus the next day to Lusaka and then, we hoped, to Livingstone. It was a bit crazy at the Chipata bus station where we went to organize our ticket for the next day. All the competing touts tried to get us to buy a ticket for their bus. Before we did this, someone directed us to a guest house close to the station. There, the manager had the brilliant idea of getting one of the bus's ticket agents to come to the guest house and sell us each a ticket. It worked and we were set up for our 5:00 a.m. departure. Needless to say our sleep was short but all was working pretty well.
Our trip to Lusaka was quite easy and within seven hours we were there. We had already heard that some buses for the Lusaka-Livingstone stretch were better than others, but when we arrived in Lusaka sadly discovered that the best bus was fully booked. We took the next best option, but it was less than perfect as we were once again in the section with three-person bench-style seating. We knew that meant we would be pretty cramped for another seven hours at least. And that turned out to be true. On the trip, though, we got talking to our fellow passenger, Kalenga, who had retired a few years ago. It was actually great sitting beside him and hearing a bit about Zambia and his life. He had travelled all over the world as part of his work. He had been in charge of the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls Park which people come to visit from all over the world. Before we parted that night, we made plans to meet him the next day.
We met as planned, and Kalenga took us on a guided tour of the falls. It was great to hear about how they had developed the area making it accessible to, and safe for, tourists. Victoria Falls were gorgeous. They are huge and very impressive. We had to wear a double rain coat to go along the walkways across from the falls as it is constantly raining due to the spray. There is one stretch called "the knife" that crosses a narrow ridge. Walking over it is an amazing experience as you get totally soaked! We were there for sunset so we enjoyed the amazing colours in addition to the sight of the falls. Kalenga told us that when there is a full moon many people come to the falls, and that then there can be a moon rainbow. I would have loved to have seen that.
We will continue our journey in our next blog.