Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A precious weekend by Lake Malawi

You may find it difficult to believe, but sometimes working in Malawi can be a bit tough. I normally shrug the difficulties off: 'if you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen', you know the kind of thing. You shake yourself down, imbibe a Malawi gin or two, remind yourself that no one makes you do this and just get on with it. Three weeks at a time is fine. This March it was four weeks for me: I badly needed a break. Fortunately the capital Lilongwe is just an hour and a half from the Lake so my friend and I hired a taxi and, like many of the more fortunate citizens of the capital, made for its shores.

I had been to Lake Malawi before, of course. Cape Maclear was a never-to-be-forgotten destination when my husband and I first travelled to the country in 2012. I visited the Lake again in June 2014 when I was working in schools around Salima. In a few days I will be adding a post on our memorable trip to Karonga at the far north of the Lake. And, naturally, anyone flying in and out of Malawi sees the Lake from the airplane window. The photo on the left is of the peninsula of Cape Maclear at the south of the Lake, a World Heritage site. The one on the right could be of the Tanzanian shore, as you fly north from Blantyre, but I don't really know.

This time, however, we were going there for real, not just peering down from on high. The scenery around Senga Bay doesn't really compare with Cape Maclear or Karonga. However, it was all we could manage for an overnight stay and just what we needed. The lakeshore is a few kilometres distant from the town of Salima, a dusty 1930s settlement with broad roads, mouldering colonial buildings like the old station from which the railway once left for Blantyre (below right) and the usual council buildings built to a familiar design (district education office below left).

In the streets, people sell basketware and fruit. The chitenje worn by the woman on the right is promoting Liverpool Football Club!

This time, however, we swept past Salima and made straight for the Lake. We were not staying in any of the really expensive upmarket lodges: we were unpaid 'volunteers', after all. However, the Safari Beach Lodge was perfectly satisfactory, indeed, more than that. Built to a traditional lodge design, the one-room grass-thatched 'cottages' all perch above the Lake, with wonderful views across the water. Here is mine, at the top of the path (left below) and with a balcony looking over the trees to the Lake and its early morning boats.

Jacqui's cottage (above right) came complete with an early morning troop of baboons which used the railings as a climbing frame, making the walk down to the dining room an interesting and unexpectedly sociable experience. The outside bathroom was a potential adventure in itself, though fortunately none of the resident primates was brave enough to share the shower with her. Let's face it, they did occupy the woodland first. 

While yellow baboons are rather less threatening than the olive ones we used to come across in Uganda, I would much rather they
kept their distance - as they did, on the whole. The geckos, on the other hand, like the one on the right with which I shared my balcony, were rather more welcome.

We spent much of the weekend beside the small pool. We weren't always alone, even there.

Lazy though we were, nevertheless we did stir ourselves to walk down to the lake shore. 

By late afternoon, when we made it down to the water, rows of dugout canoes lay drawn up on the grass. Some had been painted in bright stripes while others remained the traditional mud brown. Their bright yellow water cans caught the sun. The dugouts would leave first thing the next morning, bringing back a plentiful catch of kampango and the less abundant and overfished chambo.

Behind us was the fishing village. Men sat relaxing in the sun while small children ran around. Above the chatter and the shrieks rose the tuneful calls of the weaver birds.

Sadly there was no tonic to go with the gin, so we had to make do with Chill, a very pleasant light Malawian lager. It slipped down easily enough. Our friendly baboons were also lounging around. This time the climbing frame was a four-by-four, fortunately not the one we were due to drive back in.

By late Sunday afternoon, the weather had broken, for it was the tail end of the rainy season after all. The taxi slithered along the sticky red road, the rain drumming on the roof. Good timing! We were ready now to return to Lilongwe and pack our bags for Karonga.

You may also be interested in the following posts about Lake Malawi, the first two of which were first published on our Ugandan blog:

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