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Globe Trekker – endangered places

One thing on the TV I usually like is Globe Trekker. It is the traveller & wanderer in me.

Well, there is a show on now with a theme of ‘endangered places’. Much of what they are talking about is overcrowded areas of natural beauty. I found myself saying “it’s not like that in Malawi”.

Malawi has fantastic places but even the ‘busiest’ places at the height of the tourism season are quiet.

The Great Invasion

Like northern France in early 1944, Malawi waits.

People speak of an imminent and great invasion. But when. For clues we look into the sky and the heavens and we measure the signs. Like the English Channel in those days in 1944, the weather is a key. Today I heard that the heat now is like none in living memory. I doubted.

Like 1944 as now the weather was a source of uncertainty and disagreement. It was a sign of something more than itself. Now we await not the clash of the forces of good against evil. Now we wait for the great clash between the two great seasons of the year. In one measurable moment the hot and wet season will invade the hot and dry season at the pinnacle of its power. If the invasion is sustained then the old season will be gone and the new will be here. The third season, the cool and dry, seems so puny in comparison to these powerful giants of nature.

Only yesterday we baked under the oppression of the sun. Looking at the weather online was like observing a Ron Paul opinion poll result – you look at the number and think – ‘that can’t be right’. In vain we looked into the sky for the sign of a cloud no greater in size than a man’s fist. Surely the heat itself was sign enough that change is at the door.

At night last night change could be sensed. The night was hot but later and before dawn a noticable coolness was in the air. Forgotten duvets were sought and found. Today, change again. Much cooler than before but still hot. Gathering clouds loom above. Is this it? Or was this another decoy, like Kent and the model tanks. Tonight we step outside in the noticable cool as a great storm of powerful winds buffets the high trees all around. Great forces are at work above and around.

The rains come in the form of great storms. Thunder and lightening and heavy downpours turn dirt roads into rivers and rapids. The approach is measured as the time gaps between flashes of lightening that you can see with your eyes closed, and the great roll and roar of the thunder, narrows. Fear stikes momentarily as lightening and thunder strike at the same time and you know it was yards away. Children are ordered away from the windows.

The weight and intensity of the rain, the power of the raging rapids where there was once a road, and the deafening sound of the downpour heard from under tin roofs, provides a sense of awe and wonder.

When will this time come? I do not know, but tonight we listen to the sounds of the great trees swaying above us. We wonder, and we wait.


MORNING UPDATE – 3 November 2011

We awoke to the sound of rain. Not heavy rain however, nothing like the description above. So what is this? A decoy or is it the advance party in gliders landing behind enemy lines in Normandy? Well, it was certainly an arrival at night from overhead.

Today is cool, very cool. I am in shorts and a t-shirt but I do almost feel cold outdoors. Clouds above.

Hot & Dry Season

There are three season in Malawi: hot & dry, hot & wet, and finally cool & dry.

We have planned a lot of what we do around these seasons. We had plans to be up in the northern higher lands of Nyika and Livingstonia or Vipya and Mzuzu with close access to the northern lakeshore but we find ourselves in Blantyre. It is hot.

The rains (heavy spectacular thunder storms) are due to arrive in November. This is certainly something to look forward to. As a child I loved to hear the deafening sound of heavy rain in a storm beating down on our tin roof. The best time was at night as the sound was not only very loud but was also extremely relaxing. There is something about water…

But now it is hot, very hot. It is the perfect time of year for swimming in The Lake (Lake Malawi) or plunging into mountain streams & pools.

For the sake of this post I had a look at the weather online. 38 Celsius which I calculate at 100 looks like the high for today. Interestingly thunder & lightning is forecast for tomorrow.

If I organise tours to Malawi I will organise them according to the seasons.

Dangers from Creatures in the Water

Lake Malawi is very safe for swimming. Swimming in the Shire River is suicide. (don’t swim in one of the other lakes – Chilwa Malombe etc.).

You know the song about 'messing about on the river'? That song is not applicable to the Shire River.

When in Malawi if someone tells you that something is ‘very dangerous’ it could mean that that some thing is close to suicide. It does not mean that the person telling you this is some jobs-worth from the local council trying to justify his job with unrealistic claims and wild exaggerations.

Strangely, and amazingly enough, when someone tells you that something is ‘safe’ then it probably means that it is…wait for it….safe. Wow! What a surprise! Hotel and lodge owners by Lake Malawi will tell a visitor who asks that it is safe to swim. (Normally people don’t ask – most people know it is safe). Don’t be suspicious of their vested interests. Just be aware of a few small ‘rules’ which are 1/ don’t swim between sunset and sunrise, 2/ don’t swim in the mouth of a river, 3/ don’t swim among reeds, 4/ do swim in an area recognised as being for human swimmers, tourists, villagers etc. and 5/ if swimming in a new area you find don’t do so without asking the locals first about whether there are crocodiles.

Lake Malawi is very safe – it is unlikely that you would need to know more than that. The biggest danger at Lake Malawi are mosquitoes. Take sensible precautions.

Beware of the danger of NOT swimming in the Lake. The regret associated afterwards with having missed out on The Lake may be bad for your health.

There is a pub argument over whether hippos or crocs are more dangerous. It is interesting to discuss the subject but it may come down to location and whether one means ‘killed directly’ or ‘killed indirectly’. I was reading the online comments of an angler brought up in Malawi who from his boat has witnessed people being taken by crocodiles in the Shire River – it is more common than most people think. The angler said that hippos can count as more dangerous if you mean that by capsizing a boat full of people who cannot swim the hippo has killed them (including the ones subsequently eaten by crocodiles).

Two years ago a Game Warden in Liwonde National Park said that 34 people had been killed by crocodiles so far that year in the Shire River in Liwonde National Park. Others I’ve spoken to locally back this up. This year I was told 10 or 15 so far this year in that particular stretch. They are local fishermen on dug out canoes fishing illegally at night. Wardens tell of meeting survivors they have saved (after all the other colleagues on the dug out canoes were killed) a couple of weeks later back on the canoe. An article I read by a licensed crocodile hunter said that at the worst time of year for it about two people a day are being killed by crocodiles in the Shire. This is an estimate – no one really knows.

Someone from America was telling me that when new to Malawi he went fishing in the Shire with his family. They waded in, with waders I think, as if they were fishing in the Tweed or the Tay… To be fair to them he did say that the current was moving so fast as they were next to a waterfall that he did not think a crocodile would be there…or could swim through it.

The next thing that happened was that a Malawian on the bank said “A crocodile is coming.” and he looked up and saw a mammoth croc coming very rapidly from the other side as if there was no current in the river at all. They all got out just in time.

Rules are:
don’t swim in rivers you don’t know – mountain streams on Mulanje are ok :-),
don’t go fishing on a dug out canoe in the Shire at night where there are a lot of crocodiles and hippos,
beware of hippos at night as they come out of the water and walk for miles eating grass. They are likely to kill you if you get between them and the water or their young
don’t swim even in the Lake at night
don’t paddle in rivers, especially the Shire
don’t walk on the banks of the Shire
don’t wash your clothes in the Shire River
don’t brush your teeth in the Shire River
don’t build sandcastles on the banks of the Shire River
when on a boat in the Shire do not drag your hand through the water to keep it cool

do you get a sense of where I am coming from with regard to the Shire River?

What about bilharzia in Lake Malawi? There is a tablet you can take if you are worried or concerned. Do not worry. I know one guy who works with wildlife in Malawi who tells me that when he goes to The Lake he spends all day in the water. He said he gets his food order from the hotel or guest house brought to him in the water. Bilharzia is dangerous if you live by the Lake and have no access to modern medicine. I really do not worry about bilharzia…at all. As I say, if you are concerned then get a check up a few months after swimming or take a tablet (pill). I did once hear about someone who had a complication connected with bilharzia. It was something unusual and connected with something else. Still, I think the biggest bilharzia risk for a western visitor is that it puts you off going into the Lake. Actually, there is another bilharzia risk if you are returning to the west. I made the mistake of mentioning, when in hospital, that I should get a bilharzia check. The medics were fascinated. They wanted to detain me. I realised that it was out of curiosity and because they wanted me as a specimen for their medical students. I got fed up with the time wasting to my day and discharged myself. I really could not be bothered. Maybe one day I’ll bother to get a check or take a tablet.

Now, I wanted to edit this post as the paragraph above does reflect something of the attitude of someone brought up here for who ‘bilharzia’ is a familiar word. There is an extent to which familiarity can breed contempt – including perhaps a feeling that the disease is nothing much to worry about if you have access to modern medicine (which is more of an issue for local villagers).

Coming into Africa for the first time an exotic sounding tropical disease could sound slightly more intimidating. It is partly the fear of the unknown. That is understandable. My advice is to take the required medication or get a check a few months after swimming and apart from that think nothing else of it.

Danger, Risk and Safety in Malawi – Part 1 – General

Let us have a look at the dangers....and work out how to be safe.

I said I would try to add a blog post once every two days. I have not kept to that this week. For that reason I am pulling out something I worked on earlier. I have divided what I have written into three parts so far.

Risks – general
Risks – animals on land
Risks – creatures in the water

They will be divided into different blog posts. Perhaps I will write about other kinds of risks. Mountains, health and roads spring to mind.

There is so much to write. If you do not want to read it all then just read the following paragraph which sums it all up.

The purpose of this blog post is to point out that Malawi is very safe….but only if you respect and adhere to the safety rules.

Malawi is, generally speaking, a safe country to visit. I feel safer here than I do in my home country. In that sense however I am meaning ‘safe’ in a sense that is wider than purely ‘physical’ safety. I mean how relaxed I feel about life’s full set of dangers, particularly with regard to children. If you are an expat here or a reasonably well to do Malawian, then Malawi can be a great place for children and their families.

When talking about the concept of ‘physical danger’ I also feel pretty safe in Malawi. The main point I want to make in this blog post however is that your safety here assumes that you know, understand and avoid specific dangers here. Dangers that will be very different to the dangers in your own country.


Of course over-reactions as well as under-reactions to warnings can and do occur. Understanding the issues and how to be safe is the key. Understanding is not difficult at all if explained.

There is a problem of so called ‘cultural misunderstandings’ to do with risks, dangers and safety. In the west we have a ‘health and safety’ culture that has been pushed to bureaucratic extremes. Some people are happy enough with the fact that ‘health and safety’ removes personal discretion over risk taking. Many others, myself included, think that health and safety regulations in many places is out of control, counter-productive and often irrational. [I remember looking at a packet of nuts for sale in the UK. Written on the side was the following warning ‘WARNING: MAY CONTAIN NUTS.’]

Over-regulating health and safety is nuts. In the UK there was a ban on ‘beef on the bone’ while at the same time we were informed that we faced greater danger of being hit by a meteorite if we went out into our gardens. Prince Charles openly and in front of the media defied this beef on the bone ban. I heard that in Australia you are not allowed to drive along the road with your window down and one of your arms resting and catching a little of the breeze – because one person once had an accident. Personally I’d rather take responsibility for my own actions.

It would be understandable then for some people coming to Malawi to think that guidelines or warnings on what is dangerous are ‘the usual exaggerations and over-reactions just there to give someone a job and to allow someone else to boss people around.’ Actually, if you are told that such and such a thing in Malawi is dangerous then the chances are that it is very dangerous. I have seen people sneering at certain warnings as if they were listening to some functionary from the Health and Safety Department from the local council in the UK.

Learn about safety on the mountains - especially Mulanje. This mountain is different to other (lesser) mountains. Understand the various kinds of risks here and the single most important rule to remain safe. I know two people who nearly died up here (including my dad) and one who was killed. I take my children up. It is safe - if you obey the rules.

I know of a lot of violent tragic deaths that have occurred in Malawi. I know of quite a number of people who have come very close to death in the mountains, near animals and in the water (including my dad). I cannot think of a single example of where the individual in question was not going against or was outside of a ‘safety rule.’ Sometimes that being ‘outside of the safety rules’ has come about due to a development of circumstances rather than because they were ignored. In other words I can think of no ‘freak accident’ deaths were the person involved was within the safety guidelines and rules. A freak accident could always happen – but it could happen anywhere.

It is as if there is no middle ground. If you respect and adhere to the safety guidelines – you are very safe. If you break the safety rules then you may be in real danger.

So, when you visit Malawi you will be very safe because you will simply follow the guidelines won’t you?

This does not mean that in Malawi there are all sorts of exciting adventurous things that you must not do. No. What I mean is with the many exciting, adventurous and fun things you can do here there are a few specifics you must not do and a few specifics that you should do. Danger warnings here are not ‘killjoys’ – they are just about how to enjoy without being killed. This is Africa, it is not Disneyland Paris.

I want to explain, with examples, that defying warnings about dangers in Malawi can be much much more dangerous than some might suppose.

Another potential problem on the risk front is the assumption that what is done in one’s own country is the only sensible or rational way to do things. Actually, if things are done differently in a different country, and that society accepts and takes account of that different way of doing things, then it gains it’s own inherent rationale. Some people who have only lived in one country all their lives and have not thought about it might find it hard to get this. (I could give examples to do with driving conventions and expectations).

A related problem is not to realise that Malawians may have a different ‘risk threshold’ compared with many westerners. I am not criticising Malawians for accepting too much risk – I am saying that people can have widely different assessments of what is constitutes too much risk. There are perfectly legitimate personal subjective judgments involved here. Differences are not only between individuals – the bell curve of acceptable risk will be different in different countries and ‘cultures’ – if you know what I mean.

I am quite happy on the other hand to criticise overly paranoid westerners for attempting to tie themselves up in cotton wool. Now that is what I call an unacceptable risk – the risk of missing out on life. There is also the risk of not knowing how to deal with risk when it arises.

I think I come somewhere in between paranoid westerners and average Malawians with regard to my own risk thresholds.

The next post in this series will either be about animals on land or creatures in the water!

I could write about other things – we will see.

First Couple of Days on Mango Drift – mainly photos and links

We were stranded here for several days. Fortunately David found things to do.

I am not inspired to write very much just now. Instead I will post some photos from Mango Drift on Likoma Island. These pictures were taken on the first couple of days that we were there.

Ruth and David at Mango Drift

I did write other posts, with no photos, on our time there and I will provide the links.

There is a series leading up to our trip to Likoma Island. Firstly, a stop to buy fruit and vegetables at the side of the road. Secondly, our overnight stop and adventures at Bushman’s Baobabs at the southern end of Liwonde National Park, followed by our next overnight stop and wait at Mufasa in Monkey Bay. After that were a couple of posts on departing on the Ilala and then life on board the Ilala.

The First Likoma Island post is about reaching the island itself on the Ilala. This contains useful information for anyone wanting to know about disembarking from the Ilala.

The next set of posts were written on the island itself and uploaded from the island. Because I was doing this on my iPhone I decided to leave out photos.

The main post that i wrote on and published from the island was about learning to scuba dive on Likoma Island. It is my propaganda piece on why Likoma Island is the best place in the world for learning to scuba dive. I did have a conversation with someone very recently who fully agreed with my view that it is better to learn to dive in freshwater. There were many other reasons, as I recall, for my view that Likoma Island provides the best value for learner divers. I hope you are convinced. If you want to do this yourself then please get in touch. I may be able to help.

Another piece was on the birds on Likoma Island.

The comings and goings of people at Mango Drift are dominated by the arrivals and the departures of the Ilala. The secondary influence on who is at Mango Drift and when are the flights to the islands. However, it is not the passengers who are seen at Mango Drift so much as the pilots. Small planes bring customers to the upmarket Kaya Mawa, the pilots come to Mango Drift. There is probably no better place in Malawi for meeting pilots than Mango Drift on Likoma Island.

The Ilala runs up and down the Lake each week. We were on the northbound journey and some of our fellow passengers were simply waiting for the return of the southbound Ilala. This gave them a couple of days at Mango Drift.

Others there were a very nice Israeli couple, Dan and Gabriela, who were traveling on to Mozambique and the coast. He is a brave man as he is Israel’s answer to Richard Dawkins. In Israel seemingly there would be a lot of opposition to his book launch despite my perception of a large secular community within Israel. It was unfortunate that time was too short for a wide debate as there was a full range of views on offer among the guests. From the tranquil of Likoma Island he would be heading to the storm of his book launch in Israel. I hope that it generates a good debate and light as well as heat…

Here is a musical composition by Dan accompanied by some pictures that Dan and Gabriela put together from a previous trip in Mozambique. Here is his music website. Dan also told us about a tribute to Japan, The Tsunami Song he co-wrote with words by Gabriela.

There was also a family from the UK mentioned in a previous blog post. Several of them, like me, were visiting Malawi after many years away.

The view from the hammock outside our tent. We put up the tent on our second day there.

This was our first sunset on Likoma Island. no sunset was the same.

Ruth and David on the hammock outside of our tent.

David found that he fitted in well with the whole travel and exploration in Africa experience. David is an explorer.

That aircraft has landed in both Lake Malawi and the Baltic Sea off Estonia.

Amelia was good at balancing

Dan and Gabriela. Our tent is in the background under some mango trees.

This is the bar and lounge area on the beach at Mango Drift

The view from the bar

A view of the Mango Drift bay - Mango Bay?

The hill behind Mango Drift

Huntingdon House at Satemwa Tea Estate

Let us have a look around this tea estate

On Saturday morning we decided to check out some tourist spots that we have somehow not seen so far.

First stop was Game Haven. This place is advertised as offering top end accommodation in the Blantyre area (actually it is just over the border in Thyolo District). We had been intrigued to hear that it is the nearest place to Blantyre offering ‘game drives’ to see a reasonable selection of animals within a large fenced off area. The animals were no where to be seen near the lodge – we did not actually make an effort to look to be honest. We were told however that with all the work going on to build a golf course, a swimming pool and more chalets and rooms the animals had retreated to the farther reaches of the large fenced off area.

I hope that all the building work goes well and that when it is finished Game Haven will provide great five star accommodation with zebras and nyalas grazing on the golf course. I wish them all the best and hope that their vision turns into reality. I certainly would not fault them on ambition.

Imagine rolling hills of tea like this for as far as you can see and then you can imagine a tea estate. The landscape could hardly be more different to that at Game Haven.

We did not stay long and headed off to the other end of the upmarket spectrum to experience some old colonial style life in a tea estate.

Satemwa Tea Estate is a family run and owned tea estate and the family of the Scotsman who started it all in the 1920s are still living there.

Huntingdon House itself is no longer occupied by the family. They are elsewhere on the estate. This place is therefore a great place for visitors to relax.

Huntington House is the original family home and the rooms are named in accordance with who used to sleep where. We thought that it was a great place to stop and relax and I would recommend this place as well as Fisherman’s Rest as good locations for a relaxing day away from Blantyre.

In addition to eating and drinking other activities on offer are tea tasting, coffee tours, bird walks, walking, picnicking, mountain biking and croquet. The nearby Thyolo mountain has unique sub species of birds.

An elderly member of the family, now eighty, had this room when a child.

Ruth enjoyed the courtyard and especially the goldfish

Apparently 'The Chapel' was rarely used even at the best of times. Now the 'honeymoon suite'.

We liked the fact that there were islands of old trees preserved among the tea. They were good to drive through. One thing that Malawi needs is the conservation of trees and forests.

We did plan to go on to Mulanje but by the time we had checked out the bungalow it was time for lunch and Amelia suggested that we stay. By the time that we had returned from viewing the bungalo the managers had returned from watching the rugby. They are a couple that we had met briefly at Majete. At last we had fulfilled our promise to visit their establishment. The good news is that Marc is very keen to climb Mulanje with us. On the way out we met another couple keen to climb Mulanje. It seems there is no shortage of people looking for someone to organise Mulanje trips for them.

The bungalow, also on the estate, looks like a great place to stay with friends.

It is nice to drive or wander through the little forests.

Amelia and Ruth wait for lunch. We made the right decision to wait here for lunch instead of heading on to Mulanje for 'the best pizza in Malawi'.

Ruth and David relaxed before we headed back to Blantyre

The car engine was making a loud deep revving kind of sound as I turned it on and when I pressed hard on the accelerator. Not being a petrol head I did not understand what might be causing this. This problem seemed to start while driving on some of the rough steep roads within the tea estate. As it was getting late we abandoned our Mulanje ambitions and headed back to Blantyre.

Little known fact: Tea and coffee arrived in Malawi via the original Scottish mission in Blantyre. Now they are two important export crops.

Suffering injustices in Chad

Malawi, like most countries in the world, has football as their number one sport. They are not bad at football and have quite a good track record for a country of their size. When I lived as a child in Malawi they twice won the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup.

This weekend they stood on the edge of qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament next year. All they had to do in their final qualification game was defeat a poor Chad squad away from home. In the earlier game in Blantyre, Malawi had won 6-2.

Unfortunately, although already out of qualification, Chad were not the best of hosts.

Upon arrival in Chad Malawi’s international football team were allocated an extremely poor mosquito infested ‘hotel’ in a swamp. Well, that is as far as I understand the reports.

Other parts of the story include no English speaking interpreter being offered to the team and a sub-standard surface being allocated for the players to train on before the big crunch match. Again, as I understand it they had to share the training pitch with local children.

I did read that Malawi refused to enter the dodgy hotel and instead checked themselves into a more respectable establishment. Still, the impression I was left with was that they were hardly allowed the best of preparations.

With only a few minutes of the game to go yesterday I had the impression that all would be well in the end with Malawi 1-0 up. Checking my iPhone again a few minutes later I was surprised and disappointed to see a final score of 2-2. Elsewhere in their qualification group Tunisia defeated Togo 2-0 and Tunisia progress on to the finals instead of Malawi. A win would have been enough for Malawi.

Malawi are the Warm Heart of Africa. On the evidence of this weekend they are hardly likely to find that deserved status being snatched from their grasp by Chad.

October Weather & The Jacaranda Tree

It is now October. October is the hottest month of the year in Malawi…or at least that is the reputation. My parents spoke of October as the hottest month. I have the impression that some think of November as the hottest month. November however is the month when the rains are scheduled to arrive. Strangely we have already had a bit of rain. There was a little bit of a downpour in some parts on Friday which was the last day of September. I noticed a big increase in mosquitoes a couple of days later. [Rain and mosquitoes are connected]. My landlord assures me that these Blantyre ones are not thought to be carrying malaria. Still, we do not take chances and the little ones are in bed under nets by 7pm.

In the hot and dry season you see the Jacaranda Tree flower in purple

Given the thought that some may regard November as the hottest month I decided to ask Rev Chimesya the other day. As you may see from other blog posts we have visited a few places over the last few days. “October.”

So that is it settled – October is the hottest month.

The big jacaranda tree I decided to photograph with a Blue Gum Tree in the background.

The weather is hot, or at least it is warm. However, here in Blantyre, by the pool as I write, it is certainly not oppressively hot. I commented to Amelia about this and she agreed. There has certainly been nothing so far to fall under the ‘oppressive heat’ category. We have probably got similar weather to the UK just now. I read that they have just had the hottest October day for 100 years. It is an unusual year when the weather in the UK and Malawi is the same in October.

There are boulevards of jacaranda trees in Blantyre but I set on photographing this one in Phoenix International School with these palm trees in the background

Of course we are up here in the Shire Highlands. While the altitude here is not exactly Himalayan we are high enough up to be somewhere where the altitude makes a difference. The Shire Valley is probably quite hot just now.

Another October photo of the jacaranda tree. I read that it is not native to Africa. Is that correct?

July is the coldest month of the year in Malawi. July is not that long gone and I can say that the weather was pleasant in July. There were certainly plenty of swimming pool days in July. However, we did have the coldest weather I have experienced on this trip in Malawi in July. Ironically that was down in the Shire Valley in Majete Game Reserve on an early morning game drive. It was very very cold that morning – we cannot have been a million miles from a frost.

The purple and the green. Photo taken at Phoenix Primary School, Blantyre, Malawi

So far the weather in Malawi has proved to be quite good. Most days are warm and sunny without being oppressively hot. Rainy days are great as the rain is short, heavy and spectacular and the countryside turns green. The cold weather was not usually that cold.

This year so far the weather has been good. I wonder what the rest of October has to offer. Given that July is the coldest month and given that November competes with October on the heat front it does not take any great leap of the imagination to understand that the end of October is likely to be much hotter.

Trees at Phoenix International Primary School. My mother taught in these buildings before I was born and before it was Phoenix School. I went to school here. Now my daughter goes to nursery here.


It is now the 6th of October. Yesterday we had a big rainstorm. The rains should not be this early. Today it is cold or at least cool. The security guard at our house is wearing a jacket. Other Malawians are wearing jackets and I am in long trousers and a fleece. I still feel cold.

I have heard that if the rains keep up then the jacaranda trees will lose their colour.

The jacaranda is native to South and Central America

The Ilala Reaches Likoma Island

From the lifeboat we looked up to see those remaining on the Ilala for the overnight journey to Nkhata Bay and beyond. They came to the side to watch the show as we disembarked.

I have a series of posts on our trip on the Ilala to Likoma Island. A trip that includes stops at Liwonde National Park and Monkey Bay on the way.

Now, the next part of the trip is the arrival at Likoma Island. I have done a post on that already but it had no photos – because I uploaded the post from Likoma Island itself on my phone and I was not confident about having enough bandwidth for uploading photos.

Previously on this series, which can be thought of as a guide to a trip on the Ilala I have the following posts. Firstly, a stop to buy fruit and vegetables at the side of the road. Secondly, our overnight stop and adventures at Bushman’s Baobabs at the southern end of Liwonde National Park, followed by our next overnights stop and wait at Mufasa in Monkey Bay. After that were a couple of posts on departing on the Ilala and then life on board the Ilala.

Logically, the next post should be about disembarking the Ilala on Likoma Island. The following is what I wrote the day after we arrived….


We arrived last night on Likoma Island. Not long before nightfall we could see Likoma Island from the deck of the Ilala.

The last few hours of the journey were very interesting as we were closer to the shoreline than at any point apart from the very beginning of the journey when we proceeded up the eastern shore of the Cape Maclear peninsula from Monkey Bay.

Now we were close to the Mozambique shore and the start of that wild and forgotten area of north eastern Mozambique. It stretches from Lake Malawi or the Malawi border all the way to the Indian Ocean. I heard that on this part of the journey you could quite easily see elephants coming down to the Lake to drink (we were not adjacent to a National Park or a Game Reserve – just wild Africa as it had been for centuries).

As we approached Likoma Island, that island of Malawian territory within Mozambique waters, we started to think about the life-boat right next to our cabin.

At each stop when there is no harbour, the life-boat is lowered into the water before people from a lower deck pile onto it. We asked if we could get into it before it is lowered as we have a lot of luggage as well as a three year old and a baby to carry.

The conventional route off the Ilala is down this ladder and onto the lifeboat.

It was a difficult conversation because we knew that if we put our luggage in and could not get on ourselves except from the lower deck, then we could get separated from our bags.

The reason we had a lot of luggage was because we are carrying a large tent, blankets, sleeping bags, food…and a pushchair. We have a four wheel drive, high sided, off road style of push-chair (Americans call them strollers I think). Amelia likes to take these on holiday as they can carry a lot more than babies. One advantage of carrying blankets is that they were loaned out to very grateful (non-cabin) 1st class fellow passengers on the top deck of the Ilala. They were also loaned out at Mufasa Lodge the previous night when some had to sleep on the beach.

The basket of fruit is ours. We were glad of it later. Much else is piled into the lifeboat.

I can make further excuses for why we are carrying a lot of luggage but that will do for now.

Our luggage was accepted on the life-boat and we went down to the lower deck and pushed our way to the front of the queue. We had after all paid to go cabin class (one step above 1st class) so surely we were entitled to some sort of favourable treatment… Amelia was better at pushing her way through the throng carrying David than I was carrying Ruth.

Soon we were first on board the life-boat and on top of all our luggage and many more poured on. We looked up to the upper decks in the dark to the first class and other cabin class customers peering over the side and watching the show.

Local boats come alongside to help everyone to disembark. Most of what comes off the Ilala however are supplies for the island. Included somewhere on some boat would be the building material for the new lodge.

Suddenly with large numbers of people, bags of rice, food and miscellaneous other forms of luggage we were off to the shore. We got to within about five yards of the very crowded shoreline and stopped. My main concern was of course the possibility of my iPhone, my macbook, my camera, my wallet and numerous other important electrical items getting wet. There was no way that I was moving until I was as sure as I could be that they were not going into the water. Amelia jumped in as I transferred my iPhone from my pocket to my small rucksack. She shouted at me to take off my shoes….which was the least of my concerns. I completely ignored that bit of advice and regarded it as simply an example of her sense of humour. One of the crew members held Ruth as I organised the important stuff between handing the large heavy suitcases to Amelia to carry to the shore.

The voyage on the lifeboat was an exciting experience. Daddy and Ruth.

Although only a small distance to the beach it was difficult to see either her or the luggage (or David) due to the darkness and the dense crowds of people. The arrival of the Ilala is the main event of the week here and a lot of people are involved one way or another.

The calm, on the lifeboat, before the storm, on the shore.

By the time I was ready to risk a jump into the dark waters below, 75% of the passengers had got off, so it was now time for others to jump on board. This meant that I had to fight with some difficulty to get over the side of the life-boat while at the same time remaining in enough control to be able to prevent my rucksack and it’s precious cargo getting at all wet. Fortunately this part worked out fine but I did notice that my trouser pockets ended up being a bit wet and so congratulated myself on my decision to move the iPhone.

I then was able to turn round and collect Ruth from the life-boat and make my way to shore. She of course was perfectly calm and I was relieved that the crew member who was holding her did not in any way seem to expect a tip. It was not a perfect environment for looking through my wallet for an appropriate sum. Actually no one seemed to be looking for a tip in order to help us.

On shore a few yards away I wondered how Amelia could be sure that we had everything. I could see no way of us moving without others helping us to carry some stuff so I reached for my iPhone to call Josh or Kevin from Mango Drift – “Sorry, he’s five minutes late – can you make your way up the slope towards where there will be a couple of lights.”

Before I could say “No” the call was cut off and I hoped that somehow we would be found within this crowd. Amelia had no such hesitation and said that we should start moving the stuff. I was against this idea on the basis that we would have to leave some bags and come back for others and something could go missing. I am not wishing to say anything against the character of the people of Likoma Island but for all I knew, this was a possibility.

Ruth thought that this was all a great adventure and was rushing around playing with children round about – much to the amusement of everybody.

I insisted that we only move the luggage in very small steps but I could see that Amelia was ignoring this as she headed up the beach and back with one item after another. In the end, despite the complication of watching Ruth and the luggage at the same time, in the dark, and in a crowd of people, we made a great deal of progress. The two vehicles from Mango Drift soon arrived.

Finally we were on board, much to my surprise, a game viewing vehicle. Ruth and I sat at the back with a couple from England. An Israeli-English couple sat in the middle and David and Amelia sat in the front with the driver (Josh I think).

Unfortunately the other vehicle seemed to be broken down and the English-Scottish family were eventually abandoned (for now) as we headed off to the other side of the island. It seemed a much longer journey through baobab country than I had expected. At one point those of us at the back were hit by low hanging mango tree branches and at another I counted a total of seven laughing children hanging off the back of the vehicle.

Ruth entertained us all by singing “Twinkle twinkle little star”. However, she point blank refused to sing “The Wheels On The Bus” as that is a daytime song…apparently.

Eventually we arrived at a point which we were informed was as close as the road gets, and we all got out. Our excess baggage was distributed between Mango Drift employees and other guests and all I was carrying was my rucksack and David. It was a complicated journey even for our four wheel drive pushchair and we were all very glad of the bright moon over the baobabs.

Finally we reached the beach and Mango Drift. It was dark but still looked a little bit, I thought, like paradise.

Ruth checks out a basket in our beachside chalet. We were destined to stay in the chalet on our first, second and final nights at Mango Drift. For most of the time we would be in our large family tent. (On the final night of waiting for the Ilala it would be too much to pack the tent at the last moment when the Ilala is spotted).

The vehicle then returned for the others.

Eventually at the bar we all assembled and relived our different but related stories of how we somehow got ashore. Some people were appalled at the “lack of organisation” and the fact that people were jumping onto their lifeboat before they had got off. This situation was compared unfavourably with tube etiquette on the London Underground. The whole thing was described as almost the experience of a lifetime. I personally thought that the whole thing showed how honest Likoma Island people in particular and Malawians in general are. There were ample opportunities for people to take advantage of us – or worse, steal – and it certainly did not seem as though anything like that was even imagined by the locals.

It then emerged in conversation that Amelia had carried all our heavy luggage from the lifeboat to the shore and people started looking at and also…talking about my shoes (they were all wearing sandals).

I mentioned that I had other priorities and the idea of taking off my shoes seemed trivial in comparison. “I was thinking about my iPhone.”

Someone said “Your shoes look dry?!”

Realising how surprised people were that Amelia had done all the heavy lifting I decided to press home my advantage and claimed that “Amelia carried me to the shore.”

Today, the day after and our first day in paradise the events of last night seem to be a very long time in the past.