BootsnAll Travel Network

Malawi, back to the boats.

Let’s see. I don’t know where I left off as I am using a terminal as a word processor so I can cut down on the computer/internet costs. Pretty smart huh? Well, I think I was in Blantyre when I left off as that was the last place that had internet.

Blantyre was a middle of nowhere town (Malawi’s second largest however) which biggest claim to fame on the backpacker trail is a modern backpacker, rare outside of South Africa. The place is called Doogles and located in a not so great spot of attached to the bus/mini-bus rank. As you get there it looks like it is part of the big dirty lot with tons of people doing the regular bus thing. At the far back is a raised fence and inside is a really nice expansive lodge/backpacker. It had all the amenities with one major benefit, a swimming pool. Now, some of the Mozambique beach places had pools, but they were not what I would call swimmable as the water used was the same murky colored water from the inland swamps where all the water came from. Nasty. This was however, a double chlorinated, clear and sparkly, cool and refreshing oasis. I did use that pool quite often as it was very hot in any place out of the shade. The town itself was nice enough, kind of a small to medium size and fairly modern. Lots of banks and a couple of grocery stores, so it was a decent stopover. They also had internet for a couple bucks an hour so that helped in getting the blog updated.

The only other thing worth mentioning was that I bought some tourist stuff to send home. Now, probably a standard for most people, however, for me a big change. I owed Travis some shipping money so we traded for a couple of African masks that he wanted. The postal service charges first by the piece and then by weight, so I decided to batch buy some other stuff and send it all to my parents who could then send Travis’ masks to him. I had a guy put together a bundle for me, package them, and then mail them. Not too much of a hassle. The only catch is they gave a up to six months arrival time. They were also out of customs forms but the lady said no worries. There was an overlander truck full of people that was also mailing a lot of stuff so I am guessing it might make it. If not, that will end my tourist buying stuff forever.

After a ten hour stop and go every kilometer bus ride that was only four hundred kilometers, I arrived in the little town of Monkey bay. Monkey bay is the little port town at the southern tip of Lake Malawi. Instead of staying there, I was wanting to visit an isolated village called Cape Maclear, 20kms away. The only transport was on some small open bed trucks so we quickly stowed 18 people and enough cargo that it reached higher than me while I sat on some stuff that took me as high as the bed liner. On top of me was a lady and her newborn. At first I was fine as it was only a small discomfort having my legs awkwardly twisted to the side of me and the mother and child basically resting on my hip. After an hour of a dirt road, I was wanting to puke and throw her from the truck.

Cape Maclear is a one road town along side Lake Malawi. It is predominatly a fishing town and beaching area. Half the huts along side the lake are tourist lodges and specialize in diving and snorkeling in the clear fresh water. Fresh water tropical fish and Fish Eagles are the big tourist draws. For me it was a little swimming in the not so fresh smelling water. One issue with Lake Malawi is that it is saturated in Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis). Just another parasitic disease carried by flukes that can bore through your skin. They are carried by species of fresh water snails that were very abundant from the amount of shells that I saw. Plaziquantel is the drug that I took as a cure because waiting until I was peeing blood and then running to a hospital just didn’t sound to convenient. I have to take another dose in 180 days, so someone remind me.

I actually had to leave the next day when I found out that there were no banks in either town and I had planned on taking a boat to the north. With that I took another overloaded truck back to Monkey bay. This time I sat in the butt prints dented into the top of the cab over the driver side. The only thing that kept me from flying off were the heels on my boots and my fingernails clutched into the roll bar.

At Monkey bay I got the price of the boat and had to do some quick money changing to get enough funds for the $7910K ticket on the Illala. I also decided to spurge on a room in town as I did not want to have to walk the twenty minutes to the backpacker every time I needed something.

The Illala is a passenger/freight boat that has been transporting people and freight to villages up and down the lake for over fifty years. A German guy I met said he saw a documentary on the boat many years ago and was the reason why he was taking it, so I am guessing it is fairly famous. It is very similar to the boats that I took on the Amazon with the exception that it did not use hammocks. There were basically four classes. There were the suites and cabins which was your basic rooms. The next was first class deck which was basically as it sound, the floor on the top deck where you could rent a mattress or sleep on your own. Next was second class which was a seated area where you could wait and then basic class which meant you dropped sack wherever you could find a place. Only first class passengers were allowed on the top deck so the lower levels were where pretty much all the locals stayed. It got no breeze except for the fumes from the engines. Surprisingly, there were a lot of people getting on and off at the dozen or so ports. My journey took me from Monkey Bay in the south to the second port from the end at Nkata Bay. The journey took three days and two nights. We zig zagged to Mozambique for a couple of stops as well. Food was pretty good and they had an open bar on the top floor as well. A nice relaxing couple of days. I met up with Mike and Dawn, a Canadian couple that I met in Tofo bay, and hung out with maybe ten other passengers on the top deck.

In Nkata bay, it was more lounge time in a nice resort/backpacker which was one of the hottest places that I have been so far. During the day from 8am until the sun set on the other side of the mountains, the heat was unbearable. Even swimming wasn’t a relief as the heat cooked anything that was exposed. I made it through a couple of nights before heading out. A very beautiful area I might add.

Next was a quick one hour haul to Malawi’s third largest city of Mzuzu. Another basic middle sized town, but with one exception, it was cool. Not cool as in a happening place, but cool as it rained and it was like in the 70’s. A huge refreshing stop that made it almost better than hanging out on Lake Malawi. Not much to do but relax in the cool breeze, hit the markets, and sleep in my sleeping bag (the first time in months.)

And that takes me to the present location of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Another hot town, so my wanderings have been limited. Since it is a capital city it has all the prerequisite modernizations so that is nice, but other than that, not so much. There are a few tourist related stuff having to deal with some stuff the last maniacal president created, but not worth it to me to hang out in the heat. I ended up getting a little room right above the bus station that is definitely on the wrong side of the bridge (as told to me by a NGO worker.) I however am sleeping in a bed so I am not complaining.

In a couple of days, it is off to Zambia. How and where is to be determined, but Zambia in general I am 92% sure.

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