Thursday, September 30, 2010


The “Capital of the North", Mzuzu is another bustling town/city in Malawi; a transport hub and a market town. The surrounding countryside is quite lush and green. Being at some 1250 metres the temperature can drop quite steeply.

banana woman

The surrounding area is used for coffee growing – Malawians’ very own Mzuzu coffee, so can you imagine my disappointment at being offered instant Ricoffy in every restaurant and bar i try? This lack of local pride in this product is somewhat baffling. Alright, Mzuzu coffee is not going to win any trophies and medals but at least it is half decent. After 4 years in Colombia i have become the most terrible coffee snob which i offer no apologies whatsoever.

grains and pulses

There is the A1 Indian restaurant which serves passable Indian food as well as pizzas and Malawian dishes too. It was quiet and miserable at Sunday lunchtime.

tomato market

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


rural life outside Kasungu

After queuing for almost an hour outside National Bank, i am two people away from the ATM when the only machine announces it has run out of money. There is a Standard Bank opposite with two working ATMs and i head over to join yet another manic queue. The first machine packs up after half an hour, but one still seems to be going strong. It seems unfortunate that many Malawians still seem to be unfamiliar on how to use an ATM and some take almost 10 minutes staring quizzically at the screen. This time the final machine packs in with just three in front of me and i give up, taking my chances on there being a bank in Kasungu. I have less than USc75 in my pocket.

The bus departs at 10am with a preacher on board, who then conducts a Malawian church service in the aisles. Many of the passengers at the back join in with the hymns. By 12pm we pull up at at a gas station with an ATM opposite completely deserted. I have time to withdraw kwacha and buy sodas to rehydrate. We arrive into Kasungu by 12.40.

Outside Kasungu is something rather surreal that Lij Fire wants to show me. Outside this small clean town we walk towards the mountain for a few kilometres past some of the most basic Malawi subsistence villages before stumbling onto this.

Owned by Malawi ex- president Kamuzu Banda, he died in 1995. What is going on with the house now is not clear but security is real tight. The town has nothing to keep the travellist, but is nonetheless clean and ordered.

village laundry

swimming on the lake

cocky local lad

xima eating

yet another bunch of African kids wanting their photos taken

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The state capital of Malawi is a rather sprawled out city, loosely divided into the old town, with a bustling market like feel to it, and the commercial, banking and political centre hidden in forested land. This is somewhat of a over-simplification however as there are some 50 odd districts. Quite attractive, especially with purple blossom trees along the roadside, if not particularly interesting or beautiful.

purple blossom on the trees in the "new" city

The “new” part of the city is set in a very green area with just a couple of larger buildings peeking over the tree-line. This area contains government buildings, offices and the main banking zone.

a Lilongwe skyscraper - Kang'ombe House

There is far more hustle and bustle in the “old” part and seems quite at odds with its counterpart in the forests.

rustic bridge

market in the "old" part

It’s been a while since i spent time in a major city so i try and make the most of it, predominantly stocking up on stuff more tricky to find in small towns and villages.

The city boasts a large Shoprite and for some expensive treats in fine foods, Foodworths is great (at the Bisnowaty Centre P.O. Box 26), including a choice of olive oils, Coleman’s English mustard and a decent deli counter.

I head into The Four Seasons for a slap-up dinner and some live music from 3 local acoustic musicians. The Four Seasons also has some exclusive handicrafts from all round Africa at expensive prices. Nonetheless the quality and originality of the work is excellent.

I am recommended to check out the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary run by the Born Free Foundation. Injured, unwanted or mistreated animals are treated and rehabilitated where possible. Foreigners pay K900 but are given a full guided tour. They have two crocodiles, a leopard, a lioness and plenty of antelope. Unfortunately the hyenas hide during the day.

lazy crocodile

The queues for the ATMs are particularly mad on Saturday and there is currently a major fuel shortage in the city with cars stacked queuing outside the gas stations/ The electricity goes out for more than 8 hours on my last day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cape Maclear

This small picturesque fishing community tucked away in a tiny jut into Lake Malawi in the south, some 18kms from the bustling town of Monkey Bay. It is probably the most quintessential Lake Malawi tourist destination.

However, chalet prices are expensive (although dorms and camping area offer better value), and it would appear that many backpackers are not prepared to pay the extra costs, which is a shame because this place is special.

Lake life

The turn-off for Cape Maclear from the main Monkey Bay Road is serviced by packed pick-up trucks, and i am fortunate to only have a 15 minute wait before slowly meandering up the 18km dirt track. It costs K200. I have heard of delayed departures involving a few hours!

Cape Maclear is part of the Lake Malawi National Park and includes a number of nearby islands where, you guessed it, boasts hippo pools, fish eagles, kayaking, snorkelling and diving. The park offers guide services at reasonable prices including excursions to Thumbi island, Otter Point and/or The Gap. A beach barbecue can also be arranged for US$10 per person including duck on the menu! There is a small but informative museum, but there is a charge of US$5 for foreigners park fee.

colourful cichlids shimmer underwater in the afternoon light

a healthy colony of fish eagles – i count at least 8 on Thumbi Island

Close to the park entrance are graves of some of the original British missionaries between 1878 – 1880.

Despite receiving a steady stream of foreigners there is still much excitement at “Mzungu” (white man) passing through the streets. I almost prefer Grandpa!

local house

I am staying at the rather special Chembe Eagle’s Nest at the far north of the peninsular who have offered me both a sizeable discount and visa payment for half board in a comfortable chalet – US$65. Camping is US$10. It’s beautifully quiet, very well maintained and the food is consistently good. Thanks Bro Suresh who has just brought himself all the jpegs he desires.

gazebo at Chembe's Eagles Nest

Those not camping and wishing to avoid dorms can stay opt for the reasonably priced Mustafa’s. Under German, UK and South African management, basic rooms start from about K3000.

Eating options include The Boma (at the Hiccup Pub) had daily specials, Geckos offers good snacks including beef samosas (K400), gujon fried fish pieces (K500) and pizzas start from K1300. The locally run Patrick’s Bar and Restaurant with dishes from K600 - K800. Taipei Garden Lodge offers some Asian style food.

sunset over Cape Maclear

Wifi throughout the village is provided by Skyband with vouchers costing K300/K600 per half hour / hour sold from Fat Monkeys.

Faces of Cape Maclear

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wounded Beast

The Beast is wounded – although hopefully not fatally.

It has always taken a lot abuse, but like myself, age must be taking its toll.

I usually shoot on single focus mode, but now The Beast stubbornly refuses to shoot on request. I can override this by using a continuous focus mode , but makes it difficult to zoom in and out, or by opting for manual focus, but with my ever deteriating eyesight it really is not a trustworthy guide.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Under The Spell

I pity anyone who fails to see magic in the World. Guardian Angel has magic powers in abundance– although in fairness to her she only produces positivity and light.

In almost every South East Asian country it would be a challenge to find it is difficult to find someone who did not believe in ghosts. Here in Malawi it is the same with witchcraft.

Witchcraft plays a major role in Malawian culture, despite the continual pooh-poohing from the Christian Missionaries over the last 150 years. The tabloids are full of stories, as indeed every local you ask has a witchcraft tale to relate.

Motor reliably informs me justice is often administered by local communities and a few people “mysteriously” disappear each year for practising the darker crafts.

Visits to witchdoctors are possible in pretty much every tourist centre.

Rasta Lij Fire informs me that both bad feelings and bad dreams is caused by witchcraft and sorcery, and he wants to find me a “Penis Stick” to carry for protection. I confess to high levels of curiosity.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Senga Bay

Sunday washing on Senga Beach

Senga Bay is yet another popular spot further south from Nkarta Bay on Lake Malawi. Here there is a long strip of sandy beach, which boasts its own local fishing communities as well as tourist lodges. Accommodation prices seem to be somewhat higher here than in Nkarta Bay and food equally overpriced.

Fortunately there is now a Standard Bank ATM on the main road South.

Activities are pretty much the same also, with canoe and kayaking popular, coastal walks, bird safaris, snorkelling and diving. There is also a Hippo pool to explore further north of Safari Beach Lodge and Grant, a young South African has just opened “The Hippo Gazebo” with a couple of chalets overlooking one of the pools. The hippos emerge late evening, but beware of the flies and fire ants.

not sure how safe this is with hippos and crocs around

kingfisher near hippo pools

There is also Lizard Island some 2kms offshore where the birdlife is immense and giant lizards growing up to some 2 metres in length.

Lizard Island from Senga Bay

Accommodation: Lil Fire recommends the Safari Beach Lodge so i had there. It looks very nice but at US$100 bed and breakfast far more than i ever pay. Nonetheless i haven’t been able to access the Net via my dongle, and have plenty of stuff to upload and messages to check , so with the promise of free wifi i decide it might be worth a splurge for the night. They also have hot water and a swimming pool. A mix of rooms and gazebos i opt for a gazebo on a quiet rocky outcrop. Monkeys and lizards abound.

Whilst able to enjoy a chicken pasta in white wine sauce, nobody informs me that with so few guests they close the restaurant and bar by 8pm. I am left both hungry and thirsty and completely unable to access their wifi. Fortunately, one of the security guards comes up and offers to buy me dinner from a neighbouring resort hotel and i for K2000 procure a chicken and fries and coca cola dinner. The poorest value for money and poorly managed hotel i have come across in Africa in five months.

It is a pleasure to head across to Wamwai Beach Lodge. Run by a caring South African couple Leo and Ingrid. They also boast free wifi, but room rates far more affordable. Dorms, rooms (unattached), rooms (attached bathroom) are US10/25/40 accordingly. Day excursions, diving and boats to Cape Maclear can also be arranged. This dynamic duo have also been working on community projects. Protection of the nearby marine park has started and ideas for a community centre and activities for the local youth are in progress. Check out their website

Cold Running gets high recommendations but is currently full.

another African karate kid

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Eye and a Lens - Senga Bay

Most of the time i know when i have captured a classic moment. This was taken late afternoon on Senga Beach. I saw the vendor coming up the beach and had a more than willing foreground. Minimal cropping and conversion to filtered black and white works well on the composition.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Old Man

Don’t you find it can be difficult to guess peoples’ age when they are from another culture? My Singaporean mother-in-law looks 50 but is well over 60!

A young girl calls out "Grandpa" to me. The hair is pretty grey and wild at the moment, but It’s a first and i am not best pleased.

Editor's Addition: Lij Fire assures me that this is not meant as a personal insult. I am probably the same age as her grandfather and this is a typical greeting to someone of approriate ages.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

From Nkarta Bay to Senga Bay

I catch the 6.30am bus from the bus stand in the town. It takes some 5 and a half hours to get to Salima for K1100. A quick stop-off at the ATM there before getting a pick-up ride to Senga Bay for K100 which takes just over an hour with many pick-ups and drop-offs in between.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lake Malawi

the lake turns golden at sunset

Lake Malawi is an African Great Lake and the southmost lake in the Great Rift Valley system of East Africa. This lake, the third largest in Africa and the eighth largest lake in the world, is located between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. It is the second deepest lake in Africa, though its placid northern shore gives no hint of its depth. Indeed it's the third deepest lake in the World. This great lake's tropical waters reportedly are the habitat of more species of fish than that of any other body of water on the Earth.

The lake is between 560 and 580 kilometres long, and about 75 kilometres wide at its widest point. The total surface area of this lake is about 29,600 square kilometres (11,429 square miles).This lake has shorelines on western Mozambique, eastern Malawi, and southern Tanzania. The largest river flowing into this lake is the Ruhuhu River. This large freshwater lake has an outlet, which is the Shire River, a tributary that flows into the very large Zambezi River. About a quarter of the lake is actually part of Mozambique.

It has been a World Heritage site since 1984.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nkarta Bay

There is somewhat of a Caribbean feel to this delightful central Malawian town. Chilled, relaxed and beautiful this self-sufficient community is an awesome place to recharge batteries and recuperate from the arduous northern travels through Mozambique. The vegetation is lush and tropical, although most of the coast here is accessed on rocky outcrops.

disembarking from the Ilala Ferry

The town has two clinics, Big Blue dive outfit, Internet cafes and bustling market, especially big on Mondays. There is an ATM for Visa Plus.

I am based at the “classic” backpackers Mayoka Village, a fifteen minute hike form the centre of town. The room rates are reasonable, but the menu is on the expensive side if good quality. For example their fresh roast beef baguettes and salad are superb as is the Farmer’s Breakfast, but at over K1000 severely overpriced. They also run a series of activities, including hire of canoe and snorkelling. There is usually something arranged in the evenings too, including Sunday Night music and Thursday Night poetry reading.

lone kayak

Cheaper food options can be found around town.

The Local Restaurant is run by the interesting and informative Rasta Kelvin. He has plans to open a campsite and lodgings quite soon. Take Away (TAP) in town offers burgers, salads, pizzas (starting from K950) and Indian food. There is a few food stalls opposite the bus stop.

roosting cormorants at sunset

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vasectomies in Malawi

Unable to find a pharmacist in town to get flu medication, i am repeatedly told to check out the local government clinic in Nkarta Bay. Within 10 minutes i have been given a consultation and 30 minutes after i am in possession of medicine. Medication and consultation costs K570 - just over US2. I note from their charges however vasectomies cost just K350 as part of a government program to stem the 13 million population.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poetry In Motion

It’s not too often i get strangers coming up to me to read poetry, so it is a delight to meet young Wonder Chirwa, a local poet in Nkarta Bay. Born in Nkota-Kota, he cam to Nkarta Bay aged three. He is now a student at Pine College in Mzuzu where he uses his poetry to raise funds for his studies in Rural Development. He has compiled forty poems in his self-published anthology “Waves of Mind”.

Aged 23, Wonder only began active writing three years ago, but now enjoys exploring not just poetry, but also drama, theatre and short stories. He has linked up with Marcus, a poet from Hungary now resident in Nkarta Bay.

Asked of his influences as writer, Wonder responds Bob Dylan – whom he discovered as a twelve year old.

Wonder gives this offering for readers of ALITD


If the emerald sunlight
Shines through the leaves
In the shadow of the bright
You can touch the wisdom of the trees

The wisdom of the ages
You almost left behind
The smell of the places
You travelled in your mind

The hidden dark depths of the soul
Are grabbed by the twisted roots of destiny
The colours of life are sometimes dull
But the hope remains as the main reason to be

If you would like a collection of his works, Wonder can be contacted via email at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Malawi is a small landlocked densely populated southern/central African country with more than its fair share of unemployment corruption and HIV positive infections.

“Discovered” by the original English African explorer/missionary David Livingstone who originally named Lake Malawi as Lake Nyasa in September 1859.Clearly an inspiration to other English predominantly Anglican missionaries they literally trail-blazed through the country, and indeed still do today. Missionaries are eligible for unlimited stay visas into Malawi.

Whilst English colonialism brought an end to the slave trade and intertribal fighting in what had been named Nyasaland, land rights were stolen with increasing regularity as well as increasingly high taxation levied. Independence was finally gained in 1964 under the leadership of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Banda was ruthless in his quelling of opposition office and ran a virtual dictatorship for almost 30 years; even Lonely Planet’s Malawi guide fell victim to the heavy censorship.

Banda’s successor Bakili Muluzi was assisted by the IMF to bring about economic reforms and political prisons were quickly closed, however food prices and unemployment soared, and complaints of corruption and mismanagement abounded. Forced to step down after serving mandatory 2 terms as president, he chose Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor. The country suffered huge famines in 2005 without much be reported on it.

Lonely Planet describe Malawians as “some of the friendliest people in Africa who will go out of the way to help others". My experiences with both Vincent from Cobue and Lester on Likoma would seem to bear this out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Loss and Being an Aquarian with Aquarius Rising

Despite trying to acceptance impermanence and not least from mere material processions, the loss of my phone hurt. All my international contacts are lost from the last 10+ years.

I have complained about thefts, but there is also my own stupid losses too. In this respect, Quirimbas also claimed my lens cap for my wide angle lens (77mm) and saw my ying yang stud implode as well.

I use to be much worse at losing and breaking stuff. After all i am an Aquarian born with Aquarius rising. It has taken much focus and concentration to try and fight the stars. It should be noted previous lens cap losses occurred both in Antarctica and tracking for tiger in Chitwan, Nepal.

I try to take comfort that the phone is small fry to loss of The Beast, my MSI Notebook or indeed my MP3 player.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Onwards to Malawi

like playing a character in the African Queen - sailing to Malawi on the Ilala ferry

One thing i have failed in either vaccinating against or preventative medicine is for cold and flu. I spend the evening blowing snot from my face and by 5am next morning my throat is in rebellion too.

The Ilala steamboat plies the waters of Lake Malawi in alternating directions twice a week. Built in Glasgow in 1947 it has been in service ever since. How you manage to get a steamboat into the African interior seems so improbable, but shipped and carried by hand overland in parts. It was then reassembled in Monkey Bay in the southern part of Lake Malawi.

The Ilala ferry no longer docks on the shore of Cobue, but stops off at Likoma island. Tuesdays it sails to Monkey Bay, but i opt for the Saturday sailing to Nkarta Bay – if nothing else to find an ATM and stock up on Kwacha – the Malawian currency.

Taking a public sailing at 7am across from Cobue to Likoma it is a two hour crossing and cost Mtc200. The Immigration Officer comes down to “greet me” on the beach, gives me the full 30 day visa and tells me that the Ilala ferry will be arriving between 5pm and 10pm.

As i head off to explore the town and kill several hours, i am invited into the office/home of Lester, a Malawian local who has just signed a second 7 year contract with the Lake Milawi Project, an NGO established by a British Buddhist guy who spent three years teaching at the local school. The project is manifold including IT Training, AIDS and HIV support work, and Lester’s great passion, sustainable subsistence agriculture.

I have always got time for visionaries who seek the betterment of others, and Lester certainly falls into this category.

He gives lectures in local community halls and also tries to lead by example, having recently begun growing tomatoes, potatoes and carrots in an enclosed patch of the beach using compost to enrich the sand.

Lester is eloquent in English and offers several interesting if depressing insights into the corruption, nepotism and bribery throughout the country. He helps change my remaining Meticas into Kwacha, takes me to the Hungry Clinic, a good local restaurant and invites me to generally hang-out and chew the fat. Clearly very honest and sincere, he is known and clearly respected by everyone – a pillar of a society that still cares about pillars.

Likoma would be recommended a stop-over with a few lodges at a variety of prices, an interesting cathedral and some of cheapest diving to be had in Africa.

Rumours abound that the boat is running late and i tell Lester i’ll head over to the dock to wait patiently. He’ll have none of it saying i am his responsibility. This may be just as well, for by this stage i am floating in and out of fever. Lester insists we will hear the ferry dock as we grab a coke at the aerodrome, but by 10.30 i am anxious and a pal drives us to the ferry terminal - a small cove and beach landing.

It is complete pitch and whilst one senses a small crowd around, it’s pretty impossible to see much. The ferry finally comes into view at 11.30pm and anchors some 1000 metres offshore by 12.30. A flotilla of small transfer boats, both engine and paddle powered start the transfer of what transpires to be the multitudes laden with boxes and crates. It’s a complete shambles as crowds scramble and scream into the darkness, with children and babies wailing in tow. Again i thank Lester and tell him to go home, but he will have none of it. We patiently for about hour before inching forward to the transfer crafts. Wade heavy with both people and cargo i notice that the water line is scarily low and although perched at the front top end, i can feel my ass getting wet. Lester carries my rucksack whilst i carry my “day pack” (The Beast, Computer, MP3 player and notebook – it weighs as much as the backpack).

We pull up against the Ilala and meet pandemonium. It is complete mayhem with boxes, crates and people scattered all over. It takes some 10 minutes to navigate to the upper level of the boat whilst playing contortionist, bucking and twisting and trying to avoid smashing my head into the low ceiling as i clamber inexpertly around boxes and limbo under railings. Finally arriving on the upper deck, it is cold and no sign of any mattress hire as mentioned by Lonely Planet.

Fortunately and not surprisingly, Lester knows one of the deck-hands and procures me a key to Cabin 1. The room is small and somewhat aged, but it feels like heaven, especially whilst i feel like crap. Whilst waiting to set sail, i make the most of the sink and hot water for a shave. We finally hoist anchor at 3.30am.

my own cabin - a great place to combat fever

I ask twice to purchase the ticket and i am told someone will be around to collect the money. He finally shows up at 9.15am and charges a whopping K7230 (almost US$40!). However a cabin entitles one to a relatively clean toilet and hot shower area and free breakfast. Indeed the Full English is cracking (probably more so because of my desperate need for sustenance) which i enjoy leisurely during the penultimate stop before my chosen destination – Nkarta Bay. Unfortunately lunch is not free but nonetheless enjoy chicken and fries – for i have been forced to live on fish for much longer than i would have chosen.

disembarkation at Nkarta Bay

off the stern of the Ilala Ferry

Ten hours after setting sail from Lekoma we finally start to disembark. With a jetty to greet passengers, this is a far less painful experience than the boarding mayhem.

Lester is always happy to meet and greet visitors and can be contacted on his Malawi cell 0993 702 058