I’m back in the paddle again


Photo: View from my room on Mumbo Island, Lake Malawi

With their cute little faces and playful displays, otters are considered one of the world’s most likeable creatures and are often spotted swimming in Britain’s grimy, shopping trolley-filled waters. Here at Lake Malawi these lovable rodents reside too. In fact, they have a specific area named Otter’s Point nestled within the lake’s national park. With the sun rising up at 5am most days, I decided to take a trek to see if I could indeed see the otters in their natural habitat. After a sun-drenched walk along the beach, I entered Lake Malawi National Park which I was informed beforehand carried an entrance fee of $10. However, there were no park wardens on hand so I sauntered on through with the money untouched in my pocket. I overcame a few giant rocks to reach the final destination, Otter’s Point. Looking around there were as many otters here as there were three-legged dinosaurs. Zero otters; so no point really. Actually, the views here were quite beautiful. I was the only person in the vicinity and was looking upon wonderful clear waters that housed schools of fish easily visible from above the surface. The peace, tranquility and beauty of the lake was a perfect tonic to the bustling beaches nearer Cape Maclear. Careful not to lose my footing on the slippery rocks, I made way along the beach back to town once more where families were hard at work scrubbing pots, pans and dirty clothes by the edge of the lake. So busy witnessing the locals doing their chores, I almost missed the sight of a baboon coming out of the bushes behind me. Don’t see that everyday. Well, I guess you might if you lived here but for me it was a bit of a rarity. Not common to see a primate striding along the streets of London.


Photo: Baboon on the beach


Photo: Otter’s point

With my sunburnt body somewhat healed, I joined my cousin and her family for a barbecue in the evening. Sat on their patio, all of a sudden I started to feel a bit queasy. I began sweating so much it was as if I was lugging a sumo wrestler up a flight of stairs. Within seconds, I was up with the intention of going back to my room to sleep it off. 4 steps later in the backyard, I was projectile vomiting my cousin’s lawn with what I had for lunch. Chaperoned by my cousin and her family, I made it back to my room complete with water, toilet paper and an empty bucket by my bedside ready to capture anything else remaining in my stomach that wanted to make an appearance. From both ends. A very restless night with frequent painful trips to the loo ensued. Too much information. Sorry.

A day passed. Water was the only thing that I could handle. Dawn broke the following day and I managed to get some food in me and importantly keep it in me. Which was just as well because I was due to take a boat out to Mumbo Island, located some 10 kms away in the middle of the lake. The tree-covered island has a wonderful eco-lodge with a handful of rooms using solar power only and I was to spend the night in one of them. Overhead, the clouds didn’t look too good. They were foreboding, dark and stuffed full of rain ready to dump down on any boats that happened to be on the lake at the time. Yes, of course, I was in one such boat. We rocked and rolled our way to the island as the waves crashed against the sides of the wooden vessel. All I could think was, lucky I didn’t make this journey on either of the previous 2 days or I would have been spewing like a burst sewage pipe. Finally, we reached land docking around midday; just time for me to see my room before lunch. And boy was I in for a surprise. The view from my lodge of the lake and the mountains in the background was simply breathtaking. The balcony complete with a swinging hammock overlooked a beautiful rock formation too where kingfishers and eagles stood using the stone surfaces as hunting platforms. This truly was a picture postcard moment. The room itself was tastefully decorated in keeping with the natural beauty around it and a nice touch was the outdoor bucket shower. Any passing birds would get to see a lot more than just trees and plants.


Photo: Sunrise on Mumbo Island

Lunch was served and I treated myself to a beer; a sure sign my illness was firmly behind me. Later on, I went on a nature walk around Mumbo in flip-flops. An error on my part. Despite slipping and sliding over the rocks and muddy pathways, I visited some notable highlights of this wonderfully pretty island. A few secluded bays with small beaches could be reached too once I had charged through spiky and thick vegetation that is. Lizards, large and small, were dotted all over the island as were many varieties of birds. Lots of photos later, I continued back to the main lodge area with many pit stops along the way as my flip flops battled with the elements. The evening was spent having dinner with the other guests before taking a solar-powered lamp back to my room to read and relax with the sounds of the night singing away all around me. The next morning, I was woken up by the staff bringing coffee and tea to my doorstep; another nice touch. Sat on my balcony, I was joined by a few birds eager to nick a few crumbs of the biscuits that accompanied the hot breakfast beverages. One such little chap even had the audacity to perch himself on the side of my coffee cup. You are a bold one, my feathery friend.


Photo : My coffee buddy on Mumbo Island

After a full breakfast, I decided to join some other guests and take a kayak out onto the lake. As the numbers were uneven, I took a single kayak while the others all had two people to share paddling duties. Within a few minutes, I was struggling. Not with the heat which was a scorching 35 degrees, but with the physical aspect of kayaking. Sat upright with my knees bent, my back was killing me as we paddled around the island. This was not fun. I was stretching it out, bending forward, backwards, sideways, every way to try to help reduce the pain. Fat use. Surprisingly, my colourful swearing wasn’t helping either. The others all sped off happy as clams taking in the lush green scenery, watching the kingfishers swoop into the water and snapping photos of the regal-looking fish eagles perched high in the treetops. All the while, yours truly was fighting every inch of the way as local fisherman looked on with bemusement and amusement at the sight of me doing some sort of  seated-yoga to relieve the pain in my back. Way behind everyone else, I arrived back on land and exited the kayak in a less than graceful manner. My hammock was calling me; the perfect remedy for my ailing back. I swayed and rested gazing out onto the lake staring at the active birds zipping by and a lone guy in a kayak who seemed to be having a hard time with his back too. I feel your pain, mate. I then drifted off to sleep.

“Anthony!” I woke up startled in my hammock. Opening my eyes, I saw my cousin looking down at me with her little daughter. They had decided to come to the island to join me and that we were going to stay an extra night here. Awesome. I loved it here despite the killer kayaking earlier. The rest of the time on the island was spent pursuing activities that had minimal risk of harming my bones. Can’t get too many injuries from reading, sitting on a beach and sleeping. Well rested and very content, we headed back to the mainland in ideal weather conditions this time around. Mumbo Island is a place of unspoilt natural beauty and was definitely the highlight of my trip so far; one that will live long in the memory. Though every time I see a kayak, I get a sudden sharp twinge in my back.


Photo: Mumbo Island and my torture chamber otherwise known as a kayak.

The next day was a very sad day for me personally. My wonderful godmother had finally lost her battle with cancer and passed away. Double sad news was that my best friend’s mum also passed away that same evening. It was with a very heavy heart that I walked along the beach that night thinking of them both and of the loved ones left behind. Looking up into the starry sky, there were two extra ones which shone brightly above all the others. I silently said my goodbyes. May you both rest in peace.

Christmas Eve arrived. Ordinarily, on this day in England, it would be freezing cold with people bundled up in garish wool sweaters sipping hot mulled wine. Not in Malawi. At 9am, it was already hot enough to cook a full English breakfast on the bonnet of a jeep. With the sun high in the sky, I joined a group of divers heading out onto the lake. Not being a qualified scuba diver myself, I took my humble snorkelling equipment and spent my time hovering on the surface chasing schools of fish between the rocks. Tremendous fun. At a second location, there were even more fish and it reminded me of rush hour traffic as they all hurried along going to who knows where. Gathered on a rock just in front of me were a concentration of kingfishers. Yes, I googled that. Twenty strong at least. Makes a change from seeing a red robin on a snowy lawn back home.

Late afternoon, there was a local football match going on. The pitch was sandy with not a blade of grass upon it and a fallen baobab tree nearby was a good vantage point for some of the crowd. Not quite the same as Wembley Stadium. Some of the players were even in bare feet which must have hurt when trying to thwack a volley into the goal. Health and safety officials would not have been pleased to see the nets with multiple holes held down by bricks. Still, the players and crowd were extremely enthusiastic and ran onto the pitch whenever a goal was scored. Where are the stewards to prevent this? Another health and safety violation.


Photo : Local football match complete with baobab tree stand in the background

Santa Claus had come and gone. Christmas Day was upon us. My cousin, her family and some other friends in the town, gathered together at a house to celebrate with a few drinks and to devour a spit-roasted pig. Driving there, the weather turned nasty with a harsh wind blowing which sent up swirling dust clouds before thunder and lightning took over the show. Christmas was spent indoors but it didn’t dampen the festivities at all. I downed a red wine that was so sweet you would think it was bottled by Haribo. Worse was to come when the boxed wine came out. But hey ho, its Christmas. Cheers! The pig dinner was delicious despite the vivid sight of the whole animal spit-roasted, face and all, firmly logged in my mind. The boxed wine help block the image. And all memory too actually. I stumbled home to my room late that night where I slept right through Boxing Day and onto my final day in Cape Maclear. After a day full of reading, swimming and packing, I had a final barbecue with my cousin and her family; thankfully this time I was fine and wasn’t puking in their garden. In the morning, I was off. My taxi arrived punctually and I said my goodbyes to my family; time to head to the city of Blantyre to see a bit more of the country. It was an eventful 2 week stay by the shores of Lake Malawi full of highs, lows and everything in between. Who knows what else lies in store for me. A taxi with no air-conditioning in 38 degree heat is not the ideal start. Oh well, here it goes.


Photo : Christmas night by Lake Malawi









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