Thumper…

January 26, 2014

Farewell Likoma Island

Unfortunately, the time had come to leave Likoma and Mango Drift. We were actually planning on staying another day, but nobody could tell us for sure whether a boat would be leaving on Tuesday or not. All we and anybody else knew for sure was that there was one leaving today (Monday) and Wednesday. It was hard to argue with the theory that it may be good to have a day spare if the bus breaks down or something else happens, so rather reluctantly I agreed with Ev to depart today rather than Wednesday. I think she was glad to be going, me I could’ve had a few days more there for sure! Unfortunately that meant we also left behind Andy and Malee who had a few more extra days in Malawi before heading over to Vic Falls. We were hopefully we’d meet them back at our accommodation in a few days before we both moved on though, and that proved to be the case.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Now that rather suddenly my last morning in Likoma was upon me, I was up early to see another marvelous sun rise. While I love sun rises, I’m not the best morning person, but with the warm weather and not having to actually “do” anything, I found getting up in the morning a bit easier. So I watched the sun rise, or rather the effects of the sun rise as the sun rises on the opposite side of the island, and again, just marveled at the cool and stillness of the morning. My breakfast was the Likoma usual – banana honey pancakes, minus the honey as between us we’d cleared them out of honey! Unfortunately I ended up feeling rather green and the breakfast didn’t stay down: I’ll put that down to the malaria tablet and I have since learned my lesson to make sure that I take it after, not before, I eat. I was really not looking forward to a full 8 hour boat ride.

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Kevin at Mango drift was really good to us (as he had been for our whole stay) – took us around to Kaya Mara in the boat (the boat I had been kayaking around the last few days and the one that appears in most of my shots of Lake Malawi from the shores of Mango Drift), then we grabbed the vehicle from there and got a ride into the dock. Of course nobody knew when the boat to Nhkata Bay was going to go, just that it would. We watched as loads and loads of dry fish were carried on by the young boys. I was wondering where it would all go, but the boat was deceptively small from the outside and there was actually a fair bit of room inside when I took a look.

Our vehicle to the dock

Our vehicle to the dock

The captain was nowhere to be seen, he was off having “tea”. Tea at 8am was a little odd, but tea was explained as code for off visiting the ladies. However when he did arrive, he ensured that our stuff was stowed safely and that we had a good place to sit. Finally the boat left – we had a good 7-8 hours sailing ahead of us and no stops on the way. That’s what we thought anyway. Once we did get underway, we almost did a lap of the whole island, stopping at a few places along the way, including just off the area near the Hunger Clinic where we had been a few days ago, to pick up more cargo and passengers. It was interesting loading these big bales of fish from boat to boat and watching the young boys in the dugout canoes was pretty amazing. They were standing in them – I couldn’t even sit in one the other day without it toppling over! (They did tell me that the canoe was dodgy, I’ll take that). A stop at Chizumulu Island proved to be the last and those that needed actually had a chance to use a toilet.

Fish anyone?

Fish anyone?

In Australia we’ve often seen the pictures of people from Indonesia arriving in boats as they try to come to Australia. Well, the boat we were in looked just like that. You can see why and how so many people drown in those things. Conditions were ordinary – we did have some cover from the sun, which everyone was grateful for, and while there was a toilet at the back, I was not keen on using it at all – in fact it wasn’t until later in the trip, near the end, that a few brave locals used it – you know something must be a little ordinary if even the locals are avoiding it. I was on the edge of the boat and being white, the locals also kept a bit of distance from us too, which admittedly I didn’t mind because I had some room to stretch out. Near the beginning of the trip, I looked over the edge and tried to get my hand in the water to cool down. I was miles from the water and I remember thinking if I actually touch that, surely I’d have to be mighty close to actually falling in, rolling over or sinking. Well, during the trip, my hand met with the water many times. The boat was rocking around like a cork in a shaken bottle and at one point the guy in front of me was throwing up over the side. It was an interesting trip – nobody really talked much to anyone, the noise of the motor drowned out most attempts at conversation anyway, and people seemed to make themselves comfortable however the could.

Enjoying the ride!

Enjoying the ride!

I was glad to see land after about 8 hours on the boat, but even unloading proved to be an interesting affair. Normally you would get off in an orderly manner, then have somebody unload the cargo… Nope. Nothing like that. It was pretty much every man for himself, and with the boat pulled up parallel to the dock the whole side of the boat was “an exit”. As well as that, virtually everyone on the dock actually got on the boat to help unload the boat as well, leaving the boat dangerously lopsided. We decided to make a dash for it and while it was a great experience (and yes I’d do it again), I was more than happy to leave the boat, chaos and confusion behind!

The chaos of unloading

The chaos of unloading

We negotiated more chaos in the main street and ended up staying that night at Big Blue Star Backpackers in Nhkata Bay. I’m not sure I’d recommend this – in fact we sent a message through to Andy and said find somewhere else! It wasn’t totally bad, at least the showers were warm, but I’m glad it didn’t rain as I’m sure the roof would’ve leaked and looking through the holes in the floor through to the rocks below was a little unnerving. We ate that night in one of the local restaurants – service was good and food was a typical African meal – but can’t remember the name of the place.

Shrug, it's just a window!

Shrug, it’s just a window!

The next day was spent on the bus back to Lilongwe with our Punctual Reliable and Friendly coaches – AXA Bus Company. And would you believe it, we broke down! Thankfully it wasn’t far from Salima – apparently AXA have two bus mechanics to service their fleet all over the country, one based in Salima and the other in Lilongwe. The one from Salima just happened to be in town and was able to come out and get us going again. Of course I’d hate to be the driver who apparently didn’t check that his bus had the necessary oil and water it needed…

Help is on its way!

Help is on its way!

While we were stopped, Ev asked a local to show her to a toilet. He took us on a short tour of the laneways, past people cooking, their houses, shops and backyards. On arrival at his personal toilet, there were about 5 or 6 people building around outside, and the toilet (and anyone using it) in full view of those guys. Not suprisingly Ev got cold feet and the poor young guy was left wondering what was wrong when she wouldn’t use it!

Chooks and bongos on the bus

Chooks and bongos on the bus

The bus ride was another interesting trip – by and large the locals gave us a wide berth but we were grateful to the young guy who had travelled a bit and could speak reasonable english and kept us informed of what was happening. He had an interesting story and along with his cargo of about a dozen bongos, it was looking like he’d have to spend the night at the Salima bus stop as he’d missed his connection. We were quite surprised that he was relying on the buses running on time to get his connection. He was quite surprised that our trip UP had taken 12 hours and that excluding the delay, we were still running late now!

Between Salima and Lilongwe

Between Salima and Lilongwe

The countryside between Nhkata Bay and Salima tells a tale of a country in poverty and of a hard life lived on the land. Largely the people are doing it tough, the houses and clothes speak of very little money and food, there doesn’t look to be much farming activity undertaken and the areas around look very dry. Despite that, it is a country I’d love to visit again, it’s safe and the people are generally very friendly.

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