Africa? What’s all the fuss?
Malawi? Where is that? Is that in South Africa?
Safe to say that traveling to Africa was never on my radar. I never had the urge to go, except, I’m a sucker for a good opportunity and rarely let one go by. Fast forward six years… I have been back to Africa four times and lived there for two years.
People aren’t kidding when they say that Africa gets under your skin!
Funny side bar, have you noticed how travel to Africa is commonly referred to as ‘Africa – the whole continent’ rather than the specific country that you’re visiting? I wonder why that is?
“Life changing”, you hear that a lot too when you mention that you are going to Africa. Is it life changing? That depends on the traveler and the circumstances, but Africa does have this primal affect on the psyche that can change one’s perception on life – usually for the better.
So many times I have struggled to put the images, smells and sounds into words that accurately conveyed what I was experiencing. It is just something that must be experienced for yourself!
My first exposure to African travel was to Malawi, the wonderful little country that proudly boasts the tagline “The Warm Heart of Africa”. I ended up going back a few years after my initial visit and spent two years managing a beautiful eco-friendly camp on Mumbo Island on Lake Malawi.
There is most definitely truth to that tagline of theirs!
Another tagline that you will hear while in Malawi is the “Lake of Stars”. You’ll see the fishermen prepare their dugout canoes (mokoros) as you sit enjoying sundowners at the local watering hole along the beach. The fishermen are getting ready for a whole evening of fishing, they set up their dugouts with a plank of wood across the back that has these bright lanterns (four of them) fastened to it; the lanterns are fueled by a paraffin/diesel mixture and burn so incredibly bright, it hurts your eyes.
As the evening moves on, you look out towards the lake and all you see along the horizon are hundreds of these lights bobbing up and down. It is indeed, a “Lake of Stars”! The fishermen use the bright lights to attract the fish (kampango) and, as the full moon cycle evolves, you see less and less fishermen on the lake. The moon is just too bright and the lanterns aren’t effective.
“Lake of Stars” also refers to an annual music festival that is held in various locations along the shores of the lake (usually around the end of September/beginning of October). More on that in another post!
Here are a few facts about Lake Malawi:
- Lake Malawi National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984
- Forms part of the Great Rift Valley
- Sometimes called “Calendar Lake” – 365 miles long and 52 miles wide
- The third largest lake in Africa; 8th largest lake in the world.
- The world’s 4th deepest lake at just over 2,300 feet deep
- Contains more species of fresh water fish than all of Europe and North America combined. Mostly famous for the species of cichlids that are wildly popular within the aquarium trade.
There’s no shortage of water activities on the lake! If you are at all curious about Scuba Diving, Malawi is a great place to learn and to earn your PADI certification; everything from Open Water to Master Diver courses are offered. There are some wicked dive sites including a deep wreck dive just off Thumbi Island in Cape Maclear; it’s an unbelievable dive site during a full moon!
If diving isn’t your thing, try snorkeling, where the only thing you’ll miss is the sting of salt water.
Some incredible kayaking can be had on this lake! I speak from experience as I paddled each and every day, anywhere from two to fifteen miles. It was fantastic! Most places/lodges along the Lake shore offer kayak rentals where you are free to explore the surrounding areas. If you are in Cape Maclear, paddle over to Thumbi Island or through the gap between Domwe Island and the mainland; take a book, packed lunch, some beverages, snorkel, mask and fins and find yourself a little beach to chill out on and have a snorkel.
Sailing? Yes, you can add that to the list as well! There’s the annual Lake Malawi Sailing Marathon (the world’s longest freshwater sailing race) that can feature some pretty hectic conditions as the lake can surprise you with waves produced by the Mwera (South) Winds. Not a sailor? Follow the race and meet the crews at locations along the way. You’re sure to have a good time!
Many mountain biking tours make their way from Lilongwe to the shores of Cape Maclear. Mountain biking combined with kayaking tours are also available to give a bit of diversity.
There’s a lot to do and explore in Malawi. I have only scratched the surface here. I hope to expand on these topics a little more and to delve into the cultural side of Malawi. So, stay tuned!