After a much needed vacation on Zanzibar we met back up with the group and moved on to the eighth country on our trip to Africa, Malawi. Malawi is a very poor country which is geographically dominated by the world’s third deepest lake, Lake Malawi. The lake is sometimes called the calendar lake due to its dimensions, 365 miles long by 52 miles wide. After we paid our $75 for the visa we arrived at a campsite full of baobab trees on the shore of the lake. When we looked out on the lake it looked more like an ocean, with waves lapping up on the sandy beach in front of us.
We only stayed at our first campsite on the lake for the night before moving on to a popular site for overlanders and locals alike, Kande Beach. The campsite was right on a beautiful bit of beach with an island a short distance off shore. Sissy and I decided we’d upgrade out of our tent for a few nights into a beach chalet as they were only $8 per person more than camping would have been.
When we arrived we found the campsite filled with locals and were informed than it was so busy because it was mother’s day in Malawi. Most of the locals were pretty drunk by the time we got there, and with a few hundred of them packed into a relatively small campground we were feeling a bit claustrophobic. We grabbed the key to our beach hut and found some locals perched on its front porch, but were assured that everyone would be gone two hours later, as 6pm was the end of the beach party.
Six rolled around and sure enough, just about everyone cleared out, leaving a few drunk guys talking to me at the bar, and a lot of garbage behind. We entertained ourselves with the foosball table at the bar and enjoyed the night in a real bed with four walls around us. Those four walls were made of reeds and a bit of wood, so geckos joined us in the beach hut shortly, however we were happy to be out of our tent as Zanzibar had spoiled us a week before.
While we (Sissy especially) enjoy SCUBA diving, we decided to forgo diving in Lake Malawi, despite the dive shop being about 10 meters from our beach hut. The lake is known for having over 500 species of freshwater fish in it, hundreds of which haven’t even been classified by humans yet, however we had just spent a ton diving in Zanzibar and with Mozambique’s world class diving still to come, we made the financially responsible decision and rented kayaks instead.
Kayaking out to the island was a good time, getting a small but much needed workout in. Once we arrived at the island we had a blast jumping off the rocks into the lake, snorkeling, and exploring around a bit. Sissy called me over to a group of rocks and pointed. As I looked over I saw the tail of a monitor lizard she had found. She quickly pointed out a second monitor which was around two meters long and much more exposed as it stared back at us. We were lucky to watch the monitor eat the arms of a large crab it had come across before heading for the 20 minute paddle back to the beach. As we got back we rode a few of the larger waves that the lake produces all the way up to the sandy banks.
That night we joined our fellow travelers in a foosball tournament at the bar. They were unaware that I had lived in a few houses with foosball tables and had owned one myself before leaving to travel, and Sissy and I used our competitive advantage to beat each challenger in a pretty severe manner. Table tennis ended up being our fallback game after the group lost interest in playing foosball any longer.
The next day we rented boogie boards from the camp and I had the great idea of paddling out to the island on them. About halfway there we realized that a half hour had gone by and we would have been significantly faster had we swam instead. The boards were giving both of us a good bit of surf rash, but on we went until we landed at the island just over an hour after we left. There had been a fire on the island the night before, we were told from some locals who cook dinner on it for tourists, and there was still smoldering charcoal smoking about. Sadly we didn’t see any lizards that day, and jumped off some rocks into the water instead before heading back. Some poorly played beach volleyball, at least compared to the talented locals, took up the rest of our evening.
The next day it was time for us to move on to Senga Bay for our final day on Lake Malawi. We had a short drive day of only six hours and arrived at our campsite which was adjacent to a nice resort on the beach. The disparity between our primitive campsite which had two toilets sat on the sandy beach which were surrounded by reed mats and no doors, versus the $160 per night and up resort next door was drastic. Some of us headed over to the resort to borrow their showers instead of using the basic ones on the beach, also surrounded by reed mats for cover, however I got impatient while waiting for one to free up and ended up having a nice enough shower on the beach.
The setting was ideal for Sissy, who loves hearing the sound of waves at night. We were camped on the beach a short ways from the lake edge, and the massive, ocean-like lake kept her happy as the waves crashed throughout the night. The later it got, the louder the waves got, but also the windier it got, until the tent was shaking violently around us. We noticed a small sand dune forming at our feet by the tent door, but couldn’t be bothered to shut the door since we were so tired. The next morning we excavated ourselves from the mini beach we had gathered in the tent, packed up, and set off for a country I was very excited to return to after a short visit the year before, Zambia.
- Of course Lake Malawi. Of all the lakes I’ve seen, it is by far the most impressive. Its water is very clear, and at no point at the three different beaches that we camped at could we see the opposite shore. The lake is the third deepest in the world and was the closest thing I’ve seen to an ocean, despite its fresh water.
- Kande Beach was a very nice place to stay and enjoy the massive freshwater lake that is Lake Malawi. Minus the small army of inebriated locals that we encountered when we first arrived, it was a very peaceful and clean place.
- Be prepared to be sold to. This can be said about any country in Africa, however the Malawians seemed especially adept at starting innocent seeming conversations which would later turn into sales pitches. An example would be while we were playing beach volleyball a few locals joined us, playing for a half hour, before a bag magically appeared with their paintings rolled up inside.
- Be careful in parts of the lake. There is a strong current in parts of the massive lake that can quickly pull you out or off course. In the relatively calm waters at Kande we were pulled far off course more than once and had to adjust, in Senga we were warned not to pass the buoy line as the current was far too strong.