Christmas and New Year at Lake Malawi

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

We awoke refreshed, clean and happy on Christmas day. Santa had left me a lovely green Zanzibarian scarf, but had been slack and not got Kirsty a Christmas present. Bad santa, he'd better make it up to poor wee Kirsty!

After a quick but good breakfast, we (Kirsty and I, plus the other 2 couples who also hadn't made it to Lake Malawi in time for Christmas morning) made our way to the taxi stands to catch a minibus to the lake. It was only an hour drive to the shores of the lake, and a very pleasant drive at that through green rolling hills. Fresh off the minibus at Nkhata Bay, we were immediately welcomed and offered a free lift to Mayoka Village, a backpackers that had been recommended to us.

We turned up to find fellow backpackers and Christmas celebrations galore. About 50 or so backpackers and peacecorp/VSO volunteers were all packed into the bar and spilling out into the lake. A great way to spend Christmas day! We were given a charming room looking out over the lake, balcony and all, jumped in the lake to cool off, then set about waiting for the Christmas feast. We waited, and waited, and waited, dodged the local 'artists' and touts (who were trying to drum up business) as the focal point of our dinner, a poor wee goat who looked like he had jumped spread-eagled onto the BBQ, was being roasted. In typical African style dinner was 2 hours behind schedule, but a real proper Christmas feast. We loaded our plates, first with salads and goat, and then a second time with the 6 different varieties of desert, and then walked around for the rest of the day complaining about how my stomach hurt. Its not Christmas if you don't overeat!

The ambience at the lake was perfect for travel weary us - a backpackers paradise of books to read, free snorkelling equipment, fantastic company and great food. We wasted the days away doing...not much. We had changed lodges to the much quieter Butterfly lodge, where we spent two entire days doing nothing but playing 500 and scrabble amidst much talk (but not much 'do') about solving the world's problems.

It was at Butterfly that we first heard rumours of a hidden paradise 5 hours boat ride up north, in a location so remote that the nearest village was a 5 hour walk. We were up for the challenge and so tagged onto the back of another group of backpackers from Butterfly heading up there. Charlie (the owner of both Butterfly and Ruare Lodge), Sam and Ryan a South African couple (yipee! a place to stay in Capetown!), Neil (UK) and Maria (a Swede with an aversion to insects - Africa was not the best choice for her!), Jay, Nat and Francesca (all VSO volunteers living in Zambia/Malawi) and Kirsty and I all took a boat into the village where we were piled (literally) on top of the roof of a small fishing vessel. The sun was shining and I wanted a break from the sudden onslaught of backpackers that we had hit since Zanzibar, so chose to sit inside the cabin with the locals. Babies were piled up upon me (and yip, I do believe I got wee-ed on again....) while the boat 'engineer' was busy bailing water out of the hull - which as it happens had come up to only 1cm below the electrical points... The boat ploughed on through the day and then into the night, stopping to let chickens and sacks of coal onboard and to drop locals off along the way, while the engineer bailed to keep us afloat. I got cramp down below with the babies on my knee and so for the last few hours joined the others on the roof, laid out watching the stars in the sky.

Eventually, at 10pm, we heard the gushing of waterfalls and saw a distant light. We had arrived at our hidden garden paradise. It wasn't until morning that we were able to appreciate the true beauty of the place - cosy thatched huts hidden amongst lush gardens with mango-lidden trees, all on the edges of the lake. One of the balconies even had a jumping platform - from bed to the lake! The next two days flew by as we relaxed and snorkelled and slid down the waterfalls, feeling a lot like Adam and Eve (and in the case of one certain Australian friend of mine, behaving a bit like Adam and Eve as well! Enuff said!)

On the 30th, we had to wake up early to hike our way back over the surrounding MOUNTAINS (although Charlie did try to assure us that they were small hills) to the small village of Usisya, from where we would try and find some form of transportation back to Nkhata Bay for New Years. The hike was a tough one - our previous level of super-fit had somewhat disspated in the last 3 weeks of lounging on beaches in Zanzibar and on the shores of the lake. Kirsty and I struggled most of the way on the 6 hour trek, but oh-so-enjoyed the much needed exercise.

Usisya was a pleasant surprise when we arrived. In the middle of nowhere a lovely backpackers lodge with no customers what-so-ever (its a little remote to say the least) swinging hammocks and the best toilet in the world. Another little tropical paradise! We slept the night in the hammocks and woke up early on New Years Eve keen to get back to Nkhata bay for the big party.

Charlie tried his very best to get us back as quickly as possible. He first tried to get us a ride on the very unreliable public transport - a truck was supposed to leave at 6am, but in true African style, it had, for whatever reason, decided to leave at 10pm the night before. Duh. Foiled, but not out, Charlie then set about hiring us a boat back. Our 6am boat, complete with a young lad with cute buttocks and "50 Cead" self-tattooed on his chest, finally made it at 12.00 when we had all-but-given-up-on ever getting back to Nkhata Bay in time for the New Year. We set off very slllooowwwwly, boat loaded down with spirits and smoke in celebration, not quite sure if we had enough petrol on board to get us back or not. It was a long journey fighting the waves with no toilet stops - its amazing what one can do with a jerry can and a sarong! The petrol was running lower and lower, and lo and behold, 8 hours later and still 30 minutes out from the bay the engine gave in and we were left floating in the lake. Thank god for cell phones. We whipped our up and had Charlie ring in for help as we drifted for shore.

Right in the nick of time, just past 8pm and we finally arrived back at Butterfly. Exhausted but still wanting to join in the New Years celebrations, we all headed over to Mayoka where the party was happening, and threw back a few drinks. Charlie hung out with us, feeding Kirsty and I alcoholic concoctions as the New Year came around.

What happened after then I am only allowed to 'allude' to - but lets just say I was left cold and shivering out in the rain for most of the night until I managed to persuade Mark to give up his dorm bed for me at 4am. Kirsty and I are now officially 'even' after I dumped her in Morocco to go travelling with a certain camel nomad!

Happy New Year everyone!!!!!
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Where I stayed
butterfly lodge
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