Connect the dots

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mozambique to Malawi: Part III

Part III: By boat from Monkey Bay to Nkhata Bay on the Ilala

Malawi was never originally on our minds, but rave reviews from fellow travelers and South Africans convinced us to make a detour on our way north. We immediately felt their trademark friendliness, in contrast to the hardness of the Mozambicans - okay, that's the time last I mention that. But that alone was enough to keep us here at least a few days.

We got our feet wet by going to Cape Maclear for a taste of Lake Malawi. In addition, it was close to Monkey Bay, the point of departure for the famed ferry. Weary of bilharzia, we heeded the Lonely Planet health warnings of steering clear of fresh water lakes in Africa. But when we asked the lodge owner of Fat Monkeys (whose kids were swimming in the lake) about it, she told it was easily treated by taking praziquantel, a drug that would kill the worms and worm eggs if we had been infected. She and her family were taking the recommended dosage every three months with no side effects. We bought our pills and into the water we went! And how could you not?

Marc goes for a snorkel near Thumbi island

A few days at beach and we were ready to embark north by boat. The Ilala has a choice of 4 classes (in descending price order): the formerly luxurious en suite owner's cabin, possibly formerly luxurious but slightly less than the owner's cabin and at best a basic cabin, 1st class top deck complete with rent-able mattress if any are still available or down with the fumes and cargo economy. With Alex in tow, we reserved the basic cabin to Nkhata bay. Two nights and three days by boat.

But the adventure began even before we boarded the boat. Again, the best quality to have in Africa is patience. Remember, just because there is a schedule doesn't mean it's a valid one. In the case of the Ilala, the Friday morning departure was delayed due to repairs and was now re-scheduled to leave on Saturday, as we were led to believe. But on Thursday, we were informed that the necessary repairs were finished and that the boat would leave on it's original Friday schedule...maybe. At first it was 10am, then 2 pm, then a very definite 5pm. As we were being dropped off, we noticed that with tons of cargo stacked high, the boat was nowhere near leaving and a closed ticket office confirmed that. New time of departure: 8pm. Right. Not far from the ferry dock, we noticed a sign for Mufasa's Rustic Camp and knew that a drink was in order for the inevitable long wait...

The 500 meter walk through palms and large boulders opened up to a quiet and idyllic spot on the lake.

Mufasa Rustic Camp

First order of business: reserve a room. My gut feeling was that the original delayed departure of Saturday morning was the actual time we would sail. A room ensured a few hours of comfortable sleep in a bed and some semblance of a normal schedule for Alex.

Slowly, the small group multiplied into a mix of Belgians, Americans, Brits who had taken this same voyage 26 years ago and a Scottish/Romanian family with a child Alex's age and a 6 month old son. We tried to forget about our delayed boat over beers and a spaghetti dinner.

A new friend also waiting for the boat

Youngest member on board

Those who didn't get a room, camped out on the beach. Somewhat rested, we awoke at 7am to hear good news - our boat was ready to take passengers and depart!

Here she is - the Ilala:

We were happy to be able to drop off our bags, have a place for Alex to nap and sleep in quiet quarters for the night. If you opted for the top deck, you slept with the wind and rose with the sun. Our (very basic) cabin:

We spent most of our waking time on the top deck, drinking, reading, and getting to know the other passengers on the boat. Alex made some friends with the "big girls" on board who willingly (and patiently) absorbed her energetic play.

Most of the time, you felt as if you were in the open sea, not seeing much land in any direction.
Some of the bays were so shallow, the boat, unable to reach the shoreline, moored in the bay and let passengers off in the smaller boats.

The boat was generally quite empty on top with only the tourists that came on at Monkey Bay. But after they disembarked at Likoma Island (a popular tourist spot), it seemed like all the locals at Likoma needed to come to the mainland for the next big stop (and ours as well) at Nkhata Bay. People camped outside our door and cargo bulged out of the lower deck as we rode off in the middle of the night.

Getting off the boat was another story. I couldn't understand what was taking so long, seeing from above not many people were neither getting on or off. With Alex in front of me, we nudged our way down the steps. What did I find when I could see the bottom? Stacked directly in front of the steps were crates of empties piled to the ceiling with only about a half-foot to squeeze through between the railing and the crates! And all along the path to the exit, were bags and boxes piled high and again leaving only less than a foot to maneuver your way out! The rage in me began as people from in front and behind began to push. My immediate instinct was to shout to let us out so that they would have room to enter the boat. People were taken aback by my shouting which then escalated to screaming and stopped to first let us out. I had gone mental and it worked. The problem: the officers were checking tickets and asking for payment for passengers that had not yet paid - all at the door.

Here's the chaos after leaving the boat and finally making it to Nkhata Bay!

No comments:

Post a Comment