Saturday, 10 March 2018

Malawi – How the Other Half Live on the Lake

March 2-4

Hello everyone!

Though there are many places to stay and relax along the long, narrow lake, a higher concentration are found in an area called the ‘Southern Lakeshore’.

View from Nanchengwa Lodge

View from Makokola Retreat

This stretch of sandy shore starts at Cape Maclear and meanders south to the relatively large town of Mangochi. In between lie numerous resting points, varying from the scraggy to the sublime.

Electrics on show in the rainy season? Check!

If you pay top dollar, you get a top view

We live comfortably here but there are some places which are simply way beyond our spending power. One example is the Makokola Retreat, a Malawian institution also known as ‘Club Mak’.

Makokola has beautiful gardens

My book says that a night at Makokola will set you back a mind-boggling $264 per person per night. Exclusive doesn’t begin to describe it. Certainly not somewhere we’ll be staying unless we win it as a prize.

Makokola has its own airstrip, complete with immigration
so international visitors can 'enter' Malawi here

Not to say that it’s entirely out of reach. For a small fee (4000MWK, £4) you can enter and use the facilities for the day.

Maybe with a higher fee you would be provided
with adult tennis rackets...

Their main selling point is a 30 metre swimming pool, from which you can stare at the shimmering lake.

Makokola are currently expanding so there will be more
pools on the lakeshore

The pool at Makokola Retreat

You may think it strange that people would come to the lake and swim in a swimming pool. I certainly found it odd when I first heard about it. Two main safety reasons can explain it – one invisible, and one you hope to never see too close to your eyes.

Warning: water contains bilharzia

Warning: much bigger reptiles lie in wait in the lake
during rainy season

Bilharzia is always a threat around the lake. It comes from freshwater snails and is prevalent across the country. It’s easily treated here in Malawi with medicine but not something I ever wish to get.

Bilharzia is a greater risk in stagnant water

The other issue is a problem which occurs during rainy season. Crocs get washed down the rivers which feed into the lake, particularly at its southern end. On our first evening we watched one of the workers at the place we were staying go for a quick dip in the lake. The manager immediately ran out and shouted for him to return to shore. A large crocodile had been spotted about thirty metres away from him.

When the crocodile call came out, no one was in the water

Rather than swim, these little treasures preferred to
play with our instant print camera

It put a thought in the back of my mind that perhaps we shouldn’t be camping in the vicinity of an animal which is responsible for killing some humans in Malawi, but the manager of the lodge insisted that they never come ashore. That verbal reassurance meant we could enjoy the beauty of the beach, often from the picturesque jetty which stretches out into the lake.

The view from our tent - admittedly better if you walk ten
metres so the tree isn't in your way!

The jetty at Nanchengwa Lodge

No matter what your budget, there’s a place to stay on the Southern Lakeshore. And besides, enjoying the stunning views of the lake doesn’t cost a thing, as well as being the priceless memory you take away.

Love you all,


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Malawi – One Tree at a Time

February 24

Hello everyone!

In a recent blog, I mentioned a growing feeling that I want to give back to Malawi, a country which has given me so many unique and wonderful experiences so far. Many in this country already go above and beyond to improve the lives of Malawians, giving them hope for their future.

Planting trees at Banda Hill School

Our friend Michelle runs a charity called Inspire Malawi, which she established in 2003. Its main aim is to provide a more inspiring learning environment so that children want to – and do – gain a good education.

Click on the link above
to see what Inspire Malawi do

A beautiful setting for a school playground

We spent a morning volunteering by planting trees and hedges at Banda Hill School, just before the large town of Dedza. The school, which currently has a roll of 438, has had help from Inspire Malawi and our own school in the past – the wall displays were created by some of the children I taught last year, who are now in Year 6.

The old school building is that ramshackle hut on the right -
Inspire Malawi have helped build the two new blocks on the left

Each new school block cost between £11,000 and £14,000 in total
Our BMIS volunteering team

They also have a permaculture garden, which is a valuable source of income and diversity at a time when the lack of rain is going to put severe strain on families throughout the coming year. This money is important when you consider that a school is provided 50,000MWK (£50) per term to acquire stationery and books for all pupils.

Children from the local community planting trees

Apparently only 1/5 of the trees will grow - Hannah hopes
'Twiggy' will be successful!

It was heartening to see so many people from the local community being actively involved, making the action sustainable in the longer term. It certainly wasn’t a case of foreigners coming in and dictating what is done. The local chiefs requested certain trees and explained to us where they wanted them planted.

Working together to plant the hedgerow

Over 200 trees were planted in total

After getting our hands dirty, we visited the village of Mlanda, about 20 minutes south of the school. In between two areas we’ve already visited in Dedza and Lizulu, it is a lovely area of Malawi. Situated high above sea level and along the edge of the Great Rift Valley, the contrast between lush greens and stony greys makes for a spectacular sight. The low cloud enveloping the stone, circular houses evoked images of Gorillas in the Mist and Jurassic Park.

Maize crops stand tall at this time of year

Mlanda is about an 80 minute drive from Lilongwe

The low clouds create a mysterious aura

We hiked up a trail to one of the rocks which has some very old rock art on its underside. Michelle told us that UNESCO are yet to document this particular site.

Look closely and you'll see the Sun...

The site is unprotected from human intervention

Climbing on the top of the rock also brought its own rewards.

An incredible view from one of the higher rocks

Taking a well-earned breather

It is amazing to see how a gesture which may seem so small to us, such as planting trees and hedges or painting a classroom, can make such a positive impact. An inspiring morning which made me appreciate how lucky I am and reminded me of the importance of productive volunteering in this part of the world.

Love you all


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Malawi – Friends Reunited

January 22-25

Hello everyone!

Having visitors is always nice.

Having my best friend from Korea – more like responsible older sister – visit is pretty special.

Playing volleyball on the beach at Cape Maclear

I started this blog when I moved to Korea. A big reason I moved was a pact I made with some people on my TEFL course that I would move wherever they went after Prague. One person I agreed that with was Kelly, who moved to Korea in October 2009. I followed six weeks later.

Our TEFL graduation in summer 2008 - I was 20...

Aside from a surprise flying visit in May 2011, we hadn’t been in each other’s company since I left Korea in December 2010. Over seven years ago. It goes without saying that a lot has changed since then…

Supporting Korea during the 2010 World Cup in Seoul

Rambling around Beijing's Summer Palace in summer 2010

Remarkably, Kelly still lives in Korea. However, she decided to come to southern Africa with her friend Tom, who I briefly met when we travelled around China in summer 2010. Well, when you’re this close…

Kelly and Tom had seen South Africa and Botswana before arriving

Enjoying a cuppa - if you wait as long as we did for
food to arrive, you need to enjoy it!

One main reason for loving visitors is it helps remind me of the aspects of life that captivated me when I first arrived in Malawi. The little things, like a man struggling to cycle up a hill with a sack of charcoal larger than his head swaying worryingly on the back.

Most of the time I can't take pictures as I'm driving - Hannah
was able to snap this from the passenger seat a week after the visit

It’s also a good excuse to get out of the city and go to Malawi’s main attraction: Lake Malawi. Though there are plenty of options, the closest ‘nice’ place on the lake to Lilongwe is Cape Maclear. More info about Cape Mac can be found in this blog.

Kayaking to Thumbi - the island in the distance - is
a popular activity

Surrounded by cichlids - there are more species of fish in
this lake than in North America and Europe combined

Tom finding inner peace in the lake

As ever, the sunsets were spectacular. A relaxing, beautiful place.

After stopping to help a broken down car, we only just
made it in time for this stunning sunset

A moodier sunset on Saturday night at Cape Mac

Kelly and Tom were pleasantly surprised with Malawi. The warmth of the country and spectacular scenery is a big reason for us enjoying our time in the Warm Heart of Africa, and it was wonderful to share it with two great friends. It was also wonderful to catch up - even after so long, very little seemed to have changed. The question now: who is going to visit next? :-)

The Rift Valley

Here's hoping it won't be another 7 years!

Love you all