Monday, 13 March 2017

Malawi – Cape Ma-not-so-clear

March 3-5

Hello everyone!

March 3rd is a national holiday here in Malawi: Martyr’s Day. Past struggles for freedom now result in present freedom, in the form of a long weekend. An opportunity to hit the beach.

Malawi is landlocked but much of its eastern frontier is its beautiful eponymous lake. Well, normally beautiful. Heavier rains than normal have washed more than just water into Lake Malawi.

Rubbish strewn across the beach

Lots of plastic is washed ashore but most is still in the lake
The place we were staying is one of the more frequently visited travelling spots in the country: Cape Maclear. The village is situated on the edge of Lake Malawi National Park, a protected area which measured just short of 100km2.

Cape Maclear is a 3-and-a-half hour drive from Lilongwe

A panorama of Lake Malawi from the beach at Cape Maclear
My first impression wasn’t of a ‘protected’, well-conserved place; rather, a slightly neglected village which could do with a clean and a polish. It was actually quite sad to see so many of the villagers having to bathe and wash plastic kitchenware and chitenge clothes in water which one could politely describe as ‘murky’.

Clothes drying in the sun, using a fishing boat as a washing line

An enormous fishing net, used to catch chambo
A villager washing his clothes in the lake
This was the other thing that struck me: how many people live here. Quite the opposite to your European beach resorts, Cape Maclear has kept its local soul and hasn’t (yet) sold out too much to the tourist dollar. Sure, opportunists are taking their chances and showing off the entrepreneurialism. On the whole though, you are left alone to enjoy the peaceful whoosh of the waves. The Bradt guidebook says that Cape Mac is one of the most developed resorts on the lake, which probably says more about Malawi’s tourism infrastructure than the relatively sleepy nature of the town.

Kayaks were available from our campsite but other options
are few and far between

Less tourists means that you are more likely to be able
to order local delights such as grilled kampango with nsima 
One thing that Cape Maclear possesses is an abundance of fish. Lake Malawi has more described fish species (over 850) than Europe and North America combined. Many of these are cichlids (pronounced sick-lids) which are endemic to the lake.

Cichlids are small, just larger than a finger in length

Beautiful things, too. Very vivid colours.

Turns out cichlids, like most fish, come close when bread
is thrown in front of you...
To see these fancy fish in clearer waters, we kayaked to West Thumbi Island, about a kilometre from the shore. Rumours about crocodiles being around thankfully proved to be false.

A vast array of colours

After admiring the colourful cichlids for a while, we decided to paddle around the island. The different hues of green and dense forest was reminiscent of a scene from The Lost World.

The northern frontier of Thumbi

The water had an emerald hue for much of our expedition
Not realising how large the island was, we paddled about 10 kilometres in total before returning to shore as dark clouds loomed ominously in the distance.

A rainbow shining over Lake Malawi

Those dark clouds wreaked havoc on our first night, blowing the top sheet off our tent at four in the morning and resulting in us needing to drag our tent under a nearby straw roof with lightning forks firing in the immediate vicinity.

Where we were camping before the storm...

...and where we ended up after. 

In spite of the polluted nature of this part of the lake, it is worth a visit. The cichlids at Cape Maclear are a joy to behold. Apparently it never normally has this much rubbish lying around; I’m sure I’ll be back at some point to see for myself. Happy Martyr’s Day!

Love you all


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