LAKE MALAWI : The art of ‘extreme chilling’, Dube the artist and Border detention
Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa in Mozambique, is an African Great Lake and the most southern lake in the East African Rift Valley. This fascinating natural wonder is located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa and the ninth largest in the world. Reportedly the habitat of more species of fish than any other body of freshwater in the world. Fascinatingly enough, it is one of less than 20 ancient lakes on earth. The fantasy world of Lord Of The Rings comes to mind again.
Our next destination was Monkey Bay, towards the southern end of the lake. This laid back little town is Malawi’s main port. Few tourists know about the small hidden beaches around Monkey Bay and usually head for the nearby delights of Cape Maclear. This suited us fine. We enjoy the less busy or off–the-beaten-track hideaways. Pieter, whom we met in Liwonde earlier on, recommended a place by the name of Mufasa in Monkey Bay. Apparently it had a small private beach and most tourists didn’t know about it. It sounded like our kind of place. We couldn’t have asked for better!
On our arrival at Mufasa we were instantly blown away by the absolute tranquility of the place. Tucked away in a little bay was a small, peaceful beach, overlooking the lake with its crystal clear waters. It felt like being on a tropical island, like the Seychelles. The lake was filled with the most amazingly colourful fish I have ever seen in my life. It was literally like staring into an exotic aquarium. I even spotted a fish that resembled the gay flag! Striped with all the colours of the rainbow. We felt like we were in the fantasy world of the movie, Finding Nemo. All along the shore line, massive boulders rose out of the lake, stacked up to create little islands, hills and mountains. Scattered in the rocky hills were Acacia thorn trees, Baobabs and Wild Date palm trees. Fish eagles were flying over the bay and their very distinctive call echoed through the little bay and up the mountains surrounding it. It was like the bush veld by the sea! Beautiful elements of nature combined together to create a unique nature lover’s paradise. It totally blew our minds. Once again the best part was that there were never more than ten people around the place at any given time. With peace and quiet guaranteed daily, we fell in love with it immediately. We initially planned for two nights there, but ended up staying for ten days. Our longest stay at any place during our whole trip.
During our time at Mufasa we partook in the sport of ‘extreme chilling’. This particular sport is played by doing as little as possible, while sitting on your ass enjoying your beautiful surroundings. Spending hours of each day just staring at the fascinating scenery. You go to bed at eight pm and wake up just before five in the morning, to the call of fish eagles in the bay and African Mourning doves cooing above your tent. Not a thing in the world to worry or bother you. Just another day in paradise. We mastered the sport of ‘extreme chilling’ over ten glorious days.
Every morning, a father and his two sons religiously walked past our camp to the corner of the beach. There they would sort out their fishing nets, get in their little boat and head out onto the lake, where they would spend most of the day fishing until they had enough for that evening’s dinner. We observed this every morning and afternoon and they never missed one day. The little scene playing off in front of us, reminded us of how many people still live from hand-to-mouth on a day to day basis. Getting up each morning with their only goal to get food on the table for that day. Day in and day out.
Occasionally we would get up from our chairs and go for a swim in one of the many crystal clear rock pools in the lake. The average temperature was 38 degrees during the hottest parts of the day. So no lack of sun tanning opportunity and after a while Bouter and I started looking local. I can’t think of any other time that we were so chilled out that we literally didn’t know what the time, day of the week or date it was. It is a rhythm of life one could easily disappear into. The guy who owns Mufasa is a South African. He arrived there five years ago and never left after he fell in love with the little bay, and over time built up the little backpackers to what it is today. During our stay we also met a few other rather interesting dudes who had been there for an indefinite time. They didn’t even really know for how long they had been there for. Everyone was just too busy with ‘extreme chilling’, including ourselves. We had one more thing on our list before leaving Lake Malawi, and that was getting a souvenir of our trip. It had to be special and we found just what we wanted in Monkey Bay.
Before we left on our trip, we learned that Malawian people are great and talented artists. They are especially well known for their arts and crafts made out of wood. Mostly carvings of pretty much anything you can imagine, all done by hand and a few basic tools. From animal sculptures and toy vehicles to bowls, pipes and key rings. You name it, they could carve it out of wood for you. We decided to find someone who could hand carve a small replica of BushNav, our vehicle, out of a piece of wood. We spent a whole day asking people in the town about who they would recommend to do this little souvenir job for us. Amazingly enough, all the answers and recommendations we got was for one man. His name was Dube. According to everyone he was the artist of all artists in Monkey Bay. He would be the man to carve BushNav. We had to find this Dube.
We located him about ten kilometers out of town, where he had a little workshop going with a few other artists. Outside the workshop was a market filled with displays of their latest artworks for sale. We pulled up and asked for Dube. A few minutes later, out of a dark little hut, exited a guy with sunglasses stuck to his forehead. He was in his late forties and was the size of a hobbit (without the big feet), with short little pointy dreadlocks for hair. Just below the dark glasses on his forehead, was a pair of eyes that looked like a brand new road map of the Gauteng province. It took all of three seconds for me to realise that Dube was someone who really enjoyed his Malawian ‘golden vegetables’. What a character he was indeed. I explained what we wanted. He walked around our vehicle and took a few mental notes. No pencil or paper, and no pictures taken as an example to work from. Nothing. Just his mental notes from what he saw in the space of ten minutes. He needed two days to complete the carving of the vehicle out of a log of teak wood. Just his two hands, hammer and chisel. Two days passed and Dube came and delivered our little souvenir. We were astounded by the detail of his work! There it was, an exact replica of BushNav. Two days of hand carving and we had the best souvenir of our trip we could have asked for. We were very pleased with Dube’s work. The little golden hobbit worked his magic from just a few mental notes made in ten minutes. Astonishing stuff indeed. Just another wonder of Africa that makes us love this continent so much.
After ten days at Mufasa in Monkey Bay it was time for us to move on. If we didn’t leave then, you would not be reading this and we would probably still be busy with ‘extreme chilling’ on our little beach next to Lake Malawi. We decided against travelling further north up the lake. Fuel is a huge problem in Malawi and you never know where or when you will find any diesel. When you did find fuel, it was over seventeen rand per liter compared to the eleven rand back in SA. We decided to head west and make our way to the next country on our list, Zambia. We made our way to Lilongwe and found a quiet place, called Barefoot Safaris, just outside of town, where we set up camp. We had an early night as we were leaving at six am the next morning to get to the border early. Little did we know what the next border crossing had in store for us.
We got up with the birds the next morning with a rather uneasy feeling in the air – another border crossing lay ahead of us. Our previous horror of a border crossing between Mozambique and Malawi was still fresh in our minds. Hearts were pumping faster and sweaty palms developed. We arrived at the Mchinga / Chipata border crossing around eight am that morning. Surprisingly there was no one to hassle us and everything was rather quiet. Immediately we felt a little bit better and less stressed out. The first step was to get stamped out on the Malawian side. After handing our passports over to the customs official, the look on his face became rather confused. He stared at our passports and looked at us funny. That’s when you immediately start thinking…oh shit…..what now? The official didn’t say a word. He put our passports to the side and carried on helping the few people behind us. WTF! When he was done, he slid our passports back in front of him and called us over.
His first question was: “How long did you guys stay in Malawi?” Being as chilled out as we were, we had to rethink the answer to that question for a few seconds.
The ‘extreme chilling’ clearly got the better of us. I replied by saying that it was about twelve days. He looked at me and said: “Both of you have been in the country for nineteen days.” Nineteen days! Gosh, it must have been a real good stay then. The problem was that we were granted only a seven day stay visa when we entered Malawi! That of course all happened at the previous border crossing, on the night that we decided to travel for seventeen hours non-stop to get to Malawi. Great. No matter what we did or say, we were illegally in the country. He had us by the balls. We were then ordered to go to the back office where we had to wait for about a half an hour. Immediately we got flashbacks from a similar little ordeal we had to go through in Mexico City just six months before. Only this time the people spoke English and I knew getting out of this one may just be a little easier. We were given two options. The first option was to get arrested and sent to Lilongwe for the weekend, after which we would have to appear in court on the Monday to argue our case. We both looked at him expectantly: “let us hear option two please.” As we thought, option two would be the easiest and least stressful, but definitely the most expensive.
Option two was fifty US dollars per person. Hundred dollars in total! That was twenty nights worth of camping. A big blow to a budget that still had to keep us going for another month. We had no choice. We both sighed a silent sigh of relief at getting off the hook so lightly. We got stamped out of Malawi and had no problems getting into Zambia. At the start of our trip, Zambia was the country that had us the most nervous for some or other reason. That was all to change soon.
Catch us next week for part 4 and the final installment of our Bushwhacking adventures, where we explore the weird, the rare and the wonderful of Zambia, and then finally Zimbabwe.
Keep on Designing Life
Edrich and Lelanie