Tag Archives: Lake Malawi

Worst Trip Ever!

By Jae Oh

Ever blue-green Lake Malawi

Ever blue-green Lake Malawi

What a terrible weekend trip it was! The horror started on Friday morning at 5 am as the whole crew got ready to set off for Monkey Bay, Cape Maclear. Still half asleep, I made a last minute check-up to make sure I didn’t forget anything. We left our home, Makupo Village, as roosters sang for the morning sun to rise. Bumpy road and rising sun shining into my eyes didn’t help with my attempt to catch up on some missing sleep. Excitement and anxiousness didn’t help much either. With eyes wide open, I looked upon the ruddy orange sky which seemed to me, foreshadowing the future of our trip.

In about 2 hours we arrived at Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It was a big and much populated city, full of people from different countries all over the world, moving in every direction and creating chaos. It was weird to see so many azungu, foreigners. All of a sudden, culture shock and homesick hit me hard without any warning. So when we stopped at the Lilongwe Mall, we filled up our emptiness by munching down on food that we are familiar with, like savory eggs with toasts and sweet cookie desserts. My creamy yogurt, which I even dreamed about, made it a little better.

Throughout the rest of the drive, I kept on trying to take a nap. Yet, the view over the chain of valleys with small villages sprouting here and there like a scenic painting on a postcard, kept my eyes and attention busy the whole time. If only I lived on top of a mountain and had baobab trees in the backyard for my pet goats and monkeys, I would have no trouble taking a rest. Overly excited and tired, we finally arrived at a lodge named Fat Monkey, and finally ate like fat monkeys too. Even then I couldn’t relax because I had to clean out my entire bag from a leaked shampoo. Plus, our room was five meters away from Lake Malawi and day and night, sound of waves and reflection of the sun on water would coax me to jump in at all times.

The next day, Isaac, Hastings, and Jason, our tour guides, drove their boat, Shanana, over the clear ever blue-green emerald lake water and lead us to an island nearby. There, we snorkeled in refreshingly cool water full of all imaginable colored cichlids along with invisible full-of-joy parasites. When we finally got tired of disturbing the fish, lunch was ready. It was local fish, Chomba and Kampango, so fresh, they never got to touch the ground as they practically went from the lake straight to our plate. Jason kept on barbequing more and I had to eat them all clean down to bones because I wouldn’t let my favorite dish go to waste. I’m pretty sure I gained more than 2 pounds just from gnawing on the fish that lunch.

Battery draining scenary

Battery draining scenery

Even technology wouldn’t cooperate with me to create unforgettable memories. Light shows put on in the sky every sundown, changing from baby blue to yellow-orange to velvety red and finally to pitch black would drain the battery out of my camera. One night, Jason put on a tam-tam show as we sat around a warm bonfire on the sandy beach. Looking around, I couldn’t tell from the sky to water; flickering lamps on night fishing boats over the horizon was the only clue to my guess. The lake waves would keep the beat for the drums and Jason’s voice would wake the bats to dance around us among the stars. This once-in-a-life-time moment couldn’t be captured for my camera had given up a long time ago.

Finally, the event that had been foreshadowing over us the whole time happened on our way back home. Tired from sight-seeing and shopping, we decided to leave before lunch to drive while there was the light of the day. However, as life is, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere with a bag full of bananas as the only source of food. Napping, reading, and group bonding, we spent 6 hours in the bus waiting for a mechanic to arrive with a rescue bus. Lying on the broken down bus seat looking up at the starry night sky would have been more romantic if there hadn’t been annoying blood-hungry mosquitoes flying around my ears. The worst part is that when the rescue bus arrived to finally bring an end to the dreadful trip, I secretly wished upon the stars that all of this would happen all over again!

Once in a Lifetime Experience

By Annabelle Lafrechoux

My mermaid dream come true

My mermaid dream come true

On Friday morning, we set off early for a five hour drive to get to Lake Malawi. This being our first excursion, the excitement was palpable.

Once we arrived, I was totally charmed by the resort and our rooms. They were directly on the beach. We indulged in all matters that concerned foods and drinks (none alcoholic) which we usually don’t have access to a variety of either one. We relaxed by the beach. This was the first moment in a while when we could just relax. Some read, some swam, some chatted and in my case I kept working on a drawing that I had started in the caravan.

On Saturday, we had the luck to be escorted to an island in the lake by three very entertaining men. A particularity of Lake Malawi is that it has a large variety of a particular species of fish which only exist in this lake. Also, the lake’s water is quite clear and transparent which makes the fish very easy to observe from outside and in the water. We were provided with snorkeling equipment so we went on to explore the underwater world. I must admit that as a little girl I dreamed of being a mermaid. This experience is the closest I’ve gotten to that dream. The fish were not scared of us which allowed us to swim among them. For lunch, the men made us a delicious fresh meal with fish, tomato and rice. Once we got back to the resort we headed out to a restaurant where I ate an awesome pizza (the awesomeness comes from eating the same thing every day for over a week). After supper we assisted in a rhythmic drum session. This day took on a feeling of ‘’once in a life time’’ experience.

Our lucky rock

Our lucky rock

The next day, Sunday, we went exploring the surroundings. We went to the markets, explored some historical sites and a museum dedicated to Lake Malawi. By noon we needed to head back to the caravan without having had lunch and leave if we wished to arrive back at Makupo for supper.  A funny little incident occurred which will make the following even more ironic. We made a stop at a site where a huge rock with large line indents. We learned about its historical purpose as site to pray for water. The rock apparently gives good luck. We all took our turn to get our share of luck.

An hour later, our bus broke down.

We were told that it would take three hours for another caravan to come and pick us up. Frank, one of the group members who comes from Malawi said that what it really meant was Malawi hours. Most of us dismissed his comment wanting to be optimistic. We tried to best entertain ourselves, some took a nap, some read, some played cards.   Two hours and a half later, we got a call informing us that the caravan just left and that it would be there in three hours. Most of us at this point were hungry, thirsty, tired and quite bored. We could see this as an awful experience, I rather see it as a group bonding incident.  We shared whatever food we had, the water and our entertainment skills. After the sun set, we started telling stories; making some up such as one about the vegetarian mosquito Skishy.  Linden tried to start a group work session on crosswords puzzles before getting exasperated with mosquitoes being attracted by her headlight and decided to go on a killing rampage with our dear Rebecca’s nature documentary narrating skills. Let’s say that even though at this point we were trapped in a smelling caravan to stay safe from insects, we had quite some fun compared to what one might expect when thinking of such a situation.

In the end we waited for at least six hours and only arrived at Makupo at 1:00 in the morning. But hey, what is an adventure without the unexpected and bumps along the road?

June 7th – Questioning minds, struggling hearts and beautiful scenery

By Naomi Crisp

Malawian beer

Malawian beer

I was up all night thinking about everything. I got to questioning what we are doing here building a curriculum for a school in a country so different than our own. We are all newly qualified teachers or pre-service teachers who have wonderful ideas but little experience. When we know so little about day to day life in Malawi, how do we come up with appropriate lesson plans? I have no doubt that we are all excellent in lesson creation, but in our own context. In Malawi, Standard 1’s main subjects are Math, English and Chichewa. English is a second language to the students and we don’t know Chichewa so this is territory that I am completely new to and yet I am designing their syllabus. I know we are preparing it in such a way that the concepts are universal and timeless but this still weighs heavy on my mind. I also got a lovely and encouraging email from Melanie which was such a boost but at the same time made me miss home. It was a difficult and long night to sit through but I was expecting to feel this way at some point.

When 5 am rolled around people started approaching out of their rooms. We got our stuff together and had some tea before we hit the road to Lake Malawi. It was a long way to Lilongwe where we had to get papers for the bus. A few of us had to use the washroom and I am actually scared by how disgusting it was. I can’t even bring myself to blog about the experience but it will forever be engrained in my mind. On a more pleasant note, we got some breakfast in the city while we waited for the bus. It was nice to be outside and moving for a while but it was only an hour before we were on the bumpy road once more. It was interesting to watch the landscape and housing change as we travel through the country. There were more trees and the grass became greener. We began to see Baobab trees; the tall skinny trees with wide flat tops and it really started to feel like the typical African scenery seen in documentaries. The scenery was stunning and the weather absolutely beautiful as we climbed up the winding mountain roads. It was the kind of mountainous road like in the original Italian Job film with Michael Cain; needless to say, I am glad we didn’t end up dangling over the edge.

When we arrived at The Fat Monkey, it was like entering another world. It reminded me of a tropical island. The water was so clear and blue, the land all sandy with beautiful trees blooming bright orange or pink flowers. The place that we are going to swim in tomorrow apparently has amazing colourful fish too! I am so excited!! We spent the evening relaxing on the beach and talking while having a Malawian beer. When dinner came we had delicious Kapanga fish from Lake Malawi. We haven’t had fish since we arrived and to have something caught in the water you are facing made it that much better. It is an incredible lake that has huge islands dotted within it. It has so much mystery about it and is the perfect horizon to think about everything on my mind. We had a few more beers and listened to 80s music on the TV. I had so much fun and it was EXACTLY what I needed.

Day 11, 12 and 13: Lake Malawi

By Louisa Nierdermann

Day 11:

Sunset over Lake Malawi

Sunset over Lake Malawi

We got up earlier this morning to start our road trip to Lake Malawi. Once we were en route I went back to sleep; I wanted to try and sleep as long as I could to pass the time. However as we got closer to Cape Maclear the roads going windey and my concentration drifted towards watching the roads so we didn’t tumble down the mountain. We were zig-zagging the whole way down. Although the scenery was so pretty it was hard to focus on it because of the bumpy road and I tend to get carsick.

We got to Cape Maclear after driving along bumpy dirt roads that kept getting narrower. We got to our lodge, which was called Fat Monkeys.  I was amazed to find that our rooms were only steps from the water. I was not expecting this view of the water and mountains in the background. A bunch of us got into our bathing suits and soaked up the afternoon sun and even got in a little swim. The sunset was so nice and as it changed it got even prettier.  We all hung out at the bar and relaxed. This was a setting we were not used to.  The place we were staying was a bit touristy to what our normal routine is. As we were chilling at the bar I heard the sound of familiar music. I am not normally a person who listens to music on a regular basis but the familiarity of these songs gave me a comfortable feeling.

Worst nightmare

Worst nightmare

During our trip we discussed irrational fears. The majority of the people were only afraid of what bites them like bugs and mosquitoes. My irrational fear are the geckos that live in the hostel with us. It is an animal that doesn’t even harm humans. I am afraid of them crawling on me when I am curled up in my sleeping bag at night. At Lake Malawi the geckos are even bigger but I found out that they are actually lizards, which are even worse to me. When I went to bed both nights, there were two on the walls right night to my bed. I made sure to tuck in my mosquito net very tightly, not for the mosquitoes but for the lizards and geckos.

May 12:

Today was a day of adventures. We got up and had a wonderful breakfast, which was pancakes, contrary to what we were used to. We got our bathing suits on and got ready for our day of swimming in the parasite-infested water. We hopped on a boat and headed to a near by island. On our way to the island we stopped in the middle of the lake to buy fish for our lunch. The boat was a tree trunk that was shaped like a banana; I am guessing it was a banana boat. We anchored the boat on some rocks and jumped out of the boat with excitement because it was a nice day to spend out in the sun. The water was incredible; it was a bright blue color. From the rocks, the water faded as it went deeper. It went from the rocks, which are dark brown, then tan, light blue, and then to a darker blue, it was an unbelievable image. Everyone was eager to get in the water because it was such a nice day out, hardly any clouds in the sky. I love to swim and could not wait to get in this fresh water. However I did get in slowly, taking in every moment. I put my goggles on and jumped in and to my astonishment there was a whole new world under this fresh water.  The fish were indescribable; they were all different colors and when the sun would hit them their color would shine even more iridescently. At the moment I did not care if there were parasites in the water, this was a instant I would never get to see again. Even though I was not able to get a picture of what my eyes were seeing, that is an image that will undoubtedly stay in my head.

For lunch the men had cooked us the fish that had just been caught.  The freshness of the fish is something I had never tasted before, it was the best tasting fish I had ever had. Another thing that I tried for the first time was the local beer, which is fermented flour, yeast and water. It was a weird consistency, even though just the look of it was not appealing, I had to taste it.  The look of it said it all; it was not a very good taste.

Layers of the lake

Layers of the lake

After dinner we watched the local men play drums for us. The people’s enthusiasm and passion was entertaining in itself. The young boys of the village came and showed their skills, these boys were so young yet knew exactly what to play. I was really glad that we were able to watch local people play their local music.

Day 13:

Overall I think that we had a great weekend full of activities but I think we were all ready to go back to Makupo. We had the luxury of having bathrooms and even showers but when we took our showers they were cold. We realized that we wanted our shower buckets back home in Makupo.

We did a lot of touristy shopping in the morning, buying wood carved pieces and trying to bargain for the best price. After we did our shopping, we got in the bus for our long drive back. However we did not foresee how long the trip was actually going to take. I closed my eyes as we got on the bus and after only an hour of driving I was rudely awaken by the bus breaking down in the middle of the road. We were told we were going to wait for 3 hours for a new bus to come. We slowly started to entertain ourselves but we got bored pretty fast.  Linden and Corinne climbed a tree, which was amusing for around 20 minutes; a bunch of us talked before it got dark. 3 hours passed, 4 hours passed, 5 hours passed and I was convinced we were going to spend the night out there. We tried to entertain ourselves by telling stories, which eventually led to killing all the mosquitoes in the bus. It gets really dark here at night. With each passing headlight, with excitement we would say “Is this the bus?” I got tired hoping that the next car would be our bus so I decided to try and sleep for a bit.  I curled myself up and closed my eyes. Only seconds after falling asleep, everyone screamed “It’s here!” I jumped up with excitement then I heard “Wait no. It is not” but then the bus slowed down and finally after 6 hours the bus arrived.

I have come to realize that 3 hours is going to be more like 6 hours “Malawian time.” Time is a lot slower here; the people are more relaxed. If someone is late we now refer to it as “Malawian time.”

Lake Malawi Malarkey

By Linden Parker

Lake Malawi relaxation

Lake Malawi relaxation

We spent a relaxing and reflective weekend at Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. We arrived at Fat Monkey Lodge on Friday evening just in time to enjoy a gorgeous sunset over the lake. It felt so odd to be at a resort on a beach in Africa. While the beauty of sandy beaches, blue waters, sunsets and hollowed out canoes blew me away, I also longed for the tranquility and comforts of Makupo village. There is a very prevalent tourism industry at the lake that comes off as harsh and aggressive, especially in comparison to interactions in the village and surrounding communities. I also began to miss the comforts to which I had become accustomed; especially the heated water for baths and the delicious home cooked meals of rice, beans, greens and meat. Honestly, we’re pretty spoiled in the village. I vaguely remember Dr. Stonebanks once explaining that the village started implementing ecotourism practices. The current Praxis Malawi program is more focused on collaborative learning and community development than ecotourism, but we may still be unwittingly reaping the benefits of this initiative.

Hollow canoe and blue water of Lake Malawi

Hollow canoe and blue water of Lake Malawi

All that being said, I love traveling and exploring and so I did enjoy seeing the amazingly beautiful sights at Lake Malawi, especially witnessing the frenzy of tropical cichlids in this fresh water lake. These cichlids are so incredible because there are currently over 1000 varieties indigenous to Lake Malawi, a lake that has no significant rivers that feed into it. This unique ecosystem was a wonder to behold and I was so happy that even though I was apprehensive about dealing with the potential parasites and the subsequent pill, I was still able to enjoy the experience. I didn’t end up swimming because of these concerns, but I could still see all of the brightly coloured fish from the rocks and the side of the boat and with a little bit of bread I could attract them to swim closer. The tour guides supplied the bread and also introduced us to the Fish Eagles that are prevalent on the lake. They are so similar to Bald Eagles that it was eerie to see them. Just like the sunset on the beach in front of the resort, this moment made it hard for me to remember that I was indeed in Africa. We had delicious pizza for dinner that night, completing this discombobulating day.

Bringing us all back to the reality of the course and the challenges of group travel, an impromptu meeting was held before going to bed that same night. Concerns and doubts were voiced at this meeting and our commitment to the project was discussed. While this was a difficult conversation, it also helped to bring us together as a group. We had conducted a very productive work session the day before leaving on the trip to Lake Malawi and many of us were very happy with the curriculum development work that had begun, but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t further examine our commitment and our goals. After the meeting, a few of us were able to stay up late further discussing our thoughts, concerns and hopes for the coming weeks, both concerning the course work and our downtime. This was an incredible bonding moment that made me happy to be working with such strong and passionate people. I was excited about the curriculum project before the weekend and by the end of the trip I was even more interested in immersing myself in the collaborative work to be done.

Focused dancing in Makupo

Focused dancing in Makupo

I enjoy the little excursions for the new experiences they present, but the work that we do during the week is where my true enthusiasm lies. I also continue to love the personal interactions in Makupo with local co-learners and other villagers, young and old– my friendly greetings in Chichewa are becoming much more natural! In my next blog I’ll describe the curriculum development process in more detail. Until then, tionana (see you later)!