Lake Malawi is the biggest and most famous lake in Malawi. It has two big islands – Likoma and Chizumulu. Those that have been to Likoma say it is an island paradise.
Malawi is a slender wedge sandwiched by three giants – Tanzania to the North, Zambia to the West and Mozambique to the East, South and West. The lake follows the same lentil shape from the tip of the country up north to the eastern region, tightly hugging the eastern boundary with Mozambique.
The lake is the most known tourist attraction in the country, with restorts dotted across its many sandy beaches. However, few establishments have resorted to perch on rocks for those that don’t feel comfortable standing on sandy foundations.
We have five lakeshore districts, Mangochi, once part of the southern region, but now apportioned to the eastern region; Salima and Nkhotakota in the central region; Nkhata Bay, Karonga in the northern region. I also understand that parts of Rumphi have access to the lake. As a tourist, both local and international, you are spoiled of choice.
My earliest trip to the lake was a family affair with the Makwitis’ – lifelong family friends. We visited the Kilekwas, a cousin to my mum, who had a lovely cottage by the beach in Mangochi. This was in the 80s. I was far from a floater let alone a swimmer, but that did not stop me or my cousins from splashing water among the gentle waves on the shore of this magnificent lake.
Stories of crocs and hippos added to the thrill. Any shifting shadow in the shallows would be followed by a yelp and a mad dash to the safety of the dry ground. My dad, in order to avoid our aquatic melee-like, preferred to swim a bit further from the shore towards where some soft reeds were flourishing. Despite getting a caution from my aunt, he continued showcasing his floating and swimming skills. After sometime he got bored and approached the shore. He had barely reached his beach chair when a hippo surfaced right on the spot he was minutes before.
We were told that it was most likely that the beast was busy foraging in the water, on the lakebed, while he was swimming above it. I wonder if he still remembers the story. Considering how savage hippos can be, this could only be a miracle. That night we heard the fellow locals clapping hands and singing songs to invite the hippos to come ashore and dance. Once the hippo approached the land, the group would give it a wide berth until it returned into the water. And the hand clapping and singing would continue, way into the night. I have never heard that since my many returns to various parts of the lake.
In the morning, one could see tracks of a giant crocodile on the beach leading to the back of the cottage. It had grown a taste for local chickens and it had successfully managed to break into my aunt’s chicken roost few weeks before our visit. Like any thief, it could not walk away from its pattern of victory. The number one rule was to steer clear of any reeds, and stick to the sandy beaches. How this was not seen as a leaking advice is beyond me. Anyway, crocs or not, it was a nice time at the lake. After all, this one was after fat chickens and not our tiny, scrawny bodies.
On the last day of our stay, my mum decided to get me into a three piece suit. Yap! Right at the lake. I obliged. Somehow I wanted to stand on the beach again. I had to negotiate vertical stairs off the wall that separated the veranda of the cottage from the rest of the beach. There was a wire fence nearby. When I returned from the beach, there was a big tear in the pants of the suit. All the grown ups insisted that I had caught it again the wire, as I was negotiating the vertical stair.
Of course, I didn’t catch any wire but I had no plausible explanation either. We said our goodbyes and got into our car. I now had a second slash from the top to the bottom. More rents appeared as we drove away. By the time we reached Liwonde, a tourist stopover on Shire River just after Mangochi, where we stopped to have lunch at Liwonde Discovery Lodge, my pair of trousers was in tatters. I had to change into a fresh pair of casual trousers. Up to this day, I have no idea what caused this systemic wardrobe failure.
Lake Malawi, a fresh water body collected over a depression in the African Great Rift Valley many millions of years ago is a natural wonder. A place of crocs and hippos, it is also a place of unparalleled beauty and tranquility. For some reason this Lake of Stars, as it is popularly known, shredded my suit, and hosted a pacifist dancing hippo and a croc with a taste for chickens. Despite its twisted sense of humour we have been bonded together since.
Plan to pay it a visit this year.