March 2022: As part of a multi-country Africa trip, my wife, friend and I visited Malawi for 3 nights/4 days. For me the main appeal of Malawi is lake Malawi, a clear freshwater lake with the highest diversity of tropical freshwater fish in the world and I made this the focus of our visit.

About Malawi

Malawi is an ex-British colony and because of this it is English speaking. The country is rural and is considered one of the poorest countries in the world but despite this the people are kind and friendly and are known for their warm and laidback nature. There is also burgeoning ex-pat community due to the low costs of living and tropical warm climate.

Map of Malawi Location

To get to Malawi an electronic visa was required in advance, and it took me weeks to find an acceptable form of payment needed to complete the process as all my credit cards were declined. This evidently was a widespread problem for many foreigners. I reached out to immigration officials, locals at a hotel in Malawi and all were unable to assist. Then by a weird stroke of luck I tried my mother in laws credit union debit card just for the heck of it and it worked. This saved us the hassle of being potentially denied entry into Malawi.

To get to Malawi, we flew via Ethiopian Airlines from Burundi, spending one night in a transit hotel in Addis Ababa provided by the airlines. We flew into Lilongwe a sleepy city with a very rural layout, and we stayed in a guesthouse on the edge of town that was separated from just about everything. To order a taxi, it took 45 minutes because there were no other cars in our neighborhood.

Looking for Snakes in Lilongwe

Day 1: Before I travel to a country, I always join a Facebook expat group for a given country to obtain valuable current info and to meet other interesting people. One such person I met on the expat group for Malawi is an American lady, Nicole with a Malawian husband who runs a charitable organization that rescue and relocates reptiles such as snakes in the Lilongwe area. The hope is that people will call her to relocate these animals instead of killing them in order to promote conservation.

I had visited an operation like this before to see King Cobras and native snakes in Bali, Indonesia and I am always happy to support conservation, so I coordinated with the American lady-Kalyn to meet and look for some local reptiles in a wild area near Lilongwe. She found a lodge with a of well-preserved nature, so we all agreed to meet there. Unfortunately, we got a late start due to the horrendous traffic and we arrived late and tired and didn’t really put a lot of effort into looking for reptiles in the bush. However, Kalyn did find one non-venemous small snake.

Snake Kalyn found

Kalyn and her husband generously offered to drive us to our hotel in their vehicle since there were no other taxis and our location was so remote.

 

 

Hit by a Drunk Driver

On the drive back, a vehicle in front of us swerved into the car in front of us, hit it almost head on and swerved into our lane and we broadsided it. The impact was sudden and scary but luckily not very powerful since we were only going about 20 mph, and no one was injured. The driver in the other vehicle ran away and left his vehicle in the middle of the road with a smoking engine. It was obvious by all of the empty beer bottles in his car. Now we were at midnight on the side of the road, exhausted and too far away from our hotel with no available taxis. 

Drunk drivers car

Kalyn and her husband generously gave us a ride back to our hotel since there were no other taxis and our location was so remote. On the drive back, a vehicle in front of us swerved into the car in front of us, hit it almost head on and swerved into our lane and we hit it broadside. The impact was sudden and scary but luckily not very powerful since we were only going about 20 mph and no one was injured. The driver in the other vehicle ran away and left his vehicle in the middle of the road with a smoking engine. It was obvious why by all of the empty beer bottles in his car. Now we were at midnight on the side of the road, exhausted and too far away from our hotel with no available taxis.  Her and her husband needed to wait for the police to make sure the drunk driver faced justice so reimbursement for the damages could be received. The drunk drivers friends showed up on the scene and were asking to remove the vehicle or the evidence. The drunk drivers friend said who call the police, they are drinking its Saturday night they will not come. We are Malawians, we must look out for one another. The three of us standing on the road was attracting unwanted attention and we were tired and our friends knew this so they called around but could not find anyone to take us to our hotel. They were worried about flagging down any vehicle on the road as many drivers were intoxicated on Saturday night and we were also at risk for being robbed. One of the bystanders offered to take us instead for a small fee, which we were happy to pay.

Senga, Lake Malawi

Day 2: The next morning I arranged a taxi to take us to Lake Malawi Senga region but first we had to stop by the hospitol to take a PCR Covid test that cost us almost 100USD. The test was required for us to leave Malawi.  It is a 2 hour drive away and the hotel, the Safari beach Lodge, where we stayed in a small bungalow overlooking the lakewas in a forest reserve on the Lake . There we would use as a base in which to explore the lake. From our balcony overlooking the lake in the forest reserve we had plenty of wildlife visitors like being lumbering lizards, monkeys and rock hyrax’s. 

Rock hyrax strangely more genetically related to an elephant than a rodent

Naughty monkeys trying to break into our room

Fisherman

Fishing Village

Catch of the Day

Towering Thunderstorms Over Lake

Fishing Boat

Lizard Island

We hired a fishing boat with a few locals and set off on the hour boat ride to Lizard Island to snorkel in the lake. Lizard island is a small boulder studded island full of jungle famous for its many lizards. It is one island out of many on Lake Malawi. Our boat captain pointed to the distance to another island-No Woman Island, which i wanted to visit but it was too far away. Our captain explained it has this name because women are not allowed on the island because there are snakes on the island that will only bite women and they will die. 

Shoreline

Lizard island

On the island we hiked through the spider infested jungle to the peak and over to the other side of the island to swim in a beautiful lagoon. The water was clear but not as clear as usual because it was still the rainy season, and the lake visibility is not as good because of the run-off of sediment from rain into the lake. We were able to see some of the cichlids that lake Malai is famous for. There are 850 species of them and in the dry season when lake visibility is good, the snorkeling or diving among the fish is spectacular. Even though the visibility wasn’t great, we loved swimming in the refreshingly cool waters among boulders. Around Lizard Island, we caught glimpses of some of the beautiful fish eagles with their large white plumage but I wasn’t fast enough to grab a photo. 

We ended up spending more time on the island we expected because out boats motor died. The boat captain used our phone to call his friend who had another boat and he asked his friend to swing by and rescue us. The other boat did finally arrive and towed us back to our hotel. 

Our swimming cove

Bug Tornado

Day 3: On my first morning on lake Malawi, I saw a series of these tornadoes in the distance, and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I didn’t think tornadoes were really a weather phenomenon in Africa. One of the locals confirmed that what I saw was indeed a tornado-one of bugs. or as the local called them lake flies. During the rainy season millions of biting insects hatch from their eggs and rise to the surface of the lake forming into huge bug tornadoes as they search for mates. 

Bug Tornado

Local people in boats collect the flies with wet towels and mix them into a batter to make a kind of bug burger. The bug burgers are known to have more protein than beef burgers. and no, I didn’t try one of the bug burgers. Although I would have if I saw one.

Lake Malawi Sunrise

Parasites from Swimming in the Lake

My wife, who works in the medical field was researching parasites in lake Malawi after we were swimming in it all day just one day earlier and me again in the morning. She found that Lake Malawi has an extremely high number of parasites due to the overfishing which has upset the ecosystem of the lake by removing the fish and other predators that prey on parasites. As a result, Schistosomiasis a parasitic worm that can be deadly over time, that never used to be common, is now found in the majority of residents that live along the lake. Paula dug up another article that indicated a study of recent vacationers from England showed that 35 % of them had contracted Schistosomiasis. One tourist even became paralyzed from a parasite that swam up his penis. These were all horrible stories and because of this we decided to get tested for parasites upon returning home. 

Crocodile Farm

In the afternoon we set off to Lilongwe, where we stayed at a hotel in a Chinese community, where we ate Chinese food while watching a raging violent thunderstorm. Along the way we stopped at a crocodile farm, where baby crocodiles are bred to make purses and boots and sold to Italy. The large, old crocodile are not killed and are instead used for breeding.

baby crocs used for handbags and boots

Big crocs used for breeding purposes

Day 4: In the morning we caught our flight on Malawi Airlines to South Africa to meet our friend Debjeet for lunch at the airport. 

9 + 10 =

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