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Flowers found on the Shores of Lake Malawi - Cape Maclear
JUNE 23, 2007

Island Life

In a recent discussion, a fellow traveler was lamenting the poor state the African people are in, and cursing fellow travelers who revel in seeing "The Real Africa". His opinion, which at the time seemed well founded, was that this was sick, and that not wanting the Africans to change was extremely distasteful. For people to maintain an existence purely for the enjoyment of western tourists was abhorrent.

A week on Likoma Island in the middle of Lake Malawi provided the perfect opportunity to take a well deserved holiday from traveling, and seven days of 'Island Life,' provided plenty of opportunity to contemplate the contrast in quality of life between western societies and their African brethren.

On our first few days on the island we were keen to explore. Setting out first around the western end of the island past the luxury resort of Kaya Mawa in Nkhwazi, and the remote villages and deserted beaches of the shores facing Mozambique, then cutting back through the island to M'Bungo and Mango Drift, our beach lodge. Waking early on day two to beat the heat, we headed east through the villages of Khuyu and Ulisa, then onto M'bamba (main town with ferry stop).

These walks through the island were extremely refreshing. After the hassles of Cape Maclear, it was nice to walk on small dirt tracks through remote villages, greeted by families as we walked through their small abodes. Children would run from their mud huts yelling "hey you, hey you...".

Likoma Island is one of the largest islands on Lake Malawi. It supports close to 8,000 people who survive off the local fishing and the meager supplies brought in from the Ilala once a week. Technically Likoma lies within Mozambican territorial waters, yet due to the massive size of the lake, opposing shores are barely visible to the naked eye.

With limited access we were gifted with few other travelers, and with no means of coming or going, we had no pressure to keep moving on our journey. We were happily trapped until the next weekly ferry arrived.

White sandy beaches border the island and whilst Malawi seems to be generally lush, Likoma was fairly dry, no major crops were growing, and the majority of the trees on the island were the grandiose baobabs. Mango Drift, the only real backpackers on the island is situated about one and a half hours from the main town of M'Bamba. Large thatched huts line the beach and hammocks tied in the trees along the shore provide the perfect location for casual days and relaxed evenings.

Life on Likoma definitely runs at a slower pace, fisherman rise early, their dugout canoes paddled out onto the water for the early morning fishing. On their return the fish are laid out on the large drying tables to cure during the hot day.

Men fishing in Lake MalawiMen fishing in Lake Malawi

On the lake, anything goes. Women line the waterfront, first they wash themselves, then their children, then the previous nights cooking pots. Clothes are washed in the lake water and laid to dry on the clean white sand. Everything happens in and around the lake shores. Life is simple, parents spend quality time with the children around the clock, the hassle of life is more about existence rather than greed.

Friday - washing her son Eric on the shores of Likoma IslandFriday - washing her son Eric on the shores of Likoma Island

In the afternoons the men drag long nets hundreds of metres out into the lake. These are then pulled by hand back into the shore, where a few small fish are gathered for the evening meal. As the catches were meager in the time we were there, additional fishing trips were made in the late afternoon, men dragging their canoes behind them as they hand netted in the shallows for bait fish.

Like the locals, after a couple of days exploring we too soon settled into our our rhythm of island life. Rising with the sun we would migrate down the beach to the restaurant hut where we would chow down on eggs on toast. After a few cups of coffee, an hour or so would be invested in a good book. As the sun rose and the day warmed we would move onto the beach, instead of showering under the baobab tree we would wash local style in the lake.

African Music
Along the way we have been collecting African music, so far we have a half decent collection from Lesotho, Mozambique, and South Africa. In an effort to expand this collection to include Malawi, while listening to a very catchy tune which was played repeatedly on the radio, I asked Evan's the barman who the artist was so that I could source the music. He broke into a fit of hysterics before revealing that it was an ad for Mosquito Nets...

Lunch for me was the excellent and highly recommended egg pasta salad and an icy cold Carlsberg. Afternoons were even more relaxed than the mornings. Swimming, snorkeling, reading and writing - everything that makes a holiday great. Children attend school in the mornings, depending on what 'standard' they are, they start and finish at different times during the day, however by midday the roads are filled with kids, running home to help their parents with the daily chores. By late afternoon they are then free to play - The local M'Bungo kids were all to keen to borrow our 'Wahu' (Frisbee) for an afternoon on the beach. What began with two to three local children on the first day quickly grew to a large gathering by the time we had to leave the island.

One of the great things about traveling and staying in backpacker hostels is the communal dinners. As the sun set over the lake, the few guests would gather for a quiet beer and a shared meal, conversations ranging from life in Poland to the hilariously wacky stories from Mr Alaska.

Sunset over Lake MalawiSunset over Lake Malawi

We have previously discussed what the bare essentials are for a happy existence, and, as we also saw in Lesotho, this seems to boil down to clean water, good sanitation, basic healthcare, and shelter from the elements. All other trappings of the modern existence are purely luxuries. During our time on Likoma Island, which was admittedly quite brief to be making such broad sweeping arguments, we experienced an innocence, a basic level of happiness that seems to be missing in western societies.

The "Real Africa" is not a thing to regret or look down on, their traditions and beliefs should be cherished rather than pitied. While threadbare clothes and malnutrition are problems faced on a daily basis, so too are kids with smiles on their faces and conversation in their eyes, the warmth of the sun, fresh fruit and the chance to enjoy life.

We will look back fondly on our time on Likoma, remembering the day we walked into town with Luka, our self appointed guide, happily joining us on the two to three hour trip there and back, barefoot, yet singing happily the whole way home.

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Makes you realise just how unimportant material life really is eh! There is a lot to be said for the simple life, the family, the smiles, the simplistic happy moments!!

Mum - Aug 01 - 2007

Such calm After the last two days of travel! No wonder you returned to the mainland refreshed.

Anonymous - June 28, 2007



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