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Our introduction to the great expanse of Lake Malawi began at the southern end in Cape Maclear. Lake Malawi would be our home for the next month, traveling along the length of the lake from south to north and into Tanzania, waking up early every morning to catch the sun rising over the vast body of water with a spectacular view across to the mountains of Mozambique. Cape Maclear was the only location where we witnessed the sun setting over Lake Malawi because of its positioning.
We visited this area twice along the journey, first staying at Chembe’s Eagle Nest at the opposite end of the beach to Lake Malawi National Park. When we visited a few weeks later for the second time, we stayed at the Golden Sands campsite inside the national park, a quieter and more relaxed option.
The Golden Sands campsite is far from grand in terms of its facilities. The toilet block, is a fair walk away, and hasn’t been cleaned in what looks like months. And there is no running water for the shower or wash hand basins.
On the other hand, the campsite location is spectacular!
We are the only visitors and have a long stretch of sandy beach all to ourselves with exception of a few locals. In front of us, we have an uninterrupted view of the lake and a spectacular sunset every evening. To our rear, there is an old derelict hotel that thrived in the 1950s which has since been used as a canvas for art and algebra sums by the children of the rangers who live in the park.
Lake Malawi National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its biodiversity. The lake, which is one of the deepest in the world, is well known for its many endemic freshwater fish species. The most notable species is the Cichlid (pronounced sik-lid) which are abundant in the lake with over 1000 subspecies all evolving from a common ancestor. Its importance regarding the study of evolution is comparable to the finches of the Galápagos Islands.
Cichlids range from iridescent to electric to shimmering, from blue to yellow and purple and they are elaborately patterned, striped and mottled. Much of Cape Maclear and the islands close by are within the national park boundaries and therefore protected so the cichlids swim around in an abundant kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. It’s no wonder that snorkeling is one of the main attractions!
There is a wealth of other activities to do in and around this charming area of the lake including kayaking, sailing, diving, visiting the local market and local eating places, visiting Sustainable Cape Maclear (the local recycling project) and of course one can spend their days relaxing on the sandy beaches.
During our stay, a young girl, curiously approached us while we were playing a game of Bao. Bao is a traditional mancala board game played throughout East Africa with varying rules and differences and is especially popular amongst the Swahili people. We bought our own handcrafted board at the Blantyre market and it has since been a constant source of entertainment.
We gestured for her to join us. After a little while, we gave her a pen and some paper to draw. It didn’t take long before we had attracted a small crowd of children, adding to the group one by one as they returned home from school. Soon everyone was drawing pictures.
Here are some of our new friends with their works of art…
One of our favourite parts of driving along the lake was the fresh fish being sold by the local fishermen. We bought Chambo and Usipa to cook ourselves. Chambo is the most popular fish to eat in Malawi. Unfortunately, the species is under threat owing to overfishing and illegal fishing methods, such as fishing with the use of malaria nets. But our favourite was Kampango, a large, predatory and scale-less nocturnal catfish endemic to Lake Malawi, the Shire River and Lake Malombe. It is the only known fish with the unique characteristic of feeding its young with non-fertilised eggs. Upon more research I found out that it is on the IUCN red list as critically endangered. They are increasingly threatened by overfishing and water pollution. They are, however, a delicacy in Malawi and a very yummy tasting fish, not what one would expect for a catfish!
We are Woza Rafiki. Come friend and share in our adventure!