Back on Dry Land

Friday, November 18, 2016
Nkhotakota, Central Region, Malawi
I am pleased to say that our excursion off the ship mentioned in the last posting went to plan. We managed to get on the first lifeboat off the ship, get into the bar where my camera had been left, have a couple of beers, a very nice dinner and catch up on the news. Apparently Barnet drew, England beat Scotland and a hotelier will be the next President of the USA but I presume you all knew that. We then got back on before it set sail again.
The planned three hour stop took over five as the jetty at Nkhata Bay was washed away in a storm last year so even at this quite big town they still use the lifeboats to load and unload the ship . You can't imagine that a lake could not get that rough but the Ilala's predecessor sank in a storm with the loss of 145 people in 1946, we did at one stage almost lose sight of land in any direction which gives you some idea of its size.
The local people use dug out canoes or small wooden boats with an outboard motor, yesterday we did come across a fancy fibreglass speedboat but it was just the shell which the proud owner paddled with an oar. The lake ought to be ideal for a sailing school or flotilla holidays as it would take a couple of weeks to sail all the way round, there is plenty of wind and the water is always warm. There are supposed to be hippos and crocodiles at the entrances to rivers but so far we have not seen any although we did check exactly where they would be before we went kayaking.

All the men seem to be able to swim but we realised today that we have not seen any women swimmers; boats and fishing are very much a male domain.

Our arrival at Nkhotakota was the usual mayhem . We pushed our way to the front of the queue and again got on the first lifeboat along with about 40 other people and their luggage. (The lifeboat is designed for 22 people). The ship was quite a way off shore, about two thirds of the way there was a sudden scraping noise and we became stuck on a bit of the old jetty which has long since fallen into disuse. The local boatmen suddenly saw a money making opportunity and we were quickly rescued, the price was 50p as he came along side but once we and our cases were on board he held all the cards and the price quickly escalated to £3! This was the first time we have been scammed in Malawi (or Africa I think) and it left a nasty atmosphere. Anyhow once a few of the more prosperous passengers left the life boat and a couple of others had just jumped in the water it floated clear and could resume it's journey to shore.
That night we stayed in an awful hotel which happens to be right next to the landing point, as it was dark we did not fancy trying to find anywhere else, and although it was scruffy and very hot we both slept really well. Next morning we had three priorities;
1. Top up the phone - we have a Malawian SIM card in my mobile phone which enables us to call local numbers cheaply. It came with a small amount of credit but this has run out. Almost every small shop in Malawi is either painted red or green, the colours of the rival mobile phone companies, and have signs saying "top ups available here". We are using the red company, Airtel, so I asked at several shops displaying their signs yet none of them could help! I can only assume that after the free offer of having their shops repainted in red they gave up selling the cards. Eventually we found a real shop with a helpful man who thought it amusing that we had to be shown how to add credit to a phone, strangely his shop did not have the logo outside and was not painted red.
2. Get some money - Nkhotakota is a big place yet it only has two banks, one is a savings bank and won't take our UK cards the other looked more promising especially when we saw someone ahead of us actually get some money out of the ATM but when we tried it jammed and no longer dispensed money to anyone. The queue inside was a about a week long so that was the end of that.
3. Book a few nights in the Bua River Lodge - failed again. The lodge, like most businesses in Africa , can only be contacted by mobile phone but in the case of this business they are out of mobile range so you can only call them when the owner comes into town. Eventually he replied to our text but unfortunately with the dry weather the river is so low they do not have any water and have had to close.

So not a very successful morning. We did however find a very nice lodge on a beautiful beach about 20km south and have established ourselves here whilst we plan what to do next. I even helped the locals pull in their fishing nets this evening, they thought it great fun having a mazungu (a not very complementary word for a white person) helping them. We caught three cat fish each about 3lb and a bucket full of little fish like sardines.
It has been very hot recently and the main topic of conversation has been "when are the rains comming". Between mid November and mid December there is a period of "short rains" huge thunderstorms and downpours, in February and March they have the "big rains" when it pours down for much longer periods. Last night the short rains arrived, we had a spectacular dinner watching massive lightning strikes over in Mozambique, the locals said it won't rain here but they were wrong, at about 4am all hell let loose, thunder, lightning, torrential rain and high winds for a couple of hours. Now the air is much fresher and the sun is breaking through again. We can probably expect similar downpours every few days from now on.

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