After a week of enjoying the thundering roar of the world’s largest waterfall, I rode four overly-crowded buses across Zambia to Malawi. The 700km journey was fast by African standards — only three days. Though Zambia has friendly people and lots of things to see and do, I’d heard that Malawi is even better. Yes, Malawi is great!
My first stop in Malawi was the Zomba Plateau in the south. It’s a range of jungled mountains, with peaks at about 2000 meters, filled with birds and baboons. I rented a rustic cabin by a stream for a few days, climbed some peaks, watched birds, washed myself under waterfalls, and cooked over an open fire.
From Zomba, I bused north to Monkey Bay at the south end of Lake Malawi. This is a touristy spot, with some nice beaches, and my last internet cafe for a while. The main reason for coming here is to catch the Ilala Ferry, which does a weekly circuit of the lake. Monkey Bay is its southernmost port of call.
The Ilala is a leisurely boat. It took about 36 hours to travel 200 km up the lake, stopping regularly at fishing villages to pick up and drop off passengers and their goods on both sides of the lake. If you should ever find yourself on the Ilala, be sure to pay the extra few dollars to travel first class. The first class bar is a great place for travelers to meet and swap stories. The view from the top deck of the mountains of Mozambique is well worth it.
The Ilala took me to Likoma, a sunny island with 17 square kilometers of rolling hills, baobab trees, fishing villages, and postcard-perfect beaches. I checked into a backpacker’s lodge called Mango Drift where I found paradise for $20 a day — including meals, cold beer, snorkel gear and kayaks. Lake Malawi is famous for its crystal clear, fresh water and its thousands of colorful fish, found nowhere else on Earth. Likoma Island is so idyllic that I considered it good news when the Ilala Ferry reported a mechanical breakdown … which would delay anyone’s departure from the island for a few days.
Likoma Island is also famous for its Anglican cathedral. At 100 meters long and 30 meters wide, it’s the largest church in central Africa. The regular Sunday church service, with attendance of 1500-2000 enthusiastic parishioners and seven choirs singing and dancing, is inspiring!
Did I mention the food? On Likoma Island, one lives on fresh lake fish, fruits, corn, and nishima (made from corn), all with Portuguese flavorings — due to our close proximity to Mozambique.
I ended up staying on Likoma Island for 9 days, which gave me a chance to get to know some of the island’s residents. I met the high school science teacher at church. A couple of days later, I was volunteering at the local school.
Eventually, the Ilala was repaired, so it resumed its service on Lake Malawi. It was with some regret that I reboarded the ferry and left paradise. Tanzania and Kenya are calling.