Some friendly shopkeepers opened a few mills for us to take photos. They described the shelling and grinding mechanisms and patiently recounted pricing for equipment, service, and parts. After wrapping up our mission in Limbe we decided the weekend would be a good time to get out of Blantyre and explore.
We dropped by the grocery store to pick up some drinks for the road. We were excited to find a South African cream soda. However, our enthusiasm quickly faded when we realized it was bright green and contained 9.2 g of protein. Where does the protein come from?! We had a few Fantas to assist our forgetting this unsettling experience and jumped into Daniel's car, bound for Lake Malawi.
Daniel drove us up Highway M6 to Balaka, where we continued onto Highway M17. Although the roads were new and well maintained, our progress was slowed by constant encounters with free roaming animals. Dogs, cows, and chickens typically fled the road as we approached but the goats were clueless. Unaware or unconcerned with our rapidly approaching vehicle, the goats would continue grazing (asphalt? garbage?) in the middle of the road as we decelerated to a crawl, navigated around them, and continued on our way. The Malawians call them "mbuzi". We call them jerks.
Eventually we turned east and drove into Lake Malawi National Park. The road wound through impressive mountains covered in thick vegetation and inhabited by brown monkeys who frequently visited the road but were not eager to say hello. After about 10 kilometers we emerged into a very dense settlement on the lake shore called Cape Maclear. Although we couldn't yet see the lake, the crowded, narrow streets were packed with fishmongers. We fumbled around the busy town for 20 minutes before coming upon a hotel called "Chembe Eagles' Nest". A gatekeeper let us in and we caught our first view of water. In spite of the darkness, we could tell that the lake was spectacular.
The hotel was in a small bay, bordered by rocky hills to the north and a hectic boat launch to the south. We settled into our rooms and had a catfish (compango) dinner on the beach. Across the lake we could see the lights of fisherman in canoes. The hotel rooms had air conditioning and bug nets. Awesome.
We took our time getting up on Saturday and stumbled into the dining hut for breakfast. We had french toast with bacon and cheese on it. Some continued to the beach with books while others began to explore the lake shore. We discovered a submerged boat graveyard on the rocky shoreline to the north of the hotel. The canoes are hollowed out of baobob trees and, although the lake is calm, are very difficult to balance. Conner took out a kayak which sunk almost immediately. A few more of us made attempts before we all agreed that the kayak was the problem and not us. Impressed by our nautical prowess, a local sailor asked if we'd like to go out on his catamaran the next day. We agreed and returned to the beach to relax. In addition to humans (mostly from South Africa), the beach was home to a number of goats, dogs, birds, monkeys, and a wide variety of lizards. One of them looked like a small komodo dragon. We avoided it. After dinner (a fish called chombe) we hung out in a hut on the beach. Later, I returned to my room to find that one of the lizards had made a home of my toilet. I struggled to leave him undisturbed. After waking up and hurrying to the lobby bathroom, I met the others for breakfast. We ate some pancakes and fruit and then got underway on the "Mama Afrika".
We motor-sailed a few miles out to an island called Thumbe to go snorkeling. The water was extremely clear there. We tossed in bread crumbs and bright red, yellow, blue, silver and brown fish swarmed around us. It looked like an aquarium. After an hour of snorkeling we set sail for the far side of the island where brown and white eagles were perched high in the trees. Our captain whistled to get their attention and then tossed some whole fish into the water. It was amazing watching the eagles emerge from the trees, soar toward the water, snatch up the fish, and return to eat their lunch.
Heading back toward the mainland, we came across some South Africans who had intended to swim to Thumbe but after a half mile decided it was too far and flagged us down for rescue. We picked them up and chatted on the way back to the hotel. They had driven up to Malawi from South Africa and it took them over a week! This reminded us how large Africa really is. After grabbing a quick lunch we stepped outside the hotel to a small crafts market, picked up a few souvenirs and got back on the road. This time we took Highway M15 to Mangochi and then continued on Highway M3. Our route hugged the coast for several hours. Though we drove around the shore for what seemed like an eternity, we had only seen a small portion of the lake. By surface area it's the ninth largest in the world. We took a detour to see the Liwonde National Park, which is home to elephants, rhinos, warthogs, impalas, baboons, hyenas, lions, jackals, large snakes, crocodiles, leopards and more. The staff welcomed us to the park and explained that, although we were encouraged to proceed, it was probable that the afternoon rains would wash out an old wooden bridge along the main road, obstructing our egress. Rather than spend the night dodging hungry predators we elected to press on toward Blantyre. Along the way we passed through Zomba: the colonial capital of Malawi. The city has some unique architecture that was interesting to see. An hour later, under some ominous looking clouds, we arrived safely back at our apartment in Blantyre, just in time for the sky to open up with an incredibly powerful thunderstorm.
All in all a great weekend. We settled in and got back to work for the coming week.