One of Africa’s great lakes and a holiday destination par excellence, Lake Malawi is the ultimate escape to balmy bliss.
Lake Malawi– here life is lived slower – always with the sun on your face and the lapping lake at your feet. It’s a water lover’s paradise in central Africa. Morning has broken and the air is still and hot.
Along the lakeside, fishermen are mending nets piled high on their boats, chatting animatedly as they go about their repairs. The fine mesh nets are for
We’re at Livingstonia Beach, close to the town of Salima in the central lake region, and are relishing the relaxed atmosphere and warm weather. The area is just two hours’ drive from the capital Lilongwe on an excellent tarred road – which is worthy of mention since most of Malawi’s roads are not easy going.
Our driver described the journey as “like driving on silk”, which it was after enduring some bone-rattling trips earlier on in our travels. While most of the roads are rough, experiences in Malawi are generally smooth and hospitality is generous.
Importance to the people
It’s touted as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and the people are avid ambassadors of this title. Warm greetings from the fishermen punctuate our morning walk along the lakeshore, where they are going about their business as they do every other day.
Here the names of days don’t matter, only the weather is important, and shortly they’ll be heading out to fish on the vast lake under clear skies and doused in
On appearance, the lake looks emphatically like the ocean, replete with rocky points and outcrops, and waves breaking onto the shore. When the wind whips up, the lake can turn wild and sink small boats if it is in the mood.
So Lake Malawi commands respect from fishermen and locals who depend on her waters for their sustenance and survival. To us the lake is languid and a great place to unwind our minds; to locals, it’s everything – provider of food and water and hope.
The Lake of Stars
When David Livingstone first clapped eyes on Lake Malawi, he called it The Lake of Stars for the lanterns of local fishermen heading out to fish in the evenings. However, it’s also known as ‘the calendar lake’ for the quirky fact that its dimensions are said to be 365 miles long, 52 miles wide at the widest point, and 12 rivers flow into the lake. It’s also Africa’s third largest lake – and ninth biggest in the world – and reaches a depth of 700m in places.
Touted to have over 1 000 different species of colourful cichlid fish in the lake, with 99% of these occuring nowhere else on earth – Lake Malawi is a special place and a unique environment to experience, and snorkelling the lake is evocative.
Cichlids live in a colourful underwater realm, and if you look closely, you may be privy to some of their unusual breeding habits and table manners. Some species of Cichlid build sand castles to impress and attract a lady mate, other species work in collaboration with kampango catfish to share a nest and at the same time get added protection from predators.
Females from various species of Cichlid carry their eggs in their mouths for safe keeping, and once hatched the kids return to mom’s mouth if ever they feel threatened. Still, other species of Cichlid play dead and then gobble up any fish that comes to investigate their plight. There are some species that feign illness, but with the same plan in mind, while others just disguise themselves as weeds.
It’s a fantastical water world just below the surface, and easy to see with only a mask and snorkel. In southern Lake
Lake Malawi National Park protects the Cichlids across the lake and was the first freshwater national park to be declared in the world. “It’s not always this calm,” quips a fisherman stitching his net on the shore nearby, “so if you want to snorkel and see fish, today is a good day for that.”
We talk business, strike a deal and head back to our room to pick up our goggles and snorkels. Just 15 minutes later we are heading out on Kennedy’s traditional wooden dugout canoe, equipped with a small bucket for
Swim like the locals
Out onto the lake we sail, then around a rocky point and we are there. “This is a good spot to snorkel,” says Kennedy. “You can jump out here and you should see lots of colourful fish. The water is lovely and warm. I will move away a little and see if I can catch us a fish for lunch.” The water is crystal clear with visibility of around 30 metres, and all around us are small brightly coloured fish.
We seem to magnetically attract them, as they swim closer and curiously circle around us. Lukewarm water, no rip current, just lying on the lake surface looking down at a fantastical collection of Lake Malawi Cichlids in fanciful colours – it’s the ultimate, weightless, otherworldly, in the moment experience. Relaxation for body and mind at its finest.
Dining, Malawi style
Nearly an hour later – though it felt like mere minutes – Kennedy returns, holding up two medium-sized fish. “Chambo for lunch,” he says as he draws closer, “we will cook it on the shore.” Back on the skinny wooden boat after a yang and a pull, we ease along the edge of the lake until Kennedy finds a spot he likes and we all hop out the boat and onto the sandy shore.
In a small cove, he rounds up some firewood, lights up and starts to prepare lunch. He has a silver-scrubbed but battered pot and cooks sticky rice with lake water, drains it and adds some fresh-cut tomatoes. The
And without further ado, lunch is served. Simple fresh fish, rice and tomatoes over the lot on a tin plate and eaten with a spoon. No salt or spices or trimmings. “The food is so fresh,” says Kennedy, “so we don’t need spices to make it taste good.”
Kennedy’s simple spontaneous lunch remains one of the finest meals we’ve ever eaten. We talk about it still. How less is more. Just how appealing the simple life is, lived to weather patterns and decided on the day. And how the ultimate African destination to experience this is on Lake Malawi. But choose the central lake area. Here you can experience lake life like a local by day, while nights can be spent sleeping in comfort.
story By Keri Harvey