Monday, May 3
I am awoken by a blast of the ship’s fog horn as anchor is cast close to Ncharo in the early hours. I drift back to sleep.
The morning light comes early in Malawi and I am fully awake by 6am. Bjorn is shivering and has either picked up some kind of bug or ten months of travel has finally caught up with him. Can’t imagine eating flies on the Tanzanian border helped!
Fleetingly, and in silence, I admire the lake in all of its morning glory and then enjoy ‘a full English breakfast’ in the crew dining room.
We dock at Usisya. Fifty women, kids and men cram into the support vessel that is designed for twenty two.
We haven’t created the best of first impressions. You see, we rather assumed there world be an ATM in Chilumba prior to boarding the Ilaya. There was not. We have no Malawian Kwacha and not enough dollars to pay for our passage.
The boat docks at Nkhata Bay around 2pm, on the shores of Lake Malawi. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly for us, it is a national holiday today meaning the banks are closed. No ATM.
Two store-fronts away from the bank I meet the local money changer. He is the only man in town I have seen who isn’t African. Turns out he is from Lahore. He looks like a baddie in a well-made gangster film and, although friendly, seems to treat me with suspicion. Still, he offers me the best dollar-kwacha rate in Malawi and we now at least have cash for a decent lunch of Nsima (a great dollop of maize that looks like mashed potato)
Nkhata Bay is a pleasant town of well-run stores, street traders and small restaurants. It appears to be developing nicely. We watch the local football team play in front of a thousand or so spectators, sip a bottle of Kweche Kweche beer with an affable Malawian army officer by the waterfront and then return to the ship.
The MV Ilaya is a beautiful ship. She resembles a 1920s coastal steamer and puts me in mind of Humphrey Bogart in the classic black & white film, The African Queen.
On deck we have been joined by the biggest collection of mzungus we have seen since my first days in Nairobi. Our deck companions include Nina, a German journalist, who is travelling for one year with her boyfriend; a Slovenian couple; a pair of Basque lesbians and a fascinating Maltese-British bloke who sold his business in the late 90s and has been travelling ever since.
It turns chilly as soon as the sun sinks below the horizon; our warm sleeping bags and carry mats sucking in moisture causing them to be wet by the time we decide to sleep.
I leave the muzungus to it and crash out early along with the deck’s resident rat and two-dozen cockroaches.