I was woken up quite early by a group of young men having a debate on the beach close by. They had spent most of the previous day milling around the same area not doing anything (useful) in particular. There was a boat anchored nearby and some fishing nets on the beach that seemed to be theirs but were untouched the whole time.
Cyclone Freddy and fishing nets
Later that morning I went over to have a chat. I asked them about the effects of the rising water levels. Many roads and properties in the area had been damaged by Cyclone Freddy. There was an abandoned lodge next door to our cottage waist-deep underwater. Truly devasting for all affected.
We also talked about fish nets and catches. The young men said that they now have to go deep into the lake if they want to catch any fish. “All the fish nearer to the beach has been depleted by the trawlers,” they said. In their view, trawlers are depleting fish stocks in Lake Malawi. When I brought it to their attention that it has been reported that some fishermen use illegal fishing nets, they dismissed that assertation. “Our nets are legal!”
I hope to one day can get the trawlers’ version of events.
While having this chat, I was able to figure out these young men’s motives. They were coaxing our teenage children to take a boat ride to the nearby Nkhudzi Hills, a protected area under the Lake Malawi National Park.
After some haggling an agreement was reached to take the boat ride. Upon confirmation, the men immediately sprang into action. The beach was for a moment all quiet! Two dashed off to get the boat engine and fuel. The other two rushed to get utensils to clean the boat.
In no time the boat was clean and engine fitted. Set to go!
Lake Malawi National Park
Lake Malawi National Park sits at the southern end of Lake Malawi. The waters in this area are home to hundreds of species of colourful cichlid fish, or mbuna, most of which are endemic to the lake. The lake has many species of fish, the most popular being the local tilapia, Chambo. There is also a rich diversity of bird life including fish eagles, egrets and hamerkops. Lake Malawi is the first freshwater national park in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As we set sail, the sun casts sparkling golden hues over the ripples in the water. The calls of fish eagles can be heard around us. An otter makes a very brief appearance on the surface of the water and disappears. In the distance, powerboats whizz up and down the horizon.
Our destination is the edge of Nkhudzi Hills. The controversy surrounding the construction of the Mangochi Portable Water Supply Project on the hill resulted in a court battle between environmentalists and the project sponsors. There were fears that the project would destroy a heritage site and displace wildlife. There were also fears that mud from the construction site would destroy the natural habitat of the cichlids. The
As we arrive at our destination, we stepped out onto the rocky terrain. I feel sharp prickling beneath my feet and realise that the rock I stepped onto has dry fish bones, probably left there by otters or fish eagles. I watch my next steps more carefully.
Our guides headed up into the trees on top of the hill. Our interest was more in taking pictures on the water’s edge.
After everyone had taken their share of photographs, we settled down to watch the last rays of the sun paint the sky and the surface of the lake in a bright orange and gold colour. A feeling of pure serenity. A reminder of the profound beauty that Lake Malawi has to offer and the importance of taking moments to connect with nature’s wonders once in a while.
After a while, we have to head out. But not before one brief stop on our way back. For a little swim in the middle of the lake. And no, I don’t swim in deep waters. In my youth, I watched the Jaws movie one too many times!
Lake Malawi is one very relaxing destination. Whether it be the sound of lapping waves, the melodies from the birdlife or a captivating sunset or sunrise, the memories of the Lake of Stars will forever be etched in your heart.