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Another day in paradise

Our bus was supposed to leave at noon from Chipata to Lilongwe.
We arrived at around 12:10 at the bus station, but luckily (for us) the bus was two hours late.
When it finally came, we got in and were driven to the border of Malawi, where it took a while until we got our visas.
The visa policy had recently been changed and we had to pay 75 USD for it.
As annoying as it is, having to spend so much money at the border- as worth is it to spend it on Malawi! But we only realized that later…

In Lilongwe, an English couple (Tom and Sarah), who had also been on the bus, asked us to share a taxi to the Mabuya camp (the place where most travelers go, as it’s about the only one there is).
We did and we all got along very well, so we spent the time in Mabuya playing cards and talking.
We all had planned to head in the same direction- to Nkatha Bay at Lake Malawi- so we walked through the town to buy the bus tickets.
We noticed quite soon that Malawi is a very friendly and welcoming country and it reminded us a lot of South-east-asian countries, with its Tuk Tuk’s, the crowded streets, the honking, the markets, the music playing and the politeness of its citizens.

Apparently, there was only one bus going from Lilongwe to Mzuzu (the town where we had to get off to reach Nkatha Bay), so we had no choice but to spend 8400 Malawi Kwacha (12 USD) for one ticket of this supposedly 5-star bus.
We noticed that it was a huge hassle to get in the bus, when one of the other lines appeared, so we were prepared to have to push our way through to get in.
What happened next though, was more than we’d ever expected.
People were not simply pushing each other- they were grabbing each other’s clothes and pulling people out of the door, blocking the way to the entrance. It seemed as if they were trying to suffocate us. One of the fellow passengers said: “This is how we do it”.
Okay, fair enough.
To our surprise, the conductor was selling more tickets while people were already trying to get in.
Nici and Sarah were of the first ones to reach the door (while René and Tom were loading the luggage on the bus) and were supposed to reserve seats for them.
However, when they got in, all the seats had already jackets or bags on them.
Nici managed to get two seats in the back of the bus, but they were far away from each other.
When more people were coming in and pushing their way through the corridor, Nici and Sarah decided to sit down already.
René and Tom almost didn’t get on the bus and there was no way for them to get to the back, where Nici and Sarah were waiting.
One man sat down next to Nici and proclaimed that her seat was reserved for his friend, even though there had been nothing on it.
He was really unpolite and tried to get Nici off the seat, but she refused to move.
René and Tom were left to stand in the corridor- and it was supposed to be a 6hour bus ride.
When the motor went on, we closed our eyes and tried to make the time go by as fast as possible, but when the bus drove around the block and back to the station, we knew that our hope was wasted.
The staff informed us that the bus was too heavy and that they had to offload everyone who was still standing. They said: “Don’t worry, there will be another bus… in four hours… maybe”
Sure…
Tom and René refused to get off the bus, because obviously, we all wanted to stay together.
About 20 people were told to leave however and then finally, we were on our way.
A nice lady offered René her seat when he was starting to look pale, and at about 6pm, lots of people got off in some town and we finally all had a seat.

*By the way, we found out, that the reason why all the seats were already reserved is, that people throw their stuff through the windows from outside… one woman even put her baby through one of the windows…*
After that hell of a ride, we didn’t feel like enduring the same procedure again from Mzuzu to Nkatha Bay, so we took a taxi instead.
We had planned to stay in the Big Blue Backpackers, but it was closed.
So we booked dorm beds in the Butterfly Space instead, which was very rustic, with drip-toilets and no electricity in some of the rooms, but after one good night of sleep it turned out to be very beautiful and comfortable- facing beautiful Lake Malawi.
It had no self-catering kitchen, but the food was very cheap and they had many vegan options, so we were happy.
Again, we spent our evenings playing cards and drinking beer.
Nkatha Bay is a very beautiful place with almost no tourists to be seen in the streets.
People sell fresh vegetables and not so fresh fish on the side of the road- and incredibly cheap!
We paid about 150 Malawi Kwacha for a big avocado, which is less than 20 cents.
nkata bay market
There was a diving company called Aqua Africa within walking distance, and diving was the main reason for René to come to the Lake Malawi, so obviously we visited the place and ended up booking two dives, a morning dive and a night dive on the same day.
It’s very refreshing to dive in a fresh water lake!
Buoyancy control is easier (even for Nici) and the diving gear does not need cleaning.
We saw big catfish and beautiful little colored fish and crabs, and on the night dive swarms of dolphinfish followed our torchlights.
Diving in Lake Malawi is something that every passionate diver should do at least once- in our modest opinion ;-)
Tom and Sarah got a lift from Sam and his Dad (two Germans who travel almost all of Africa with a renovated fire truck) to Tanzania and so we were left alone at the Butterfly’s, waiting for the ferry to Likoma Island, because our plan was to then take a fisher boat to Mozambique.

We were not the only ones who wanted to take the ferry, so we met Stefan, a German who lives in our hometown in Switzerland, and shared a taxi.
We were out of money and BOTH ATM’s were in service, so Stefan bought the ferry ticket for us.
Reaching the ferry- which was too big to reach the beach- was an adventure.
Stefan got in the already overloaded passenger boat, René followed with his backpacks, but they wanted to leave without Nici, so she almost fell in the water (with all the luggage).
When we told them that Stefan had our ticket, they waited and helped her get in the boat.
There was only a ladder to get on the ferry, which, as you can imagine, is quite difficult with a huge backpack on the back, one in the front, and another bag with our camping equipment.
BUT we managed and quickly fled to the upper deck, where we enjoyed the “luxuries” of the first class: a bar with extremely loud music playing all through the night and some plastic chairs.
We managed to get some sleep though and the next morning we arrived in Likoma.
Getting off the ferry was even harder than getting in, and here the ferry boat was also too big to reach the beach, so we had to either get wet or climb onto an even smaller boat.
People were already almost fighting to take out luggage and carry it to the safe and dry land for us- which may sound nice BUT remember: things like that are never free in Africa.
We already knew from the buses in Zambia and Malawi that people always want to carry our bags and then demand money, so we learned to hold on to them tightly and not letting anybody help us, which was impossible this time, though- keeping our stuff dry was more important than being greedy.
Like most tourists, we were driven to the only affordable place on the island: the Mango Drift. (A nice local who’d been on the ferry had organized for us to be picked up because he knows the manager).
Likoma is a very beautiful island with very beautiful people living on it, people who welcomed us friendly and waved, while we were driven by in the back of a pick-up.
The car couldn’t go all the way to Mango Drift though and we had to walk the rest.
ferry to likoma island
Sorry Mozambique, maybe another time

After walking for a while, packed with luggage and sweat dripping down our backs, we looked at each other and asked: Is this really worth spending one night in Mango Drift- only to go all the way back to the haven again the next day, to catch a boat to Mozambique?
After all we have to be in Kenya by April 6th to meet our friend, which only left us one week in Mozambique. And about four days of that week would’ve been spent in a bus or train, to go to the coast.
Also, not many tourists go to the country in the north, since there’s some kind of civil war going on and we also didn’t know if we’d even get a visa.
If not, we’d have had to go back to Malawi, and spend another 75 USD.
It was a hard decision and we thought for quite some time, sitting in the lounge of the very inviting Mango Drift, staring at the beach which could as well have been a Caribbean beach- fair sand, turquoise water, sunshine…
…and the decision was made to spend our “Mozambique-time” in Likoma instead.
Mozambique is too big and beautiful to rush through it, so we chose to enjoy more days on the paradise island, and decided to come back after our worldtrip…

The other people in the Mango Drift were all really nice and we got along very well, so the days flew by.
We enjoyed our vacation from travelling, went snorkeling and even diving with Jeff, the manager, drank (way too much) beer, enjoyed delicious dinners and even managed to play a card game once…
(our new friends weren’t as keen on playing cards as Tom and Sarah).
We slept in our tent again, by the way, and it was very comfortable.
It even withstood a huge rainstorm- which almost made a tree fall on Stefan’s tent.
He was quite lucky- the tree landed about 20 centimeters next to where he was sleeping.
mango drift
Way too soon we had to say goodbye to Likoma.
It was raining that day and the pick-up couldn’t pick us up where it usually did, so we had to walk about thrice as far as before and René threw his bag to the ground, swearing.
Sweaty and wet from the rain, we finally reached the car and were driven to the haven.
We were too late, but Ilala (the ferry) was even later, so it didn’t matter.
Stefan wanted to get on the ferry as fast as possible, so he chose a small boat- or rather a nutshell- to drive him over.
We joined him and three more of our group got into the boat as well.
Not a good idea…
We were way too deep in the water and the boat was shaking violently, Stefan trying to balance it out. Nici was having a mild nervous breakdown and told the rowers to go back, because we were definitely and in our eyes obviously too many people.
The rowers however wanted to earn as much money as possible and continued to row.
Somehow, we managed to keep our luggage dry and no one fell in the lake.
At least our group was back together on the upper deck and we enjoyed the ride (this time during the day).
We still hadn’t got more money and we were debating on whether to pay 7600 Kwacha (10 USD) for the first class, or 4000 for the second- to at least be able to afford some food.
Stefan was okay with receiving dollars from us, to pay our debts, so we had enough for the first class AND some (delicious) food.
Back in Nkatha Bay, the group split up, but six of us wanted to go to Mzuzu, so one of our german friends offered to give us a ride in his rental.
He wanted to reach Mzuzu as fast as possible and it was yet another adventurous ride.
Maybe we’re a bit jumpy after our car accident, but again we survived without having a heart attack and calmed our nerves with a beer later in the Mzoozoozoo Backpacker’s.
The beds in the dorm were incredibly soft and we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but some mosquitos managed to get into the mosquito net and gave us another sleepless night.

Tell me why I don’t like Sundays

The next morning, we said goodbye to the rest of our friends and took a taxi to the Shoprite, to get some food.
But again, Sunday laughed in our faces.
Thanks to the more liberal laws in Africa, the store opened, but we had to wait until 9am.
It’s nice to not have to remember the week days, but it seems whenever we have to do something, like shopping, sending a post card, going to a pharmacy or changing money- it always happens to be Sunday.
Anyhow, we found some kind of vegan Nutella and vegan chocolate chip cookies and were able to satisfy our sugar cravings, when we got on a minibus to go to Tanzania.
Another 6 hours in a crowded bus, but no bus is as crowded as a minibus!
It has seats for 7 people, but in the end, 23 people were crammed inside.
We were lucky that we had our seats in the back, where we remained “only” 4 people in the row.
Personal space is something that apparently doesn’t exist in Africa, but we regard it as a great opportunity to prepare ourselves for India…

Again, we survived and now we’re looking forward to meeting Tom, Sarah, Sam and his Dad again in Zanzibar and finally have someone to play “Bullshit” with…
diving on likoma island

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