Saturday 8th to Tuesday 11th September 2012.
The next morning we set off on the long drive towards Nkhata Bay. We toyed with the idea of stopping at Senga Bay and a few other places along the lake to break up the drive, but ended up making it to Njaya Lodge by nightfall. We figured that by getting there today we’d have longer to laze by the lake and better chance of getting one of the irregular boats to the little village of Ruarwe.
Njaya Lodge has developed since I was last here for Christmas in 1996. They have characteristic chalets clustered on the hillside now and have landscaped their steep site. The lodge fronts beautiful Chikale Beach, which has also grown since I was last here. I remember long hot days, local boys bringing fresh mangos and coconuts to us on the beach, dugout canoes upturned on the shoreline, and spending Christmas day bathing in the cool lake waters. Now bars and chalets populate the beach, with tourist industries more evident than fishing. Njaya lodge has a beachside bar and as luck would have it, they had a live music event planned for that evening.
We met Gilbert, the very friendly Njaya manager, the bubbly barman Dixon (aka ‘Lovely Jubbly’), and the English owner Paul. When Dad visited a few months back he organised for us to leave Bluebelle here whilst we visit Ruarwe. With the government boat, the M.V. Illala, out of service until December the only transport up and down the lake is by small motorboats. The boat goes up and back twice per week. To maximise passenger numbers they stop as much as possible along the way. This means the trip takes twice as long (about 7 hours) and costs twice as much (1,500 kwatcha) than the M.V. Ilala. We wanted to stay in the beautiful Zulunkhuni River Lodge when we were in Ruarwe, so we visited their Nkhata Bay manager Blessings at the Kaya Papaya restaurant. We were in luck again; the boat was leaving first thing in the morning. We arranged our trip with Blessings and agreed to meet him at 8am the following morning.
Back at Njaya we cooked ourselves a tasty dinner then wandered down the stone stairs to the little bar by the beach. We enjoyed a few greens and chatting to a few of the other guests whilst we waited for the musicians to set up. They jammed amongst themselves for hours, reminding us of the hours we had to wait in Mali for the Festival Sur Le Niger events to begin. When they finally got going they played a comfortable chilled out Reggae, which was perfect for relaxing by the gentle waves.
The next morning we were up early in time to meet Blessings at Kaya Papaya. He was in and out of the office, getting the supplies for Zulunkhuni out of the office and onto the boat. Chatting to him we discovered that the boat wouldn’t arrive until that evening and then returns first thing the next morning. This would not give us enough time to visit the village, so we decided to take the boat later in the week. The next one leaves Wednesday and returns Friday, so at least we’d have one full day at Ruarwe. We had hoped to fit in some diving and maybe a trip to Likoma Island whilst we were in Nkhata Bay, so we’d look into these things before we head to Ruarwe rather than after. I also had an upset stomach that morning, so it felt the best decision not to spend the day bobbing in a boat.
Blessings turned out to be very helpful, giving us advice on places to visit in town and the diving centre in Nkhata Bay. We wandered from Kaya Papaya to the market, past sacks of dried cassava, great piles of intoxicating fish, and a colourful jumble of second hand clothes and shoes. We found Aqua Africa, the dive centre, perched atop the hill in town. We were surprised to find that the dive prices have almost doubled since the last Lonely Planet was published. The new Malawi president devalued the Kwatcha to meet conditions for a world bank loan, so that may have something to do with it. Anyway, now a day dive is US$50 and a night dive is US$60. It does sound amazing though, especially at night. Fish up to a metre long hunt by your torch light as you swim along! Still, at that price we needed to think about it. We wandered back to Kaya Papaya and Blessings organised a taxi for us back to Njaya Lodge. We strung Luke’s hammock between two trees on the lake shore and spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.
Our next couple of days followed much the same pattern. We read, relaxed, dipped in the wonderful lake, and napped in the hammock. It was blissful. We were able to use internet at Njaya to update our website and catch up with loved ones. We reluctantly said no to the dive, with some problems with our tenant in England and knowing how much we’ll be spending in Tanzania. Likoma island was also out; with the M.V. Ilala out of action the boats are irregular and crowded. In the end, it all worked out for the best. We relished our relaxing few days on the peaceful lake shore. We found the people very friendly and Nkhata Bay quite a chilled out town and very easy to spend time in.