Brett and I left Blantyre and headed to Cape Maclear. It had been described in glowing terms, and I hoped it would live up to the hype. It would be our first encounter with Lake Malawi. Being a land-locked country, Lake Malawi was an integral feature of this small sub-tropical nation. Also known as Lake Nyasa, the lake runs three quarters of the length of Malawi, at 587km (365 miles) long and 84km (52 miles) wide. And truly, it is beautiful to behold.
The magic of Malawi settled over me in gentle waves. The lure of Lake Malawi was palpable. Its soft waves were forever within hearing distance, if not in sight. The people were friendly with a simple air about them that lent them a most desirable quality. This was probably the poorest nation I had been to, perhaps barring parts of Mozambique, but the people were amongst the richest in attitude. Was it the sunshine? The proximity to soothing waters? Or was it the lack of Aid organizations that brought with them handouts, that in turn turned the people into beggars. Here people were happy with their lot in life and it showed in their eyes that sparkled despite lack of material wealth. Their peace was infectious.
Our first taste of the magic of the waters was from a seat in a mokoro (a hand-carved dug-out canoe of sorts). They were narrower than the mokoros that I had lazed in on the Okavengo Delta, but still a marvel. Brett and I got a couple of locals to row us out to Pemba Island, where we spent the day snorkeling in the blue waters. We spied a myriad of fish, as we slowly paddled about on our leisurely adventure. Lunch was a feast of rice, potatoes, tomatoes and fish that had been caught as Brett and I swam. Simple, but excellent. Dessert of a special banana cake sent us over the moon and topped off a perfect day to soak up the beauty of Malawi.
We spent three nights in Cape Maclear. On our last night, I accompanied a young man to Ba’blue, a small local bar. He introduced me to the game of Bao. It is a local mancala game where beans are moved around a board from a series of dugout holes. You play against an opponent, trying to steal their beans (or whatever the markers are) until you have all of them. Everywhere you looked, a game was being played. Always keen to learn a new game, I insisted on trying to pick up the rules. I loved it and before we left, I had my very own bao game stuffed into my backpack, as we headed off to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.