Camping at Lake Malawi
October 21-25, 2014
Sometimes referred to as ‘Calendar Lake’ because it’s approximately 365 miles long and nearly 52 miles wide, Lake Malawi is known for a couple of things; one being its sheer size and two being that it is home to the most species of fish of any lake in the world. And after our visit there, it’s also famous for its lake flies.
We spent four nights in Malawi at two different, but equally beautiful, campsites. We had the opportunity to visit a local village and relax at our lakeside campgrounds with the group.
The Malawi border crossing was smooth, allowing us to arrive at Chitimba Camp, our first campsite, a little earlier than expected which meant we had time to relax and enjoy the last hours of daylight.
Chitimba Camp sits about 100 metres back from the lake and has a great bar and restaurant. We had the option to upgrade our accommodations to a small wooden bungalow for $13 US/night. It was basic with a double bed, fan and mosquito net, and meant we would avoid having to set up our tent for a couple of nights. Apparently they include snakes too! We saw a meter long snake just outside our bungalow, but luckily enough he slithered under our neighbors room!
Some highlights from Chitimba:
- Playing a drinking game called ‘Suicide’ or ‘Kings’ taking us back to our university days
- Seeing our first snake in the wild
- Clean laundry
- Gourmet BBQ dinner including steak, baked potato, and salads galore
- Watching the sunrise over Lake Malawi from the beach and chatting with a local who was getting a wash
We didn’t spent much time in the waters of Lake Malawi. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely beautiful. The lake has the most species of fish of any lake in the world, but it is also home to bilharzia. It’s a tiny worm / snail that ‘apparently’ enters your body through the urinary tract without you even knowing. Sometimes it can take months for any symptoms to appear, long after you are back in the comforts of home. Again the lake is massive and the currents in the water at Chitimba prevent this parasite from living here. In fact, G Adventure’s tours do not stop anywhere near where this parasite might be present. Despite this, we couldn’t push ourselves to get in the water past our ankles.
Kande Beach campground is somewhat of a meeting point for all the overland tours through East Africa, thus its a bit of a party scene. There were three or four other trucks of tourists at the camp when we arrived, but it never felt too crowded.
Jess and I opted for the room upgrades again and I’ll briefly share our first world problem below:
All of the lakefront bungalows were booked for the first night, so we took a room near the parking lot at the campsites main gate. We’ve come to appreciate the work of gecko’s on this trip as they work better than mosquito nets or insect repellent. Gecko’s work tirelessly through the night eating every mosquito that comes into its sight greatly reducing your chance of contracting malaria, and they pose zero threat to humans. They’ve become our friends on this trip. That being said, the thought of about 50 or so stuck upside down on the ceiling all night didn’t help us sleep better.
From gecko’s to lake flies
On night two, a lakefront room was available so we moved in. The waters of Lake Malawi are a breeding ground for what are known as Malawi Lake Flies. Tiny, snowflake size, mosquitos that hatch over the lake and live for about 24 hours. They do not bite and do not carry malaria. Depending on the direction of the wind, the flies sometimes make it to shore. Boy, did they ever make it to shore on night two, and apparently we moved to the lake front bungalow just in time to welcome them to shore. This is a great event for the locals, who we’ve been told sometimes bake cakes with them.
There were literally millions of lake flies in the air as we walked back to our bungalow that night following our goat supper. (We had a goat spit!)
It was like walking through a raging blizzard only instead of snowflakes in your eyes, hair and nose it was tiny mosquitos. Yes, this happened and it was absolutely disgusting. Once we finally found our room we hopped inside our mosquito net and prayed we’d not need a bathroom break that night. All we could do was laugh. They were everywhere, in our hair, all over our clothes, and even in bed with us. We’ve chalked this up to another true African experience!
Punch / Dress-up party
I hope your still reading after that, because there’s much more to Kande Beach than lake flies. At Kande we had a punch/dress up party. We stopped at a local market in Mzuzu, the second largest city in Malawi, where we each bought a surprise outfit for another member of the group to wear at the punch party. Mzuzu was also home to a new and modern Shoprite grocery store where we also picked up ingredients for our punch. We won’t share details of the evening, but in my opinion, I had the best outfit.
We spent the next morning with a local Malawian who gave us a tour of his village. We visited his grandparents’ house, a local school and hospital and had the pleasure of meeting the cutest children in the village. Jess and I haven’t decided how we feel about using people as a tourist attraction. We could have done without a visit to the hospital, which brought us to the maternity ward. I can only imagine how it must feel to be on display some hours after giving birth. We likely won’t do another “village tour” again on our travels, but it was definitely insightful to see the day-to-day lives of the people of this village. It also forced us to brush up on our “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, when we were asked to sing to a classroom full of children!
The beach was amazing here and was just like being on the ocean. Aside from the tiny island 800 metres offshore, you could see nothing but the horizon in the distance. We played frisbee and relaxed on the beach and I finally took the plunge and waded out into the water. Oh and Kande offered up more spectacular sunrise views from its beach at 6 AM.
Pumba, our truck pulled out of Kande Beach bright and early and we were headed for the Zambian border and its capital city, Lusaka, for the night!
jess + steven