Monday, July 23, 2012

Lake of Stars: Cape Maclear

It was dark when we arrived in Cape Maclear.  The stars were out and the fisherman were in their boats, bobbing on the water and shining their lanterns like a string of lights across the horizon.  It was too dark to see anything else, but we could tell that the water was close.  It made a soft, lapping noise on the beach, at the foot of the bar.

It had been a long journey to get there.  Dan, Jamie, Hoang, and I left the house at 8AM and elected to travel from Zobue to Lake Malawi by way of Blantyre.  We exchanged vehicles six times over the course of the day and had to fight with every conductor to negotiate a fair price.  By the time that we arrived at the lake, 11 hours later, we were thoroughly dust-ridden, wind-whipped, and road-weary.  Our hair was sticking up in clumps and our bags were heavy on our shoulders.  The last leg of the journey, the 26-kilometer stretch of dirt road between Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear, was the worst.  Jamie and I huddled against the cold in the back of a pick-up truck, leaning against two 50-gallon drums of petroleum.  Dan and Hoang sat on the edge of the truck, gripping the metal ledge and bouncing along for dear life.  

Now that we arrived, we would be staying at the Malambe Camp.  From what we could see, it was a small and homey place: a well-lit bar area with wooden picnic benches, surrounded by delicate reed huts and strung with Christmas lights.  For 2,500 Kwacha (about $10), Dan and I got our own little hut, two twin beds, two mosquito nets, a little table, and a temperamental little lamp that swung from the ceiling.  It was a good deal, and we were happy.  

The next morning, we were able to see the lake for the first time.  The sky was grey and cloudy, but the sun was just starting to rise over the edge of the Cape.  Our hut was located on a short, sandy beach, just meters away from the water.  A small, wooden bridge connected the huts to the sand.  

It wasn't yet six o'clock, so I decided to sneak out of bed and take a few pictures.  I assumed that if I got to the beach early enough, I would find it deserted.  I quickly realized, however, that that would not be the case.  As I stepped out towards the water and turned my head from left to right, I realized that I would have no chance for privacy. The lakeshore was brimming with activity.  

I was embarrassed to bring out my camera, so I took in the scene with my eyes.  What I saw was what I had always envisioned when I pictured my life in Africa.  I saw people--busy people-- balancing baskets, talking, moving, and trading.  I saw women washing laundry with dogs at their heels.   I saw young girls scoured pots with fistfuls of sand, leaving their clean dishware to soak in the shallow water.  Little boys, covered in soap, were tottering naked in the surf.  Boats were pulling into shore, laden with fish, and the women who were not washing or scouring were running to mob the boats, plastic basins balanced on their heads.  It was noisy and raucous, but it was real.  For a few moments, nobody seemed to notice me.

As I walked along the edge of the water, people turned their heads to stare.  Suddenly, I felt guilty, like I was spying on them.  I didn't belong there, but I wanted to explore.  I hid my camera for a while, tucked underneath a fold in my sweater.  

I was walking along the edge of Chembe village, on the Cape Maclear lakeshore.  The town, once a quiet fishing village, has become a leading tourist destination in the past few years.  Though the recent influx of visitors has been good for the economy of the local people, I'm not sure it has been kind to them, as individuals.  As more and more tourists flooded onto the beaches during the heat of the day, I found that I could barely take a step without being accosted for sweets, pennies, or patronage.  The effect from that morning was ruined.  The real village, it seemed, is only truly visible in the early morning hours, or away from the crowds.  

For the next few days, we explored the beaches, the water, the islands, and the National Park.  Cape Maclear is sandwiched between two large islands (West Thumbi and Domwe) and the great expanse of Lake Malawi National Park, which encompasses most of the peninsula.  The lake itself is deep (the second-deepest in Africa) and wide (the third-largest in Africa, and the eighth-largest in the world), and home to more than 1,000 different species of cichlids.  It is said that Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world.  The National Park itself is home to a variety of small mammals (vervet monkeys, yellow baboons, and the ugly little rock hydrax) and the occasional predator (leopards and jackals).  We saw plenty of monkeys, eagles, and kingfishers, but nothing larger than the rare, solitary baboon.  As a group, we took a boat tour of lakeshore, a kayak trip to Thumbi Island, and a hike to Otter Point and the outskirts of Chembe Village.  

The lake is beautiful, and overwhelmingly large.  The following pictures depict several facets of the Cape Maclear experience:  Malambe Camp, the lakeshore, the sunset cruise, the scenery, the trinkets, the kayak trip, and the wildlife.  The only pictures I don't have are the pictures of village life.  While that was a huge component of my experience, I couldn't bring myself to take photographs.  You will have to visit yourself, one day, to experience the real Cape Maclear.  

Map of Mozambique and Malawi.  Inset:  Lake Malawi National Park and Cape Maclear.

In front of the reed huts at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear

The entrance to Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi

Our hut at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi

The beach at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi.  In the distance is West Thumbi Island.

The intial view from the beach at sunrise

A closer look along the beach at sunrise.  In this picture, you can see:  Children playing on their fathers' boat, fishermen returning with their catch, little boys playing in the water, woman bringing dirty clothes to be washed, and families bartering for fresh catch

Fresh minnows, drying in the sun

Dried minnows, ready to be shipped to Blantyre, Tete, and Chimoio

Three village boys playing Bawo in front of a shop in Chembe Village

Teaching the village boys how to use my camera.  One little boy took this shot of his friend.

Teaching the village boys how to use my camera.  The look on my face is a mix of amusement and fear for my camera.

Two girls swimming in the lake

A fishing boat in the fog at sunrise

View from the jetty, across the lakeshore

Sunset cruise to Thumbi Island

Feeding the fish eagles

Swimming in the lake

Fisherman's boat at rest, just before sunset

The boulders and water at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Like staring down into an aquarium:  Cichlids in Lake Malawi (blue, orange, and grey)

Hoang at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Dan at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Trinkets from the shops

A souvenir stall along the road in Chembe Village.  Each vendor claims to make their own crafts, but I am a little suspicious.  Each vendor seems to sell the exact same carvings, from shop to shop...

Malawian Bawo, purchased in Chembe Village

Kayaking around West Thumbi Island

Kayaking around West Thumbi Island

Returning our boats to Kayak Africa, then strolling back to the lodge along the lakeshore.  Happy two-year anniversary!

Wildlife:   Vervet monkey on the rocks at Otter Point, yellow baboon in the National Park, and a fish eagle along the Cape Maclear shoreline

Lone fisherman in a dugout canoe, sunrise over Lake Malawi


  1. You have no idea how much we enjoy all of your blogs, Lisa. We've read all of them; your writing and photos give us a real sense of what Mozambique is like. Please say hello to Mac when you see him next (I'm his mom). Keep blogging, and we'll keep reading!

  2. Glad to see you and Dan are doing so well and having so many great experiences. I love the blog. And happy, happy two-year anniversary!

    <3 Katie

  3. Great pics of Cape Maclear! Looking forward to our trip in June!