The Warm Heart of Africa
There's a few theories as to why Malawi is called Malawi. Some think it's as a result of the "Maravi" Kingdom which once dominated this region, and others suggest it comes from the chichewa word "malawi," meaning "flames," after the fiery sunrises and sunsets over Lake Malawi. Having visited Malawi and witnessed a few of these sunsets, I'm definitely an advocate for the second theory, but I'm also pretty sure it has something to do with the people. Malawians are warm, friendly, ridiculously welcoming and fiery at times (I met a few characters!). The country is often called the Warm Heart of Africa, and I'm now fully convinced that this title is more than deserved. I was lucky enough to spend a week here back in March and I’m itching to visit again.
The first thing I’ll say is that a week in Malawi is nowhere near enough to get a taste of what the country has to offer; however, if that’s all your left with then I’d recommend you spend most of that time on Lake Malawi. With a meagre 8 days in Malawi I decided to do just that, and headed straight to Cape Maclear (aka Chembe) on the southern shores of Lake Malawi.
To give a bit of context, Malawi is totally landlocked but it pretty much has its own inland sea. Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, is the 3rd largest lake in Africa and it is massive! Filled with hundreds of colourful fish species, many of which endemic, the lake has a phenomenally interesting biodiversity and in some areas it looks and feels like you’re in the Caribbean.
After an easy 3 hour drive from Lilongwe, I arrived in Cape Maclear under a blanket of stars. I slowly pulled into the Funky Cichlid (aka “Funky’s”), my hostel to be for the next few nights and was greeted by two of my travel buddies, Chris and Travis. We quickly grabbed a drink and hatched out a plan for the next few days. It wasn’t until morning that I realised quite how spectacular our setting was. Totally unbeknownst to me, the hostel was smack on the lakefront with its own beach, volleyball court and view towards some of the Southern lake islands.
The first thing on our Cape Maclear agenda was to find a decent viewpoint over the cape. Bagpipes always sound better when they’re a few miles away, so I thought I'd give the residents of Cape Maclear a soft intro to the pipes from a distant lookout! Bagpipes and kilt in hand, we marched up one of the neighbouring hills and found ourselves a decent spot under the shade of a mighty baobab. Moments later, kilt was on, pipes were out and I was piping away with a spectacular scene of Lake Malawi. Even from our elevated position we could spot a few excited waves from local residents, and it wasn’t long before we’d attracted a small audience of kiddos. We soaked up the view as long as we could, but the mid morning heat soon chased us back down the hill to our lakeside retreat.
For the next few days we enjoyed everything that Cape Maclear could through at us. Beach volleyball, paddle boarding, kayaking and of course many a foray into the local village. Having travelled overland through Namibia, Botswana and Zambia it was a welcomed luxury to be relaxing on the shores of Africa’s most beautiful lake.
One of the absolute highlights of Cape Maclear is heading out for an afternoon sundowner, snorkelling and fish eagle encounter. Boats and their captains heads off most day in the late afternoon, laden with drinks, masks and fins. A short boat ride takes you to one of the Southern Islands of Lake Malawi and you can snorkel away to your hearts content or snap photos of the swooping fish eagles as they dive for fish. Once the sun begins to drop, you slowly make your way round the island and back to Cape Maclear's beach. Absolute bliss.
A bagpiping adventure wouldn’t have been complete without another few piping sessions, so I took the liberty of entertaining the hostel guests for their St. Patrick’s day celebrations. I even attempted a quick performance for the Cape Maclear residents, which turned out pretty well! Malawians seem to love a bit of a boogie, so it wasn’t long before we had a bunch of the kids twirling around to the sound of a few Scottish reels. One of the village tailors even sorted me out with a jazzy new chitenje (Malawian wax print cloth!) bagpipe bag cover. Safe to say I chuffed to bits.
Although short, our time at Lake Malawi was a absolutely brilliant, and as we zipped along the highway to Blantyre, we all unanimously agreed that we’d barely scratched the surface. To Malawi and everyone we encountered, a huge zikomo kwanbiri and we’ll see you soon!