Lake Malawi used to be called and still is by some, Lake Nyasa, named by early European settlers.
David Livingstone even called it the ‘Lake of Stars’, as fishermen went out at night with lanterns, making these waters appear like stars.
Lake Malawi is the southernmost and third largest lake lying on the African ‘Eastern Rift Valley’. It is a fragile biodiverse ecosystem, boosting more species of fish in any lake around the world. More than a 1000 species of ‘Cichlids’ alone swim in this lake, a popular aquarium fish by collectors. Not only are these colourful fish highly adapted to the food source in this minimal nutritional lake, but most remarkable is their reproduction ritual.
The colourful, territorial male builds a crater, in even colours, to impress passing females. He then performs a colourful and energetic display, dress to impress, as they say. If the female then accepts the male, she lays eggs, which she swallows immediately. By stimulating the anal fin of the male Cichlid, he releases sperm, which she then swallows to fertilize the eggs. Even when the young are hatched and danger occurs, she opens her mouth for the young ones to enter, until the danger had cleared. Fascinating to say the least.
The surface of Lake Malawi lies about 500 m above sea level and is up to 700 m deep. and edges the shores of Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi.
Countless communities are nestled around the lake, fishing is the main occupation. No wonder it is the heart and soul of Malawi.
Being such a fragile ecosystem, overfishing and pollution of all kinds are an immense threat to Lake Malawi.
I gave Anna a lift to Zomba, my next stop to refuel and refill. There wasn’t much to highlight in this bustling town apart from hideous amounts of power cuts. This didn’t help with wifi connection. The Zomba plateau is well known for potato agriculture and pine forestry. I went for an afternoon stroll with new friends from the U.S., but couldn’t compare to the Mulanje Plateau I just visited.
Staying at the Backpackers as well were American/English teachers Shawn and Rose,
who work voluntarily in a school in a small community near Liwonde National Park. We drove together with Zimba as it was on my way to Lake Malawi.
An old dismantled Range Rover painted in zebra colours is part of the kids’ playground, an unmissable photo opportunity.
I went for an early morning stroll along the shores of Lake Malawi at Cape MaClear. The sun had just risen over the nearby mountain range, reflecting on the clear, glassy waters.
It was incredibly busy and I felt, in fact, I was an intruder on locals daily morning routine.
Even with a surprised look, I was mostly friendly welcomed, mainly by happy kids waving and saying ‘Hello’, or just yelling ‘Mzungu’, which means white man.
Most came over for a ‘high five’, or ‘low five in my case, and were happy to pose in front of my lens.
With everyone crowded around the edge of the water, I had to zig-zag my way through human bodies,
dogs, ducks and pigs.
Locals were busy washing their clothing as well as dishes.
Fishermen, who returned from a nightly fishing trip, stripped off and washed themselves shamelessly,
while kids were playing and washing in the shallow waters.
Needless to imagine what the normally clear waters looked like, filled with bleach, soap, food scraps, animal, and human toilet waste, as well as all sorts of plastic floating along calm waters.
From an outsider point of view, this was an indescribable spectacle. For locals, business as usual.
The beach was lined with wooden canoes, so-called ‘Banana boats’ for obvious reasons.
While nets being fixed by the fishermen.
A couple meters away from the edge of the water are countless, and about 30 meters long, dry stations which occupied the sandy beach, looking like giant caterpillars.
These are used to dry fish, and most likely everything else that needs drying for safe storage.
Kids made the most of preoccupied parents, playing with or on boats, fishing for tiny fish, or just looking for mischief.
They were happy to pose in front of the camera, a lot asked to take a photo of them, looking incredibly ‘cool’, but some got a bit scared.
A little girl, first happily waving, started crying.
While her little brother supported her, much to the amusement of their mom.
Others were rather cheeky and flexing muscles, the little they have didn’t scare me off. Nice try though.
It really is an overwhelming feeling, that despite poverty, the heartwarming smiles of Malawians towards zingulus.
I returned via Chembe village with similar reactions by locals. Kids were happily greeting, waving and high fiving. So cute. Adults always replied to my ‘hello, how are you doing?’ I stopped at ‘Jim’s donuts shop’ for some local fresh donuts, arguably the best in the village.
This took the interest of nearby locals, as not much else was happening at this time of day.
It was an impressive, long-lasting introduction to Lake Malawi.