Thursday, January 12, 2017

Warm weather travel

Given today’s forecast of awful weather in Europe, particularly Scotland (poor Caro), I thought I would try to warm Murder is Everywhere readers and bloggers by writing about a hot, sunny place.

Mette and I spent New Year with friends in Malawi, on the banks of the remarkable Lake Malawi, one of two World Heritage sites in the country.  I’d never been there before, so I was intrigued to find out something about it.

The temperature ranged from 20° C to 33° C (70° F to 90° F).  And some thunderstorms.

All my life I have heard stories about how nice Malawians are, both from visitors to the country and from South Africans who employ the many Malawians who have come to the country in search of work.  The stories were true.  No matter where I went, all I encountered was great friendliness.  My impression everywhere was of soft, non-aggressive people, who always were willing to help foreigners needing assistance.

Typical colourful market

More colour
As with so much of Africa, the borders of Malawi as a country were decided upon by people who didn’t live there.  In this case, Britain, which claimed the area first as a Protectorate (British Central Africa Protectorate), and then in 1907 renamed it Nyasaland.  I’m sure the locals had absolutely no say in how their country was defined.  As a colony, it was part of the British-ruled Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.  Eventually, as the winds of change blew across the continent, the Federation broke into three independent countries, Malawi, Zambia (once Northern Rhodesia), and Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia).

Of the three, Malawi was by far the poorest, with few natural resources that could be exported.  Zambia had copper and  Zimbabwe was blessed with great soil for growing (and exporting) food and tobacco, and had riches in the ground, such as diamonds.

We started our travels in the capital, Lilongwe, a city of a million inhabitants that has few attractions for a visitor.  Then we went to Cape Maclear, on the banks of Lake Malawi in the Lake Malawi National Park.  The beautiful cape was given its name by David Livingstone in honour of a friend of his.

Cape Maclear

On the water

African Fish Eagle fishing
Lake Malawi is a remarkable place and is often regarded as Africa’s Galapagos because of the huge number of endemic fish in the lake, mainly cichlids.  These fish have been isolated for millennia and are the focus of intensive study.

The Lake is part of the Great Rift Valley that extends from the Middle East and through Africa.  It is about 550 metres (about 1800 feet) lower than the surrounding countryside.  The lake is very deep (over 700 metres or about 2400 feet) and extremely clear and warm.  This makes it a very popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers.  As friends will attest, I am not an eager swimmer – I find the water too wet – but I did take the plunge into Lake Malawi, albeit only for a short time.  The water was almost too warm.

Great Rift Valley

Proof that I swam
Other than the amazing lake, three things caught my attention in Malawi.  First was the number of bicycles.  Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, so few people can afford cars.  Everywhere one goes, there are hundreds of bikes – reminding me of The Netherlands.   Second, almost every square metre of land is used to plant corn – next to all roads, vacant patches of land, traffic circles, backyards.  It was remarkable.  And third, there were hundreds of gorgeous baobabs - one of the many wonderful African trees.

Large African baobab - about 12 metres (40 feet) in circumference
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my trip, I wouldn’t regard Malawi as a prime tourist destination – certainly not boring, but also not that exciting. 


  1. Stan, when I read this I had just been out for a walk with the dog, hoping to take some photos in the light snow. I'd only be gone 20 minutes, the sun was shining, no wind. Mathilda and I were then caught in a whiteout. Scary. Back home, in front of log fire, the sun is shining on the new, much thicker snow. How do I get to Malawi?

  2. To paraphrase Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, "In this world you can have oh so exciting or you can have oh so pleasant. I recommend pleasant. You can quote me."

  3. Ahh, something in your post triggered a memory of a road not taken. No, not the one around the baobub, but one offered by another bub, a college fraternity brother way back when.

    Temba and I were good buddies. He'd come to the US from his African homeland to study with the intention of becoming a dentist. He spoke with love about his country, but never in much detail about the politics, but then one day we found hanging from the front of the fraternity house this bright green flag with red, black, and orange vertical stripes in one corner, and an eagle above the stripes.

    What the hell was that, we all asked, and he told us that on that day his country had obtained independence. Northern Rhodesia was now Zambia...and this was the flag he'd brought with him to hang the moment that happened.

    From that point on, I heard much about his country, and he told me he could not wait to return and help establish the new state. With my being a political science major, he pressed me hard to consider returning with him to Zambia and work for the government in establishing the new state. He said he could guarantee I'd get a great job because his father was a minister in the new government.

    There was only one downside. As a friend he said he had to tell me, "The one thing I cannot promise is your safety."

    So, I decided to become a lawyer.

  4. By the way, to give Temba Mudenda the credit he deserves for a life well-lived, here is an article appearing in Tufts Journal (where he completed dental school) describing him as a Zambian National Treasure--the first native-born dentist in Zambia.

  5. Hmm, does sound ... pleasant. But sometimes I think I prefer a Marmite kind of place -- somewhere you either love or hate.