Joel was interested to try one of the dugout canoes used by the local fishermen, so we rented one for an hour and he tried it out. His assessment: he thought the long heavy paddle was very hard to use compared to the light aluminum ones he's used to. Emma tried it too, but also decided it was hard work with a very heavy paddle. In the picture of Emma you can see a yellow square on the bottom of the canoe. That is a patch, formed from a piece cut from a plastic five-gallon oil drum and held on over top of a piece of plastic bag by lots of little tacks. Confidence-inspiring? Maybe, maybe not - especially since once Joel and Eric saw another canoe slowly sinking and the guy's buddies paddling over to help out. Eric didn't think it would sink to the bottom because it's wooden; in fact he saw a moored boat floating just below the surface. This did make him wonder, though, how you start bailing something that's underwater.
One of the highlights of our time there was snorkeling off one of the islands. The equipment was a little sketchy and it took a while to get Emma's mask to stop leaking, but once we all got set it was fabulous. The kids were soon powering through the water with the flippers and diving down among the boulders like old pros. Lake Malawi is famous for its many species of small colorful fish called cichlids, and it felt like swimming in an aquarium. Eric: They were so diverse and colorful it would have been neat to figure out how to identify and photograph them, because they were so beautiful. Joel: I could have done that for a week and not gotten tired of it. Emma: It was FUN! I hope we get to do it again sometime! By the way, I never did get my mask to stop leaking - it just leaked more slowly. Are we raving about this? Maybe. It was just that great.
Since we don't have underwater cameras, I borrowed a picture from the internet to let you see what it was like (http://paradiseintheworld.com/lake-malawi-tourism/)
We didn't actually spend a lot of time hanging out by the beach. The lodge was right on the lake but it was also right in the town, which meant that if you went to the beach you were likely to be accosted by someone trying to sell you carved wooden keychains, or boys with homemade drums trying to get you to pay to listen to a song. (We heard them performing for another guest at the lodge - they were actually pretty good.) It also meant that first thing in the morning everyone goes down to the shore to wash clothes and pots, and maybe gut a fish or two. It makes for interesting photography perhaps, but not for great beach lounging.
Despite the occasional persistent vendor, we actually felt less harried here than in some other places we'd been. Nobody asked us for money, apart from a few kids doing a more-or-less organized fund raiser for their soccer team. Even walking around at Bunda we were regularly asked for money by strangers, so this was a welcome change.
That is not to say we were not still an object of interest to the local kids. Emma and I were out on the beach one morning and started picking up a few of the many little shells in the sand. Before you knew it there were half a dozen kids surrounding us with big handfuls of shells. What to do now? I knelt in the sand and started making designs and patterns with the shells, and soon all the kids had their own designs. When I took a picture, they all crowded around to see the picture on the little camera screen.
Emma: Logan and I rushed for the pool every chance we got...when our parents chased us away from video games, that is!
The restaurant at the lodge was really, really slow. One evening there weren't any other diners there yet, so we passed the long wait with Eric's guitar, Joel's recorder, and some hymn books. The waiters seemed to be an appreciative audience!
One morning we went for a hike up into the hills behind the town. They are part of Lake Malawi National Park and so are still forested, though the forest was open and scraggly rather than tall and dense, but made for interesting hiking with nice views over the town and lake. Unfortunately Emma sprained her ankle on the way up, and after a game attempt to keep going decided it was best to turn back. But they did get to see a beautiful red and black bird (Red Bishop) on the way done, as well as an amazing lizard, blue with a bright orange head.
We saw some interesting birds but for me the highlight of the hike was this shrub whose flowers had the longest petals I have ever seen. (Strophanhus sp., probably S. petersianus: Apocynaceae. Just in case anyone other than me really cares.) I saw some other beautiful flowers that day, but that Strophanthus was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.
And for those unimpressed by botanical wonders (Joel, snorting over my shoulder at what I just wrote, I do mean you) there were critters too. A large resident lizard gave the term "poolside monitor" new meaning, and of course there were geckos for Joel to catch.