We wandered about Mzuzu for a bit the morning after our night at Mzoozoozoo. There were the necessities (the bank), and the luxuries (buying coke, sampling the local coffee), noticing the beige-baked roads, swirling dust, crushed plastic bottles, countless mechanics shops and plenty of football merchandise. I was in quite a good position in this regard: while they would thrust Chelsea and Manchester United posters on my face, I would say ‘do you have any Newcastle United??!’ cue much confusion and disdainful looks – they never did, so I was never forced to buy anything.
Our minibus taxi – we were really quite fond of the things, mainly for their cheapness – to Nkhata Bay was once again eventful. Similarly bouncy, reckless, tacky and stuffed, it also boasted lightning speed: “only thirty minutes, my man, only thirty minutes!” We’d been told the trip to Nkhata Bay would take at least two hours; to be fair, though, everything in Africa was always ‘around the corner.’
I managed to hustle a seat in the corner for more scenery observation, which was quickly becoming something of an obsession and a useful pastime. As we rocketed closer to the lake, the landscape became increasingly fuller, greener, lusher, and hillier; the trees were taller and richer, with thinner trunks packed tighter together. There was an incredible depth to the views, as green valleys rose and fell like an incoming shore tide, displaying steep rock formations and immaculate irrigation in equal measure.
The sky was milky blue, through which lazy clouds drifted calmly, while the sun sat high, proud and strong. We came across several market towns, where everyone seemed to be packed on the pavements waiting for taxis to harass with their various produce. Big mama’s sat under bigger umbrellas while thin men skulked under thick trees, in a world of relaxation, happily partaking in some standard ‘mzungu-watching’ as we stuttered past.
Just before the two-hour mark, we tore over a hill and saw the lake: glistening, welcoming, and heavenly. It looked serenely calm, famously big, and beautifully tropical. We reached the main town of Nkhata Bay before finding a man called James who said he was employed by Mayoka Village, which we were told was the best hostel in the area; his job description included giving free taxi rides to the backpackers. Surely this was too good to be true.
“I think you’re just in time for the free boat ride on the lake as well,” he said as we clambered in. Surely, surely (!), this was too good to be true. Then we arrived at Mayoko: on the shores of the lake, thatch huts looking out over the shimmering waters, a big bar and chill area scattered with lounging travellers, and steep stone steps leading up to the dorm rooms. We were met by Kathryn, one of the owners: “Ag, we actually have a cabin available for you three – you can stay in it for dorm prices. Also, the free boat ride leaves soon so get unpacked then meet us in the bar.” Paradise.
I won’t bore you with the blissful details of our four-night stay at Mayoka, though I’m happy to give you a quick overview: we jumped off cliffs into the lake, played beach soccer with the local kids, relaxed, watched eagles soar magnificently from the high trees out over our heads, snorkelled the clear waters to observe the bright blue fish, dosed under red sunsets reflecting off rolling clouds, relaxed some more, played a thousand card games, swam, drank beer, sipped cocktails, paddled out in canoes with more beers at another sunset, ate local cuisine for lunch and heroic feasts for dinner, read our books in swinging hammocks, and then relaxed even more. Of more interest, perhaps, were the people that we met along the way.
We met Anton, the charismatic Dutch doctor on an epic trip of his own. He spoke of his adventures from the North of Africa, his time working in Zambia and long distance relationships. He told us how he’d just bought a bicycle because he hadn’t had that experience in Africa yet, and of his plans to ferry across the lake to Mozambique and cycle down to Cape Town. He was funny, teasing, inspiring and forceful all in one, and wore his scrubs while cliff-diving because they were ‘comfortable.’
We met Inge, the Dutch girl with blue eyes that melted your soul. She spoke of travelling in Africa with a big pink suitcase and carried the annoying Dutch trait of being naturally good at any card game. She was our fourth group member over our time at Mayoka, though we never got to say a proper goodbye.
We met Juandré, the flamboyant Capetonian who worked at the hostel as part-interior designer and part-manager. He spoke of the smallness of Cape Town, and the pomposity of Peace Core volunteers. He was incredibly good-natured and kind, always around with helpful information and always keen for a drink.
We met Gift, our tour guide for the boat ride. He spoke to incredible detail and rich depth of the lake and its intricacies, and showed fierce competiveness in the friendly game of beach soccer. When not intriguing us with his soft-spoken knowledge and a low deep laugh, he was the bar’s most popular and increasingly erratic customer.
We met Helen, Dominic, Laura and Jack, the incredibly sweet family from Port Alfred on an adventure before Laura, 7, and Jack, 3, went back to school. Helen was good-humoured, Dominic was battle-hardened, Laura was adorable and Jack was shy, yet they were wonderfully close-knit and individually charismatic. Through Laura and Jack especially, we saw the value of travel and understanding of different cultures on the young and impressionable mind.
We met Wilhelm and Julia, the couple from Sweden and Germany respectively, happy and friendly and gracious and respectful. We met Christina, the bubbly Mayoka waitress with a big smile and a bigger heart. Finally, we met Jack, the hearty Englishman with a mischievous nature, cool, calm and wistful.
Mayoka Village was, indeed, like paradise, and a far cry from the lonely nothingness of Namibia and the cramped buses of Zambia. As much as we’d have liked to have stayed for weeks, our trip had to move forward, though still in Malawi, to the mountain village of Livingstonia and the much-heralded hostel named the Mushroom Farm.