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Fixing the craft - hopefully for the last time
Day 40 has definitely been our worst day yet. We woke up to gale force winds which, on this side of the lake, is a head wind and thus smashes you straight in the face and is extremely difficult to paddle in. We decided to push through it nonetheless just to get moving and managed to survive quite a scary launch through some big surf.
What happened in the next 5 hours could so easily have put an end to our expedition. In short, the double kayak became so waterlogged that it was impossible to keep upright for more than 10 seconds and to make matters worse we were about 4km from shore. Luckily a fisherman in a dugout canoe came to the rescue. I was ordered to hop in with him along with some luggage. The rest of the team had to go straight to shore as the double was literally about to sink. The dugout was heading straight across the bay in the opposite direction. I soon realized, after much debate in broken Swahili, that the dugout would have sunk if he had gone straight to shore because of the big surf. Needless to say my new found paddling friend and I made it to shore in one piece but I was still not sure about the rest of the team.

I later learned that the 2 singles landed in usual fashion but Caiden, along with the double, rolled into shore which we learned is actually croc infested. After emptying the double's luggage into the singles, Caiden paddled the double across the bay, alone. I don’t know how he managed through that wind and swell but he did. Marc and Guy could not launch at this point as their boats were too heavy to get through the large surf. So now, Caiden and I were stuck without the rest of the team and we actually were not aware that they couldn’t get out at that point.

We landed up meeting a fellow South African named Theo who works on the coal-mines in the area, and he helped us out. It was probably a 10km walk along the beach before we found Marc and Guy. We were finally back together. It was a very long day and we were so thankful that everyone was safe.

Now onto the good side of things. The stretch from Matema to a little town called Manda is home to some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life. There are no words to describe what we saw along that stretch. Pictures may do some justice but you would have to see it first hand to have any idea. What I can say is that for that first week we completely lost track of reality. For the first time on this trip I can gladly say that for most part, we were isolated, and it has been the best part of our trip thus far.
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Campsite near Manda
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Secluded beach to ourselves
Before we began our expedition, people asked after the Tanzanian side. They enquired as to whether we knew anything of it; if there were shops, if there were wild animals, if there were any people. So what I thought I would do is write a little about everything on what you can expect when travelling along the first half of the shoreline of Lake Nyasa as it is called in Tanzania.

Scenery: The scenery is very similar to what Caiden described in his previous blog. The mountains are immense and they unfold higher and higher into the sky until their peaks are lost in the clouds. Dense forests cover these steep slopes, and very few are ‘tainted’ with cassava crops which show sign of human life. Around every corner waterfalls appear from unseen sources, and they make their way down through these dense forests, cascading in and out of sight before falling into the lake.
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Exploring one of the many waterfalls
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Guy taking in the scenery
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Dinner at a fishing camp
Population: There are hardly any people along this stretch. For the first time on this trip we could arrive on a beach, whip off our kit and have a ‘rinse off’ in peace. We had plenty nights camping on beaches where we were completely secluded. I must add that most of the beaches we have found are pebbled with hardly any sand, so luckily we have decent mattresses to sleep on. There are the odd fishing camps along the way which can be expected. They, however, only contain at most 15 people but should you wish to bypass, there is sure to be a secluded beach up ahead. The people are very friendly and, unlike the Malawian people, carry on with what they are doing when we Mzungu’s arrive on the beach. There are a few bigger towns along the way where you can buy the basics but we only stopped at them to stock up on food supplies and then were out as quickly as possible.

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Cleaning fish for lunch
Fishing:
We have come to the conclusion that spear- fishing is the way to catch fish in Lake Malawi. Although we have caught a couple of fish with rods, spear fishing has definitely supplied the majority of our meals along this stretch and we have all contributed to the table with some very tasty fish. For those of you who asked and may be interested, the fishing is very good and is worth the trip to come and ‘work the structure’ as the hardened fisherman may say. I think it was by pure fluke that I landed a 3kg Bream whilst trawling with a Rapala a couple of days ago and Guy shot a 2.5kg ‘Ngumbe’ fish whilst diving on some remote beach, so there is definitely sign of some decent size fish around. We have been living off the land as our rice stocks have been diminishing, so luckily the fishing has been good.

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Guy's 2,5kg Ngumbe
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Matt's 3kg Bream
The last couple of days have been very ‘testing’ for the team especially on day 40 so we are extremely grateful to Theo from ‘Tancoal’ for letting us stay at the mining camp. We are currently fixing the boat and I think we may have found the problem so we are aiming at being back on the water as soon as possible where we will carry on towards Likoma Island in Mozambique.
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Matt overseeing the cooking
 
 
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Dramatic landscape
The last two weeks has been an experience like no other. After leaving Nkhata Bay we continued our journey northwards towards Tanzania. If you were to look on a map, you would notice that there are no roads leading down to the lake from Nkhata  bay to somewhere near Chilumba-a stretch of about 120   km. The steep mountains that greeted us as we began to amble our way into stage two of our circumnavigation accounted for this. The next 6 days was spent in the midst of what is probably the most dramatic scenery I have had the pleasure of seeing. Whoever first used the epithet “crystal clear” to describe water must have spent some time in this area of Malawi. The mountains rise arrogantly from the deep blue water and you get the feeling that time has had no effect on these titans that, with austere simplicity, lay rocky fingers of protection on the life below. The isolated villages that lie within this protection dot the hillside without any uniformity and the people here are solely dependent on the land and lake with little or no outside influence or corruption depending on which way you see it.

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The day of the sunrise
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Lunch on the water
If you asked me what happened on Day 7 of our trip I would be hard pressed to give you details. It becomes a bit like this after a while. The memories are there but it is difficult to grasp them on request. The scenery however, is a part of the trip that has stayed with me in detail and recalling it helps render details difficult to pry out on their own. What I mean is that if someone mentions ‘that one morning with the sunrise’ I can think to my self –ah yes I had a sore back that morning and the screws on the left rudder peddle were irritating me. Sort of like when you get a stone in your shoe and you ignore it for a while and the stone feels like it grows in size to mock your stubbornness in fixing the issue. I digress. What I was talking about was the scenery. It is amazing how the surroundings can breathe life into a tired body. ‘The day with the sunrise’ was the first day when we were on the water before dawn.  We had been paddling close on 10 minutes when the sun peeked with eager rays through the clouds that shrouded the escarpment on the Mozam side. A better writer would undoubtedly come up with some obscure metaphor  that would liken the sunlight hitting the water  to some metaphysical moment when an ageing alchemist catches his breath as he discovers the formula of transforming water in to liquid gold. I am no such writer so all I can say is that if I thought that this trip would quell some of the wanderlust that I feel then this particular sunrise has left me sorely mistaken and wanting more.


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If the previous two paragraphs has left you with the impression that it has been plain sailing for us then I apologise. The crafts are still taking in quite substantial amounts of water despite all our efforts to locate the leak. Our diet for the last week has consisted mainly of rice and a spice of our choice. After the other night we are all in agreement that mixing rice and uncooked tomatoes is a terrible idea. Every now and then we manage to shoot or catch a fish which provides much needed protein albeit in meager amounts. Our fitness has increased dramatically and we are all feeling strong and the increasing number of km covered per day gives testament to that. Despite this there are plenty of niggling injuries that have started to creep in which can be expected given the nature of the trip. We are all losing weight, some more drastically than others, even though we are eating ridiculous amounts of carbs. Other than that our health is great and we are looking forward to stage three of the journey which will take us down the east coast of the lake towards Mozambique.


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By the way, I am writing this post from the Hope for the Future orphanage in mBeya, Tanzania where we have spent a wonderful two nights in the enthusiastic company of Sharmala Buell and the orphan children who benefit from her care. It truly is a wonderful feeling to be in a position to help these children who are so deserving of anything that we are able to give.


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I could spend hours writing about all that we have experienced however I am running out of space. Nevertheless I want to briefly tell you about two memorable moments, one highlight and one lowlight, of our trip so far. We woke up one morning on a beach in Karonga. The wind was howling and the fierce waves were dangerously close to the tents. We were informed by one of the locals that we should enter the lake with extra caution as that morning a dug-out canoe had washed up a few hundred metres from us with nets and a rod still on board but no person. This news was eerily punctuated by cries of grief from a lady who we later learned was the mother of the drowned fisherman. Adding to this terrible news we were also informed that two weeks prior to us being there, a local had been taken and eaten by a croc. The events of that morning left us a bit shaken. It was a reminder that for all of its exceptional beauty and romantic appeal there lies a darker side to mother nature that needs to be respected.


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On a lighter note after a morning of heavy swells we pulled in to a beach for our midday break. The village where we stopped was no doubt one of the smallest and more remote villages we had encountered. We laid down Terry (the tarpaulin) and after five minutes of relaxing one of the villagers came over and said that the village would like to invite us to lunch. We followed him and joined the locals for a lunch of Nsima and usipa which was surprisingly delicious. These people had next to nothing yet still had so much to give. It is for this reason, and the scenery that I described earlier, that has made Malawi such a special place for us. We are sad to leave it and it is with slight trepidation with which we proceed down the east coast of the lake to the sparsely populated and somewhat mysterious coastlines of Tanzania and Mozambique.


To end off, here are a few things that I have learnt so far:
·       I can paddle 45km in a day.
·       Mark can sing for about 50 min without taking a break.
·       It is extremely difficult to catch fish on the Malawian side with artificial lures.
·       A fire cracker will still go off under the water.
·       It is possible to fall out of a kayak.
·       In some places in Malawi a coke costs the equivalent of R2 which is cheaper than buying a plastic packet to keep it in.
·       You and your rash vest begin to smell awful after a month of not wearing deodorant.
·       Having a mustache is frustrating when spear- fishing as water keeps getting in to your mask.
·       Guy can actually grow a beard.
·       After a month of sleeping pretty much on the ground it is difficult to adjust to a proper bed.
·       There are more stars in the sky than I ever thought there were.
·       Goat meat is surprisingly tasty.
·       When a Malawian gives you a distance in km to the next town it is necessary to times it by two and you know that you will be about halfway.

P.S. Happy 21st birthday to a lovely young lady who, no matter how old she gets will always be my little sister.

P.P.S. Congratulations to Mark on the appearance of his first two abdominal muscles. He has informed me with great optimism that number 3 and 4 are on their way.

Caiden.