Travelers' Paradise (A Day in the Life)
sunrise over Lake Malawi
The sun rises over Lake Malawi at 5:15am. By 6:00am the light streaming through
the cracks and gaps in my bamboo-walled, thatched-roofed banda
African hut) is bright enough to wake me. I roll around in my double bed, reach
through the green mosquito net, and grab my alarm clock. 6:07am – damn
I was hoping to sleep a little longer.
I crawl out from under the net, grab my soap box, toothbrush and paste, and
step out onto my front porch. The lake is remarkably still; gentle waves lap
quietly at the stilts that support the porch I'm standing on. Burning low on
the horizon, the sun sets the water ablaze in shimmering silver light. I walk
up to the communal bathrooms and wash up.
My swim trunks are hanging on the porch railing. I pull them on inside the
banda and grab my snorkel and mask on the way out the door. The air is slightly
cool but the sun is already hot. I wade in the water and walk out to a cluster
of boulders. Sitting atop a large flat stone, I warm myself in the sun. When
sweat begins to bead on my chest, I climb down into the warm water, pull on
my mask and snorkel, and dive in.
Lake Malawi is the most sea-like lake I've even seen. The shallow waters are
the sort of unreal aqua-blue that you see on postcards from Hawaii or the Cayman
Islands. On still days like today, underwater visibility is exceptional –
I can see rocks up to 60 feet away.
I swim hard across the bay. I love swimming with the mask and snorkel. When
I don't have to turn my head to breathe, like with the traditional front crawl,
I can swim for hours at a time. I'm a machine.
Lake Malawi is a great place to snorkel
I study the rippled sand beneath me. Small brown fish with black spots scuttle
about. Spotting a piece of plastic in the sand, I take a deep breath and dive
down to retrieve it. It's a potato chip bag, "Chompkins." I stuff
it in my pocket.
A great cluster of gray boulders at the far end of the bay has been a good
place to observe fish. Today, silvery-blue fish as big as my hand dart in and
out of the crevices. A bright purple fish with black spots chases a pearl-colored
minnow. I kick slowly over the rocks, hovering around areas of interest.
Dripping dry in a beach chair on my porch, I write in my journal. Maybe I can
write story about Nkhata Bay for the site? Maybe not. It's difficult to write
about paradise without sounding like a travel brochure.
mmm... English breakfast
At 8:00am I climb up the hill to the main building of Njaya Lodge and order
a full English breakfast with milk coffee. I join Justine and Jamie, an Australian/New
Zealand (or, as he says, "Na Zillun
'") couple, at a table
out on the deck. We look at the lake. "Flat as a pancake, aye," Justine
Walking back down to my banda I bump into Johnny, "Grass Hopper",
and "The Happy Shopper", local kids with great nicknames who hang
out on the beach and sell paintings and postcards to tourists. They're good
guys. Malawi is such a nice place, I think, even the touts are
"What is up Michael?" Johnny says slowly. We shake hands, an elaborate
three-step process that begins with interlocking thumbs and then clicks down to
a traditional shake.
Grass Hopper, Happy Shopper, and Johnny
"Just chilling, Johnny. How are you guys doing?"
"Nice, mate. Chilling. Fifty-fifty." His lids are heavy; the boys
have likely just had their first spliff of the day.
Back on my porch, I write for an hour or two. A multi-colored lizard eyeballs
me from the porch railing. A nervous black and white bird collects twigs for
her nest in the banda roof. I fill six pages and then run out of steam. I read
Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" for a while; her story doesn't
fit my setting, but the idea of renovating an old house in Tuscany is appealing.
Lee, an English guy I met on the minibus to Nkhata Bay, is sitting on the porch
of the lodge and I join him. He's had two bags stolen on his trip – one
in Kenya, one in Tanzania – but still maintains that this is the best
journey he's ever taken. We consider going on an overnight canoe trip with a
local company. Emmet, an Irish guy we also met on the minibus, pulls up a chair.
The three of us decide to book the trip. I order a tuna sandwich.
traditional dugout canoes on the beach
In the afternoon I sit on the beach with other guests from the hotel. Nkhata
Bay feels like Asia, where independent travelers are the norm and not the exception.
After two somewhat isolated months in Uganda and Tanzania, I'm relieved to be
here. I think about the other classic travel paradises I've visited: Koh Tao,
Thailand; Muang Ngoi, Laos; Number 9 Guest House, Cambodia; Nha Trang, Vietnam;
Pokhara, Nepal; Dahab, Egypt.
Travel definitely has its share of low points (a three-leg minibus journey
in Tanzania, for instance) where a single, corrosive thought kicks around in
your mind: Why do I punish myself?
Travelers' paradises like Nkhata Bay help subdue those thoughts.
The prerequisites for a travelers' paradise appear to be as follows:
it must be situated on a body of water
it must offer accommodation of the stinking-cheap variety
it must serve Western food and fruit shakes
it must have Bob Marley, Air, and Shaggy discs in the CD collection
it must be popular with dopey, dreadlocked white guys
(an unfortunate, tolerable reality)
it must have a cast of stony, charismatic employees
Judged by these standards, Nkhata Bay is a leader in the genre.
Late in the afternoon I go for another swim.
The sun has almost sunk below the green mountains behind us when I return to
my banda (a value at $3.50 a night), pull on some dry clothes, and hang my suit
on the porch railing to dry. I edit some photos on the porch as the stars fade
into view. Mars hangs big and red out on the horizon; this week it is closer
to earth than it's been for 2,000 years.
Most of the crew is out on the lodge porch drinking Kuche Kuche, the local
beer, when I arrive. I put a $.40 half-liter bottle on my tab and join them.
They're talking about the best way to get down to Victoria Falls.
Two English veterinary students I met the night before sit next to us. The
more outspoken one, Heather, is exactly my type: tall, dark, a little mean.
I pull up a chair and we talk about their diving course.
Posh English accents can either attract me or annoy me, depending on my mood
(and the attractiveness of the speaker). Tonight I'm annoyed, perhaps because
my charms seem to go unnoticed.
Dinner is served. I sit at a long table with seven others and tuck into grilled
catfish and potatoes. Martin, a 19-year-old from Belgium, sits across from me.
He's spent three months in Ethiopia, three months in Kenya, and three months
"Wow, three months in Ethiopia," I marvel. "Wasn't that difficult?"
"Lot of hassle there?"
"Like you wouldn't believe. The worst in the world."
"Why'd you stay so long?"
"I had nothing to compare it to; apart from France, it was the only country
I'd ever visited." He smiles happily. "And I enjoyed the challenge."
After dinner I hang around for one more Kuche Kuche.
Dave, a Malawian tour guide, describes Nkhata Bay this way: "This is Nkhata
Bay. This is where people get stuck." People on the porch laugh; some of
them have been stuck here for weeks. I'm due for at least a week here –
fortification for future minibus journeys.
It's amazing how a day of doing very little in paradise can wear you out. At
10:17 I turn out the light in my banda and crawl inside the mosquito net. The
waves of Lake Malawi crash outside my front door and push me off into dream.
Posted on September
06, 2003 09:04 AM
What do you think?
Posh accents annoy me when followed by an attitude, yu know, the kind of attitude that says there is a bad smell around and nothing is good enough.
hey, i got stuck in nkata bay, fell very in love with the banda lifestyle, so i give thanks for the photos...esp. of njaya lodge and the locals...its a special place, as is most of africa. did you meet a local named gift? he sells carvings across from the discoteca and has little dreads....maybe i am now describing most of the young men who are locals, but gift is a tall and excellent person, certainly special.
anyway, no accents do not annoy. in fact, i am probably the annoying one as i find myself always immitating those with the accents...
Posh English accents are charming when they come from someone you don't expect it from like little girls or big, burly men.
Looks like the journey's going well so far... hope your mom got home alright.
I'm surprised that you swam in the Lake... if memory serves, isn't that the lake with the really nasty water-bourne diseases?
Anyway, keep up the posts... I'm living vicariously through you.
i am bed ridden in a too-nice hotel in marrakesh having been violently ill for two days. your post made me realize several things: i long to be in so tranquil a place, i do not like morocco, i long for said english accents, for tuscany, for rural england, for any place beautiful and with order (not morocco). have a good time.
Mike, I was sure you would love Malawi. Glad to read such an emphatic confirmation. There is something very important about travelers' paradises -- they're most appreciated when no one tells you about them and you discover them by yourself. What's more, a travelers' paradise will lose its status of paradise as soon as too many people get to know about it or find it too easily accessible. Loi naturelle.
Chase, open your eyes. Trees are not letting you see the forest. Don't say you don't like Morocco, say you couldn't find a better way to appreciate it. There are travelers' paradises in Morocco, too -- N31 07.895 W7 55.081, 1800m. Pretty close to where you're staying, and well worth the little adventure that implies reaching it. Good luck, just let as know if you succeeded.
Also, next time you need accommodation in Marrakesh you'd better change your too-nice hotel for any riad. Chill out laid on a pile of cushions, with Arabic music and exotic scents surrounding you, relax with the sound of whispering water flowing through a fountain in an inner full-tiled atrium, and enjoy the mystic sunsets from your room balcony, overlooking Djamaa al-Fnaa. Nothing to do with your average continental breakfast, mini-bar and satellite TV.
I found my paradise in India; Palolem Beach in Goa. Half-moon shaped bay, room right on the water, swimming and lazing all day... Paradise!
Reading your post about Nkhata Bay sent my mind back there with whirlwind speed.
Posh English accents??? Depends on who it comes from.
Great post Mike - keep having fun.
Yep, Lake Malawi does have schistosomiasis, a.k.a. bilharzia, a nasty disease caused by parasitic worms. But the water's too beautiful to resist.
To be on the safe side, I'll take tablets to treat schistosomiasis. I'm also going to get blood work done at home to screen out other various beasties I may have picked up in the Nile and beyond.
A friend of a friend is in the Peace Corp in Malawi doing a project with peanut butter...it's supposedly the BEST peanut butter ever tasted. Since I know nothing else of the country, that's my recommendation while your there. (Speaking of Western foods!) Thanks for all the great stories...I really love the site.
take care! (cousin) Whitney
i feel better now of course woke at dawn and moved to a pretty little hotel and a terrace room near djemaa el fna. i do like marrakech of course but found the people at time very difficult and the treatment of women quite horrible. i know in this repsect morocco is realtively OK but i was having a hard time adapting to the culture. sleeping on a rooftop in checfchouen i smoked hashish for four days with some portugese hippies i met and got a cold in the first place. with a scottish and a south african friend of mine we are gonna rent a vehicle of some sort and move out towards the desert. well see what happens from there. do these cordinates hold a related name?
Yes, they do. Shall I spoil it?
the mystery is breathtaking.
Good to hear that my memory isn't so bad... and that you're taking appropriate precautions.
God speed... wish I had caught you before you had been to Zanzibar — it's been a dream destination of mine since I was very young.
Will you be making a journey through the US at all, before settling back in at home?
I've got a couch if you're so inclined.
Well, no big deal, actually. N31 07.895 W7 55.081, 1800m -- Kasbah du Toubkal. From Marrakesh, take the road to Agadir; past the village of Asni, take the first left to Imlil, which is 17 kms away. Leave your vehicle at the car park in downtown Imlil and ask about Kasbah du Toubkal's remote reception (open from 9 to 17h). Report there and just wait.
You and your luggage will be taken to Kasbah du Toubkal in a 15-minute long mule ride. The whole trip from Marrakesh shouldn't take more than two hours, and the distance to Imlil is 60 km. Imlil is, incidentally, one of the locations chosen by Scorsese for "Kundun", his film about the Dalai Lama. So you get the picture. Impressive scenery.
The rest is up to you to discover and enjoy. Good luck, have a safe trip!
thank you cave canem, im leaving marrakech in the morning and am working out how to get there. i have no car and cannot drive manual so am looking into other options. sounds intriguing. thnx again,
Chase, you're more than welcome! In case you don't have a car, there are two options -- a private cab to Imlil, or a shared taxi/local bus to Asni plus a camionette from there to Imlil. The prices depend on your bargaining skills and the general demand, but the former option should cost around 50€, and the latter should never go beyond 10€. A local wouldn't pay more than 5€, so make sure they don't rip you off. In Imlil, just follow the same instructions -- look for the car park and ask for directions to Kasbah du Toubkal's remote reception (just a few meters away from there). Try to leave Marrakesh early in the morning, so that transportation will be cheaper and you will be able to make it to Toubkal in broad daylight. Bon voyage!
This has to be the best travel logue/blog I have ever seen. The layout makes you feel so relaxed and open-minded....
Anyway, the closest possible place to paradise that I've been to is Sauble Beach (near a place called Owen Sound)in Ontario, Canada. I haven't been to a lot of places (yet!) but the fist impression it gave me was paradise.
No, it's not well-known nor really that special. In fact it didn't even have palm trees. I was lucky though because there weren't alot of people when I went so it was quite peaceful. The sand wasn't oily like other beaches I've been to and the sky was oh so blue that day.
No problem with the accent!
I thought a lot of you till you mentioned the posh accents comment. Have you ever thought that maybe the American accent is occaisonally nasal and arrogant and annoying as well, and is more often than not reflected back in their attitude? You're a traveller and you should have lost your judgemental ideals by now. If you feel that way about accents, go back to Chicago.
Sure I've considered that the American accent can be annoying. That's why I speak in a Polish drawl.
As for my judgemental ideals, I never said that I disliked or discredited people because of their accents.
Mike, you liked my posh English accent, didn't you?Personally, if it is a women I love their accent, but I'm not into posh public school accents of the guys. Anyway, have you not watched Mission Impossible two? Watch it and tell me you do not like the English Ladies accent! Take it easy, Jamie.
You're killing me with the beauty of your stories and experiences. I love reading them and being transported to these wonderful places but I'm still envious...LOL.
It's coming on Fall back here at home...gray days and cold nights. I'm thankful the trees haven't changed yet because I love the green. Stay where it's warm.
Maybe one of these days when you get back, we can sit down over a beer or glass of red and you can relay some of your adventures firsthand.
Fair enough, Mike, although to say an accent is annoying is in a way making assumptions about the person. In an ideal world (i.e. not ours) it would be far better to come to the point where accents are irrelevant and you don't even notice that they're there. And not that it matters, but I doubt the Polish could have a drawl--too many consonants!!! :)
I came across this whilst sitting at my desk in a london Office. It makes me very proud as we are the owners of this little bit of paradise! It's 10 years this christmas since we opened Njaya Lodge and it has turned out just how we wanted it to be! Mike thanks for the sbaoshot a day in the life, it takes me back to when we lived there full time. The breakfast look as good as ever and the staff and beach boys are different faces but the same old words!! If any of you are searching for another peice of paradise then check out our new location. Msimbati on the southern coast of tanzania. It is 13 years since I wrote my first letter about this pieice of land and we have just found out that after 7 yearsm hard work patieince, and no back handers we finally have our lease. we shall begin building in January 2004 and open in June 2004. the last time I was there december 2002 I saw whales, dolphins, turtles sea horses and about 10 locals over a 4 day period. not a tourist to be seen.
Mike please see this as an invitation to the opening or a free week when we open.
anyone reading and wants to sample Njaya then send me a mail for the password
onwards and upwards
If you are still in Morocco check out Essaouira. I found it to be immensely peaceful and a nice, relatively, quiet spot to relax in. The seaside fish market is great. Also, check out my site if you like. I've written a bit about my trip:
I am so sorry I didn't find your site earlier, Mike, as you seem to nearing the end of your adventure. It is fascinating reading. Speaking as a non-posh English person, posh accents annoy the hell out of me!
Glad to see you're still keeping up the sight.
Posh accents only annoy me depending on how the person makes the accent; if they're rude or not.
My favourite travelling paradise would be in Rocha, Uruguay. There's a small overlooking tower I can climb up and view all kilometres the of field and the sea to the south. It is a place to escape from the worries of everyday life and just think or write. Of course, my other favourite place is the middle of Osaka. Lots of people in a small space all trying to get somewhere quickly. :)
I wish I could say I could talk to you about your adventures first hand seeing as I don't know you, but your stories, pictures, and misadventures have always fascinated me.
Posh English accents are wonderful, especially when accompanied by a very stiff upper lip. The more petrified the lip, the better the accent sounds! Guess it goes with the stereotype.
On several different occasions, I have stayed in the Banda featured at the top of this page (I was in the Peace Corps). Mike does a great job capturing the essence of Nkhata Bay. Thanks for reminding me of how awesome it was there!