There are so many times when driving through Africa on public transport that you fly past things you would love to stop and take a photo of but can’t. The drive to Nkhotakota had some real treasures. The men sprinting out of the rubber plantations trying to sell human head sized rubber balls which they bounced at the car. The signs for Tom and Jelly Daycare, and a Prumbing Speciarist (Malawians often mix-up their R’s and L’s). The world’s worst Rambo painting on a DVD shop, and the world’s best Randy Rhoads shirt. Even the ‘Kanye River’, which I would have really quite liked to have sullied. The road to Nkhotakota was yet another interesting journey to yet another special place in Malawi.
With three nights booked at the proudly small Bua River Lodge set in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, we were determined to finally see some big animals in Africa. As we settled into our safari tent, the vervets were already descending in numbers to check out the new arrivals. Although some were just coming to drink our shower water from the tank!
One thing you can never forget in Malawi is the British colonial past, especially with the interesting selection of antiquated English names that locals have been given. Tabitha, Foster, Clifford, Hastings, Maxwell, Davis, Godfrey, Livingstone, Stanley. The last two of course inspired by the explorers, of which Livingstone is especially loved within Malawi. Bua’s Malawian staff were amazing, especially the chef Godfrey who kept us barely able to move with four meals a day, including dishes we haven’t seen in months. How he got the ingredients there we will never know. The man is magic.
My favourite day at Bua involved a four hour hike along an old Elephant trail. With our trusty guide Clifford and our M-16 equipped park ranger Kumbo, we set out in search of the beasts. Trampled grass, giant footprints, broken trees and the biggest piles of shit I’ve ever seen indicated we were in the right place. Our two escorts were a wealth of knowledge on every aspect of the bush, being able to tell exactly how long ago a branch was broken, a hole was dug or a turd was dropped. I learned so much my brain was overflowing. As the signs increased Kumbo noted that the main herd had left the area hours ago, but a single outcast elephant was within only a few minutes of us. This is where we had to stop as an outcast male can be very aggressive, and the way Kumbo had already dropped his rifle twice didn’t fill me with confidence that he could use it to stop a pissed off stampeding elephant. Whilst we didn’t end up seeing elephants, we did see many birds and some huge crocodiles on the walk.
Speaking of crocodiles, every single day at Bua ended with crocodile sundowners. A short walk up river with Clifford to a large pool, just in time to watch the crocs sliding back into the water for the evening as the sun too slipped away. An esky full of beers made this extra enjoyable of course. I’ve never been so close to crocs in the wild before. It was equal parts interesting and scary. Every now and again one would take exception to our proximity and begin to make a hissing sound before raising it’s belly from the sand and storming off in annoyance at our presence. Mostly they just effortlessly cruised around the water with enough of their body showing to remind you that they were big enough to finish you if they felt like it. Thankfully Laura didn’t revert to her inner Queenslander and try to wrestle any of them.
During these trips we’d also see throngs of baboons, giant fish eagles and brightly coloured kingfishers dive bombing the water to catch their dinners. All the while getting an insight into Malawian culture as we talked with Clifford about music, language, tradition and politics. It was interesting to hear that the current ruling party won a lot of votes in the area by sponsoring the local football teams and putting on a tournament for them. Africa’s football obsession can even help buy you a presidency it seems!
Whilst many travellers seem to stick to the lake in Malawi, we’ve been finding these little inland detours to be very rewarding. Bua was a beautiful little spot with a very relaxing atmosphere, but next on the agenda is Cape Maclear, our final stop along lake Malawi.