Helen & Randall in Malawi

a bit about our adventures at the Lake of Stars festival and beyond…

Friday 8th October

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After a minor anxiety attack that I had forgotten to have my baggage security-wrapped (the super-strong cling-film stuff) despite sending it through the notorious Nairobi airport, I decided not to worry about it purely on the unscientific basis that I had already had one baggage disaster that week (baggage missing for 48 hours in Milan) so I wasn’t due another. As we are used to the refugee camp that is Heathrow terminal 3, terminal 4 was a reasonably civilised experience; after quickly stocking up on books, sandwiches (having been warned that Kenya Airways food could be a hit and miss experience) and last minute Boots stuff including a mosquito net we still had time for a visit to the Champagne Bar for smoked salmon and tuna carpaccio:

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Saturday 9th October

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We arrived at Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta at around 5.45am local time, two hours ahead of London. After reassuring ourselves (well, myself) that our bags had indeed been checked through to Lilongwe, we set out to discover what delights the airport held with which to entertain us for the next four-and-a-half hours. Not much as it turned out. Several dull duty free shops selling booze and fags, a couple of tat shops (mostly beads and ‘I heart Kenya’ mugs) and a coffee shop. I’d read that the airport had begun a major refurbishment programme in 2007 but this was certainly not evident where we were…poky narrow corridors lit by weak yellowish lighting, 1970s style plastic floor tiling and shops with a vaguely pre-fabricated look to them. After hunting in vain for a comfortable seating area, I tucked myself into a corner of the corridor floor opposite our gate behind the generous provision of three plastic seats and Randall went to buy coffee from the slightly wild-west looking cafeteria nearby, where he managed to procure two coffees for the somewhat extortionate sum (in a country that makes the stuff!) of $5 US. Fortunately we still had the sandwiches I had insisted on bringing so at least breakfast was taken care of – thus two and a half hours were duly passed, sitting on the floor in a corridor, reading a book and eating tuna sandwiches from WH Smiths.`

Our 9.50am flight was supposed to board at 8.45 and we were duly summoned at 8.30 by the person at the gate practically mumbling the word ‘Lilongwe’. As we could see the gate was completely empty and more importantly contained an embarrassment of available plastic chairs, I sharp-elbowed my way into the queue followed by sherpa Randall with our various bags. Much irritation ensued as there was an additional ‘security’ check. This required us to pass through a metal detector – which did not appear to be switched on as it picked up neither the metal pins in my leg nor the mobile phone I’d forgotten to take out of my pocket – but even more pointlessly, in a classic developing world ‘trying to copy the thing they do in the US but missing the point entirely’ fashion, required us to hand over any water bottles. So we are being herded into a gate area with no facilities other than plastic chairs and a bizarre local and badly tuned religious TV channel, to be held for an indefinite amount of time based on any subsequent delay to our flight, and anything we had brought with us to drink is being confiscated. Marvellous. Kenya Airport Authority beware. I have read your charter and a strongly worded letter will soon be heading your way.

As it turned out we were only delayed for half an hour which meant we were sat in the gate area for one and a half hours. Interestingly as there were no facilities at all, if you needed the loo you simply waved your boarding pass at the security people on the gate, passed back into the main…errr…’waiting area’ (ie the corridor we had just been sitting in for over two hours), and then waved your boarding pass again to get back into the gate, bypassing people who were still queuing to get into the gate and more interestingly bypassing the security procedures, thus rendering them not only irritating but also entirely pointless.

The two hour flight to Lilongwe was pretty uneventful (in a good way!) – they fed us some gloopy pasta thing and bread-and-butter pudding, and I spent most of the time peering out of the window trying to work out where we were. Eventually we landed at Lilongwe airport which is more of an airfield. There is actually an open-air spectators area which was quite sweet – you can wave to them as the plane rolls past and they all wave back.

The entry procedure was charmingly basic – fill in the form, take it with your passport to the uniformed chap at the desk, smile nicely and tell them how long you are staying, then get a stamp, a smile and an ‘enjoy your visit’. The bags were already on the carousel as there are only a few flights a day and ours was the only one at the time – plus the baggage only had to come about 50 metres from the plane to the carousel. Everything arrived in one piece to my relief, although we had to nominally unpack for both the customs and the police before being allowed to leave (!?) the airport…all very courteous though and once more a somewhat token gesture.

With no mobile reception on any of our phones and thus no way to contact or identify Mike we quickly decided to change up 100 dollars into Kwacha which was a surprisingly easy transaction…I got the impression that the hard currency was welcome. With a selection of the vast number of unfamiliar bank notes I bought a SIM and some airtime from the booth next door and was about to call Mike when he appeared with Randall – another relief.

After loading all our stuff into Mike’s jeep he drove us from Lilongwe to Zomba where we would be staying the night in a cottage belonging to his family, and where we would also meet Kurt, the other person on this bit of our tour:

The Lovely Kurt

The roads were surprisingly good – flat and tarmac-ed – which is apparently the case through most of Malawi although not the neighbouring countries. We drove through any number of small towns and villages – mostly small brick buildings with simple thatched roofs – and stopped in a couple where there were roadside markets so we could pick up fruit, eggs and vegetables. The staples seem to be potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, guavas, papayas and mangoes – apparently avocados too although we didn’t manage to track any down. According to Mike there would be berries – in particular really great strawberries – once we got to Zomba. Slightly oddly there seems to be a real ‘plastic bag’ culture where no-one brings a cloth bag and the stall owners sell you a plastic bag for 20 Kwacha. I’m sure these bags get reused, but inevitably they comprise a good chunk of the rubbish we’ve seen so far.

A common sight in every small town we passed was the local shop for ‘Carpentery and Joinery – specialists in furniture and coffins’, reminding us that the average life expectancy for the local population is 43 years old – just one year older than Randall is now.

The cottage at Zomba was up a winding road from Zomba town, near a dam. On the bumpy, driveway we met Jane, the neighbour and owner of the cottage, and her five very friendly dogs. She also had a horse and some cows grazing on the property so there was fresh (unpasteurised!) milk at breakfast. The cottage was very cosy with a terribly English garden:

We sat out on the terrace and had tea, scones and jam (!) …

…then later beers – locally brewed Carlsberg known as ‘green’ because of the colour of the bottle – then as we hadn’t eaten for at least 45 minutes there was lasagne and salad followed by the tastiest strawberries for dinner, after which I crashed out for 10 hours straight, shortly followed by Randall.

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Sunday 10th October

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On Sunday morning we woke up bright and early and, as mooted the previous evening, joined Kurt for a walk around the reservoir.

We reached the dam by around 8am, where we had to pay a small fee to enter the dam property, and we negotiated (a rather sophisticated term for the slightly confused and confusing process that actually took place) for a guide.

Our Guide

We had a glorious two-hour walk taking in the waterfall, the trout farm set up by a Scotsman over 70 years previously and the Ku Chawe hotel – quite posh and now part of the Sunbird chain like the Nkopola Lodge where we are going for Lake of Stars.


The Ku-Chawe Trout Farm – entrance

Trout Pools

Baby Fish!

Apparently the trout farm owners had made good money supplying hotels etc but some years previously they had lost the whole stock to poisoning so had started again from scratch.

Naughty Monkeys!

By the time we arrived back at the cottage breakfast was ready – strawberry and mulberry fruit salad followed by bacon and eggs, and toast and jam, all prepared by Bryan, Mikes family cook at the cottage. After that we had just enough time to pack our overnight bags and shower before piling into the car and heading for Liwonde, the national park where we would be spending the night.

Arriving at Liwonde took longer than expected we had to cross the river Shire (pronounced ‘shee-ree) to get to the Mvuu (Hippo) Camp where we were staying, and Mike wasn’t sure where the boat crossing point was for this particular camp as it was the first time he’d used it. After a couple of false starts we found the crossing and – leaving the car at a ‘car park’ (small clearing with a guard) on the riverside, we bundled into a boat with a chap called David who ferried us across the river to the camp.

The jetty

Randall with his ears flapping in the wind as the boat zips away!

The boat was open-sided with a canvas roof that had swallows nesting in it, so the boat trip was punctuated by swallows dipping into the boat to add to or check on their nests before zipping back out again to catch insects around the boat.

Welcome to Mvuu Camp, Liwonde National Park

At the camp we were greeted in the reception/restaurant/bar area by Emmanuel who gave us the safety briefing pointing out that the camp was an ‘open’ camp i.e. not fenced off from the rest of the park, meaning that the animals could come and go as they pleased in and out of the camp. This was evident from the monkeys scampering about amongst the baobabs on the lawn in front of us:

…although apparently it wasn’t the monkeys were were being warned about but the elephants and hippos that were likely to come into the camp at night, and potentially the warthogs although they weren’t generally aggressive. Once we’d been warned about that, Emmanuel had us sign disclaimers, basically to say that if we were maimed, killed or eaten by animals then it was entirely our own fault. Mmmm – hungry work, and thus time for more food – a late lunch (as it was now 2pm) where the lovely Tom took care of us, bringing our drinks and indicating when it was time for us to go up to the server for the next course, despite the fact that we were the only people eating and the poor server had been dragged back out of the kitchen with his pots solely for our benefit. Lunch was rather unprepossessing although rather surprisingly and pleasingly the coffee was excellent.

With only forty-five minutes to go until we had to be back in reception for our game drive, we headed out to the chalet – we seemed to be the furthest from reception on the edge of the camp, which turned out to be a privilege although we didn’t realise this yet. Slight awkwardness at seeing the bed configuration (a small double and two singles) in the main bedroom until the guide pointed out the second double bedroom which Randall and I bagsied. The bathroom was in between the two rooms and was impressive, with stone walls like the rest of the chalet, fluffy towels, and a well designed shower with a glazed brown clay floor that drained perfectly. There were also little bouquets of wild flowers laid out everywhere – on the bed, the towels etc.

The chalets had a double power system – generator supplemented by solar – with separate switches for each. The general rule seemed to be that the generator was on then the solar power ran out, although it wasn’t always clear which to use.

Heading back to the reception we met George, our fantastic guide, who checked what drinks we wanted for our ‘sundowners’ on the boat (‘greens’ all round) before loading us onto the boat for our river safari.

Beer-stealing monkeys!

We set out from the camp around 4pm and immediately saw impala, some kind of antelopes, warthogs, various birds and a couple of crocs.

Start of the trip – all very civilised.

Scary Hippos

Happy Elephant

Around a km from the camp we passed an island that was crocodile city – at least twenty of various sizes including some of over three metres. George said the largest that had been measured recently was 4.8 metres – he had helped to land it and carry it while sedated. Apparently they grow up to six metres but over a certain length their heart can no longer pump blood as far as the end of the tail so it eventually drops off.

Scary Croc. One of hundreds we saw basking and swimming.

Kingfisher. We also saw a tiny blue-and-orange one that was too fast to photograph.

Obviously what I was really waiting to see was the elephants! George spotted some about a kilometre away drinking from the side of the river so we slowly crept up on them – mummy and baby. The baby hid behind mum who kept a close eye on us but was obviously used to these interruptions and not too worried.

Mum and baby.

Then we noticed a couple of large male elephants feeding and drinking across the river so we got an extreme close-up of them until one of them mock charged us…according to George there is no danger as they move very slowly once in water!

Yikes! Note the one missing tusk (from fighting).

As the sun was starting to set, George wanted to take us to a small island where the elephants often spend the day before, at sunset, walking back to the mainland in a single file – not quite but almost tails-in-trunks line which is obviously a spectacular sight. At this point our camera ran out of battery so we managed to take some with Randall’s iPhone, and Kurt kindly offered to send us a memory stick with copies of his which I will post here later. There were over twenty elephants on the island including a teeny (well, in elephant terms!) baby still suckling. They did indeed cross the river from the island exactly at sunset as we watched them with cold beers in our hands. The baby got all confused and managed to get almost across before having a bit of a panic and scampering back to the other side and crossing back again with mum.

Homeward bound…

We watched the elephants until it was dark, then motored back to the camp in time for another cold beer and then dinner, by which time we were all ready for bed!

Yes, all very amusing, IN THE DAY TIME!!

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Monday 11th October

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The following morning we were woken by a strange noise which, on peeking through the curtains, turned out to be an actual herd of elephants. The closest was about 2 metres from our window, and all it’s friends were busily ripping down branches from nearby trees and generally huffing, puffing and snorting their way around. We were supposed to be meeting in reception at 5.30 for our early morning game drive, but with so many animals we hung around for a while waiting for the guards to come an get us.

The night before we had been given the option of the ‘regular’ game drive through the park or a visit to the fenced off 20 sq km sanctuary where the endangered animals were kept – the draw being to get a chance to see the elusive and rare Black Rhino – they have about 10 altogether, having started with a breeding pair called Justerini and Brooks (as they were sponsored by…). As we had seen so many animals along the river during the evening river game drive, we decided to take the chance on the Black Rhino.

Our trusty built-up Landrover – needed for all the gullies and rough roads.

On the game drive we saw loads of animals including: Sable (as Mike put it: ‘a Sable is a just a good-looking Antelope’), Haartbeast, Zebra, more Elephants, Impala, Kudu and lots and lots of Warthogs, including very cute teeny baby ones, running and running as fast as their little legs would carry them to keep up with mum and dad!

George the guide pointed out the places where Elephants had broken down the electrified fence so they could get at the trees and bushes inside the sanctuary – apparently they knock down trees that bash the fence down and break the electric part so that they can get in – very smart.

George and our driver were *very* keen that we got to see the rhino, so although the drive was only supposed to last for between 90 mins and 2 hours, we were out for almost three hours and missed breakfast (luckily they saved us some, or there would have been trouble!). BUT!!! Finally, we spotted a Black Rhino running through the trees parallel to the road but about 20 metres away. Wow – it was absolutely enormous! Eventually we lost sight of it in the trees, then briefly caught another glimpse, so not sure whether we saw the same one twice or two different ones…it was all very exciting.

Mission accomplished, we headed back to the lodge, via a couple of minor incidents involving the deep deep gullies that form in the paths, presumably in the rainy season, then dry out into hard-packed and steep dips in the road…still our trusty Landrover did the business and we were back for (late!) breakfast, a brief shower, then back on the road before we knew it.

As our bags were still in Zomba, Mike offered to drop us at a hotel on the river so we could chill out while he drove back to collect our things and the food, before collecting us and all heading up to Cape McClear. This seemed like a good plan so the three of us sat in the gardens of Hippo View Lodge – a conference hotel on the Shire river – watching the river and generally enjoying the peaceful surroundings for a couple of hours and a couple of beers. Mike arrived back a couple of hours later with a funny story of having been stopped for speeding, but gettigng away with it by indicating his flushed and sweaty forehead (it was HOT!) and desperately asking for the nearest hospital as he was having a bout of malaria…he was waved on with a ‘Go! Go! That way!’. The only problem was that we now had to pass through the same road block again going the other way, so we had to hope that the police wouldn’t recognise the car…

As well as our luggage the car was full of supplies and a huge cool box to keep us supplied for the days at the Cape as there wasn’t much in the way of food shopping opportunities there apparently. Even so, we headed past the turn off the sealed road to Cape McClear in order to head to Monkey Bay for additional supplies…water and most importantly oil for the speedboat! With all that loaded into the car it was back down the road, turning off onto a very rough and bumpy track that wound between hills on either side with no sign of the lake until we were very close and one of the ‘hills’ actually turned out to be Chamwe island, about 800 metres off the lakeside from our cottage:

Manica Cottage is one of a row of ‘cottages’ – small compounds really – that line the beach at Cape McClear with a section of beach, lawns, a couple of buildings for living, then additional buildings for the servants who act as combined security, cooks, cleaners etc. Manica was one main building with a kitchen, a living / dining area with a couple of single beds in an attached ‘porch’ then another double bedroom with attached bathroom – we bagzied this one immediately when I noticed it had aircon! Then there was  a separate little house with a double, two singles and attached bath. I suppose it was built for a family, with our room as mum and dad’s room and the separate house for the kids, but Mike and I whiled away a couple of beers discussing how we would change the layout if we owned it.

After dumping our bags and heading down to the beach we all jumped in the car and headed to ‘Geckos’ the nearby back-packer-type bar for a couple of ‘sundowners’:

Despite Mike compaining that it was too quiet and nothing was happening/nobody was there, and that the next nights would be ‘better’ as Geckos would be hosting the ‘official’ pre-parties for Lake of Stars, I rather like the laid-back atmosphere, watching the sun set over the lake and listinging to the children playing and generally making noise on the beach below. We met a couple (name escapes!) who were lovely but sadly weren’t staying for the festival. Next it was home for fish pie and a few more beers before crashing out fairly early (well we had got up at 5!).

Tuesday 12th October

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This morning we swam to the island! Mike thinks it is around 800 metres from the beach here which would take about 20 minutes in the pool, but the lake is quite choppy and there is a current, so it took us 45. Fantastic morning swim…birds diving for fish alongside us, brightly coloured butterflies flapping across the surface of the water, and thankfully no (visible) crocodiles. We landed at the beach just as Mike and Kurt turned up in the speedboat to collect us, and they rather sweetly took a turn around the island to give us some romantic time alone on an unpopulated tropical island! I spotted a huge lizard and we saw plenty of butterflies and birds before the boys came back to collect us.

Back at the cottage breakfast was ready – bowls of fresh papaya followed by eggs on toast, although (grrr) no tea or proper coffee, just some weird South African instant thing called ‘Ricoffy’ which I obviously declined…

After an hour or so of chilling out we headed out again in the boat for a tour and some fishing and snorkelling – Randall and I jumped off the boat and he snorkelled while I just swam around the rocks looking down at all the beautiful brightly-coloured fish.

Later we had a bit of a zoom around the island in the boat before heading back to lunch (fish and chips!!) and a bit more of a chill, then back in the boat for Sundowners – watching the sun set with a couple of cold beers, then buzzing the luxury catamaran from a few cottages up – apparently quite a swish (african style) resort popular with honeymooners etc. Once the sun was down and there wasn’t much more to see, Mike decided to take us to Geckos in the boat, which was funny as it was quite hard to tie up on the beach…some local kids were ‘minding’ it for us and it was very funny watching these tiny skinny littke children trying to haul the speedboat back up the beach every time a wave took it…all entirely unecessary as it was better off in the water anyway, but they were having fun!

On the way back down to the cottage Mike pointed out the diving school he recommended Randall try the next day, then after dinner it was another early night for R and I although Jurt and Mike went back to Geckos.

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 7:00 pm

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Wednesday 13th October

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We woke up with the sunlight peeking through around 5am, and then dozed for a couple more hours to the sound of wind – not quite a storm but certainly different from the beautiful stillness of the previous twenty-four hours.

Randall was feeling poorly so scuba-diving was off, so I swam to the island with Mike – the plan being that he would swim back and bring the boat to pick me up. As I got there about 10minutes before he did and was already feeling the sunburn by the time he arrived so I decided to swim back too – harder than the way out as the current was against us, but great all the same…felt extremely invigorated when I finally landed back at the cottage!

As Randall wasn’t feeling well we spent the day at the cottage just dozing and reading while Mike and Kurt took the boat out. The power was off for most of the day and the cottage didn’t have a generator, so that wasn’t ideal, but it was still a relaxing day. The boys arrived back around 6pm having spent the day out on the lake with a bunch of randoms they had picked up with the boat from Gecko Lounge etc – this got Mike in trouble with the locals for ‘stealing their business’ of taking people out for lake tours, so he ended up charging everyone 500 MK (about £2) and giving that to the local boatmen to make up for it!

A couple of said randoms, one of whom knew Mike from Uni in South Africa (they all know each other!!) came over for Braai (ie Barbecue) later in the evening which was fortunate as one of them was a chef on luxury yachts and was able to take over the cooking from the house boy who was a bit baffled by the whole process. After dinner they all headed off to Gecko and I stayed in with Randall.

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

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Thursday 14th October

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Randall was feeling much better this morning so after doing most of our packing and saying hi to Mike’s guests Richard and Holly (all three of whom were feeling a bit hung over) we took Kurt and wandered up the beach to Frogman Diving where Randall arranged to do a dive before breakfast. This dive school is run by a chap called Patrick who started out as a nightwatchman for another local dive place which offered him diving classes when they discovered that he could read and write English.

Frogman Diving, Cape McClear

Over several years he worked for them as boatman etc while doing other various courses and eventually he set up his own business. He is the first Malawian to qualify as a PADI instructor.

Kurt and I decided to go out on the boat while Randall dived so we nipped back to Malinca cottage to pick up sunscreen, hats, my book and some water while Randall was squeezed into a wetsuit and fins and got to check all his kit. Just as we had cast off from the beach Patrick spotted two girls heading to the dive centre and recognised them as having enquired about diving the say before. We agreed to head back and he spent a few minutes kitting them out which meant there were four divers – Patrick, Randall, Lise and her friend whose name I forget – instead of only Randall and Patrick the instructor.

Mrs Bwana, fully sun protected.

Fully loaded on the boat, we were driven out to a point near the island where the depth was only 2-3 metres and the boat could anchor. The divers all rolled in, and after a couple of false starts they headed down to 16 metres in ‘the aquarium’ – a spot known for all it’s fish.

Randall gracefully entering the water.

While they were down for about 40 minutes Kurt and I and the boatman relaxed in the sunshine and occasionally had a look to see if we could spot them from their bubbles or to marvel at the fish we could see from the boat.

After the dive we headed back to the cottage for breakfast – the power was off again but we still managed a leisurely breakfast of bowls of papaya followed by bacon, eggs, tomatoes and rather ingeniously made toast (on a frying pan over an open fire).  Holly insisted on making Randall a glass of Milo – a vaguely Ovaltine-y milk drink with weird crunchy bits which is apparently a real comfort drink in SA – while we discussed photography, politics, sociology and put the world to rights in general, then after a brief chill on the veranda with our books, it was time to hop on the boat again – first to the Gecko Lounge to pick up some cold water, then on to ‘The Gap’ – a spot between the mainland and the larger island – for swimming and fishing. The beach was a tiny cove with great swimming around the rocks:

The Gap – beautiful, quiet, deserted beach. Until we got there.

Randall went to try and fish, and ended up ‘fish-sitting’ a 2kg fish that Mike caught while Mike brought the boat around to collect it as it was too big to be able to carry back over the rocks.

After an hour or so we headed back to the Chambe island to feed the fish at Flat Rock…

…and finally so Rando and Holly could try and get shots of the Fish Eagle while Mike baited it with a smaller fish he’d caught. Amazingly the Eagle scooped the fish out of the water without even slowing down and was back in the tree within seconds.

Then it was time to head back for a late lunch and for Randall and I to pack all our stuff into the car for the drive to the Sunbird Nkopola Lodge for Lake of Stars! Back down the windy dirt track we went, back onto the dusty main road for 20 mins before turning off onto another dirt track and eventually to the gates (or rather, the uniform guarded but somewhat Heath Robinson roadblock system) of the Nkopola Lodge where Mike drpped us off with a promise to catch up over the weekend and then headed off to collect the others to go to their cottage further up the beach.

The check in process at the Sunbird was somewhat chaotic but eventually we got keys to our room – one of a row of small-ish but high-ceilinged rooms approached from the hotel gardens and opening onto a lake-front verandah. Lovely.

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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Friday 15th October

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Woken up by the glorious sound of the sea – it sounds as if it has been quite windy overnight. We just missed the sunrise although it appears that our room is perfectly positioned to see the sun rising over the lake – beautiful.

After a quick walk on the beach and paddle in the sea we made it to breakfast in time for the opening at 6.30am…fantastic freshly made omlettes, great coffee and tropical fruit as well as all the usual breakfast goodies.

We sat outside on the verandah, and after warning another couple about the slightly predatory-looking baboons got chatting to them – she -Katie – is an English primary school teacher and drama/story-telling bod who is volunteering at a school here after raising the money back home to have a new block built in the school…he – Niraj –  is her boyfriend, a DJ who will be playing two sets on the beach stage over the weekend.

After lounging around with coffees for a while we went for a wander around the site and picked up our wristbands from the  box office just outside the fence, next to which a makeshift marketplace has been set up by people from the local village selling cheap food and handicrafts.  Eventually we ended up in the bar where I had a cheeky early morning beer, then we headed back to the room where I tried in vain to upload photos via the very flaky Skyband wifi connection while we sat on the verandah watching the beach and the lake and reading our books.

A bit later we headed out of our room on the garden side for a beer at the swimming pool bar where we got chatting to a local guy called Moomba who is here working as a telephone engineer for a new telephone network based out of South Africa who were building an ariel for the festival site and doing some promotion on-site. It was all very civilised sitting by the pool bar, although we discovered that the hotel drinks prices had gone up for the festival!

Needing to change some money we asked the reception again when the advertised NBS mobile ATM (intriguing concept) would be arriving, to be met with general unhelpfulness so we changed up some dollars and headed off to wander around the site again. I was peckish again by this time so bought some potato chips with salad from one of the vendors in the village market for 150 Kwacha and then wandered up the track to check out the festival campsite. From what we could see it looked very well organised with plenty of shade and pegged out spots, but I’m very pleased we have our air-conditioned beach front en-suite room.

The festival activities were due to kick off at midday, and there was already some soundchecking taking place on the fabulously Heath Robinson wooden stages that – for the main stage at least – were now supporting all kinds of expensive rigging, lights, speakers and amps – sound equipment all donated by the massive Funktion 1. There were rumours (well, we heard from someone at the bar) that the festival would be kicking off with the Malawian Minister for Tourism skydiving onto the beach to open the festival. He duly did, which was just brilliant and prompted musing about which European politicians should be jumping out of planes, with or without parachutes…

The minister, tandem skydiving onto the beach.                                             The cameraman makes an elegant landing.

After suitably ‘rah rah’ speeches from Will, the Minister and various others, the festival was off – the music started on the main stage although there had been bits and pieces going on throughout the day already on the smaller stages. We wandered over tot he Beach Stage where the Noisettes were suppose to be doing an acoustic set, although turned out not to be – however it was rather nice to sit in the sun drinking beer, listening to the music and watching the sea, so that wasn’t all bad. Later we grabbed some food from the slightly sketchy food market near the Band Stand stage – the Nali Sauce stall was doing stir-fry type things with inevitably loads of spicy sauce to go with it, and then headed to the main stage to catch highlight of the evening Tinashe who was just brilliant brillant brilliant…and his drummer was Animal from the muppets.

Tinashe performs the Mbira version of ‘Zambezi’:

Tinashe performs ‘Liar’ – check out the drummer:

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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Saturday 16th October

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My birthday!

After attempting to get wine and breakfast delivered to our room and failing miserably after 3 attempts, we headed to breakfast in the restaurant again, sitting inside to avoid the naughty monkeys. Then it was time for presents and sitting on the veranda waiting for the rest of the world to wake up.

View from the verandah.

The party at the Star Bar, on the other hand, was still going from the night before, and there were people sleeping on the beach wrapped in blankets and sarongs):

Star Bar price list. Panadol 50p…nice touch!

First big draw of the day was the Amitofo Kung Fu Display…to intriguing-sounding to miss and as it turned out quite quite brilliant. An orphanage (one of so many, yet not enough) run by a chinese buddhist charitable organisation ‘Amitofo‘  that includes Kung Fu as part of the education had got a slot at the festival to ‘show off’ the children’s work and thus to publicise their work. The whole thing went on for over an hour and was quite quite astounding:

This video doesn’t really do them justice…check out from about 2 minutes, then at 2.40 for a bit of Catalan Castellers action!

After some lunch we headed over to the beach stage and caught Ron Nkhomba (liked him so much I bought the CD) while waiting for the Jacaranda school band who had been promoting themselves rather successfully (due to their amazing founder Maria da Silva)…wow wow wow…quite incredible.  A school of orphans who had been donated some instruments in January, had learned to play them and had even written their own songs. Everyone was just astounded, and unsurprisingly the children subsequently made guest appearances in loads of star’s sets for the rest of the festival.

Jacaranda School at Lake of Stars…interview taking place just next to our verandah! Watch it all…it’s worth your time.

After that amazing experience Randall went for a nap and I just caught the end of the Burundi Drummers next to the main stage (as Katie put it: “oooh…orphans or refugees…orphans or refugees…?”) before heading nap-wards as well.

Fortunately we got up in time to catch Niraj aka Budd-ha DJ-ing on the Beach Stage…he played such a party set and we danced such a lot that we almost forgot to head off to the Noisettes on the Main Stage…luckily he wound it down eventually, and the Noisettes were on late so we caught them…another WOW experience, th brilliant and bonkers Shingai doing a Grace Jones-esque performance but with audience participation, clambering over the speakers and amps, crazy costume changes, and crowd-surfing.

Last song…



Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunday 17th October

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Sunday started with many good intentions, such as going on a tour to a local village and/or orphanage, but in the end turned into a fairly lazy affair, sitting outside the breakfast room reading and drinking cold beers, then later failing to get anything vaguely edible from the remaining food stalls who were all running out of supplies. We did, however, buy 3 boxes (that’s 60 bottles) of Nali sauce, to the absolute delight of the stall holder who even gave me a free bottle…I negotiated up to a glass bottle of ‘Nali Gold’, impressing Randall with my bargaining skills. Xmas presents for everyone back home sorted.

Tinashe’s acoustic set on the Band Stand stage was a delight, especially as he had his mad drummer with him, but the highlight of the day was the Noisettes set on the Beach stage, as they managed to get half the festival up with them, including Afrikan Boy, Choizo and the inevitable Jacaranda school who accompanied Shingai’s cover of Miriam Makeba’s stunning ‘Kilimanjaro’:

Written by helenbcn

October 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized