Johnie does Malawi – Part 7

By Johnie Jonker

Day 13: Cape Maclear, aka Ask Harry

The next morning we could see for the first time where we were – right up against the northern shore of Cape Maclear, with the bay stretching out in front of us, with Thumbi Island on the right.

Finally, this is what we had actually come to do in Malawi – sit beside the lake and watch the days go by.

Our first mission was to find out where one could buy fresh fish from the lake, so the adult men – one still in his pajamas – sauntered across the beach to the reed fence separating the campsite from the village. There we met Harry, who was absolutely instrumental to the enjoyment of our brief – 1 day – stay on the mainland.

Harry had taken part in the Edinburgh Festival and toured the South African circuit as a stand-up comedian, before he decided that here is the best place. After a few days back at work, I’m thinking he may have a valid point.

So he now acts as guide to tourists, being able to organize and advise on just about anything local.

The thing about Cape Maclear was that we had read a report (WEG magazine, Feb 2011 Issue) stating that there was between 52% and 74% probability that you would contract Bilharzia if you swam there. All the tell-tale signs were there – lots of people from the village washing their clothing and themselves in the water. We could see that not all the visitors had read this report as they were splashing around in the shallows in a rather carefree manner.

We were still prepared to shower and brush our teeth with this water, but definitely no swimming…. Our concern was probably fuelled by the fact that three of the adults present were medical doctors, with a fourth one having a nursing background.

One should not get careless or cocky about this, as aptly illustrated by Wim Bosman in his 1981 Louis die Laeveldleeu, below:

So call us chicken if you like, but this swimming thing was going to have to wait until we got to the island, which was far enough away from the mainland to be free of this gogga.

But we were in Cape Maclear NOW, so what could we do to while away the time? Well for one we needed fuel. Harry knew where to get this and took us to the “depot”, but a fresh supply was only due later that afternoon.

As we had been parked in by the campers behind us, we got permission from Listen to drive across the beach from the campsite to the boat launch area. This was quite heavy going, with the tyres pumped to 2.5 bar due to the increased load the cars were carrying. This procedure turned out to be the norm for all our exits/entries during our stay here.

Our campsite – on the beach.

So what to do if you don’t want to swim here? Well, Harry could organize a motorboat to take us out to Thumbi Island – 1km across the bay – which was also Bilharzia-free.

Why Thumbi Island is Bilharzia free. I do not know what the blacked out part in the local language means, but I assume it to be a reasonable facscimile of the illustration.

This would cost us – after some discussions by our chief negotiator – $100, of which half was payable in advance so Harry could get fuel for the outboard motor. Typical South African, we were wondering whether we would ever see Harry again after handing over the money, but at the agreed time, the motor boat beached right at our camp site, and we hopped on board.

Our transport. Yes, I know. You’ll never be able to ski behind it.

After first traversing along the beach to a point directly across the closest point of the island, we cut across. Harry is well known by the townsfolk, as all along the way waves were exchanged and greetings shouted across the water as we progressed up the shoreline.

Arriving at the island with all our snorkelling gear, a cooler box and some snacks, we were left there by the boat with an agreed time in which to return. Harry stayed behind with us.

Harry supervising.

He came prepared with some bread, which he threw into the water in small pieces. As if by magic it was engulfed by schools of colourful fish – blue, grey, yellow – an absolute delight to watch through our masks.

The boat returned on schedule, and the tour continued around the tip of the island. Here we discovered why the alternate name for this piece of land was Fish Eagle Island. Once again, Harry delivered, with a bag of fish which he had also brought along.

At any one time we could see 4 Fish Eagles, swooping down one by one and retrieving the fish Harry threw into the water, giving their familiar call as they flew off with it, almost as if to say: “Look at me now!”

It may appear as if this “orchestrated” fish-feeding activity would make it easy to photograph these birds in action, but of the more than 20 retrievals and probably 4 cameras on board, very few of us were actually able to capture the bird at the right moment.

Close enough.

From there we proceeded to Otter Point, an island just off the southern tip of Cape Maclear beach, with a running commentary by our guide. Then back up to Chembe Eagle’s Nest with some more shouting and waving ship-to-shore by Harry.

This was probably the best spent money during the whole trip, if you divide the $100 by the 11 people that went along – just over R60 p/p for a solid 4 hours of entertainment, along with an expert host.

By this time the fuel had arrived – as promised – and we went off to fill the vehicle tanks. K400/l compared to a pump price of K290.

So we would whole-heartedly recommend – nay, INSIST – that you contact Harry should you ever visit these parts, at: 0992230285.

Part 8 to follow


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