Nkhata Bay

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January 18th 2019
Published: February 3rd 2019
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Nkhata Bay wasn’t quite the backpacker haven we had expected to find. Maybe once upon a time it was, but nowadays everyone heads to one of two waterfront places a few kilometres across the bay. A shared taxi from Mzuzu was an easy 45 minute ride on good roads and we were deposited in the heart of the bustling town centre alongside the cheerful fishmongers who seemed surprised that we didn’t want to buy their catch and drag it along with our luggage. We opted to stay in the town to see what it still had to offer, and the Ilala Bay hotelwas cheap and cheerful so we stayed there.

Life in Malawi usually stops a couple of hours after the sun sets at 6pm. Sadly for us, that wasn’t the case at Nkhata Bay as a local bar played thumping music until about midnight, right outside our window! Life then begins in earnest at about 5.30am just after sunrise so that meant not a lot of sleep for us. That was the only negative about the hotel, and it wasn’t really their fault.

We do have another washing tale to tell though. When we handed in our dirty laundry at around 11am we were told it would be ready AT 3pm. That seemed both a bit quick, and a bit precise. The reality was that after our exploring we found our washing drying on the grass next to the fish! By dusk it still wasn’t ready and we were told it would be ok in the morning. As we were leaving the next morning we were quite keen for this to happen. It was ready, but not the socks so we had to take them wet in a bag. If only they had given us all the washing the previous night, the socks could have dried in the room while we slept. Oh well. TIA!!

The main reason for Nkhata Bay’s existence these days seems to be the Ilala ferry which runs up and down Lake Malawi all week. Having read a blog about travelling on board, it was not part of our plans. After wandering around the market area where tomatoes and tiny fish were once again the order of the day, we walked back along the road out of town looking for Big Blue Backpackers. If ever there was a sign that a big backpacking scene once existed, this was it. We let ourselves in through the gate and marvelled at the artwork in the abandoned bar. What a venue it must have been in its heyday.

Back down the hill we had a look at the lake shore with its little boats overloaded with people and goods, wondering where everyone was going. We never found out. We did call into Aqua Africa to see why their rooms cost about 5 times the price we were paying. Our visit did not answer that question! They did have a lovely bar area, the Dive Deck, overlooking the bay where Trish sat drinking the last Diet Pepsi in their fridge. Sugar free drinks really are like gold dust in this region.

For lunch we walked the two or three kilometres out to the present day backpacker mecca of Mayoka. There’s no doubting that the accommodation is in a stunning location but it was quite a journey to get there. We cut across a track but a fallen tree made it much more difficult than it was supposed to be. We would advise ordering your food in good time if you are going to eat there as our seemingly super-complex stir fried beef took an hour and a half to arrive.

A dog accompanied us on our walk back to town. We’re not quite sure if he thought he would get something from us, he felt the need to protect us from the souvenir sellers, or just wanted some company. After a well-earned rest we ventured out after dark but there were no really appealing options other than the Crest View Restaurant where we feasted on rice and beans for a ridiculously low price. The beer was nice and cold too.

The next morning, we had a really fun experience checking out. Neither of the banks in town had ATMs which would accept our cards, and neither would change any foreign currency for us. Apparently their foreign exchange rates are just for business! We had just enough cash to pay for the minibus down to our next destination and we were relying on the hotel to take either dollars or a credit card. They refused both so we had to say we were unable to pay. That resulted in a phone call followed by the frantic removal of all manner of dusty papers from various draws until their credit card machine was found. They advertised “pay with Visa” all over reception so we really felt that we should be able to do so. The machine had no battery life left whatsoever so the receptionist had to find the right cable to plug it in. Once the machine was switched on, she didn’t know how to use it so Russ had to do it for her!

Soon enough we were on our way in another minibus, our destination a mere 200km away. It would be no fun if it all went swimmingly though, would it?!!

Additional photos below
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3rd February 2019

Visa all over the world
isn't it amazing what can happen when you tell them you can't pay. A few machines got dusted off and you were back in business. Sorry you had music late into the night.

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