Aye Karonga

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Africa » Malawi » Northern » Karonga
January 11th 2019
Published: January 28th 2019
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Getting out of a shared taxi in the centre of Karonga was bedlam. We had to fight off so many drivers wanting to take us on deeper into Malawi and they didn’t seem to understand the idea that we were staying in town. We shoved our way through the crowd and dragged our bags along the dusty road towards the Kapata Lodge.For the equivalent of £15 we had a huge room with air conditioning but the furniture made it seem like a museum and the number of mosquitoes had us slightly concerned about the night ahead. A bit of mozzie killer (from the local Tesco, I kid you not!) and a large net over the bed meant it wasn’t actually a problem.

There isn’t a great deal to the town. In her diary Trish described it as a fly blown agricultural town on the edge of Lake Malawi. That’s pretty accurate. Local restaurants serve up rice and beans, rice and chicken, or rice and beans for not a lot of money. It’s cheap, cheerful, and actually rather tasty, especially with a bit of chili sauce splashed on top. The not-really-Tesco didn’t have a great deal of stock to attract us and we couldn’t find large bottles of water anywhere until a delightful young lady in a shack by the market produced some from a cooler box, and she had diet Pepsi too – a rare treat. We shopped with her for our entire stay and she showed off her huge smile for the camera before we left.

Back at the hotel we had a brief look at the restaurant. On the wall was an amazing poster calendar from a newspaper in 2015 showing the dictators of the world! Having not seen any sign of street lighting in the town we decided to eat there for our first night. We ordered chambo, a fish from Lake Malawi, and asked for it to be ready at 7pm. We returned on time but it was half an hour later before our food arrived. It was a good introduction to the concept of time in Malawi. The fish was tasty but horrifically bony. The accompanying chips were lovely though!

The guide book said we should visit the local museum as it was state-of-the-art with audio-visual displays and a lot of foreign investment. The reality was a demonstration of what happens when the foreign aid and aid workers dry up. It had gone to rack and ruin, although there are signs that someone is finally trying to spruce the place up a bit. The highlight is without a doubt the dinosaur skeleton of the Malawisaurus which was found in Malawi, hence its name. The section on earthquakes was interesting, comparing legends about the phenomena from around the world. The political history section was also interesting, but none of the audio sections worked and the TV had long since seen any picture. A shame as we were both interested in the subject. Still, for just K1000 (about £1) what do you expect?

We walked around the town but didn’t see anything else of note. The guidebook made it sound as though there is a Commonwealth war cemetery there, but it is actually several kilometres away and the only form of transport seemed to be bicycle taxis which neither of us fancied. Instead we walked out past the dinosaur roundabout and down towards the lake, attracting the interest of the locals along the way. The accommodation options by the lake were not really “by” the lake and we were pleased that we hadn’t decided to stay there. We did have a bit of a walk along the beach but it felt somewhat intrusive as the locals were bathing and washing their clothes there.

The deserted Golden Sand Beach Lodge provided welcome respite as they had some cold drinks (but no sugar-free options) and nicely shaded areas to sit and watch the world go by. From there we walked back to town via dusty tracks past tiny fish drying in the sun and mountains of bricks presumably also doing the same. Every tiny settlement we passed seemed to be very curious to get a look at these two white people walking by. It would seem that we had strayed well off the beaten track. Everyone was really friendly though. That night we ventured out with our torches and the only place we could find to eat was the same place as we had eaten on our arrival. The choices were the same too! We made it there and back without incident and quite enjoyed walking in the dark as nobody could see the colour of skin and therefore there was no hassle and no endless string of “hello, how are you?”

The next morning, we set off further down the lake shore. The hotel annoyed us by charging extra for a second breakfast each day. Apparently our room rate only included one breakfast! We thought our luck was in when a minibus heading in the right direction picked us up more or less straight away. How wrong we were! This was our introduction to local transport which drives around for an hour, or two, or three, trying to fill and overfill its seats whilst 5 or 6 others are doing exactly the same thing. Surely a co-operative approach would mean transport leaves more frequently. The really annoying thing was that having waited so long, the driver then had to turn passengers down just a kilometre or so out of town.

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