After lounging around on Likoma Island for several days, it was time for a change of scenery. We hired a fishing boat and took a little ride over to neighboring Chizumulu Island. About half the population size of Likoma Island, Chizzy (as it is known among locals) is it’s quieter counterpart. We stayed at the only place on the island I think you can stay: Wakwenda Retreat. It took our little fishing boat about an hour to transfer us between the islands. Our hostel is on the backside of the island, so we weren’t able to get a view of it until we rounded the corner and pulled into the bay. Wakwenda Retreat was quite impressive.
The bar and lounge area is built up on a series of boulders. From these boulders are wooden platforms that jut out over the water. Although the beach area isn’t as large as it was over at Mango Drift on Likoma Island, there was more of a local feel. One can sit and watch the local fishermen load up their boats and go out to retrieve their nets. The sunset our first night on Chizzy was stunning. The next day, two girls and I went in search of a restaurant to have tea. The one in our area was closed because the owners were on the mainland. We walked to the market about 30 minutes away, passing multiple restaurants, but all of them were closed. In the ‘market’ if you can call it that, there were only two women set up so far selling mondazis (fried bread). We bought some and luckily passed a banana seller on the walk home. There were even slimmer pickings here than over on Likoma. I went out snorkeling, and with the boulders in the area, it was interesting. Lake Malawi has one of the most diverse cichlid population in the world. There are many cichlid varieties found only in Lake Malawi– pretty cool! They developed and diversified over time due to all of the rocks in Lake Malawi.
How to Get Off the Island
We stayed two nights on Chizumulu Island, and then it was decision time. The oh so wonderful Ilala Ferry was due in late Saturday night, or we could take a local ‘ferry’ and leave Saturday morning. We opted for the local ferry, as boarding the Ilala on little boats in the middle of the night just didn’t sound appealing. The local ferry was due to leave from Likoma Island at 8:30am and be on Chizumulu around 10am. Of course in typical African fashion it showed up at 4pm! And what a sight. We were told this local ferry was essentially a large fishing boat and had a spare engine on board. Someone from the other side of the island phoned to let us know it was nearby. We took our bags to the shore and stood prepared to board.
I’m getting on that??
As the local ferry came into sight, I think we all gasped. This boat had boxes of fish piled up in the center with hoards of people surrounding it. Oh, and did I mention the engine on the back was just a little engine you might find on a little fishing boat? This is certainly a gamble. It pulls up to shore, and we gave one another the ‘Well it can’t be any worse than the Ilala’ look and waded out into the water. We climbed on and piled our bags into the middle. There was space near the front of the boat to sit. Most of my friends sat on a plank going across the boat while I sat on someone’s bag piled up behind them. Our little engine started up and we set sail to Nkhata Bay. It was rough waters but not as bad as when we were aboard the Ilala. Of the sixty or so people crammed on this boat, most were local fishermen. As the sun started to set, there was a local yelling “Ganja time!” over and over again. He would give it a rest for a few minutes and then yell again. If we had something to throw at him, I think we would have. Other than that, it was a pretty quiet ride. The smell of fish was not so appealing, and I just knew that it was settling into my clothing. There was the humming sound of the engine up front which was draining water from the boat. Occasionally the engine on the back would cut out, but only once was it malfunctioning. We drifted in circles in the dark on the middle of Lake Malawi just hoping that we weren’t stranded on this cramped boat. After about 10 minutes, the guys got it working again and the locals cheered. Phew. The engine draining the water only died once but it just needed to be refueled. It was just over a five hour boat ride, and I was so relieved when we pulled into Nkhata Bay around 10pm. We jumped out into the water and brought our bags to shore. The walk to our hotel was about a mile but who cared. We were standing on the mainland- no more ferry rides!! Exhausted, we all showered and went to bed. The next morning, as we enjoyed a savory breakfast in our new lodge overlooking the water, we watched as the Ilala Ferry pulled into the harbor around 9am and celebrated that we weren’t on it!
Oh yes, and on an end note, the Head Chief of Likoma and Chizumulu Islands wanted to marry me. As much as I was impressed with his coordinating vest, scarf, and golf cap, I think a 70 year old Malawian man is not quite my type. However, my friends and I had a few giggles discussing what it might be like to be Princess of the Islands. Now, back to reality, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from Chizumulu Island!