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Tanzania: first week of stage three

By Matt Hampson

Day 40 has definitely been our worst day yet. We woke up to gale force winds which, on this side of the lake, is a head wind and thus smashes you straight in the face and is extremely difficult to paddle in. We decided to push through it just to get moving and managed to survive quite a scary launch through some big surf.

Lake Malawi paddling expedition
Heading into treacherous waters and gale force winds on Lake Malawi © Hope for the Future team

What happened in the next five hours could easily have put an end to our expedition. In short, the double became so waterlogged that it was impossible to keep upright for more than 10 seconds and, to make matters worse, we were about 4km from shore. Luckily a fisherman in a dugout canoe came to the rescue. I was ordered to hop in with him along with some luggage. The rest of the team had to go straight to shore as the double was literally about to sink. The dugout was heading straight across the bay in the opposite direction. I soon realized, after much debate in broken Swahili, that the dugout would have sunk if he had gone straight to shore because of the big surf. Needless to say my new found paddling friend and I made it to shore in one piece but I was still not sure about the rest of the team.

I later learned that the two singles landed in usual fashion, but Caiden along with the double, rolled into a shore which we learned is actually crocodile infested. After emptying the double’s luggage into the singles, Caiden paddled the double across the bay, alone. I don’t know how he managed through that wind and swell but he did. Marc and Guy couldn’t launch at this point as their boats were too heavy to get through the large surf. So now, Caiden and I were stuck without the rest of the team and we actually were not aware that they couldn’t get out at that point.

We landed up meeting a fellow South African named Theo who works on the coal mines in the area, and he helped us out. It was probably a 10km walk along the beach before we found Marc and Guy. We were finally back together. It was a very long day and we were so thankful that everyone was safe.

boat repairs lake malawi
Fixing the craft for hopefully the last time! © Hope for the Future team

On to the good side of things: the stretch from Matema to a little town called Manda is home to some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life. There are no words to describe what we saw along that stretch. Pictures may do some justice but you would have to see it first hand to have any idea. What I can say is that for that first week we completely lost track of reality. For the first time on this trip I can gladly say that for most part, we were isolated, and it has been the best part of our trip thus far.

Before we began our expedition, people asked us about the Tanzanian side. They enquired as to whether we knew anything of it; if there were shops, if there were wild animals, if there were any people? So what I thought I would do is write a little about everything on what you can expect when travelling along the first half of the shoreline of Lake Nyasa, as it is called in Tanzania.

Scenery: The scenery is very similar to what Caiden described in his previous blog. The mountains are immense and they unfold higher and higher into the sky until their peaks are lost in the clouds. Dense forests cover these steep slopes, and very few are ‘tainted’ with cassava crops which show sign of human life. Around every corner, waterfalls appear from unseen sources, and they make their way down through the dense forests cascading in and out of sight before falling into the lake.

Population: There are hardly any people along this stretch. For the first time on this trip we could arrive on a beach, whip off our kit and have a ‘rinse off’ in peace. We had plenty nights camping on beaches where we were completely secluded. I must add that most of the beaches we have found are pebbled with hardly any sand, so luckily we have decent mattresses to sleep on.

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There are the odd fishing camps along the way which can be expected. They, however, only contain 15 people at most, but should you wish to bypass, there is sure to be a secluded beach up ahead. The people are very friendly and, unlike the Malawian people, carry on with what they are doing when we Mzungu’s arrive on the beach. There are a few bigger towns along the way where you can buy the basics but we only stopped at them to stock up on food supplies and then were out as quickly as possible.

Fishing: We have come to the conclusion that spear fishing is the way to catch fish in Lake Malawi. Although we have caught a couple fish with rods, spear fishing has definitely supplied the majority of our meals along this stretch and we have all contributed to the table with some very tasty fish. For those of you who asked and may be interested, the fishing is very good and is worth the trip to come and ‘work the structure’ as the hardened fisherman may say.

I think it was by pure fluke that I landed a 3kg Bream whilst trawling with a Rapala a couple days ago and Guy shot a 2.5kg ‘Ngumbe’ fish whilst diving on some remote beach, so there is definitely sign of some decent size fish around. We have been living off the land as our rice stocks have been diminishing so luckily the fishing has been good.

Fishing on Lake Malawi
Matt's 3kg bream! © Hope for the Future team

The last couple days have been very ‘testing’ for the team, so we are extremely grateful to Theo from ‘Tancoal’ for letting us stay at the mining camp. We are currently fixing the boat and I think we may have found the problem so we are aiming at being back on the water as soon as possible where we will carry on towards Likoma Island in Mozambique.

Hope for the Future

The Hope for the Future expedition team comprises of four South African university friends, circumnavigating Lake Malawi on their kayaks and raising money for charity. Caiden Lang, Guy Robertson and Matt and Marc Hampson plan to complete the 1400km of paddling unaided - no vehicle to follow them with backup and supplies! They'll be dodging hippos and crocs, fighting with swells and mosquitoes and fishing for their food, alone. They're raising money for the Hope for the Future Foundation in Tanzania. View their website: Lake Malawi Expedition