African Vignette 11: Crossing Lake Malawi

Here is a bit from my first book, for which this web site is named, about a trip on the MV Ilala, sailing across Lake Malawi from Monkey Bay, Malawi, in the south, up toward Tanzania:


Get Dirty for God. Go Lay a Brick with Team Mission. Thirty or forty kids wearing missionary T-shirts with those slogans came aboard to tour the Ilala at the first stop, Chipoka, from about 3:00 to 4:30.

A boy drew a crowd on the dock putting on a show with two bobble head monkeys on a table. Some people wore lime green sandals and others sold them.

If you ever sail the MV Ilala, choose the rattan seats to port, just above the gangplank, for live theatre immediately below you at port calls. The same seats are great when the port of call doesn’t have a big enough dock for the Ilala to tie up. In that case an incredibly colorful, and incredibly crowded scrum scrambles onto and out of the tenders dispatched to shore. Just below you.

You learn to stake out your deck space. After that first stop, if you didn’t, you’d lose it. The Ilala was vastly more crowded as soon as we left Chipoka.

Immanuel, deck hand, remarked on the Indian owners. I spoke later with Malcolm, the Indian commercial officer, who described Byzantine smuggling ruses he has seen.

In the evening a loud, rollicking, mostly European time broke out around the bar. We joined Richard, a kitchen outfitter, and his girlfriend from New York, the Aussie from Queensland who Mirja always thought was called John but who was named Peter, Martin the Dutch banker with a hankering for a posting to Southeast Asia, his girlfriend the park volunteer who was beginning to feel ill, and Steph and Tom.

We laid back in our cabin late in the morning, until the horn blew us standing and we were in Mozambique. That was at 9:00 and we didn’t set sail again until after 11:00 because officials were involved, and procedures had to be followed.

We couldn’t dock but instead anchored offshore and a flotilla of small craft commenced shuttling over and back to Ngoo, Mozambique.

We heard a splash, turned to see a body fly by the porthole and looked to see it was Tom and Peter the Aussie boy out for a swim. Good idea because it was hot hot hot in Mozambique, early in the morning.

Some Ilala crew predicted that the Mozambican customs men would try to charge Peter and Tom some money – make them buy an “entrance visa” for jumping into Mozambican water – but they never did.


See more photos from Malawi in the Malawi Gallery at

Africa Vignettes is a weekly series most Mondays this summer on CS&W.

Africa Vignette Series


At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from

19 Malawi

When we met, our driver told us, “I am Everlasting.” We sort of looked away, and then we realized that was his name.

Everlasting was a slow, deliberate speaker, easy enough to understand once you got acclimated. His “S’s” kind of trailed off.

The Lilongwe River lolled by the market, near the old city administration building “from when Lilongwe was a small town.” The new city hall, beacon of progress, had a “Ready Print” shop sign in a window on the second floor.

Everlasting showed us the flame tree, its red flower. What he called a tube tree at the central outdoor market, where a smiling little boy saw my camera and excitedly grabbed his friend’s arm.

The mosque.

A few kilometers out of town, people along the roadside carried everything you could imagine. A stack of firewood, one guy with a dozen bright crimson pin wheels twirling in each hand.

“These people are coming back from the market. They have been selling.”

They’re Chewa, originally from Congo via Zambia, and among the longest settled Malawian tribes. Portuguese contact with the Chewa came as early as 1608, with evidence of the first Chewa kingdom just before the 1492 voyage of Columbus.

Everlasting began a lecture on goats: They should be tied so as not to eat the maize. Sometimes you cannot see where the goat is tied because the rope is so long. But sometimes the rope is gone away.

If you see a forest, Everlasting said, it is probably a cemetery. Village people cannot use cemetery land for growing, so, sensibly, they choose stands of forest for their burial grounds.

On a flagpole the national flag hung limp.

“The wind is not blowing so it is closed,” Everlasting explained. Across the flag a red sun rose from the top of three bands, and Everlasting said that represents fire.

“The national team when they have done well we call them the Flames. When they have not, well, then it is silent.”

When Everlasting got particularly involved in his stories, he’d punctuate his remarks with the car horn. Talkin’ and tappin’ and tootin’.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – Malawi, Chapter Fourteen

Here is Chapter Fourteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, including a journey on the famous MV Ilala across Lake Malawi. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book for just $9.99 at, at, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $4.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Malawi Gallery at


“On your right is area 50. This here is area 28, light industrial area. Across the road there is fertilizer factory and tobacco factory. That is heavy industrial area.”

The national police headquarters came into view on the right.

“That is area 40.”

Just across the street, “Area 43,” Everlasting explained, “Is low industrial. It used to be only area ten, and area ten is still there, but it is full, so they have made area 43.”

“We also have names but our names are too long, so we just say, say, area 12.”

Malawi’s Ministries stood on the left.

“So, is that area 1?”

Logical, I thought.

“No, that is area 20.”

This went on all through Lilongwe.

“Ah, that is area 47. Up there, that’s area 49. National Bank. Bank of the Nation.” The tallest building in Malawi is the central bank.

“This is the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Malawi.”


When we met, our driver told us, “I am Everlasting.” We sort of looked away, and then we realized that was his name.

Everlasting was a slow, deliberate speaker, easy enough to understand once you got acclimated. His “S’s” kind of trailed off.

Continue reading

Wednesday HDRs from Malawi


For me, Malawi was a feel good place, and I think these photos show it. Happy people, agreeable, gentle pace of life. Later this week we’ll publish Chapter 14 from Common Sense and Whiskey – the book (Amazon, BNKindle – Kindle’s just $4.99) here on the blog. It’s the story of our crossing Lake Malawi on the legendary passenger ship the MV Ilala.

These photos are both re-exposed nine times and recombined in Photomatix, finished in CS5 with Nik filters. There are 384 more HDRs in the HDR Gallery at Click these two to make them much bigger.