Travelling from Lilongwe to Lake Malawi takes one through a multitude of small Malawian villages, where people congregate along the roadside, selling charcoal, peanuts and a variety of fresh produce. Bricks are made by hand and water is carried upon the heads of ladies dressed in vibrant colours and vivid patterns.

The roads are mostly tarred but come with the classic ‘African massage’ experience as one navigates potholes.  The classic Malawian sight, of over-loaded bicycles is common, carrying the entire family or towers of charcoal, wood and produce.  If one feels peckish there are a selection of roadside “treats” being sold. My personal “favourite” (read as “Are you kidding me!”), roasted field mice on cocktail sticks.

Lake Malawi is a heritage site and wonder with white sandy beaches and sparkling blue water. As it is fresh water one has the added joy of a variety of water birds and wildlife.  Our chosen camp for the next couple of days is the Ngala Beach Lodge. An oasis of lush green gardens set directly on a wide white beach.

The hosts of Ngala Beach lodge, Trish and Dan went to great lengths to ensure that their guests are enjoying their time on the lake. The bar and restaurant are beautifully set and have views over the lake and to the mountains beyond. Monkeys play in the trees around the camp and squirrels keep busy carrying food around. In season fireflies and butterflies fill the skies and there is always a range of activities on offer for those not wanting to just relax on the beach.

Sitting in the shade of a giant broad-leaved tree, staring out across the soft sandy beach and into the seemingly endless blue water, one could be transported to their favorite tropical beach. The difference can only be seen in the giant bougainvillea’s that grow right on the beach (not a thing you would find in a salt water environment), a bright burst of color that adds a unique and vibrant touch to the scene. This is a peaceful spot and one in which a soul can get lost and transfixed for hours.

Down the beach a mere 50m away the entertaining character, John Howard, works in his beach ‘office’, a bamboo roofed gazebo. Sitting on the sand floor, holding a piece of wood with his toes, he works his one chisel and a rock hammer, creating souvenir carvings to sell. In what seems like moments he creates a shape with perfect straight lines and consistent depth channels in a trunk of teak or mahogany, brought back from his latest hike into the jungle.

When not carving John Howard works as the local guide for the lodge, taking groups on a hike to the local 60m-height waterfall, or into the local village for a taste of culture. He is a proud local man, a lover of his country and an entertaining and knowledgeable guide. Using the western lines, such as “lovely jubbly” and “easy peesy”, he ingratiates himself with his clients swiftly.

What better way to finish off a chilled beach day than to climb aboard a boat and head out onto the water. Just 15 minutes along the lake lies the entrance to a sheltered lagoon, where a resident pod of hippos reside, and the occasional croc can be seen within the thick green reeds. Half an hour of gently motoring around the lagoon before heading back to the beach just in time for sunset and a beach BBQ. What a perfect day!

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