05.09.2009 - 07.09.2009
In the end I decided that I had to return yet again, in what I assumed would be a valiant if utterly fruitless attempt to get my police certificate. But in a stunning twist with tradition, I actually got it after only 3 further visits to the police station, and much shouting amongst themselves in Chichewa, of which i have not the foggiest what was being said. And so it transpired that I was in Nkhata Bay on the day the Ilala left for the islands. Over a month ago, I had rocked up in Nkhata Bay with the aim of making just such a journey, but without knowing what day the boat left , to discover I had just missed it. 3weeks in Nkhata Bay and Ruarwe later, and I left Nkhata Bay not expecting to return or be able to visit the islands on this trip.
But being in the right place at the right time (an amazingly unlikely occurrence for me) and just about having enough time decided me. It was now or never. The Ilala in all it's 100+year history is now slightly creaking, shall we say, and all was not well. She had been late arriving after an almost slapstick attempts to fix her had failed, and then only managed an unplanned 2hour tour of the lake at strange hours of the morning (a free journey) instead of actually making it North as timetabled, after breaking yet again.
To be honest, I didn't actually expect it to depart, let alone to go anywhere useful for me. And so we sat in the bar at Aqua Africa talking to people long after the alleged departure time. But at 10pm, we were told that the boat would be leaving soon-ish, so said our farewells and tried to board. The problem was that this leg of the boats journey is by far the busiest, and all the locals had boarded hours ago, leaving the 3rd and 2nd class deck which you board through, erm, quite full. In the end I resolved to cheat, and to the amusement of the many locals watching, climbed up the outside of the boat and in to the first class deck area. My Israeli companion fought her way through the lower carnage and appeared much later. Astonishingly, barely 4.5hours late and without crashing into anything overly significant, we finally left, and after 5hours sat on the open deck (Notable only for the rat which ran over my leg repeatedly during the night) arrived at Chizumulu Island the next morning without incident.
Chizumulu and Likoma are two small islands in Lake Malawi; Malawian due to historical links although well within Mozambique's territorial waters. After a failed attempt to disembark passengers (too choppy) we found another more sheltered bay, lowered our bags over the side and fought our way off.
I never expected to actually make it this far. Anything else is a bonus.
The real steering was completely f*cked, so the Ilala was being piloted from this hi-tech backup system, with guys on the bridge shouting directions at them constantly through the night. The rear compass, alas, does not agree with the front one, and the rear steering is also held in place pretty much by duct tape and bungees, and breaks frequently, so it isn't really a huge surprise that it failed again...