Lake Of Stars
Mats Fredrix is the Content Creator on the 2023 Tour d’Afrique from Nairobi to Cape Town. He sends his second report from Lake Malawi .
“Vivid hues of green!” is the reply riders Patrick and Stephen give when asked what the first thing is that pops into their heads when they reflect on their time in Malawi. Before quickly adding, “water, rain and moisture.” It is quite the contrast to Kenya and Tanzania, never mind thinking back on Egypt and Sudan. This extreme change in climate and vegetation has one main cause: Lake Malawi. It’s the name you find on Google Maps, though it’s not entirely without debate, as you would expect when both Tanzania and Mozambique also border it. In Tanzania, the lake is called Lake Nyasa, as it was once called in colonial times, while the Mozambican name for it is Lago Niassa. Google has settled on Lake Malawi, to the great frustration of these nations. It is understandable as the lake plays such an integral part to Malawi, making up roughly a quarter of the whole country. Formed by the Great Rift Valley, the lake is the ninth largest in the world and the fourth deepest. On top of that, the lake is home to more species of indigenous fish than any other in the world.
It’s quite an impressive body of water to be cycling next to, as the Tour d’Afrique does for three full days. The riders also enjoy a rest day on the lake at the Chitimba Beach camp before turning inland and Malawi’s impressive “vivid hues of green”. As rider Bas said on the first riding day leaving the lake, “It was like we were cycling in Scandinavia! Never expected to see all those pine trees!”
Also closely associated with Malawi is Dr. David Livingstone according to Tour Leader Colleen during one of the chats we have every time we enter a new country. Though his influence is unmistakable all over these parts of Africa, Malawi really does bear his stamp more than any other. He was the first European to map out the lake and the country’s capital, Blantyre, is named after his birthplace in Scotland. It is also thanks to Livingstone that the lake received one of its more magical nicknames, ‘The Lake of Stars.’ That is what he called it after observing the lamps on the tiny fishing boats at night. Another, slightly more statistical, nickname for the lake is, ‘Calendar Lake’, due to its measurements. It’s 365 miles from top to bottom, 52 miles at its widest point, and 12 major rivers flow into it.
Colleen went on to explain the country’s bond with one of the world’s most famous explorers. His missionary work in Malawi is unmistakable. A 2012 study showed over 85% of the country’s 11 million people are Christian, so there’s a church or chapel in even the tiniest villages. One of the reasons he pledged himself to introducing Christianity into the area was to counteract and abolish the slave trade. In 1861 he came across the slave trade at its peak in Nkhotakota, where a Swahili-Arab slave trader called Jumbe was organizing expeditions to capture slaves and was sending them via slave routes, essentially death marches, to slave markets. Horrified by this, Livingstone managed to set up a treaty to end this practice. Although this agreement was short-lived, it is considered the basis for the complete abolishment of the slave trade in the area when it came under the British protectorate in 1891.
For one of the best views over the Lake Malawi, there is a hike up the Chombe Plateau, close to the town of Livingstonia, which one can reach by foot from the Chitimba Beach campsite. A 6-hour mountain hike isn’t exactly a recommended rest day activity for the Tour d’Afrique riders who by this time have learned to take the ‘rest’ in rest day quite literally. In any case, the view of the Chombe mountain plateau from the beach is quite impressive enough and with a staff vs. riders volleyball game planned, there’s a whole month of bragging rights on the line.
Our original trans-continental journey and flagship expedition crosses Africa from north to south, covering 10 countries in all. Beginning at the...