Sunday, May 10, 2009

Liwonde National Park, Malawi

I decided to make my own trip before returning to the United States - I chose Liwonde National Park because according to the Bradt travel guide, it's supposedly the more pristine of the game parks in C entral Africa. The park is approximately 548 square kilometers close to Lake Malawi and one other lake, and the Shire River goes through the Park. The park is populated by hippos, crocodiles, elephants, antelope, monkeys, birds, and the African Buffalo. Three days without electricity and the prices were reasonable. Long as I chose only one tour activity I needed not to carry wads of kwachas money since like many places, the lodge I stayed at doesn't take credit or debit, in cash only. I did go a little over because I forgot to include the 16.5% VAT and I was not expecting entrance and exit costs of the Park itself. I was around 600 Malawian Kwachas short (5 dollars).

Chinguni Lodge was my choice of the place to stay, slightly cheaper than Muvuu Lodge, also in the Park. It used to be a home of a game warden so the common rooms were full of skulls belonging elephant, buffalo, imapala, baboon, and hyena I think. The environs were very rustic and nice - I wished I opted for thatched huts that supported covered canvas tents and a patio. I had a nice room inside the lodge with the beds covered by high quality mosquitoes nets, candles, my own hot shower and toilet. The meals - prepared English style - were decent and filling, but when you're not walking around like you're accustomed to, your clothes start to feel awfully tight after several square meals.

A favorite spot of mine to pass the time over the next two and half days was outside in a shade that did not change and breezes were consistent. The chairs were canvas with wooden frames, severed tree trunks served as a side table for either your drink or your feet to put up. The spot overlooked the lagoons of the Shire River. Nice. Sometimes I'd be sitting there with a bottle of Carlsberg Green and a novel or diary. The Lodge is part of the Park so one would be a lucky to spot an animal to saunter by. Once, a yellow baboon visited the lodge grounds munching on this and that in the bushes. It heard the loud rip of the brillo pad as I opened my camera and off it went. The morning I left the Park for Lilongwe and Zambia - I saw a large lizard that appeared prehistoric slowly crossing the open plain maybe 10, 15 yards in front of me. Consulting my guide book - it's a Monitor Lizard, a very big lizard that looks like it came in through a time machine.

I wasn't allowed to walk on my own outside the lodge - once I was wandering after taking some pictures of the baboon and the wildebeest, and a staff approached me on his bike with a note from the management. It said something like "you are not allowed to be on your own - the elephants are not friendly". Whoops. I didn't see any :(

My only mini safari trip was the canoe. It was good - more stimulating along the lagoons but out in the water, was kind of boring. Also, I'm accustomed to be paddling on my own - two men accompanied me; one as my guide (he patiently wrote out the sights) and the other to paddle. We didn't see any crocodiles, but saw hippos at some distance. My best photograph attempt were tops of their heads and fluttering ears. We saw several fish eagles, islands of moving reeds (I never could grasp that concept), and varieties of birds including Egyptian geese. It was a mild trip because many animals basically kept away from people and it was hot outside. The lodge provided a hat woven by reeds, shading my face and neck quite well.

Possibly the most thrilling part of the three-day stay was riding the motorbike. The lodge's safari truck - their only mode of transport - broke down so the lodge sent a motorbike to pick me up. I've never ridden on one before and the ground was uneven so a very nerving one for me. Wearing a helmet and gripping the seat strap, I tried to channel my fright into trust for the driver. Parts of the road were muddy so we skidded one or twice, sometimes the driver would go into the forest between trees, and some bushes scratched at my legs. I was very relieved when we arrived at the lodge but had a small pang of disappointment that the ride was over. The driver thought I was an awfully good sport.


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