24 July 2024
Day 381 January 2020 in Malawi ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

I wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a slight sense of satisfaction at the schadenfreude to come as my travelling buddies stumble around, later on, with hangovers from the excesses of the previous night. But I won’t be smug and and I probably won’t tell them.

All this goes out of my mind when I put my nose outside my cabin to find the weather stiflingly hot and humid with not a puff of wind. I go down and made some coffee and have some cereal and then retreat back to my cabin to take refuge from the heat and sit in front of a coolish blast of air from the fan in my bedroom. It is 7:30am!

I venture out again a few hours later and, although it just as hot, if not hotter, a slight wind is present and it’s less humid. Bearable to walk around, but not for great distances; no more than 50 metres or so for someone as unfit and heat-adverse as myself. Luckily, everything is within range.

Today is one of those days where I really do nothing in the company of others doing the same. There’s a certain sense of lassitude about the place and very few people around. I think most are sleeping off hangovers. Down, schadenfreude, down; bad dog.

Kande Beach, Lake Malawi on New Year’s Day 2020 (Click images to enlarge)

I use the day trying to assimilate all that’s happened to me during the past month. A lot has happened. Ireland seems a long was away now and I’m just a third of the way into my trip. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to complete the trip but then think I just have to to keep on doing what I’m going and I’ll be grand. Pacing myself is the key so days like today are really important..

Overland expedition travel is such an intense way of life and very demanding on so many levels. The benefits greatly outweigh the cost though. Because of the sensory overload, it can be difficult to assimilate all the new stimulating and exciting things I see and experience. I find myself forgetting what I did a few days ago. It like a little amnesia. And no, it’s not a senior moment thing. The young ‘uns have it too. I think it’s just the vast amount of new data our brains have to process. I find writing this blog very helpful as does organising my photos into folders so I can review them later.

I notice some strange clouds on the horizon. They are dark and move it a way I don’t recognise as cloud movement. They also seem thick at the bottom and wispy near the top. Somebody mention that they are Lake Flies; billions of tiny flies swirling around.

Lake Malawi is famous for the huge swarms of these tiny, harmless lake flies,  Chaoborus  edulis. These swarms, typically appearing far out over water, can be mistaken for plumes of smoke and were also noticed by David Livingstone when he visited the lake. 

The aquatic larvae feed on zooplankton, spending the day at the bottom and the night in the upper water levels. When they pupate they float to the surface and transform into adult flies. The adults are very short-lived and the swarms, which can be several hundred meters tall and often have a spiralling shape, are part of their mating behaviour.  They lay their eggs at the water’s surface and the adults die. 

The larvae are an important food source for fish, and the adult flies are important both to birds and local people, who collect them to make kungu cakes/burgers, a local delicacy with a very high protein. I though that burger I had last night tasted a bit strange.

Having a dip in Lake Malawi looks a very good option but there’s a nasty parasite in the water. It causes a disease called bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis or snail fever.

Bilharzia is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms called schistosomes. The parasites are carried by freshwater snails, and humans can become infected after direct contact with contaminated bodies of water including ponds, lakes and irrigation canals.

There are several different types of Schistosoma parasite, each of which affects different internal organs. Although the disease is not immediately fatal, if untreated it can lead to extensive internal damage and ultimately, death.

Lakes and canals initially become contaminated after humans with bilharzia urinate or defecate in them. Schistosoma eggs pass from the infected human into the water, where they hatch, then use freshwater snails as a host for reproduction. The resulting larvae are then released into the water, after which they can be absorbed through the skin of humans that come to the water to bathe, swim, wash clothes or fish. 

The larvae then develop into adults that live in the bloodstream, enabling them to travel around the body and infect organs including the lungs, liver, and intestines. After several weeks, the adult parasites mate and produce more eggs. It is possible to contract bilharzia through drinking untreated water; however, the disease is not contagious and can’t be passed from one human to another.

So, no swims in Lake Malawi.

The beach is empty for most of the morning and early afternoon. Then hundreds of locals come and party in their exhuberent African fashion, it’s unusual seeing a beach where everyone in black. Even in Thailand, most people there were of European heritages. We are worried that the thumpa thumpa might go on all night but I don’t hear a thing from my cabin.

We’re off early tomorrow morning. From here we continue on to the capital Lilongwe in the south of the country.

Happy New Year to you all.

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