The 4 hour taxi drive to the Lake is at times startling. Andrew, our driver, laughs a lot and tells me tall tales, his foot heavy on the accelerator. We take a “short cut”, a dirt track through a village, a masked man, frighteningly dressed in rags and straw, shakes his fist – apparently a Nyao, a member of the secret cult of Gule Wamkulu (Big Dance). We regain the tarmaced road and speed up and down hills, brakes applied frequently as goats stroll languidly in our path. I am on my way from Lilongwe, through a dry, dry landscape to the haven of Lake Malawi.
Malawi is a landlocked country, once heavily forested. Clearly the areas we pass through are suffering from severe deforestation, due to shifting agriculture, wood as fuel, and a fast growing population. As we near the Lake, the scenery changes – the occasional vast bulk of baobab trees with their swollen trunks dot the horizon. I have seen these trees before, many years ago, when I was working in Limpopo Province, South Africa; some specimens there were said to be over a thousand years old.
The Adansonia (commonly known as the baobab) can store water in its trunk, rather like a camel I suppose as both have adapted to survive very arid conditions. It is sometimes known as the Tree of Life, for obvious reasons, and recent studies have shown how important a source of Vitamin C and calcium the seedpods are, widely used traditionally. Elephants will track down a baobab and strip its bark for moisture.
And so on to the beautiful Lake – all that expanse of water is very welcome. It is home to more species of fish than any other lake, including over 1000 species of cichlids. Fish eagles perch on trees, their distinctive call to wake us in the morning.
I trudge across the sandy shore in search of my son, one of the organisers of the Lake of Stars music festival, and prepare to be entertained for 3 days on the enchanting shores of Lake Malawi, here in the “warm heart of Africa”.