Not So Lonely As I'd Planned It

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 | Likoma Island, Malawi

Aboard the MV Ilala, I reached Likoma Island just after dawn.
In hostels all over the world, travelers enjoy lamenting the shortcomings of their guidebooks. It's something everyone can agree on, and thus makes for an easy starter conversation among traveling strangers, just like how much we don't miss home (though we all really do), how cheap local prices are compared to back home, and how much George W. Bush is ruining the world we so love to explore. Out of earshot, the guidebooks' authors make an easy target. Also, their omissions, errors, and exaggerations are much easier to spot "in country" than when you're standing in the travel section of a Barnes & Noble back home.

Useful to a great degree (and more so once you learn what to trust them on and when to ignore them) guidebooks rarely lead one astray. In some cases, however, they can become "victims of their own success."

After leaving Vwaza Marsh, in Nkhata Bay (a bustling little beach town on the shore of Lake Malawi) I became a victim of Lonely Planet's success. The book had scoffed with disdain at Cape MacClear, another lakeside town located several hundred kilometers down the shore, noting that it was overrun with hawkers who made their living pestering tourists with shell necklaces, cheap sarongs, and other kitsch. As a result of that write-up and the contrasting enthusiastic recommendation of Nkhata Bay, when I arrived in this hotspot expecting to find a relaxing, idyllic beach town where I could spend a few days, I instead found that all Malawi's riff-raff had followed all Malawi's LP-toting tourists there.

Gambling, I took one last recommendation from my Lonely Planet before deciding never to trust the book again, and bought a ferry ticket to Likoma, a small island near the Mozambican side of the lake. By a stroke of luck I had arrived in Nkhata Bay at the same time as the MV Ilala, the ferry which plies up and down the lake on a weekly schedule. After a walk around and a quick trip to stock up on peanut butter, bread and water and other essentials at the grocery store, I boarded the ferry for an overnight cruise to the Likoma Island. Wearing all my clothes to fight off the cold lake wind, I flopped down on a rented mattress on the upper deck and drifted off, listening to a few American Peace Corps volunteers and Japanese tourists chatter on in the darkness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I know you've reached home and your mother is probably sleeping better for it. I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the tales of your travel... especially when I think of the limited exposure to the world that I had at your age.

Our adventures and experiences are only limited by ourselves. Live, love, grow, learn, give, and enjoy.
Best Wishes in your future
(The future is now)


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