Getting off the Ilala was pretty much the reverse of getting on it. What complicated it a bit more was that I was on the one side of the ferry waiting to get on the lifeboat with all the electronics (laptop, tablet, camera, phone), the Tupperware of spaghetti and the backpack with all the cash while Clayton was somewhere else, presumably on the other side. We lost each other when I saw a gap in the crowd and went for it while Clayton made way for 50 other people. This meant I had to climb down the slippery rope ladder onto the very unstable boat along with 100’s of other people trying to do the same thing, with very expensive luggage not known for its waterproof-ness. And the spaghetti. I made it out on the first boat from the one side while Clayton (miraculously enough) and the others got on the first boat from the other side.
Getting off the lifeboat was yet another obstacle since the they stop about 20m from the beach where the water is nearly waist high. I tried to catch Clayton’s attention (who made it to shore already) while fighting off locals who came to assist damsels in distress like me (they charge a ridiculous amount of money per bag that they snatch off you to carry to the shore). After what felt like an eternity of shouting and waving at my oblivious husband and in near tears from pure frustration at his refusal to look back I finally caught Marcia’s attention who then alerted Clayton to the fact that his wife was stuck on a boat, unable to get off due to the electronics. And the spaghetti. Minor domestic fight later we made our way into town.
Mango Drift has an agent on all ferry crossings to Likomo whose duty it is to approach everyone that looks like a tourist and take them to Mango Drift – whether they booked there or not. The offer of free transport basically seals the deal since there are only 13 cars on the island meaning, getting a taxi to any of the other backpackers/lodges can be problematic if you have not arranged it in advance when booking (which hardly anybody ever does).
So when Young (the agent who coincidentally also arranged our taxi driver in Senga Bay – small world!) gathered his flock together we all climb on the back of small pickup truck (similar to a Kia 1 tonner just a lot smaller).13 of us with luggage for a 5 day stay squeezed in, some barely able to to sit. With so many people on the back one would expect the driver to at least attempt to drive carefully but after a 45min drive with a couple of near death experiences over some bumps and ditches we finally made it to Mango Drift.
Malawi has taught us a lot of travel lessons thus far and it would seem that it was not yet done with us. Lesson #5 (I think?): Marketing material for lodges are interchangeable – especially on an island and even more so if 2 places are owned by the same people. This is not necessarily a problem if both lodges are on the same price level and you can easily go to the other but, when they use the surrounding landscape photos of the $400pppn resort on the marketing material for the $8pppn backpackers it can become an issue. After hours on a ferry (only made bearable because of the promise of paradise at the end) arriving to a completely different reality it is slightly disappointing.
For me it felt like we traded paradise at Mayoka for a second grade island establishment. We weren’t even checked in yet before we started to look at ways to get off the island and back to Mayoka. The staff at Mango Drift did some damage control by being extremely friendly and helpful so after they checked us in they promised to look into when the Lumani (a smaller local ferry between Likoma and Nkhata only) leaves. The barman also really enjoyed informing us that if the captain of any of these ferries do not feel like sailing then the ferry does not leave. This meant that the Ilala is not guaranteed to arrive or leave on Saturday evening which is problematic since Marcia’s mom is flying out on Monday from Lilongwe (540km – 6/7 hours away from Nkhata bay). A back up plan was therefore now crucial.
For once going for the cheapest accommodation option worked out for us. Clayton and I chose to stay in the en-suite dorms for $8pppn while the rest took bungalows with shared bathrooms. We were the only ones staying in the dorm so while the others paid $30 for shared bathrooms we had an en-suite room for $16.
We got the news that the Lumani would definitely leave Saturday morning so we had 4 full days on the island. Despite it not being what we expected Mango Drift has its charm and before long the comfy lounge area under the mango tree with its boat couches and view of the beach and lake won us over.
For the next couple of days we did not venture too far from the couches, hiding away from the intense heat with a book (Clayton, the now avid reader started and finished a 300 page book in 4 days!) and going for the occasional swim. There was not much to do in any case and the free kayaks they advertised turned out to be one kayak with a hole in it.
I forgot some very crucial medication back on the mainland which meant that I could not sleep. At all. Added to that I also started feeling sick and after the less than ideal sleep on the Ilala and then another 48 hours of no sleep it became a bit of living nightmare. With my Doctors-without-borders first aid kit safely on the mainland, Marcia managed to find some meds that helped to knock me out for a couple of hours. While I slept Clayton read, swam, played volleyball with the others and went for a walk in the blistering heat to the small town on the other side of island. I felt bad for not joining him but he had local kids following him from Mango to town and back, the friendly giant with the trail of high-fiving, giggling kids.
The 4 days went by fast and other than a quick walk to see the $400pppn resort Clayton and I mostly just stayed at Mango Drift (the resort is nice but I could not help thinking what I could do for $400.)
We made our own dinner each night but when M3 said the food was really good we decided to try it on our last night. Our luck was again in full swing and they served the worst meal of the week which basically consisted out of rice. They claimed there was chicken but I don’t know…
Before we knew it, it was time to pack our bags and mentally prepare ourselves for the trip back to Nkhata bay on the Lumani, which tripadvisor strongly discouraged unless you have a good sense of humour and patience. Something we lacked at this stage.
Oh, and no Clayton never ate the spaghetti…