September 22, 2013: Snake on a Boat

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We were all looking forward to having a day off after working for 6 straight days. Upset with my decision to be adventurous and try out all the food Pattie served us the previous day, my stomach rebelled at about 4am. At first I was a little worried that my condition may impact my ability to join the group for a day-long safari but at the same time I was determined to make the trip if at all possible. By mid-morning I felt a lot better. Lucy wearing her stylish goggles (even though I have yet to see a pool in Malawi) waved us goodbye from the Kabula Lodge at 8am

The Liwonde National Park, our destination for the day, is a relatively small reserve set in a dry savannah and forest. The Shire River dominates the park – a wide, meandering stretch lined by palms and surrounding flood plains, woodland and parched scrub that provides prime hippo- and croc-spotting territory. Although we were told that the road to the park was “paved,” less than half consisted of relatively smooth asphalt that was pothole-free. It took us about 2 hours to make it to the park entrance where we were greeted by a park ranger who took about 30 minutes to register us although we were the only one there. I got the impression that not that many visitors come by the gate so when a car full of Mzungu comes by, he makes it a point to be as thorough as one can be.

From the park entrance we drove about 1 hour on a meandering dirt road and across dry waterbeds in an extremely harsh environment before reaching the Mvuu Wilderness Lodge. Despite nature appearing totally parched, we spotted various wildlife along the way including antelopes, impalas, waterbucks, baboons and velvet monkeys. When we arrived at the lodge we immediately made the arrangements for a private boat safari on the Shire River. Given that I have been on jeep safaris in Tanzania and a trekking safari in Rwanda, I was excited about trying out something a little different and observe wildlife from a boat. I was especially eager to see crocodiles in the wild for the first time. When we were taken to the dock, I was a little surprised by how small and low above the waterline our boat was given that we would be floating on croc- and hippo-infested waters and knowing that those are probably two of Africa’s most dangerous creatures. Well no backing out now so there we went on our little adventure. Our guide told us specifically where to sit to balance out the weight on both sides and made it clear that we should not stand up at any time and keep all body parts inside the boat.

Within about 2 minutes we were less than 10 meters or so of a bunch of elephants and hippos … and not long thereafter we started spotting crocs. Seeing some of the crocs enter the water and plunge in the vicinity of our boat was pretty thrilling. But that didn’t end up being the most exciting part of our boat safari. About half-way through our 2-hour ride, our guide calmly asked Steve and I to move with everyone else in the front of the boat. I thought that it was a strange request since we were first instructed to stay seated and not stand up. When I ask why we needed to move, he pointed to a striped sand snake that somehow ended up on the boat with us. Needless to say none of us were thrilled about having this new visitor on board. Our guide told us not to worry that the snake wasn’t venomous but it was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable with the situation. I warned my boat mates that if the snake made it to the back, I’m not sure if I would be able to keep it together. We were all expecting the guide to proactively try to get rid of the snake somehow but it took him about half hour before he flipped the darn thing overboard using a bright orange life-vest. That allowed us to relax for the rest of our ride where we spotted terrapins sunbathing on rocks, as well as waterbucks, antelopes and baboons hanging out by the river.

When we returned from our ride, we had lunch at the lodge where staff was busy running around chasing away all the velvet monkeys trying to get their share of the lunch buffet. We left the lodge late afternoon and didn’t get back to Blantyre until 8pm as the ride back was much slower because of the darkness and chaotic traffic when we would go through small villages in the middle of nowhere. Andrea and I were in the back seat with very limited legroom and a lot of bouncing around on the unpaved roads … pretty painful on my back and knees by the time we made it back to our lodge. Steve and I are not looking forward to having to travel a lot longer on the same route during our last week here to make it to and back from Lake Malawi.

Enjoy the photos of our adventure on the Shire River!

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