“Our intended itinerary was to travel from Likoma Island to Chipoka, a village on Lake Niassa’s southwestern shore. Likoma Island is part of Malawi but sits nearer to Mozambique’s shoreline and falls along the northern section of Ilala’s circular route. The official schedule placed the journey “from Likoma Island to Chipoka at twenty-four hours; however, the Ilala arrived at Likoma Island already fifteen hours late. Schedules are inevitably rough guides.
The ferry eventually arrived late in the evening. The sun had long set. Awaiting passengers crowded the beach as the boat glowed in the moonlight and dropped anchor. When we boarded, the entire lower economy deck was filled with sacks of corn, ground nuts and other essentials. I walked very tentatively across the tops of these sacks in the dark, carrying an eighteen-kilogram backpack plus a day pack hung on the front of my shoulders. My balance was further tested by the continual flow of people manoeuvering within the same corridor. They were headed in the opposite direction, eager to disembark from the very access point we had just entered. The secret was to give a brief smile to the passing voyagers, momentarily recognizing the challenge and humour in one another’s journey, and to offer a hand or sway to the side to help each other pass. We were, quite literally, all in the same boat.
Despite sixty years of plying this route, organized chaos pervaded the boarding process. Climbing over and across bags was only part of it. First we had to climb up a rickety ladder balanced vertically between the Ilala and its overcrowded bobbing lifeboat. The lifeboat was well used, not for life-saving purposes, but as a loading shuttle because most destinations lacked a suitable dock. ..."
Excerpt from Dust in My Pack: Chapter One Boat Rides
Plan your own trip:
Go to Malawi Tourism and then navigate to the Ilala and Malawi Shipping Company web page for current information about the official schedule and fares.
Nancy O'Hare has lived and worked across five continents and travelled to over eighty countries. Her writing shares insights from her travels and musings about the world around us.