How the trip started:
While conversing on an English website forum a couple years ago,
I happen to meet a fellow fish keeper, Mike. Mike was planing
on visiting Amsterdam to see some cichlids. As natives of Holland,
my friends and I were happy to show him around. Our first stop
was Verduijn's Cichlids, a famous cichlid store here in Holland.
Subsequently, we dropped Mike off at the meeting of the NVC, the
Dutch Cichlids Association.
Three months past and Mike asked me if I would
like to go diving in Lake Malawi near the end of 2006... he knew
Stuart Grant and had been able to claim a two week stay. Well,
obviously that was a stupid question! After some deep thought,
especially when it came to medical considerations, Monique [wife],
Colin [son] and I would go together. We booked the tickets. Due
to prior trips elsewhere, not much preparation was needed for
this trip. We had most of the stuff we needed; including sleeping
bags, suitcases, diving equipment, and so on.
Wednesday, November 1st
Packing was not that easy this time. The three sleeping bags gave us a hard time. In the end, everything got packed and we were ready to go. Schiphol Airport here we come. Checking in and getting through customs was no problem. We soon found Bart, the Belgian traveler, who already got to Schiphol from Brussels. He waited near the lemon shaped bar at the airport. We ate and drank a little bit. In the meantime, a lot of text messages between Mike and me. All planes from England were delayed. For a while it looked like some people were not going to make it, but there were still 20 passengers missing from our flight. One by one they all arrived with Mike being the last one. We would need to see if his luggage would make it to Malawi.
The first night-flight to Nairobi went without problems. Colin was able to get some sleep. At Nairobi, his stroller appeared to be missing. Probably it was sent to the luggage track. Finally we found someone that was able to get it back and get it on the plane again. Next stop Lusaka and then on to Lilongwe.
Thursday, November 2nd
On the flight from Lusaka to Lilongwe, we could see the first glimpses of the northern part of the lake. On the other side of the plane we could make out Lake Tanganyika. We landed at Lilongwe, and bad luck kept following us. Mike's stuff was missing, but that was no surprise. Also Bart's cases were missing and one of Bob's did not make it for some reason. After claiming them with lost luggage, we heard they would probably be here on Saturday. What luggage we had was loaded on a truck and we all got in a minibus for the ride to the Red Zebra Lodge! Halfway there we had another rest break and a first glimpse of the lake. Then finally we saw the "Stuart M. Grant" sign.
Offloaded all the luggage and had it brought to our rooms.
We got an extra bed for Colin in our room. Quick shower and then
we meet Stuart in person. Later we met his wife, Esther, the woman
the Metriaclima estherae is named after.
After a drink, we rushed over the compound to see what's there. First the fish house, where all newly caught fish are kept. Later a look at the stock and then the water storage tanks used for water changes. After a last look at the pier we had diner. Finally we adjusted our schedule to the missing luggage situation.
One final thing: Colin, age three and a half, behaved perfectly! He is getting to be a real traveler already. I am glad Monique and he joined me on the trip. When we go to make the boat trip over the lake, they will stay at the Red Zebra Lodge and they can use the facilities of the nearby Livingstonia hotel.
Friday, November 3rd
Stuart and Esther attend all meals we have at the Red Zebra Lodge! At first you just hope to meet the man, but then he is always there to cheer up the troops with his stories! Because of the missing luggage, we did the tour of the compound first. This time at a slower pace. Someone joins us with a net and will catch all the fish you want to photograph. We took pictures of half of the stock. After lunch we went snorkeling. You are immediately surrounded by all sorts of cichlids. That was the first lake experience. Tomorrow we should have the missing luggage and the real trip can begin.
Saturday, November 4th
Bart, Bob and Mike are at the airport to get their luggage. For the rest of us there is nothing to do but wait. In the end it took all day to get all the stuff. Finally our equipment is complete and we can load up all the luggage in a truck and can go on our way to Nkhata Bay. Just when I have to go, Colin gets a serious allergic reaction to mosquito bites. Fortunately Esther is there to arrange some antihistamine. The rest of us are on our way now. At 11:00 in the evening we arrive at the harbor of Nkhata Bay. The weather is good so we can do a night crossing to Chisimulu. That meant sleeping on the boat, the Lady Louise II.
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