Deciding to visit Lake Tanganyika was no easily made decision. There were money issues to consider, there was the family I'd be leaving for two weeks and there were some real dangers to possibly be faced with. Not only are there water cobras and crocodiles in the lake, but the biting bugs out of the water also posed threats of rare disease and illness. Not one to be put off by such silly things, there was the real fear: running it by the wife. I'll never forget the words she spoke when I told her of the tour I'd found online. "Wow, really? They have such a thing? That'd be a good experience for you. You should go." It was like unleashing a kid in a candy store with a pocket full of bills. Later, as the date drew near and she became anxious about the money I spent and thoughts of the kids losing her daddy, I used those words against her, "Honey, the trip is already paid for. Besides, it was your idea for me to go." Deciding to take the trip meant a few things for me. It meant learning to to take photos underwater. I'm not much of a photographer on land, so taking photos underwater was new to me. The even bigger issue was getting underwater. This meant scuba diving lessons. You don't have to scuba dive to enjoy the lake. You can see plenty of colorful fish by just snorkeling. But if I'm spending money to journey halfway around the world, I was going to be up close and personal with the objects of my obsession. By learning to scuba dive, I found that keeping cichlids wasn't the only hobby that would occupy my time and wallet. Scuba diving had joined my list of obessions.
With scuba lessons complete and gear purchased, I was off to the dark continent. Visions of herds of wilder beast filled my imagination. Giraffes galloping across plains and elephants trumpeting in the background created the picture I was sure I'd see. What I saw was Africa at the end of the dry season. A barren wasteland of brown and yellow shrubs, grass and stunted trees. The dust kicked up by the bus wasn't enough to dissuade the beggers that surrounded the bus every time we stopped for fuel. And with it being an eighteen hour ride from the airport to Mpulungu, we stopped three times for fuel. This doesn't include the four times the bus broke down filling us with thoughts of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. After the long ride, arriving at the lake was a relief. Thoughts turned from disaster to excitement. It wouldn't be long until I was under water seeing what all the excitement was about.
We spent our first full day at the lodge, diving and checking our gear. My first dive lasted about an hour. With over fifty species of cichlids to see at Kalambo, in front of the lodge, I don't think I ever ventured very far. The area directly in front of the lodge is mostly sand. Not much to see in this area. Directly to the sides were steep slopes of rocks. Large rocks piled all atop each other sloping down as the depth dropped. Tropheus and Petrochromis dominated the rocky habitat, while the Ophthalmotilapia ventralis males stuck out the clearest, being bright blue. That first dive, I was a bit cautious. Any of the numerous eels I saw could have been that dreaded water cobra who I was certain had been put on this earth to hunt me down and kill me. As it turned out, I managed to survive. My first few pictures started out blurry and over exposed. As I dove more and took more photos, they became a bit clearer and I adjusted aperature settings more as I went.
Over the next two weeks, I did start to miss my family, but I never tired of the diving. Every site we went to was new and exciting. Every nite I'd upload my photos back to my laptop and delete the ones I wasn't happy with. I went by myself, not knowing any of the others who were going on the trip. I ended up meeting a great group of knowledgable people. They were all friendly and I was a better person for having met them. Having seen many of my fish in their natural environment leaves me wanting to do more for my fish. You can't really appreciate the Cyprichromis in your tank, until you've seen the schools of hundreds swimming in the open waters of the lake next to cliffs formed by underwater boulders. After swimming the depths and seeing Cyphotilapia frontosa swimming out of the dark caves, brilliantly blue, I don't know if any tank I can keep will be large enough for these majestic fish. My biggest regret after reviewing my photos is I didn't keep track of the species I saw well enough. There were many species that I saw and thought I'd gotten numerous photos of. But when all was said and done, I didn't have nearly enough. After taking the trip to Tanganyika, I'm sure Malawi is in my future. After that, another trip to Tanganyika is sure to be in order. Maybe that water cobra destined for me will find me next time. □