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My Malawi Diary
by Peter Hofman (trigger)

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Saturday, november 11

After some unclear things, we are on our way to Cape MaClear. This trip takes about three and a half hours. Colin and Monique joined us this time. Colin with his life jacket in the small boat of the Lady Louise II. During the trip we made another dive at Zimbawe Rocks. There were some strong currents here also. Unfortunately, I only saw two nicely colored Otopharynx lithobates. We did see a lot of females though. By now, we went mad from the BB zebras. They are everywhere! You have to chase them away to try to get the picture of the fish you want. Here also huge rocks stacked together. They made caves big enough for us to swim through. Monique was getting real seasick by now. After we had to wait for Mike again, we fortunately could go on our way to Fat Monkeys. That's where we hit the jackpot! Mike asked for a family room for Monique, Colin and me. Well they had such a thing. You had to search for the beds! Separate toilet and bathing room. Little kitchen and a closet that was apparently bigger than the other rooms. I offered to switch if they kept Colin, but that was a bit too much apparently. Tonight we will sleep very well I think.

Fin Organism Fish Underwater Marine biology

Sunday, November 12

Today we went to two islands on the outer edge of the nature park. They are barely part of the park. When we got to the first one, Chiyankhwazi, we were in for a surprise. Apparently a complete improvised fishing village was built on it. Including drying areas for the fish and traders to buy the fish. Below the surface there were signs of the village in the form of discarded food boxes, old spare tires, pieces of rope and many more traces of civilization. Besides this junk we had a great dive. After the dive we were pleasantly waved off by the fisherman until we took out our cameras and started making mug shots of them. Then the enthusiasm was gone real fast. Bob also shot some video. We are going to give the video and the pictures to Stuart to give him some leverage if the local fisheries department comes complaining again. Also Nigel, a guy that is trying to preserve the lake as much as possible was interested. He has some contacts that would like to now of these illegal fishing activities. On our way back we stopped at Chiyankhwaza, similar island with a similar name. Here nature was untouched fortunately. We tried to take pictures of some huge catfish, but they were too fast. On our way back to Fat Monkeys, Bart and Mike made another dive in the Ilala Gap. We almost made the dive together, because the steering of the boat failed just as we entered the narrow gap. The crew was able to fix it before we hit the rocks. Pizza at Fat Monkeys and to bed in our four star bungalow Tomorrow we plan to dive Otter Point and on the way back to Kambiri Point, maybe another go at Zimbawe Rock. At Kambiri Point hopefully the caught fish have arrived. See if Colin likes his afras.

Monday, November 13

In the morning we went to Otter Point. First we had to pay the entrance fee to the Lake Malawi National Park. Near the office was a small museum about the Lake and the park. Unfortunately the museum has lacked maintenance. Here we could see why the fishermen could do as they pleased. The park just has no means to enforce the park rules away from the coast. Apparently we paid the fees since we were diving straight in front of the office. They have no way to stop you otherwise. Apparently the park is only a park in name. Well, on to Otter point. Again huge rocks with caves under them. In those caves live the Aulonocara jacobfreibergi. A hard to get fish because it is not allowed to catch them from the park. Mike spent about half an hour taking pictures of one. Back to Fat Monkeys to get some lunch, the luggage and the others. Paid the bar bill, said goodbye to our 12 star bungalow and back on the boat. First we had to drop the little boat at the local shipyard for repairs. Then we made another dive at Thumbi Island. Here huge rocks and caves also. Only no Aulonocara jacobfreibergi in them. We did see "some" BB zebras again. As this would be the last dive, I did not care about the camera battery and the flash batteries and just shot everything that got in my viewfinder. Back on the boat, the crew was very happy with the half used batteries from our flashes. Apparently their radios would work for weeks on the half dead ones. This with the fact batteries are hard to get in Malawi, made the crew very happy with our leftovers. Bob donated his sleeping bag. Bart was asked to bring a sleeping bag the next time he came. We donated our sleeping bag also. Saves weight for us. I was still planning to take some sand and rocks home. The captain apparently was very happy with the sleeping bag, because later he waited for me to thank me again and that he would not forget me and if I would come another time, he would make sure I got anything I asked for... Sometimes it's so easy to make someone very happy. Back at the Red Zebra Lodge for a quick bite to eat. And who do we find there? Walter Deproost, one of the most famous cichlid keepers in the world. He was over for a couple of days. After we pushed Bart to show him his pictures, Walter gave Bart his email address and told him to contact him when we were back. Little Bart, our own Ad Konings junior. Due to some problems with the Ilala, our fish did not arrive yet.

Water Underwater Fluid Reef Marine biology

Tuesday, November 14

This morning we took it slowly. Monique took Colin to the school again. This is a project of Esther Grant's which makes it possible for children to get some education. Monique became sponsor of one of the children, a girl named Christina. She talked to the headmaster to ask which child would benefit most from a sponsor. The sponsorship pays for three terms of school, a school uniform and necessities. I went with the others to the local firewood market as Stuart likes to call the wood market. Some complete zoos changed ownership, 6 drums were bought. I was able to keep it to one charm of Zambezi River god. I had one, but that got broken. In the afternoon we sneaked to Esther's beach to get some sand to take home. Esther is very attached to her beach, so we had to do it carefully. Gave Stuart my shopping list: 10 pair Cynotilapia afra Red top Likoma Island and 10 couples of Pseudotropheus Saulosi Taiwanee Reef. The fish arrived during the day, so we could say hello to them. In the evening, we ate under the stars, with a local band playing music. We ate crocodile which tastes a bit like chicken. We enjoyed our last meal with Esther and Stuart. After dinner we all got a certificate saying we were part of the British Malawi safari group 2006. After dinner we packed our stuff because tomorrow we have to leave for the airport at 7 o'clock. The second sleeping bag found a happy new owner in Mkupe, the truck driver, who sometimes needs to sleep in the truck to wait for cargo.

Water Sky Water resources Atmosphere Daytime

Wednesday, November 15

Early rise for breakfast. After that, all in the mini busses. Saying goodbye to Esther, Stuart and the staff: Mike, Martin, Aaron, Jesse, Agnes, Anderson, Mkupi, Oswan, Barnabus and the others I can't remember the names of, sorry people! At the airport we had no troubles checking in again. But the other divers suddenly had a problem with weight. Apparently Kenya Airways did not know anything about the extra diving luggage that was reserved. So the troubles for Mike, Bob and Bart were not over yet. Mick was lucky, he checked in with another member and they were just under the weight limit together. Bob would have to pay $US 800 for the access weight. I still had the form I got from Schiphol with Mike's data in case he would not make that flight. And that clearly stated "20 KG scuba allowance" but the local Kenya Airways clerk was not convinced. After several discussions and visits to chiefs offices, Bob had it and paid $US 135. Mike and Bart did not give in and told the clerk they would do another week in Malawi, and would go back with Esther. Esther comes from an important family in Malawi so her opinion usually counts. When the plane was about to leave the clerk checked them in to Nairobi only and told them that "it was Nairobi's problem now". At Nairobi however, they did not see the problem and the scuba allowance just showed up on the screen. The supervisor went mad and wanted to know names and the whole story. Kenya Air was trying to build a reputation and corrupt clerks were not what they wanted. Bob was told to reclaim the money when he got home. The rest of the trip was trouble free and we safely got back to Schiphol Airport. Said goodbye to the others and went home. Until next time!

The export

This describes the general way the fish go on their way to our tanks. At several locations in the wild the fish are caught with nets. The nets are placed in strategic places and the fish are chased out of the rocks into the nets. The divers then choose selectively which fish to take and which to free. The caught fish are kept in plastic drums with nets over the tops. There are experiments with mosquito catching nets to see if that is a better way. Depending on the catching depth, the fish have to go to several decompression stages before they reach the surface. When the fish are at the surface they are kept in holding stations and depending on the distance to Kambiri Point, transported with the ferry, the Ilala. The Ilala takes them to Chipoka where they are picked up by the trucks. The fish are put into holding tanks in the fish house. At first they are just put into tanks, later they are sorted so each tank has a certain species. If necessary they get medications here. After that the pre-ordered fish are kept in tanks with the owners name on it awaiting shipment. The others are moved to the storage tanks outside. Those are the concrete tanks under the netting. The netting is mainly to keep the fishing eagles out. When fish are ordered they are brought to the fish house again for processing. The packing is in Styrofoam boxes that can hold up to 7 bags. Each bag can contain from 1 bigger hap up to 15 smaller mbunas. So each box holds anything between 7 and 105 fish. The boxes are driven to Lilongwe airport for further shipping. The rest depends on destination. I can tell what route my fish probably will be going. They will be shipped to the UK where a local importer will quarantine them for two weeks after which I can come to collect them.
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