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Community on the waves

Rachel - The Ilala

Hoonnk Hoooooooooonnnnk. The Ilala is the old, Scottish, iron passenger ship that makes a weekly trip north and south, up and down the lake stopping to pick up passengers and cargo, service the islands and take people between Mozambique and Malawi. It’s super important to the trade and lives of people, especially the islanders, and it even takes tourists.

Most of the harbours don’t have a jetty and so people and all their cargo are piled high onto the lifeboats and everything is then passed up through the door in the side of the hull. And there is a *lot* of stuff. Enormous bags and bags and bags of dried fish and maize flour, sheets of corrugated iron, bundles of hand brooms, suitcases and rucksacks and all sorts of things you just wouldn’t expect to see; a bookcase, a double bed, a live goat tied by the legs…. Tales are told of a speedboat that was to be used by one of the high end resorts lost into the water after it was dropped by the winch. Oops.

Once you make it through the doors with your stuff the corridors are full of sacks and boxes that you have to climb over and under to reach the stairs and then fortunately for us the breezy top deck. I was a little guilty to find that everyone on the first class top deck was white and there were only 20 of us compared to the hundreds of people crammed below. And the costs aren’t *that* different. But anyway for the next 24 hours or so we hung out chatting to fellow travelers, playing poker on the floor with bottle tops and daily disposable contact lenses, watching the cargo loading at the stops (each stop being about 4 hours…there’s a lot of stuff to load), and of course drinking beers. All very civilised and a gentle way to travel such a distance. There was even a shower on the deck below although having a shower on a rocky ship is quite a strange experience I must say.

At night we all slept out on the deck under the stars on foam mattresses where it’s breezy and cool. If you pay for true first class you get a cabin but that *is* much more expensive and apparently very hot so no-one really bothers. Lined up on the deck like that it was a bit like a camp out :) At one point I woke up in a mozambique port with the sun rising over the lake and the engine gently throbbing which was pretty special.

Some people were getting off with us at one of the islands, and there’s really only one place to stay on the island, so we all became pretty good friends and have all unexpectedly met up again since which is one of the other nice things about the Ilala; the sense of community that develops.

We’ve heard that they’re taking it out of service for a while for maintenance but there are no plans to replace it with anything, I can’t imagine what would happen in that case because it seems to be the heartbeat of the lake.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Archived in Malawi Tagged transportation companions

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