The day begins early once again with the sun peeking its head over the horizon around 5:30 am. This is a pleasant surprise, as, despite the heat of days past very little blue sky has been seen in our travels.
Breakfast, surprisingly, was early and we left Nsanje at 7 am with mixed feelings. We've grown to love the people of the Chigumikere center and feel a sense of sadness to leave them all behind. Most of us will never see them again and they've left as much of a mark on us as we have attempted to make on them.
The drive began beautifully as we enjoyed the crisp morning air and the stunning views as we ascended into Blantyre. We stopped for a quick break at Gerrit Oomen's place for coffee and cake before heading to KFC for chicken burgers. It's amazing how exciting such minor things can be when you've been eating sema and beans for days! We continued on towards our destination for the day, the Kutchuri lodge, where we will begin our safari.
We arrived around 3 pm and soon made our way to the boat. The trip started off great as we made our way to the boat and immediately got stuck in the weeds. After much struggle half the group transferred to another boat while some of the guys helped push the boat through the crocodile and hippo infested waters. According to our guide approximately 10 locals are killed monthly by hippos in the area surrounding the national park here. We escaped unscathed however and some exceptional leadership from Mitch and a lot of grunting brought us near the main channel where we eventually reunited with the girls. As Jens said it's PYOB (push your own boat) in the Malawi :)
Half soaked we resumed our safari. The trip got decidedly better from here on as we saw dozens of hippos, birds, and even elephants far in the distance. One of the team members had to go to the washroom and had to go through the harrowing experience of going through a hole in the bottom of the boat. Not an enjoyable experience I'm sure!
The trip back, not to be outdone was equally harrowing. The majority of the group waded through knee deep water to shore but our guide had other plans for the girls. In an attempt to get them to shore on dry land a small boat was brought to push them through the swamp. Jason, Gerritt and I joined them and we pushed through chest deep water most of the way before abandoning due to the waning daylight and transferring to canoes. While this was a quicker route to shore it was no less dangerous as in the approaching darkness a hippo could be seen crashing through the reeds towards us! Jason abandoned ship and began towing a canoe while the rest of us moved quickly shoreward. Luckily the hippo had no interest in us and continued on past. No less scary for us...
Soaked, but having thoroughly enjoyed the experience we headed back to the lodge where we enjoyed a crawling meal of beef, rice and vegetables. As I write this we sit perched high in the treetops where we will spend the night looking out over the animals below. Apparently elephants are known to spend time below so here's hoping we get an encounter (or at least a sighting) in the night.
As we've discovered so often on this trip there are no boring days in Malawi!