The ‘Wet’ Heart of Africa! A Tale of Two Swallows
Posted on May 21, 2012
I found this in my stories from working in Africa, this anecdote was from around 2003-2004 (I think!). I’ve been to Mvuu Camp an Lodge in Liwonde National Park many times since but this was the first time I’d had to navigate there not knowing what to expect!
In March, the rainy season was in full swing in Southern Malawi. Our already sick sounding van was letting in water front and back, I was sitting holding onto my computer and camera trying to keep them away from the wave of brown sludge that whooshed up through the floor by the gear stick with every pothole.
As we followed the sign to Mvuu Camp we wondered if it was the right way – round the back of a market bicycle repair stand and down a dirt track, well actually it was a brown river. The road wasn’t even visible, consequently neither were the pot holes! Eventually after half an hour or so of dodging goats, bicycles and drenched villagers, we entered the park gate and arrived at the landing stage for the boat across the river to Mvuu Camp, 5 minutes away. Ferrying our soggy bags, a trail of staff helped us onto the boat and we chugged over to the camp to a welcome drink!
The next morning the sun was out we were keen to see the river and all its wildlife so joined the boat safari. The first thing we noticed in the boat was a swallows nest stuck under the roof at the front. Nothing too unusual in that, we know that many birds build nests in man made structures, but once we were underway along the wide Shire river a loud chirruping and fly past by the parents let us know that we were taking their home for a ride! Apparently this pair have been using the boat ‘caravan’ for some time. During our trip (and the one the next morning) they flew in and out of the boat for the whole 2 hours of the trip. Occasionally the parents would fly off and rest on the shore, but always reappeared after 10 minutes or so. It seems that they could locate their floating home anywhere.
Later that day on the night drive, as we splashed into puddles in the forest tracks, small waves could be seen ahead of us. On stopping, we could see the tinniest of terrapins all scurrying out of the puddle at the impact of the vehicle into the safety of the surrounding grass. Once sun had gone down in its usual stunning waves of pinks and golds the spot light came out and we saw many hippos in their own ‘pink’ pigmented glory! A special treat was a very tiny baby hippo, running with his mummy, he couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old.
A strange natural phenomenon that occurs during these high rains is the way that the flooding lakes and rivers cut off chunks of the reedbanks along their sides. During the few nights we were at Mvuu we witnessed many floating ‘islands’ drifting past the camp, I thought they could have been Trojan horses hiding poachers and kept a very close eye on them! One of them was so huge, it really looked like a whole ecosystem, it was complete with weaver birds hanging desperately onto their dangling nests as the Papyrus Reeds were pushed along with the current.
A few days later from Mumbo Island up on Lake Malawi we saw what looked like huge dark islands in the distance towards the mainland. Checking through the binoculars half an hour later they had disappeared! These ‘papyrus islands’ could have been up to a km long and had just floated away …..
The rainy season in Malawi is spectacular, adventurous and full of amazing sights of nature. A boat safari on the Shire River from Mvuu is a highlight of any trip to Malawi but in the wet season with all the floating islands, breeding birds and stunning photographic opportunities it is a must do. Contact me to arrange a tailor made adventure of your own (wet or dry!) to Malawi or other parts of Africa.