Lake of Stars

The Lake of Stars festival is a melange of African and Western music held on the shores of Lake Malawi. We went on the final, apparently most frenzied day of the festival. It was so much fun.

Our first impressions of the festival were of sand and too-cool-for-school travellers jamming to guitars on the beach. It seemed highly low key and a litte unorganized: most of our group trouped off to find a TV where they could watch the rugby (the rugby world cup is the truck obsession… it is hard to get away from it, and when the all blacks lost… there may have been blood lost on the truck as well, we shall never know). Who would pay $20US to watch rugby? So a few of us sat by the main stage, waiting for action to start. We weren’t disappointed. A British band called “Niche” came to the stage and thrilled us with truly excellent music. After she finished, a not-so-good South African group hit the stage, and we moved to the back where there were some food and souvenir stalls.

On the way up to the food, I made awkward eye-contact with a guy sitting on the grass. I nudged Sarah (who was now limping thanks to an unfortunate boating accident, see “It could only happen to Sarah” for details), and asked her if she recognized the guy. She didn’t, but apparently the guy recognized me as he got up and came over. He was part of a group we had met up with on Zanzibar Island — and he had followed us all the way to Lake Malawi! Okay, not quite true, it seems like all travellers were pulled in this direction, as we saw many people that we had met previously all congregated together. But the interesting thing about this guy, Mike, was that he knew the band, Niche, who had just played. We got to meet and interact with the band, including their really cool female leader singer Zeb.

The rest of the evening progressed smoothly, with tons of entertainment and some of the best music I’ve ever heard live. Everyone was there to have a good time, and it showed. After what seemed like hours of solid dancing under the stars, my friend Hilary turned to me and said: “What time is it?”

I looked down at my watch. I almost couldn’t believe what time it read. I checked it again. “18:50.” It wasn’t even 7pm yet, and we had already been having the greatest time. It had been pitch black since 5:30, and time had just disappeared from underneath us, moving quickly and slowly, as if we were caught in a whorl.

This is Africa time, baby.



It is hardly a secret that I relished the constant mental challenges of academia. Challenge is part of the reason I felt drawn to Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature. There is something a little beyond the norm about that field, the extra language hurdle that offers insight into the words I am writing right now. I hope to reenter the university world eventually, whether in further Medieval studies or creative writing, to approach these challenges again.

It is part of this love of a challenge that led me to fear travelling before I left. It would be easy for me to treat these next nine months as a highly extended vacation. And while I am relaxing and appreciating all that these next few months have to offer me, I promised myself one thing: to continue to stretch my mental and physical limits as far as they can take me, to search out challenges and to approach them head on. I feel a little closer to that goal after this week.

Travelling itself, perhaps especially in Africa, is a mental challenge. There is so much culture colliding with us head on. Every transition from country to country brings a different perspective. I find myself right now on the shores of Lake Malawi. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet in many ways the average person seems better off than in Kenya. The border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania was like light and day. In Kenya, the roads are pitted and pot-holed, almost impassable except by the most manic of drivers. In Tanzania, the roads are better than Canadian – smooth black tarmac with neatly painted yellow and white lines. They say that roads are the pathway to civilization… and a fine indicator too, of a country’s wealth.

Yesterday, in Chitimba, Malawi, I fulfilled part of my promise to myself. I hiked from Chitimba to Livingstonia, a town dedicated to Dr. David Livingstone and his Christian mission in Malawi. The hike left at 7am. Only four of us – Eric, Ben, Tania and myself – decided to take on the mission. I don’t think any of us realized just how physically taxing it was going to be on our systems.

The Malawian sun is relentless. At only 45 minutes into the trip – the walk to get to the mountain, let alone the mountain itself – I was ready to give up. What was I thinking? I did not voice this concern aloud, but rest assured it was going through my head. Then I remembered that promise to myself. How about my vow to conquer physical limitations as well as mental? I bucked up and put one foot in front of the other. And then we reached the mountain.

Without the support of the other climbers, I’m not sure I would have made it up. Through the steepest part of the hill, I took it one section at a time, taking plenty of rest in between and convincing myself to go forward. PMA: positive mental attitude became my mantra. It was worth it indeed. The first part of the hike took us to a beautiful waterfall, and then a watering hole where we swam and tried to gain back our energy. There we met a couple, one of whom is a DJ at the Lake of Stars festival that I will be attending tomorrow. We then hiked further up to the town of Livingstonia, where a museum dedicated to Dr. David Livingstone has been set up. From the very top, Malawi spread in front of us like paradise. Lake Malawi is a giant glisten of water in the far distance. Bright greenery is beneath our feet, lowering into dusty red earth and sand. In Livingstonia, we encounter a chameleon, a poisonous snake and tall pine trees that stretch toward the sky. It is more that worth the climb.

By now it is one o’clock, and it has taken us 6 hours to reach the top.

We break for lunch at a little restaurant in Livingstonia. Ben asks the owner of the restaurant: “Do you have a menu.”

The answer is curt. “No.”

“Then what do you have to eat?” I step in.

“Chicken.” There is a pause. “And rice.”

“Anything else?” Tania is a vegetarian, and hopeful. The rest of us have not seen chicken in weeks, and it is a welcome, if forced, change.


So chicken and rice it was.

The problem with hiking is that once you go up, you must come down. The way back down was much quicker, but much harder on the joints. My knees and legs ached with a dull throbbing pain that I knew would intensify over the next few days. But we were all exhilirated and happy. It was the first real exercise of the trip and we felt satisfied, healthy and above all – that we had experienced some “real Africa.”

It seems I cannot have a day of relaxing, for the next day I went scuba diving in Lake Malawi. It was a totally different experience from the Indian Ocean, but just as worthwhile.

Now I’m getting into rugby and England have just won against Australia. Let the celebrations begin!