After Mulanje we were feeling quite shattered and it was time to chill on the lake for a bit. After a few hops along the lake, we heard about Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe. There were no roads leading to the lodge and you had the choice of hiking in, getting a fishing boat or catching the Ilala ferry. The Ilala only came once a week and it meant doing a big day of driving to catch it at its next stop, fishing boat hires were expensive so we went with the hiking option(after first clarifying that our bikes wouldn’t handle the path). First step was to drive to Usisya where we could leave the car and begin our hike. Finding Usisya lodge would be our first challenge. Tracks4Africa, which we’d heard from all sources was the best version of the truth didn’t have a road to Usisya. A local at a Mzuzu petrol station pointed us towards the road to take and off we went. The 4×4 drive into Usisya and the views it was an experience in itself.
We arrived at Usisya town and still hadn’t seen a single sign to the lodge we were meant to be going to. Locals pointed us towards the lodge between houses and mielie fields on what looked more like a walking path than a road. At one point we were convinced we’d hit a dead end, but were told to squeeze between a house and tree and carry on. Eventually, our walking path turned into a neat driveway with paving down the side and we had arrived. Walking down to the front of the lodge we found a beautiful private beach. Completely isolated with crystal clear water. There were hammocks for James to lie and read in and paddle boards, snorkles and goggles for me to go exploring with (at no extra charge, unlike everywhere else we’d been). With not many visitors making the trip, the staff were happy to assist with anything we needed. Usisya also won the “Loo with a View” prize and gets extra points for not being the standard long drop, but as they called it, a “compost toilet”. It is the highest building at the lodge, giving you an amazing view over the lake as you do your business.
The first two thirds of the hike to Ruarwe ran along the lake. It was a treat compared to hiking the steep climbs of Mount Mulanje the week before. It was interesting walking through villages that have no vehicle access and seeing their subsistence lifestyle. 3 hours in, a fisherman on the beach told us to carry on along the beach was too far and we should head up the hill to cut across the point. The climb was pretty steep so we decided it was snack time. As we sat down, we realised that a dog from Usisya Lodge had followed us. We decided we’d just have to make sure he got fed and take him back with us. We decided to call him “Umzungu” (white person) as he was tan and he got lots of love from the school kids in the villages we walked past as they chanted his name.
Ruarwe’s staff were even happier to see us as even fewer people make this trip. We were the first guests in 10 days. We got an awesome chalet with a balcony overhanging the lake. Apparently when the lake’s higher you can jump off it. But when I realised I could stand below it, I wasn’t taking any chances. There were, however, some other rocks that were deep enough to jump off.
We found out that our new pet dog often walked with tourists and even had his own bowl for when he came to visit. They said he’d find his own way home.
The Ruarwe area has the deepest part of the lake. Along with a much smaller population and rock beaches without sand to churn up, the water is completely clear. We could see fish all over the rocks from our chalet balcony. The variety of fish in the water was also more than the other spots we’d snorkelled at. We even saw some blue fluorescent crabs.
The menu was mainly vegetarian due to there being no electricity or fridges. But they still managed to rustle us up some pretty tasty meals including a delicious spaghetti bolognaise.
After two nights at Ruarwe we were quite enjoying relaxing and weren’t keen for the walk back. We thought it would be cool to take a dugout canoe back. James found two guys at the water the last afternoon and made a plan for them to come pick us up the next morning. He insisted they bring us oars so we could also paddle. We woke up to a bit of drizzle and a lot of wind so swells were quite big. But off we went into what looked like the ocean. Paddling was tougher than we thought and sitting on the narrow sides was very uncomfortable. But with a lot of swapping sides and a nice tail wind to blow us home we made it back in around 3 hours. It was very interesting being out with the fishermen and see how it all works.
When we got to Usisya, we found that the dog that had stayed with us for both nights at Usisya had
made the trip back and was waiting for us.
Getting off the beaten track was a great success and both Usisya and Ruarwe are greatly recommended.