The other week, Our Staff Writer KONDWANI KAMIYALA explored the Providence Industrial Mission in Chiradzulu as one heritage tourism site one can visit. Then, last week, it was an exposure of the Tcharo-Livingstonia Trail that covers Rumphi and Nkhata Bay as another tourist adventure. This week, he explores the Liwonde National Park via a cruise on Shire River. He writes:
Waking up every morning, a song plays on my mind. Mostly, the song comes from nowhere, depending on the mood.
Last Sunday morning, I woke up to the Blue Barron and Russ Morgan classical tune. The song made history in 1946 when it was sung by the crew of the HMS Amethyst as they sailed down the famed Yangtze Kiang River in China.
The lyrics were playing in my mind, to a hum on my mouth:
Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon;
With one you love, the sun above waiting for the moon;
The old accordion playing a sentimental tune;
Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon.
It is not without cause that the song was on my mind. For the first time, I was going on a sail down Malawi’s biggest river, the Shire, that Sunday.
As I got aboard the Mangunda Cruise, a boat run by Serendib Hotels, that Sunday morning, another song was playing on my mind.
This time, it was the Commodores playing in my mind.
Easy Like a Sunday Morning.
That’s why I’m easy (yeah)
I’m easy like Sunday morning, yeah
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
What is a cruise without music? Well, getting aboard the Mangunda, we were greeted by mellow tunes. My ears were itching to that acoustic guitar. Joining a group of travel agents, journalists and other adventurers on that boat, that Sunday morning, we were only told there would be a one-man band on board. Little did I know that the musician would be the veteran Patrick Simakweli, known in entertainment circles as ‘Ampatsi’.
He was strumming the tunes, even as Richard Chimwala was briefing the adventurers the safety measures aboard the boat, which has three decks.
Chimwala, fondly called by the crew members ‘Mr Mangunda’, in his brief, let us know what it entails to be on sail from the Mangunda dockyard in Liwonde Township. Water, they say, is a good slave, but a bad master. Just like fire. Safety is a must.
“This is a boat that can take up to 30 people. The excursion takes you into the Liwonde National Park, which is also home to the Big Five. The rainy season is still on, so there is plenty of grass and greenery so the animals are not so close to the river. You may be fortunate to see one or two this morning,” Chimwala said.
It was a little before eleven when the boat started sailing. One could note that the Shire was swollen, and its waters which used to electrify Malawi downstream, took on a yellow tone, evidence that upstream some alluvial soil had been eroded into the river with the rains. Spots of water hyacinth, namasupuni, were floating on the water.
So, getting on board, the tunes that were playing in my mind had died out. I made it straight to the upper deck, not only to catch the views of the Shire, but also listen to Ampatsi as he plucked his guitar.
He played the classics that make Malawi. From Chitukutuku to Chinafuna Mbale, through I Love Malawi and Che Meli, Ampatsi proved a thing or two about his acoustic guitar prowess. His repertoire was not confined to the local tracks. He also played Harry Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell and Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry and One Love.
A song the adventurers sang along, with gusto was: Welcome to Mangunda. Mpatsi was challenging: “You start a song, I will come in with the guitar.”
It could be the snacks and drinks that made the four-hour trip a memorable one. Or, as Colby Mughogho of the Adventures with Colby (AwC) outfit said, “it is an awesome experience”.
“This adds value to the Shire River and the Liwonde National Park as an alternative tourist destination. There is so much to see from here; the river, the mountains in the background and the lush green vegetation. Some have spotted elephants, hippos, birds and antelopes,” said Mughogho.
According to him, cruising down the Shire on the Mangunda provides a new experience, even for newly-weds on their honeymoon.
Musician Hyphen (real name Francis Kaphuka) was equally wowed: “As a Malawian, I like travel and seeing places. This has provided a rare experience. It is unforgettable. We must be the first to promote this kind of excursion.”
Chimwala agrees the tour is ideal for unique events, such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.
“Since we started in January, we have seen several activities aboard. At one point, a certain organisation had their board meeting on the board,” he said.
Tourism officer in the Ministry of Tourism Patrick Chipisa says the national park is one of 10 priority areas in the Malawi tourism masterplan, and the cruise offers a rare experience for those in love with the life in the wild.
According to him, apart from Liwonde, other projects in the masterplan include the Karonga-Songwe Border, Livingstonia in Rumphi, an activity centre at Likoma Island, an integrated waterfront in Nkhata Bay, a tourism resort and boat harbor in Nkhotakota, an integrated tourism facility in Salima, the Lilongwe River Walk, a revamped integrated resort at Golden Sands in Mangochi and a cable resort on Mulanje Mountain.
“Tourists have to have better options. This cruise is an important initiative. It is a totally different product on the Malawi tourism market. Malawi is beautiful and visiting these refreshing places of interest must be on our plans,” he said.
As the tour got into deeper waters, rains threatened. There was a drizzle. All patrons ran to the lower decks. Not all. James Kanjelo of Skylinks Travel, in spite of his age, remained on the upper deck and let the drizzles soak him.
“Even the drizzles were refreshing. This is an experience and a half. We should be the first to go through these outings,” he said.
According to Serendib Hotels general manager Rodney Goneso, the cruise provides an ultimate adventure to view landscapes and game.
“Since 2020, we have been sailing the boat. It offers morning, afternoon and evening cruises. These evening cruises we also call booze cruises. We have had birthday parties, board meetings and other events on board,” says Goneso.
The sages say, the smallest speck is seen on snow. Castle Malawi marketing manager Twikale Chirwa enjoyed the trip. But he said the take-off is lousy.
“It is an enjoyable experience. But I wish more could be done about the dockyard that adventurers should have a wonderful time, like braai, before or after sailing at the dockyard,” he said.
So, on the way back home, the song playing in my mind was neither Cruising Down the River nor Easy Like a Sunday Morning. It was Wambali Mkandawire’s Up and Down the Shire. I just don’t know why.