A Travellerspoint blog

Day 146 – All At Sea: When Kayaking Goes Wrong

15th February 2012

We’d thought about hiring some kayaks to do a bit of our own exploring and the previous day we’d visited Kayak Africa to get some prices. Walking back to Fat Monkeys we’d bumped into two local guys who thought they could get hold of some kayaks for us as well as snorkels, masks and fins. We’d told them that we’d be walking to Kayak Africa around 11.30 the next day and if they had the equipment ready then we might be able to do business. The dread locked one of the pair, Jason, suggested the kayaks would cost ten dollars each, we told him that we’d discuss prices when we’d seen the equipment the next day.

So there we were, now joined by a couple of South African guys keen on the trip, Martin and Jonathon. We met our two would be kayak salesmen and they ran off to get the kit. Martin suggested agreeing prices before they went to the effort of getting the equipment but they were having none of it. I personally thought that with them having put so much effort in we’d have more leverage on our prices.

Half an hour later we had two double kayaks and a single kayak in front of us as well as a full set of snorkelling gear per person; and there started the bartering.

Firstly, Jason told us that all of the kayak money would be going to the orphanage up the road. This was as fine a lie as that of the emperor’s new clothes, I didn’t believe him, I told him so and that didn’t help our relationship much. He and his friend wanted two thousand kwacha per boat which was twelve dollars, the same as Kayak Africa. When we told him he’d said ten he insisted that the exchange rate was now two hundred kwacha per dollar and offered to get a news paper to prove it. He was lying again and now adding supporting lies to back up his mistruths. We told him he was lying again, and that the black market didn’t matter to businesses as their exchange rate was set by government. He got annoyed and when we told him his boats’ rudders were broken he became even more irate. It wasn’t going well; we’d been there for an hour and our dealers had named what seemed to be their final price. I jumped up and told them I was going to speak to Kayak Africa, I ran down the beach and returned with the knowledge that Kayak Africa could kit us out for the same cost; only their equipment would be in full working order.

This news went down like an unsinkable ship on a starlit evening in the North Atlantic in 1904. Jason became aggressive and told us that we shouldn’t support big business. We told him if he was to be competitive he had to better them somehow and since his boats weren’t as good as ‘the man’s’ he would have to beat them on price; and also he’d have to not lie to us. With that he told us to ‘eff’-off as he jumped aggressively across the kayaks trying to intimidate us. We held our ground trying to explain the situation and eventually he calmed down and suggested that we could perhaps still rent the snorkels and masks from him. We told him that we don’t deal with people who tell us to ‘eff’ off and thanked him for his time. It gave me some pleasure that he’d have to haul those boats back to wherever they’d come from and that he’d be getting none of our money. We hoped it was a lesson learnt for him but the guy in Kayak Africa told us that Dreadlocks had been aggressive with other tourists before us.

We pushed our kayaks out into the water; with our expensive cameras stowed in dry bags in the supposedly ‘dry’ compartments of our kayaks. We set out for the channel running between Domwe Island and the mainland; we were against the wind, it was two o’clock. We joked that knowing our luck the wind would change direction and that instead of it being on our backs for the journey home, we’d be trapped pushing into it all the way back. Laura and I had a double, Martin and Jonathon had a double and Post was in charge of his own destiny in his single. His ‘British Military Fitness’ course was evidently showing as he found it all too easy to keep pace with the ‘dual-engined’ vessels with which he was travelling.

At the channel we found a small beach, disappointingly peppered with human faeces, where we could moor our boats and do some snorkelling. Bar the sobering smell of dung, the place was a small piece of paradise; crystal clear waters with luminescent fresh water fish, blue skies, warm water and sandy beaches.

Before long there came the question of what to do next. Somers immediately piped up with “Let’s kayak around Domwe Island.” Jonathon seconded the idea and the remaining three guys assumed the mindset of ‘if the petite lady has suggested it, we can’t say no.‘ And so we set off.

No one had factored into our equation that circling the island meant that our initial journey of eight kilometres was about to become twenty. The further along the island we kayaked, the longer we realised the island was. Not only that, but the lake was becoming rougher as somehow we could only find a headwind to kayak into. We paddled and we paddled as the sun began its decent towards the mountains in the west. Rounding the tip of Domwe Island was a nightmare as we had to turn our kayaks side-on to the oncoming waves which was extremely unstable; our belly muscles continually tensing to try and match the sideways loss of balance being pressed upon us. The waves were getting bigger and the wind was getting stronger and the day was getting darker when Martin and Jonathon capsized for the first time. Post seemed to be making light work of it all; he’d been out in front by a long way since we left our snorkelling spot and he rowed over to check the guys were OK. Laura and I were some way behind; Laura coping admirably with a passenger who was whinging and complaining about silly ideas and bloody weather. Martin and Jonathon were fine and had already climbed back into their kayak unperturbed and in high spirits. What they didn’t realise was that they’d taken on a hell of a lot of water in their ‘dry’ compartments and from now on, capsizing would come all too easily. And capsize they did; a second, a third, and a fourth time. By the fifth time they had so much water onboard that when they sat in their kayak it was underwater; only half a wave was needed to tip them once more.

It was five o’clock, the sun was now low in the sky and we were at least five kilometres from home, around one kilometre from the island and in possession of one semi submerged kayak, a double kayak desperately trying to avoid capsizing and Post bobbing like a duck on a pond; in his element. Laura and I couldn’t stop, we’d come stomach-churningly close to capsizing several times already and the waves really were getting bigger. Laura made the call to head for the island, that was the nearest land to us and if we needed to we could always rough camp there and move off at first light. Laura began stroke counting as we focused solely on making dry land. As we got closer we saw a gap in the huge boulders that made up the shoreline. In it lay a small beach with a substantial hut stood between the rocks and we knew that it could only be one of the camps we’d read about. As we landed we met the two guys who were running the camp and we told them that the other two boats were still stranded in the lake. They emptied our kayak of water and pushed it back out, struggling against the surf, and rowed to rescue the others. The final ‘beach landing’ configuration involved Post, solo and unaided making his way to shore followed by Jonathon aboard the semi submerged double kayak with the rescuers rowing alongside a life jacketed and swimming Martin.

We sat on the rocks of our ‘desert island’ watching one of the single most stunning sunsets any of us had ever seen whilst our rescuers radioed for a boat to come and retrieve five wet and wilted mazungus.

The boat arrived in the dark and we clambered aboard, exhausted and damp and wondering if the Gecko Lounge might be able to serve us pizza at the fourth time of asking. The boat pulled up in the shallows of the lake outside our eatery of choice and we stepped in to find that pizzas were on the menu! We placed our order and ran back home to get changed whilst they were cooking.

Posted by ibeamish 06:07 Archived in Malawi

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.