Nkotakota has a fascinating history. A relatively large town, it has several large upscale lodges on the lakeshore, a BP, and a small grocery store. It is situated next to a large wildlife preserve, notorious for sleeping sickness and hosting some of Malawi’s last lion prides.
Established in the 1840’s by Jumbe Salim bin Abdullah, Nkhotakota (then called Kota Kota) was Malawi’s busiest slave port. By the time David Livingstone visited the site, 20,000 slaves went through the town every year on their way to Tanzania. Despite Livingtsone’s pleading, the slaving continued until the aging Jumbe signed a treaty with the British Consul General in the 1890’s. There are many historic sites in Nkotakota, including the tree where Jumbe and Livingstone met and an Anglican church built in 1894.
Despite the town’s sad history, it is a pretty spot and tourism is flourishing. We stayed at the Safari Lodge. It is owned by the same people who own Nkotakota Pottery Lodge and Dedza Pottery Lodge, so the food was wonderful.
While we were only there one night we had a great meal, taught Jackson the traditional Malawian game, Bao, and relaxed after all of the driving. It was uneventful except for major thunderstorms that rolled in during the night and continued all morning.
The drive from Nkhotakota to Nkhata Bay should have been uneventful. Planning ahead, we knew we would be on tarmac the whole way, taking the well-traveled M5 all the way up the coast and it should only take a couple hours.
We weren’t too far outside of Nkotakota when we descended a hill and noticed that dozens of people were milling about the middle of the road. As we got closer, we saw that they were standing in water where the road should be. Instead, the Bua River had taken the road over. People indicated that we should turn around, but we crept closer, trying to get a complete picture of the situation. The road was covered with rushing water. We were about to turn back when we saw an ambulance in the form of a land cruiser crossing the river from the other side. He slowed down and told us that we should be able to make it across but to take it slowly.
We sat and stared at the rushing water for a bit, while flashes of the day before sped through our minds. We couldn’t see the road and if we misjudged the path, Pierce would drive off the bridge and be swept away. Jackson and Kevin got out and surveyed the scene. The water almost came up to their knees. They offered to walk in front of the car to ensure we stayed on the road.
We started out slowly, but it worried Sandy that if we went too slowly, we’d be swept away. He picked up speed and we passed Jackson and Kevin. It was probably a mile of river and the water kicked up by the tires splashed some eight feet in the air as we kept up speed. We finally made it to the other side where there were more people milling about. We got out to wait for Jackson and Kevin, talking with the locals and taking pictures.
It took the boys a while to get across, the water reaching their knees at the deepest point. They are both convinced they now have obscure and dangerous river born diseases.
The rest of the journey was uneventful and beautiful. The road curved through miles of sugar cane, past isolated beach villages, around mountains, and then through a rubber tree plantation.