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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2017 (77) > Ports of call

Ports of call

620-tonneIf you’re looking for an authentic African experience, all you have to do is board MV Ilala, a 620-tonne passenger vessel that zigzags its way up and down Lake Malawi. Thomas Rinaldi gives an insight into what it’s like to travel on this venerable ferry

MV Ilala has been heaving and pitching her way across Lake Malawi for more than 65 years. This is a boat with a story, having been built outside Glasgow in 1949, disassembled and transported to Mozambique before being launched on Lake Nyasa (as it was then called) in 1951. She was named after the region where David Livingstone died in 1873. The lake and its surrounding lands have changed names and flags in that time, yet this ship remains a constant, running almost continuously ever since, except for periods of maintenance. In a country where the average life expectancy is just 58.3 years, Ilala is older than her captain and crew, an unlikely mainstay in a place where little is taken for granted.

MV Ilala is a legacy of British colonialism, yet remains an essential part of modern Malawian life
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