Adventures in Africa

Chapter 15 - Malawi I: A Trek in the Mulanje Massif

Malawi is discovered to be a real African country, not like civilized Zimbabwe. Already while in the territorial air of Malawi, the pilot shakes us well while landing... Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, is a true African town. Many roads are not paved, there aren't almost any pavements along the roads and no international chain stores (fast food, clothes or banks) can be seen. We eat food in the street - much healthier and tastier than the American burgers... although not necessarily more hygiene... What bothers us a bit is that although the standard of living is much lower than in Zimbabwe, the prices are much higher. Actually, there was a big devaluation in Malawi several months ago, but since then the prices have been adjusted.

We take the best bus to Blantyre, the second largest town in the country, and its financial capital. What a bus! there is a beautiful hostess on board, soft drinks are served with no limits, there are toilets on board and... it is the first time for us in Africa to be in an air-conditioned place! After several hours of a very comfortable ride the bus stops in front of the best hotel in Blantyre. We go to the hotel recommended to us by the Israelis which is located, very unsurprisingly, in the market. The hotel is run by Kiwis from New Zealand. It has a swimming pool and a very nice bar is located outdoors. What is less nice is the stinginess of the owners. Although the rooms' price is far from being cheap, and there are many mosquitoes around, they don't give nor rent mosquito nets, so we should use ours. Bed sheets are also not included in the price and should be paid separately. They charge a lot for telephone calls (even for call backs!), and change money for bad rates. Once, while sitting in the bar, the waiter prepared mistakenly the wrong portion. In order not to throw it away he offered it at a 10% discounted price...

We go for a 4 days trekking in the Mulanje mountains. The mountains are "only" 2,500-3,000 m' high, and aren't of course covered by snow. The attractions in this area, except its mild beauty, are the very nice mountain huts which are very well maintained. Sleeping in the huts is almost for free (1US$) and the hut keeper brings you water, makes the fire for you (it's a bit chilly up there) and sometimes even cooks for you! In the first night we sleep in a hut on the bottom of the trek. When we understand that ice-cold soft drinks and beers are sold in the hut for nominal prices and that the hut keeper will cook for us dinner with the products we will give him, we hurry to the nearby market and buy the rear left leg of a goat. Needless to say that the dinner is excellent...

Needless to say that the dinner is excellent...

The Mulanje mountain area is famous for the cider wood crafts. While being in the hut, some wood carvers come to us and offer their work for sale. We buy from them a very nice compact-disk stand.

In early morning we start to climb the 1,000 meters needed in order to reach the second hut, Chambe hut. We take with us Johnny, a guide who is also a porter. In Chambe hut we sleep with 3 people from South Africa, Kenya and Geneva. They don't have a porter with them but neither a torch light, nor a pot, nor a scotch and neither a foam to sleep on. All of these things they borrow from us. These 3 bring with them 3 living chickens, and each day slaughter one for themselves. Horrible. They also smoke grass and don't look interested in the nature around them. We are happy not to be with them the following nights.

Chambe Hut.

Inside a hut.

Next day, Johnny the guide shows us the way to climb Chambe peak at 2,557 m'. Although it doesn't sound high, the climb itself is very difficult, and on the limit of technical rock climbing. The third night we sleep again in Chambe hut. In the following nights we sleep in Chinzama and Sombani huts. We try to climb also Chinzama peak, this time without the help of Johnny. We fail since in the summit area there is a maze of huge boulders very difficult to cross.

The view from Chambe peak.

We arrive back to Blantyre, just for the night. We take a taxi in order to go downtown (where we will eat an excellent chicken at Nandos). The taxi looks very lousy. My old Simca is a princess in comparison with that taxi. The taxi does not start, so some locals help the driver in pushing it. In the middle of the way the taxi breaks down, and we are forced to continue by foot. The taxi driver has the guts to ask us for half of the price since "he did half of the job"...

Next morning, which is also Yom Kippur eve, we are at 6 o'clock in the central bus station, in front of the yellow Yani-Yani bus. This bus is supposed to take us to Monkey Bay, near Lake Malawi. It is in Cape Mclear, a small village on the shore of Lake Malawi, situated 18km from Monkey Bay, that we want to spend the last days in Africa. It is here where we will be relaxing before returning back home to Western world. As we are told, we should be in Monkey Bay much before sunset, so we will have time to prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur. In Yom Kippur the Jews ask pardon from God as well as from their friends, for the sins they have committed during the last year. One is supposed to fast fully (no food nor drinks) in that day for about 25 hours non-stop. ItĘs already 7 o'clock and the driver puts 4 gallons of oil in the engine. We ask him when he will leave. "Soon" he replies.

At 7 and a half the bus departs at last. Suddenly I discover that I don't have my wallet in my pocket anymore!!!

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Last modified: Sat Jun 19th 21:05:00 IST 1999