A pig in the bush is worth two Slovenians in a truck.
Mulanje Travel Blog› entry 8 of 12 › view all entries
Its been an entertaining few days here in Malawi. We've been on the Mulanje Massif, a giant granite batholith, that rises a kilometre and a half straight up out of various tea-fields that cover the landscape in southern Malawi. On top of the massif lie plateaus, deep valleys and hills, which occasionally look English in size, and proportion and occasionally take on the look of something more alpine. The weather is a bit cooler on top, with a strong breeze, almost perfect walking weather, for hiking in shorts and t-shirt. Though once stopped, it was a bit too cool in the shade and breeze, so we had to seek out the sun instead. As such, spending all day out in the sun has done wonders for the tan. We've been getting up at six in order to get as much walking done in the day as possible, and as a result have ended up going to bed at eight or so, which sounds ridiculously early, but when the sun goes down at 5:30, there's little else to do. Once the Amarula has been finished of course. We've been staying in mountain huts, which are suprisingly comfy, better than UK ones anyway, and been cooking for ourselves, which has been nice after weeks of trying to find variations on chicken and chips.
Our first day was walking straight up the side of the massif. Which was, hot, sticky and tiring. Also, once you get up to the top, the view down gets hazy, (as was the view up the mountain when standing at the base), which means that its not quite possible to see the thirty kilometres or so to Mozambique. But the view was still good. And we got to swim in some natural pools on the plateau in the afternoon, which were cold, but that cold, despite what Chris and Alex may tell you, wusses. There were giant tadpoles in the pools, up to eight centimetres long or so. And the mountain is covered in lizards. We also saw a snake, rock hyraxes (mountain rabbits) and many raveny type birds, but apart from that the wildlife was a little limited. We did see monkeys once we got down, and the droppings of wild cats quite regularly though.
The second day was summit day, an attempt to get to the top of Sapitwa peak, literal translation "Don't Go There". At 3002m high its quite a tough trek. Especially as the first two-thirds of it was up very steep faces of granite, crawling up on all-fours was necessary in places. But we decided to blitz this section and got through it relativly quickly (we ended up climbing the peak from the base camp in just two hours in the end, compared to the normal three). The top section on the ridge was full of big granite boulders, and cloud forest which intertwinned in such a way that there was much scrambling, sliding sideways between boulders, crawling through small gaps, and generally much coolness in traversing the bumpy landscape. Basically it was like a giant kids adventure playground, just without the ball-pools, and granite is a little harder than foam. Its terrain like that which makes mountains so much fun and overall it was a really great peak to climb. But guess what, it was our first cloudy day! Due to it being the dry season a large layer of hot air builds up over Malawi, making it quite hazy as it contains all the dust, evaporated water and pollution. Above this lies clear blue skies. Due to Mt. Mulanje being the only major land-feature in the area, it sticks out above the warm layer and as a result all winds are pushed up by it, and clouds form on the mountain top (I can give a better more geographical explanation should anyone wish). So it gets cloudy on top. But... Sapitwa is tall enough to stick up above this layer of cloud, which was admittedly sporadic anyway. So we did get views from the top, over the cloud from the direction the wind was coming from, and over the haze in the opposite direction. It was the first time I've summited a hill or mountain above a temperature inversion, and as you can probably tell from the way I'm rambling on about it, it was great!!!! Down the adventure playground was just as much fun, and actually took the same amount of time due to its more technical nature.
The third day was a lengthy, up and down day across undulating terrain across to the otherside of the massif. It was fun, but nothing much exciting happened, so I won't bore you with it. Our fourth day was the climbing down day, which was suprisingly easy, we expected it to be steeper, so we were down off the mountain by nine! However, we still needed to get back to the town of Mulanje, where we were staying. Our guide organised for us some bicycle taxis. This sounds rather cool. In reality, what this involves is sitting on, and clinging to, very, very tightly, a metal pannier rack on the back a rickety old bike, with supsiciously low amounts of air in the tyres, hurtling down-hill on a dusty, gravelly, pot-holled dirt road, trying to not to let the weight of a fully-loaded 65 litre rucksack topple you backwards, avoiding speeding trucks coming the other way. Which actually is rather cool, if a little scary at times. It was great fun. We passed through small African villages, where you are the new attraction in town for all the small children in the playgrounds. Calls of mzungo (white person) were common. And thousands of little faces stared back, and waved back occasionally too. There were also lots of women walking along the track, with various huge cermaic pots, large buckets, big bags of grain, etc. etc. balanced on top of their heads. It felt like a real African experience. I arrived in Phalombe, a little sore from the bumps and waited what seemed like a very long time for Chris and Alex, wondering if they had fallen off or had a close shave with a truck. Turned out that both of their bikes had issues at some point. So it was all ok.
Phalombe is a small "town" and we still needed to get back to Mulanje. For which our guide managed to hail a passing Toyota pick-up truck, a very battered toyota pick-up truck, which was already full of people and their luggage. But we got on anyway and put our big bags on the roof. Alex, Chris and Sh(j)am (the only way I know how to write his name so that it reads phonetically) stood up and clung to a bar behind the cabing, whilst I got a "seat" on the wheel arch, between a woman and baby and back of dried fish that had holes in it. We then stopped and picked up more people, and more, and just when you thought a Toyota pick-up couldn't get any more full of people we added a couple more people, and headed off out of town, down the dirt road (a new one just built and awaiting tarmac so actually quite smooth). We got very very dusty, and roasted under the heat of the sun. But it was a great experience, being crammed into the back of the truck with over ten other Malawians, even sharing a joke or two about the state of my hair, which caused great mirth amongst the Malawians when they realsied I had cottoned on to what they were talking about. The Malawians are a fantastic nationality and incredibly friendly, genuinely so as well, so it was good fun this trip. We then stopped to let someone off, and another two got on, even more cramped!
About half-way we stopped beside a few men hailing the truck, they had a pig, by the side of the road, which obviously needed to be transported to town. So we shifted all of the stuff that was already on the open tailgate into the middle of the truck (somehow) and three men attempeted to load the pig onto the back, with much squealing and thrashing, most of it from the pig. And then tried to cover it in bushes and tie it on to the tuck with a bicycle inner tube and a small length of twine. All of this was such an amusing sight that we almost failed to notice the truck-load of nuns pass the other way, which was almost as bizarre in its own right. The inner tube snapped under too much strain and it was decided to return the pig to the ditch and cover him in branches and let him wait for another truck. Instead deciding to add on board a Slovenian couple who had just emerged from the side of the road, having just descended the mountain (we had stayed in the same hut on our second night), and were in need of a lift. All in all, at this point, we had twenty-three people plus their luggage on board this single toyota pick-up truck. Five in the cab and eighteen in the back. It was insane but hilarious. Anyway we made it back to Mulanje, letting people off as we went and gaining more and more space, and arrived back, dustier, dirtier and sweatier than after any of our day's walking. Having sucessfully demolished half a tub of wet wipes (which didn't really do that much to our overall state of cleanliness) and a large pizza each, we walked the remaining km back to our motel for a well-deserved and thoroughly needed shower.
That night it got very very hazy, and smoky, and hot and humid, visibility was right down to a few tens of metres. And as a result this morning it rained at six, the next morning, which was new, our first of the trip!! Two sudden cloud-bursts and a little drizzle for fifteen minutes, but it was enough to make the very atmospheric Mulanje bus-station and market look completly different the next morning. A strange brown rather than the yellow glow it attained in the late afternoon light. We caught a minibus back to Blantyre, and have had two samosas and a doughnut for both breakfast and lunch today. Woo, variety!
So that's all for now. We've got ourselves back to Blantyre, done some washing, sent some postcards etc etc. We're off to Lake Malawi in a couple of days time. Well, Chris is going tomorrow in order to get on to a PADI course, Alex and I will follow on in two days time, once we've done the Carlsberg brewery tour (kind of an important thing to do we feel). I assume the place we will be staying at will have internet, but it may not do. The place we are going to, Cape Maclear, doesn't have any kind of atm, so other facilities may be limited. All in all, next blog may or may not be a long time coming. Unless of course I get really bored about the same time tomorrow, which is likely.