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Published: June 23rd 2010
Tenley and the juju
As we were walking through a village in Nchenachena, Tenley picked up this chameleon. Immediately the Malawian men that were walking behind us shrieked and ran away...lots of people are scared of them here.
Tuesday March 30th I met Tenley in Mzuzu and we stayed at the CCAP Resthouse. It is a relatively inexpensive dorm-like place to stay near the bus depot. We thought it would be easy to get to Nchenachena and start our hike after that the following day - this was a mistake.
We should have stayed in Nchenachena and started our hike early in the morning since the first hike is without passing any water AND is about 8 hours. We got to Nchenachena via a bus and a matola and didn't actually start our hike until sometime between 10 and 11. Dan was our guide - he works for Wildlife and Forestry in Malawi. He was awesome. We carried our own packs for the hike, filled with food and cooking materials. I've never done anything like it. The first day hiking was very difficult - I am not going to lie - but when we finally made it to our campsite near a stream/waterfall I was willing to skip dinner and go straight to sleep. We got into camp just when the sun was going down, and barely managed to clear the field next to the stream, set up
our tents and collect firewood before it was completely dark.
Thursday was better. We left our little stream in the morning, and it was COLD. I had not packed any sort of jacket so I was FREEZING. The entire place was covered in a mist for the first hour or so of our hike until we managed to get back to one of the roads (most of our hiking had very little trails, and it made me so happy when we managed to find a poachers trail even if I was nervous about coming across poachers in the wildlife park). We hiked for quite a while on the road, and often came across wildlife such as antelope or baboons. We arrived at our second campsite in Juniper Forest around lunch time, and that was great (better than arriving at night). It was probably my favorite campsite because it was just near a river but also a few hundred meters from one of the few surviving Juniper forests around. Tenley, Dan and I cooked lunch, played cards, and hung out around the fire. We took a stole through the forest before it got dark, and just chilled out after a
2 days of hiking.
We left early Friday morning and left Juniper Forest. The beginning of the hike had a trail, but then we took a few shortcuts that involved wading through grass much taller than me - which I never liked doing. There were some spectacular views though. Dan was a real champion and kept creating trails by either throwing is rifle on the giant grass and then stomping on it so we could pass over it, or by hacking it down with his ponga knife.
Our camp that night was also cool. It was near the Rumphi River and just after a random bridge. Dan had cleared the way for us again and set up the campsite in the amount of time it took Tenley and I to get our tent up. After eating lunch we again just played cards and chatted about other PCVs that have hiked Nyika and the routes they took.
We started off early enough on Saturday. We passed through some magnificent forests before we approached a large grassland. The yellow grass was about 3-4 feet high, interspersed with large grey boulders. I barely made it 1 hour before the coffee
kicked in and I HAD TO GO. I met up with Dan and told him I needed to "kusamba manja" (wash my hands = use the toilet) and he and Tenley agreed they'd wait for me behind the trees about 200 meters ahead.
Now those who know me understand that I have what I like to call a 'healthy respect' for wildlife, and since I was wading through waist-high grass my primary concern was black mambas. Therefore I dropped my bag and only proceeded about 3 meters from the road to a small flattened area (the grass was probably flattened by sleeping kudu or something the night before). I finished, stood up and heard something moving about 5 feet behind me in the grass. I fumbled while buttoning my trousers (walking away from the noise, remember because I RESPECT wildlife) and prayed it was a bird. I then saw the grass move and SPOTS.
Initial thought: Hyenas. I figured they probably don’t hang out alone. So, while simultaneously scanning the grass for movement, backing away toward the road and making a noise sounding something like 'EEEEEEEEE", the movement in the grass increased and took off (thankfully) in the
The deforestation is evident at the borders of the park.
opposite direction. It was at this point that I realized that what had been hanging out just a short distance from me in the grass while I was 'taking care of business' was not a hyena but A LEOPARD. Needless to say I also took off towards the road, picked up my bag and booked it to Dan (who has a rifle and ponga knife) all the time wondering why the only sound I made was a pathetic "EEE".
When I got to Tenley and Dan, out of breath and doubled over, it took them some time to get the story out of me, but even longer for them to believe me. Once they did, Dan assured me that leopards rarely attacked people, just children. Either way, my respect for wildlife only increased and I stuck to Dan the rest of the hike.
We hiked up to Fingera Rock and got to see some human bones and rock paintings. It was a beautiful view, and I managed to get up there without much trouble so most people can probably do it. There is the option of scaling the entire rock, but Tenley and I didn't do it. We
thought about camping near the rock at another cave that has water, but decided to power through to a river that is closer to the boarder of the park...That was my least favorite campsite. Tenley had fallen into a pig hole and turned her ankle, and we were camped on the side of a giant hill. The 'river' was soo grassy that you couldn't even see it, and I was still afraid of the leopards out in the bush. I went to bed restless and ready to be on my way the next morning.
Easter Sunday we spent hiking out of the park. Sometime after lunch we made it to a small village on the outside of the park and managed to hitch a ride to Bolero. From there we got a matola through Rumphi to Mzuzu, were we stayed again at the CCAP Resthouse. I was tired, blistered and smelled awful, but I believe Nyika was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
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