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Published: July 29th 2011
Greetings from Blantyre, in the south of Malawi – not the capital, but definitely the biggest commercial centre of the country. Right now I feel slap bang in the lap of luxury, as although the last few days have been just unspeakably amazing (more on that later), it feels great to be back in a bit of civilization – great restaurants, a lovely carpeted hotel with hot (running) water, and an Internet café that works at the speed of lightning – sheer bliss!
But wow – what an amazing few days – I’m struggling to find superlatives in order to be able to describe them accurately enough – hope the pictures attached will provide a thousand words each. Last I wrote I was using a painfully slow computer with painfully slow connection, but in the beautiful lake-side resort of Cape MacClear, and my feet haven’t touched the ground since.
On Tuesday morning I caught another “matola” heading back through the Lake Malawi National Park towards Monkey Bay – fortunately no breakdown this time, but there were 27 of us in the back of the jeep – I didn’t believe it was physically possible to fit so
many bods plus all manner of cargo, including 2 catfish, in such a small space, let alone travel over 30mph along steep, bumpy dust roads, and hold on to tell the tale! After this, a lift with some army personnel (!) and then a minibus to a small settlement called Ulongwe – nothing in itself, but gateway to the stunningly beautiful Liwonde National Park, and the great ecotourism project of the Njobvu Cultural Village.
This latter place I stopped the night in – a great option. For an all-inclusive deal, you get to stay the night in a typical mud-hut in a small village just outside the National Park. Getting there involved a tricky balance on the back of a push-bike, travelling no less than 17km along dirt tracks and dried river beds, with both backpacks in tow – it was tough for me, but I can’t imagine how it was for the bicycle guy… Upon arrival was warmly met by the project manager, Enoch, had lunch made by the women of the village, and a nice tour of the village – involving visiting the local water pump, football ground, and some village huts. A really great experience, and
although the village does receive around 200 visitors per year, I certainly felt like the first white man to have ever set foot in the place – it seems all the village kids turned out to see me and touch me – they especially liked blowing the hairs on my arms, and struggling with each other to hold my hand as we walked around – cute! In the evening the local band and dance troupe (no members seeming older than 15 years old) provided the entertainment, with traditional music and dancing – great stuff!
And the amazing thing was that very night was the village’s most special night of the year – the beginning of the initiation ceremony for the local boys, who upon being circumcised, go off into the bush for a month to learn about being a man – nice! A common, albeit particularly awkward, question the locals asked me was whether I’d been circumcised or not, and whether I had undergone the initiation ceremony back in London… The celebration went on all night, and was still continuing at 6 o’clock in the morning when I woke up – it was due to last again till the
Liwonde National Park
night of the second day!
After a surprisingly good night sleep in the hut, sans electricity or running water, caught another bicycle taxi to the amazing Liwonde National Park nearby, another 6km of balancing on two wheels, including a near crash into a rice field. This is the country’s premier wildlife attraction, and although not blessed with the presence of big game such as lions, leopards, buffaloes and the like, was awesome enough in itself.
The park straddles the Shire River, as it channels the waters from Lake Malawi down towards the mighty Zambezi further south in Mozambique. The placid river is also home to huge populations of crocodiles and hippos, and a river safari taken from the nearby Mvuu Camp gave me a very up-close and personal encounter with these amazing creatures – both two of the most dangerous animals in Africa…! We were also very lucky to encounter a herd of elephants, who were at the river to drink. This safari was just magical, and as well as providing me with some great photos, has also etched a great African experience into my memories of this trip, along with others.
But alas the adventure did not
stop there. Back at the Mvuu Camp, I managed to crash a lift with a visiting group of American Christians from LA (whom I’d previously met in the Korea Garden Lodge back in Lilongwe), who after managing to arrange a petrol fill-up (there is a fuel shortage here at the moment, making petrol rather expensive and in short supply), took me to the nearby town of Liwonde, where I got my next onward transport to the small, prettily-located ex-colonial capital of Zomba.
Not much of a place in itself, with the slowest internet connection I’ve seen since 1999, Zomba sits at the foot of another highlight of Malawi – the Zomba plateau.
After crashing for the night in a nice hotel, though without electricity the first night and running water the next day (all day!), I hitched a ride up to the plateau – standing around 600 metres above the town, 1500m above sea level. Up there it was seriously another world, and upon arranging a guide with the local luxury hotel, I took in the amazing scenery of alpine meadows, pine groves, babbling brooks and shimmering lakes – it was like being in Switzerland, but with brown earth
– another amazing experience.
So, if you haven’t gathered by now, I’m just having the most amazing time at the moment – Malawi is just stunning, exploding in variety and natural beauty, and I definitely recommend it as a place to choose if anyone’s stuck for a country to visit in Africa.
So, two days now to be spent in the luxury of modern civilization, here in Blantyre, before heading westwards towards the Mozambican border and more African adventures from there! Really hoping my travelling jinx of anti-government unrest this year will not follow me further, although I did have a particularly vivid dream of there being protests and stuff while I was in Zimbabwe… You heard it here first (?!)
Thanks for reading, and hope all is well back home or wherever you are reading this message!
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