The Zomba Plateau

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Africa » Malawi » Southern » Zomba
February 4th 2019
Published: February 13th 2019
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The drive up to Zomba was pretty straight forward but we missed a turn that would have avoided the painful process of crawling through Limbe. On our way we stopped off at the rather out-of-place Dong Jing Fo Tang Buddhist temple.This was a mere dot on Google Maps and it was certainly off the beaten track as even when we were a mere 200m away on the dirt road, nobody we asked knew of it! The temple was naturally very reminiscent of our Asia travels, and it would appear to be a home for orphaned and abandoned children, although they have not been converted into novice monks. There was not a saffron robe in sight. It did make for an intriguing side trip along the way though.

In Zomba the backpackers lodge we wanted to stay at was full. That came as a bit of a surprise but we were not disappointed by the quality of our stay at the new Fair Hills Guest House. Staying there without a car would not have been possible as it is located several miles out of town just off the road to Blantyre. Once again our rented saloon car had to negotiate some pretty tough terrain! The views from the guesthouse are amazing. Being out of town it kind of forced us to eat there in the evenings as there is nothing else around and, of course, there is no lighting so driving on the roads would be very dangerous. It's hard enough to see those potholes during daylight hours! There were two negatives with the accommodation. First the advertised free wifi didn't materialise as the owner insisted we needed a SIM card with a different network. What that has to do with wifi is beyond us! Then, they tried to charge us about $12 a head for the chicken we ate one night, a meal that would have cost $4 anywhere else. We argued and got a reduction but it left a bitter taste in the mouth.

The town of Zomba has an air of decay about it. As a former capital city, we had expected a little bit more. It's clearly been a while since there was any investment there. One notable exception is the African Heritage Cafe in an outbuilding of the golf club. The mango juice was lovely and the coffee divine! Their food was fabulous too. It demonstrates that wonderful things can be achieved with a little effort. We had quite the opposite experience when we visited the Commonwealth War Graves which were in a sorry state. The same could be said about the Hotel Masongola. Billed as THE place to stay in town we found it a little decrepit and not very welcoming at all.

The main reason for visiting Zomba is to go up the Zomba Plateau and do a bit of walking. Sadly the weather was always going to be a factor but we chanced our luck and drove up. The reservoir was veiled in a spooky mist making it quite atmospheric. Then we popped into the Sunbird hotel hoping they might be able to arrange a day trip around the plateau. This exclusive hotel had exclusive prices way beyond what we were prepared to pay so we had a look around to see what we were missing out on. The views from the garden terrace are absolutely breathtaking. What the website doesn't tell you though is the amount of disruption due to the building of a swimming pool. I should say that view is breathtaking once you look beyond the construction work!! There is also no mention of the countless wood carving souvenir shacks that you must run the gauntlet of passing by either.

We managed to find somewhere to park the car close to the paths that lead down to the old trout farm. A few kilometres climb later and we were standing by the picturesque William's Falls. Along the way we had encountered people carrying large amounts of wood on their heads, mostly women and girls. As we ventured further up onto the plateau it became clear why. Despite being a national park deforestation is rampant. We saw scenes of devastation which were actually slightly upsetting. There were glorious parts of the walk too, and we are pleased we made the effort, but we fell short of making it to the viewpoints as the cloud came down again and we decided it was better to head back. On the way down we stopped at another track and got some better views, feeling slightly guilty at not having stopped to buy a kilo of potatoes from one of the many vendors, but what would we have done with them anyway?! As well as potatoes, there were people selling all manner of berries and fruit, but in quantities we just couldn't buy. In the dry season you could spend all day up on the plateau. Maybe we should come back one day!!

One final piece of amusement was as we left Zomba. We had seen a sign saying Military Museum. We drove up to it only to be stopped by a very friendly soldier. The museum was not yet operational. You'd have thought that putting up the road signs would be the final act once it was open for business. They wouldn't even allow us to take photos of the tanks outside the building which will house the museum. State secrets? Who knows!!!

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14th February 2019

So many temples so little time. Thanks for providing all the details of the road conditions. We may never make it to Malawi so I'm glad you are taking us along. MJ

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