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Published: March 16th 2010
As I mentioned a few weeks ago I’ve started to spend my weekends visiting some the parts of Malawi I haven’t yet seen. This is for several reasons, because I realized that I’m now most of the way through my time here and I’ve spent most of the time in Blantyre, because I’ve got myself into the habit of not doing as much with my time as I could and not least because I get so very, very bored sat around the house. After looking through guide books and getting advice from everyone, I eventually decided on Zomba for my first trip, I’ve been there twice before but only to the town and never to the plateau 6,000 ft above. Zomba is about an hours bus ride from Blantyre on the way to Mangochi and Monkey bay.
Leaving Saturday morning, I caught the minibus from Limbe. Its funny how the drivers and conductors argue with each other when they’re all trying to get the same fares, especially when it’s about me, I know enough chichewa to know they’re talking about me but not quite enough to know exactly what their talking about. Once in Zomba I got a taxi from the town up to the Sunbird Hotel on the plateau, at least I tried to, about half way up the twisting mountain road, the car ran out of petrol and with the jerry cans empty in the boot we had to go right the way back to the main road to fill up, on the second attempt however we made it all the way to the top. The road up is fantastic, at the moment its undergoing repair, so its reduced to just one lane, but the views are spectacular, even if they are over the edge of hairpin bends with sheers drops and no safety rails, plus there are troops of baboons running along the road.
I stopped for a very pleasant lunch on the balcony of the Sunbird Ku Chawe restaurant, before setting off for an afternoon hike of the plateau. My guide was a guy called Michael (despite my repeatedly telling him that I didn’t want a guide and just few hours hiking on my own, but he was ‘going the same way’) in the end it worked out well, he obviously knew the area and took me to the sights, Williams waterfall, where we met a nice German couple and then up the potato path towards Chingwe hole. The potato path is a tiny footpath running from Zomba town right up and around the plateau, used by the local villages and named after the (yes you’ve guessed it) potatoes growing by the path. The way was hard going, frequently steeply uphill, overgrown, over rocks, and crossing, beside and occasionally down rivers and streams, at times we left the path completely and waded through knee high grass and maize fields in the middle of nowhere, I just had to trust Michael knew his way, which luckily he did. Eventually we got to Chingwe hole, this is a hole sinking into the ground, apparently no-one knows exactly how deep it actually is, it used to be where lepers bodies were thrown and covered with banana leaves to keep the disease contained, now it has trees and plants growing from it so it’s difficult to see how deep it is, but by moving some of the vegetation aside and leaning in I tried to get a few photos anyway. Apart from the hole itself, the spot also has a fantastic view of the district, a few feet from the hole, past a couple of benches, the ground just drops down to give this spectacular view from the plateau right to the Shire River and beyond, pictures really can’t capture the vast landscape or how close to the edge I was when I was standing there. After buying a few of the locally mined rocks the curio guys were selling, we headed back to Ku Chawe where a I called a taxi and said goodbye to Michael.
I stayed that night at Annie’s Lodge just outside of Zomba. The next morning I figured I wouldn’t bother with a taxi as I had time to spare and nothing to do, so started walking back to town to catch the minibus, I eventually made it to the main road, here my usually good sense of direction failed me, I came out further along the road than I thought, so instead of turning left and walking the 10 minutes into town I turned right towards Mangochi Bay. After half an hour of walking it became increasingly obvious it wasn’t the right way (bear in mind my boots were still wet and my feet hurting from the hike) so I had to double back.
I had a good, if expensive weekend (even if I did end up tired, soaked and sun burnt) I don’t think I’ll be traveling every week but every so often should be good. Zomba plateau is good to visit if you don’t mind walking, leave lots of time, the distances on the map are deceptive, otherwise I would suggest staying at the hotel or booking a taxi to take you on the circular road around the plateau. Despite my initial resistance to it, I would suggest getting a guide, the hotel or taxi drivers can suggest a good one, you defiantly get to see more, without I probably would have been quickly lost.
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