Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for Malawi

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

15th – 18th December Malawi
Nkhata Bay
The "Soap Dish" - Click to enlargeThe less said about the lake crossing the better! However, I will say that if anyone reading this is thinking that it might be a good idea to follow in our tracks, don’t! At any rate, not across Lake Malawi. Regardless of what any guidebook says (in particular Lonely Planet 2003: Southern Africa) there is currently no passenger ferry crossing from Tanzania to Malawi. Picture 8 hours lying in the bottom of a giant soap-dish, being tossed violently from side to side with no way of even seeing out, and the overpowering stench of diesel…

At Nkhata Bay we found the Butterfly Lodge. It was like a dream! Run by Brits the place had a policy of having a full pot of tea available at all times, and on the night we arrived they were cooking bangers and mash for tea! It really was just what we needed. The atmosphere there was very laid back and the snorkeling was tremendous. We left after three nights, thoroughly pampered (Nick even arranged for me to have a massage, done by a local guy named Isaac. It was good!) and ready to begin travelling again.

18th – 24th December Malawi
Mzuzu – Lilongwe – Blantyre
At Kiboko Camp, Lilongwe - Click to enlargeFrom Nkhata Bay we took a bus to Mzuzu, where we stayed at the Mzuzu zoo backpackers’ hostel. The next day we took a bus on to Lilongwe, singing this song:

It’s a long way to Lilongwe:

It’s a long way to Lilongwe
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long long way to Lilongwe,
But that’s where we’ve got to go!

Goodbye to Mzuzu
Farewell Nkhata Bay
It’s a long long long way to Lilongwe,
But we’ll get there: Lets go!

It was quite a long way to Lilongwe; six hours on a very cramped minibus, but nothing we can’t handle! We travelled with Jannemiek, a Dutch woman who we had met at Nkhata Bay. She was lovely and the children adored her. She also showed us the way to Kiboko Camp, a safe haven where we stayed for a couple of nights in Lilongwe, trying to make plans for Christmas, before heading onwards to Blantyre.

We travelled to Blantyre with Mora, with whom we had shared a dorm at Kiboko (along with Jannemiek, who travelled back to the Netherlands for Christmas). We got most of the way to Blantyre together, but when the bus broke down near the junction with the road going to the Mozambique border we parted company, as Mora’s actual destination was Mozambique, where she works in Xai-Xai with VSO. We said a quick goodbye, wished each other luck, and boarded separate buses.

At Blantyre we stayed at Doogles; apparently the most popular backpackers’ in town, although I found it a bit noisy and rather too full of rich South African ex-pats! The swimming pool was worryingly cloudy, the dorm beds had no nets, but Nick and Tom enjoyed the ‘monster burgers’ served there! We had decided to apply for our visas for Mozambique and then head for Mount Mulanje for Christmas. We did some Christmas shopping at Shoprite, and even bought ourselves a new tent, and set off for Likhubula, at the foot of the mountain, on Christmas Eve.

21st December Malawi
Meeting Santa in Blantyre - Click to enlargeThis entry was extracted from an email sent by Lindsay and Nick and posted by Lindsay’s parents
We are in Malawi for Christmas and New Year and hope to spend the festive season in the Mount Mulanje area. Mulanje is the biggest mountain in Malawi and is reputedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country.

We have emerged in one piece from a nightmarish voyage across the lake aboard a small cargo boat, and Malawi seems like technology heaven! I am emailing from Lilongwe, where they even have a supermarket! As soon as possible after New Year we intend to head for Mozambique. We’ve heard it’s fabulous there on the coast and look forward to some excellent swimming and snorkelling in the Indian Ocean in January. Hmm, life’s tough, isn’t it?!!!

Needless to say, we have met some amazing people over the last few weeks, travellers and local people, and no doubt this will continue to be the case over Christmas and New Year. Of course, no matter how amazing the trip is, or how many good people we meet, we will still be missing family and friends at Christmas, and thinking of you all.
Our Christmas will be just as wonderful in Africa as it would be at home, knowing that our loved ones are thinking of us as we are of them. We are in such a privileged position to be able to be here seeing so much of the world. We make choices and decisions about our lives, and we eat at least one hot meal every day (usually!). We can’t give money to all the people we see, even though they are often truly in need. If, at Christmas, you can help some of them this year, instead of treating us, this would be a very special gift.
Love and Peace to you at Christmas and New Year.

24th – 29th December Malawi
Christmas on Mount Mulanje
Crackers on Christmas Day, Mt. Mulanje - Click to enlargeWe arrived at Likhubula on Christmas Eve in the late afternoon, against a backdrop of the most spectacular mountain scenery, with hundreds of tea-pickers working on plantations below. A group of local young men met us from the pickup, saying that they were porters/guides/general dogsbodies who would help us carry our bags/climb the mountain/buy food etc. We let three of them carry our bags to the forest lodge, where we set up camp. Then they found us some firewood and we arranged for one of them, David, to go and fetch eggs for us in the morning. Another, Peter, said he’d show us to a waterfall where we could swim. We decided we had Christmas ‘all wrapped up’!

WE woke up early in our tent on Christmas morning. It was half past six and the sun was streaming in through the mosquito-netted door. It was a beautiful, mountain-fresh morning. We sat in the tent and opened our presents. Nick and I had wrapped them up sitting outside the night before with a glass of wine, and put them in a large carrier bag full of balloons. This made it look and feel like a big bag of presents. Esther had a wooden carved Noah’s Arc and animals, Tom had a carved crocodile and some clothes, his main present being a watch, which he actually got before Christmas. Nick gave me a small torch and I gave him a carved fisherman to put into the canoe he bought at Nkhata Bay.

The setting was gorgeous! Outside the tent everything was bright and green, as this is the ‘short rains’ season here. The sun was hot by the time we got the fire going in the stove to cook our breakfast, but Christmas breakfast we did have. We each had two eggs, a frankfurter-type sausage and some fried tomatoes, with plenty of tea and ‘Mzuzu coffee’ (Nick is making this filter coffee using a filter in a funnel over a mug!)

It took us a while to get cleared up and ready to go after breakfast, and we left at around midday with Peter as our guide to walk to the waterfall. The walk took about one and a half hours and was hot! Likhubula is around 600m above sea level at the foot of Mount Mulanje. The area is forested and while we were walking we saw beautiful butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars and big giant snails. The walk was quite hard work in the heat – not our typical Christmas afternoon stroll! But it was well worth it. The waterfalls were in a really pretty place with rocks to climb and sit on. The water was cold as it runs directly from the mountains, but was clear and fresh and lovely. We had the daily rain while we were there, although this time it was only a brief shower. I sat on the warm, sun-baked rocks in my swimming costume while the cool rain fell on me and all around. Nick found that some of the rocks where the water ran made a good water slide, and he and Tom had fun there for a while. There were some other travellers there, and we laughed as we wished each other a merry Christmas. It was almost like a joke, an April Fools trick or something to think it was Christmas Day! But what a way to celebrate!

Later, we visited the forest office to arrange a guide and porter to accompany us on our hike in the mountains. We planned to leave on Boxing Day to walk to Chambe Hut. Then walk to Lichenya Hut on the 27th, and return to the lodge on the 28th. Our guide, Wonderford (or Wonder-foot, as we called him), and porter, Edson, were to go with us and stay with us for the duration of our trip.

Back at the lodge we set about making Christmas Dinner. Nick got the fire going wonderfully, and I cooked lots of tinned sausages, instant mashed potato and onion gravy. It was great! We drank rum and coke with our meal (we had bought the rum at Chitikali on our way up) and got quite merry. After dinner Esther was tired and went to bed in her sleeping bag, happy, warm and full. Tom stayed up late and played cards with us. It was a good end to a really wonderful day; a Christmas to remember in years to come!

Hiking on Mount Mulanje

On Boxing Day we walked from Likhubula forest Lodge to Chambe Hut. It was the beginning of a three-day expedition. Edson and Wonderford carried our bags, which contained our sleeping bags, changes of clothes and food for the three days, as well as their own stuff (hardly anything!) We set off, climbing fairly steeply to begin with, and it was quite hard. The route took us seven hours instead of the four hours they say it should take. We stopped for plenty of rests, usually by streams where we could drink the fresh mountain water. At one of these there was a pool which I swam in. The water was cool and refreshing (Nick adds: I had a fag!).

Unfortunately, immediately after that the weather turned. We had expected some rain as usual in the afternoon, but the weather on the mountain is far less predictable and can be far more severe. It poured! Suddenly the day, which had been hot, turned chilly and extremely wet. The children had raincoats which were quickly soaked through, but Nick and I had nothing waterproof, not having been able to find anything suitable in Blantyre. The rain went on and on. At times it was quite dramatic: heavy rain accompanied by rolls of thunder which went on all around us high in the mountains. The guides took turns carrying Esther up the mountain, as well as our bags, but not walking she became very cold, so, when the path flattened out a bit, we made her walk the last few kilometers.

We were all very glad to arrive at the hut. There were, to our surprise, six people already there, so there was a fire already roaring and a welcome waiting. Water was soon boiled for us to make hot drinks, and we warmed up quickly. Drying out was a different matter, as everything was soaked. We set up a couple of lines and managed to get our trusty sleeping bags dry. While the kids made friends with our housemates for the night, I cooked pasta and soya mince over the open fire. The hot food tasted fantastic, and we went to bed in front of the fire.

On day two we walked from Chambe Hut to Lichenya Hut. We had decided to try to walk as far as possible before the afternoon rains arrived, so we ate our porridge and set off by nine o clock, wearing our damp clothes. The walk to Lichenya was absolutely beautiful. The path went up and down, over ridges and through valleys, and all the time we were rewarded with magnificent views of the mountain peaks which surrounded us. At Lichenya Plateau we were at a height of 2000m. We sat to rest on a big rock while clouds rolled past. Sometimes we were inside the clouds, the moist mist surrounding us and making everything mysterious, like in Lord of the Rings! When we saw Edson putting his watch in a plastic bag we knew it was a bad sign, and surely enough the rain came. It was not as wet as the first day, though, and the rain stopped after a while. The last stretch, to the hut itself, took us down a long, steep descent, made wet and slippery by the rain. It was hard work and took about one and a half hours. The worst part was knowing that we would have to climb it again in the morning as we had passed the junction leading back to Likhubula at the top.

Lichenya Hut was gorgeous! It was quite a large and substantial wooden building. Not really a hut at all! There were two big rooms downstairs, each with a fireplace, and a platform like a hay-loft with a ladder, where we slept. There was no running water but the caretaker heated a big bucket of water for us to wash in. We stood behind a hedge and scrubbed off the grime, while the fire heated the house. Then I cooked our meal, tuna and pasta. It was so good to cook over the open fire in the hut, alongside the guides, who were preparing their meal of nsima (maize porridge) and dried fish We spent the evening chatting with them and sharing a small bottle of brandy which we had brought (and Edson had carried!). There was a ‘bau’ board there. Tom has learnt to play this traditional African game, and is quite good at it! Wonderford still beat him, though, but offered to make a board especially for him when we returned to Likhubula.

Lichenya really had a ‘wilderness’ feel about it. The view from our loft window was truly beautiful to wake up to. The wild and peaceful mountain landscape, miles from anywhere with no-one anywhere around, was awesome. We could have stayed there for a week, climbing the various peaks surrounding the hut. Wonderford even said it was possible – he would have run down to Likhubula for supplies and returned to us the next day, but we stuck to our plan, and walked on.

The weather didn’t look too promising at the outset, with a lot of cloud about, but the rain held off for a few hours at least. The journey back up to the junction was relived but not as unpleasant as we had feared. What was tough was the long, hard descent in the rain! As the downward climb went on and on, we were amazed at how far up we had come. The going was slippery underfoot, and Tom fell heavily on his bum and hurt his back. He was rather miserable for a while, but soldiered on. Esther fell lots of times and gradually covered her legs with bumps and scrapes, and Nick and I went down once or twice, too. We passed through lots of forested areas that were lovely and green and peaceful, climbed across swollen streams, marveled at monster-sized snails and millipedes, and were amazed at the amount of fragrant smells in the woods. Once the main descent was over, it still felt like a long walk to the lodge. We were thoroughly wet and exhausted by the time we arrived there. However we were rewarded on the way down when we spotted a troup of baboons in the trees on either side of the path. They sat in the trees and looked at us, made baboon noises to each other, or ran off up the hill.

Back at base camp, we all had cup-a-soup while we queued for the bath, and I made the guide and porter a cup of tea. They had been fantastic, and great company too!

We were tired, damp and somewhat irritable that evening, but with an underlying sense of achievement. What a wonderful way to spend Christmas, and what amazing kids we have!

30th December Malawi
Nick's report on Mount Mulanje
The diary entry has explained our adventurous journey up Mount Mulanje. What I would like to add to this episode within our trip through Africa, is just how much these guides and porters love their mountain. They truly want the rest of the world to come and have a great experience on the mountain. On our three day guided walk Wonderford and I talked about how the paths and amenities for tourists are maintained, as even though we had expected it there were few for the tourists and even less for the guides, porters and watchmen stationed up the mountain for weeks on end. I also asked if there was any form of club or association concerned with the upkeep of this natural place. This was a subject he was passionate about and he explained to me how he was the Chairman for the Committee of The Mount Mulanje Guide and Porters Association. He said this was where guides and porters were able to discuss, once a month, issues concerning the mountain's preservation but also (to my surprise) the needs of the people who live and work on the mountain. Simple things like blankets for personnel and huts for them to sleep in when guiding. For example Wonderford said the toilets we are using at Chambe are only a season old and built by them out of materials they have supplied themselves. They do have small revenue from donations contributed by nice tourists but there is not enough for better facilities for the watchmen on the mountain, they sleep on wet floors and are warmed by a fire in the middle of a shack. But they still were able to treat us with kindness and courtesy which touched me especially when we got to the first hut tired and wet. I feel it is important to note people trying to make a special place remain so. While we talked Wonderford promised me he would give me some details about the association and true to his word, he produced a hand written management plan with subscription info and bank details. I have copied the document he gave me word for word so as there is a permanent record of what these people would like to achieve.

The Mount Mulanje Tour Guides and Porters Association

The Central Executive Commitee,
PoBox 50,
Central Africa.

Aims and objectives of the association

To act as a body which groups all self-employed tourist guides/porters operating on Mulanje Mountain

To enforce norms of conduct of all tour guides operating on Mulanje Mountain

To protect the interest of all tour guides operating on Mount Mulanje and assist its members in their effort to provide their services effectively and efficiently

To promote tour guiding on Mulanje Mountain and encourage visitors to make tours on this beautiful Massif

To arrange training for the members of the association

There is a membership fee of K50.00 ( 0.34 pence) per member that is paid in one or two instalments in the first half of the calendar year or within two months of joining the association

Committee or Board of the association

Chairman: Wonderford Mmambo - Likhubula Station

Vice Chairman: Patrick Mallina - Lujeri Station

Secretary: Steven Juma - Thuchila Station

V. Secretary: Mr. Simbwani - Fortlister Station

Treasurer: Sikilani Iron - Likhubula Station

The committee has trustees or advisors of the association

Board of the association address or account number

Account Name: Mulanje Mountain Tour Guides association, Box 50 Mulanje
Account Number: 0133075494300
Bank Details:
National Bank of Malawi,
Mulanje Branch,
PO Box 19

We have banked a small amount of money, but not catered for the following projects

Tasks on Mulanje Mountain proposed

Conserving Wildlife

Maintaining bridges, toilets, paths and bathrooms

Building porter's houses and watchmen's houses

To provide porters blankets, mats and cooking facilities

We also ask tourists to take part on these tasks when possible

Many thanks from your friend Wonderford

So thats it! This action plan, come information document (well actually it was a note), is a fine example of the effort these people are putting into the conservation of their wonderful mountain. They would really appreciate some contact from any climbing clubs from around the world and even better a visit from willing travellers. Malawi has a lot to offer and this place is one of the best by far.

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