Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for December 03

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

1st December Tanzania
Journey to Matema Beach
The journey to Matema Beach was an adventure in iteself! We needed to catch a bus to Kyela, where we planned to find out more about the ferries on Lake Nyasa before going on by whatever transport presented itself to Matema. Mini-buses leave Mbeya for Kyela on a fill-up-and-go basis, and one was full-up-and-ready-to-go, but they insisted they had enough space for us and our bags and levered us on anyway. I was shown to a seat near the back which already appeared to have someone on it. Pointing this out made no difference, and it turned out that I was supposed to squeeze myself, with Esther on my lap, into about 3 inches of space between two people. Tom sat in a similar ‘space’ in front of me and Nick stood, his head on one side as he was too tall to stand straight. The journey to Kyela was 2-3 hours. After 2 hours some people got off and we had more space, but then we had to change buses. The next bus was also very full, and the boot wouldn’t close with our bags inside, so they tied it up with a bit of rope. Luckily the bags didn’t fall out!

As we travelled the countryside changed. We climbed steadily higher into the mountains, although Mbeya is quite high itself. The landscape was very green and crops included corn, bananas and tea. We bought some bananas from a lady selling them through the window; the small, sweet African kind (Nick adds: the bananas, that is!).

By the time we arrived at Kyela we were hot, sticky, dusty and bedraggled! We were still about 45km from Matema. We went to find info about ferries, but found that this was limited to a chap who said they left on Thursdays!

Various vehicles claimed to be going to Matema. A highly overloaded pickup truck was leaving any minute. A lorry taking passengers as well as goods was filling up to go, and a bus driver also said he was going there. We chose the bus which, it transpired, was only going as far as Ipinda, 27km from Matema and 10km from Kyela along a dirt track. We got on the bus, but then had to wait about an hour in the sticky heat until it was full enough to go. Here we learnt an important lesson about travel in Africa. As Tom puts it: “always choose the fullest possible vehicle, or you’ll have to wait until it is as full as possible before it will leave”. Actually, we don’t think that there is a Swahili translation for the word ‘full’!

After an uncomfortable journey we arrived at Ipinda and were met by a sort of welcome committee! It was about 6pm and we were getting pretty nervous about the onward journey, as it would be in the dark. We thought about staying in Ipinda. The village, although fairly remote, had a post office, some bars, a market and, we found, some guest rooms behind the post office, for people who had no choice but to stay! Accommodation was cheap but hot and unpleasant and had ground floor windows through which small children peered at us as we looked around. We decided not to stay there, and plumped for making the trip to Matema, albeit after dark.

A gathering crowd of men and children followed us down the street as we discussed the possibilities. Then we met a friendly looking man called Byrton, and he helped us! A man with a pickup was assigned to drive us to Matema, and, after a little more waiting around, we set off, waving goodbye to the crowd of gathered spectators and bracing ourselves for an hour and a half of rattling around in the back of the truck. The ride was rough and rocky, but more fun than the sardine-tin buses, and we made it to the Matema Lutheran Centre at about 8.00pm.

1st - 10th December Tanzania
Matema Beach
Lindsay and Esther canoeing at Matema Beach - Click to enlargeThe staff at the Matema Lutheran Centre simply have to be some of the most wonderful people in the world! We arrived intending only to stay for a couple of nights, but couldn’t bring ourselves to leave so soon and ended up staying an extra week!

Our “room” was a little chalet on the beach, built of brick with a thatched roof. We had four wooden beds with nets. The beach at Matema, the Northern tip of Lake Nyasa / Lake Malawi, is a long sweeping stretch of shingle, dotted with trees. At times the waves from the lake beat against the shore so that it was hard to believe we were not at the seaside, and at times it was perfectly calm and quiet. The weather was hot but, as it was the beginning of the rainy season, there was usually a shower each afternoon, and at night the lake was lit up spectacularly by electric storms. We had to agree with the ‘Lonely Planet’ writer who called Matema “the kind of place you could settle into for a while”. It really was a gorgeous place, made all the more special by being so remote. The Lutheran Centre look forward to the day when they will have the benefits of a surfaced road and mains electricity, but we were secretly glad to have been there before any of that arrived.

Really, though, it was the people who made our stay fantastic. Pastor, and manager of the centre, Ipyana, and his staff, made us feel so welcome and so safe there. We had never experienced such warmth and hospitality, and we doubt we’ll find it anywhere else in the world. Our decision to stay beyond the few days we had intended was fuelled by Ipyana’s initial friendliness and genuine warmth. We chatted with him about our visions of what a lakeside paradise should be, and he did everything in his power to make it happen for us. The result was a close relationship forming between us and all the staff, who were relaxed, open people, and there were tears in a few eyes, including our own, when we sailed out of the bay ten days later. Leah and Janet, who worked in the kitchen, welcomed Esther to help with the breakfast, lunch and dinner preparation every day. We never had to worry about where the children were – they would be chatting or playing with or ‘helping’ the staff. Michael, the chef, cooked us the most incredible buffet-style meals. If we so much as enquired about the availability of certain foods, they would miraculously appear on the table the following evening, and there was always so much food that even Nick had to admit defeat! In the evenings we relaxed with Ipyana and chatted about Tanzania and ‘put the world to rights’.

We asked whether it would be possible to have a barbecue on the beach one night. Ipyana insisted that if a barbecue was to be done, it would be his chef, Michael, who would do it! We said, in that case, would you and all your staff please join us, so that we can all eat together and enjoy each other’s company? The result was a big party on the beach, which happened on the night of the full moon. The Youth Choir lent their two guitars for the event and we played and sung around the fire with other guests as well as staff. It was magic!

I will always be grateful to everyone there for the genuine care they showed me when touched by malaria during our stay at Matema. Uncertain of the precise symptoms to look out for, I did not realise that my general tiredness and sore throat might be the onset of the dreaded disease, and by the time alarm bells rang for me I had a high temperature and needed treatment quickly. It was late at night, but Nick was able to find Ipyana, who walked with me to the nearby mission hospital. I was weak and dizzy, but he saw to it that I was treated promptly and properly. I became very sick during the night and, by morning, was dehydrated. Then I was admitted to the hospital and put on a drip. Again Ipyana came with me. He wheeled me to my bed in a wheelchair and saw to it that someone, either himself or a member of his staff, remained by my side until I was discharged 24 hours later. In the evening Michael came to see me to find out what I would like to eat. I did not feel hungry but felt that I had better eat something, so I asked for a little rice. An hour or so later a tray arrived, filled with little dishes of different foods to try to tempt me into eating! In the centre was a whole pineapple with the flesh cut up inside. It is an image I’ll never forget! They sat and watched, pleased, while I ate and regained strength, and remained with me all night long while I slept. In the morning Tom and Esther came along the beach to the hospital to see me. I was still weak, but ready to go back to my bed in the chalet. I was discharged, Ipyana helped me to my feet, and we all walked together back along the beach.

While at Matema we went on two guided walks. One was a trip to a place at the river where we hoped to see crocodiles, and the other to a waterfall. The crocodile walk was nice, but the crocs had other ideas! We saw a fleeting glimpse (we think) of a couple of babies making their escape into the water, but that was all. The waterfall walk, though, was fantastic! Ipyana had estimated that the walk would take about 2-3 hours. He lied! Also, we had not expected our ‘walk’ to mean a tough scramble up the rocky river bed! It took us around three hours to get to the waterfall, with our guide, Baraka, carrying Esther most of the way. When we reached the river the path disappeared, and we made our way along the rocks, often climbing along ledges on the steep sides of the gully. The mountainside was forested and there was quite a lot of dense vegetation to get through, where we had to deal with millions of red ants. Nick and Tom had not worn suitable footwear for such a scramble, being unaware in advance of what was required, and they both fell a few times before we arrived. It was worth it, though. The waterfall falls from high, high up a cliff face into a large, deep pool. Swimming there was wonderful. We dived off the rocks into the cool water and, with Baraka’s help, climbed up under the waterfall and stood while the water hammered down on us with all its force. Then we sat on the rocks and talked before setting off to trek back the way we had come.

We decided (reluctantly) to leave Matema by taking the ferry to Itungi. We saw the small boat, the MV Iringa, make its way across the bay on the Tuesday afternoon, making its journey South. We hurried along the beach to try to catch it to ask at what time it would come back along the shore the following day. We were not quick enough, but I did manage to talk to some men who remained on the beach, who told me the approximate time (in Swahili time, which is another story). I thought I had understood, thanked them and set off back to where I had left Nick and Esther, unable to keep up. On the strength of this information we packed in the morning and waited, accompanied by Ipyana, Baraka, Andrew the security guard, and a few others who stationed themselves on the beach to help us to watch for the boat in the distance. They all insisted that there was no need to actually go until we saw it on the horizon. When the boat was spotted we all set off. No-one would hear of us carrying our own bags, and, to begin with, Janet even carried Esther, until Baraka came by on his bike and gave her a lift. It was a brisk half-hour walk along the track that runs paralel to the beach, but we reached the point where the ferry comes in with plenty of time to spare. It was not easy to say goodbye, as they helped us up the wobbly ladder onto the busy ferry with all our bags. There was much hugging and shaking of hands, and it was with great sadness that we waved goodbye to our “relatives” at Matema, standing in the sunshine on the beach.

Stay in touch, Ipyana!

11th December Tanzania
Lake Malawi/Nyassa
Nick admires the view  from the deck of MV Songea - Click to enlargeThis entry was extracted from a letter sent by Lindsay and Nick and posted by Lindsay’s parents
We are aboard the MV Songea travelling from Itungi at the northern end of Lake Malawi to Mbamba Bay on the eastern side – a journey of 18 hours. We have two cabins on the first class deck – not that posh, and the lights aren’t working. It is very hot especially in the cabins. We have a view of the Livingstone Mountains which is one of the main reasons for making the journey by boat. It is pretty dramatic with the mountains rising steeply from the lake.
We spent the past 10 days at Matema Beach at the northern tip of the lake. It is very remote and beautiful with a long sweep of golden sand, the mountains rising to the east and the lake stretching to the horizon. At Matema, we were taken care of by some of the loveliest people you could meet (although we have met many lovely people in Tanzania, these were special!) I had a touch of malaria while we were there and had to spend 24 hours in the mission hospital but, for the whole time, someone sat by my bed and waited for me to get better. They cared so much, as if I was a dear friend or family member.
We left Matema yesterday to catch a small local ferry to Itungi and a party of six people walked the 2 Kms down to the beach with us and waited to wave us off.
From Mbamba Bay we plan to travel to Malawi, having spent longer in Tanzania than the original plan. Some of the cargo in this boat is destined for Malawi so a boat should be waiting for it. Hopefully, they won’t mind us coming along too!
There is a wildfire on the side of one of the mountains we are passing now. It looks just like a strip of fire along the ridge, and in the evening light stands out like glowing embers. There are some villages along the lakeshore that must be cut off from the world except by dugout canoes. How incredible to be so remote.
We have just had our first stop at a small place called Cape Kaiser. The boat stopped for an hour and throughout that time the water around us has been filled with people selling fruit and fish and other things. Some in canoes, others wading up to their chests carrying trays above their heads.
The lights are working now, I’m off to read a book.

12th - 14th December Tanzania
Mbamba Bay
On the MV Songea - Click to enlargeThe voyage with the MV Songea was comfortable, exciting and generally enjoyable. Even when the water was quite rough, the boat coped well and steered its way with ease. Tom made friends with the crew and spent much of his time on the bridge, chatting with the captain and being in charge of the horn! We ate very well from the ship’s kitchen; chicken, meat and ugali or rice were always available. Probably due to the wind and waves, we arrived in Mbamba Bay several hours later than planned. The 17 hour trip ended up taking about 26 hours.

Mbamba Bay is a small place and is very remote. The journey from there to Songea, the nearest town of any size, takes about six hours by road, and the village relies heavily on the boat to bring in supplies. We stayed at the Nyasa View Lodge, which was basic but clean-ish, and they had electricity for a few hours each evening, when they turn the generator on. Otherwise the whole place is cut off in every sense.

We visited the port office on arrival and made friends with Samuel, who didn’t work there, but had sort of self-appointed himself as our guide and helper for the duration of our stay. He was a very sweet, well-educated, middle-aged man who seemed to have nothing much to do except await Songea passengers and welcome them to his town in any way possible. For the three days we were there he took care of everything, arranging our transport out of Tanzania on the Big Boss, (a small and highly unsuitable cargo boat), organising our liaison with the immigration officer (another man who cannot have had much to do!), even going shopping for our lunch for us! Of course we gave him the shillings we had left for his troubles, but it was only a few quid. He was very grateful, although we felt rather apologetic as it was so little. We felt rather sad for Samuel.

Having looked over the Big Boss and met her captain, we sat down to wait for our chance to ‘escape from Mbamba Bay’! We had the distinct feeling of being stranded there. In many ways the place was a traveller’s dream. Completely remote, peaceful and beautiful, we could have stayed there for ages and never have been ‘found’ by anyone from our world. The food at the lodge was OK and we had a steady supply of mangoes, bananas, coconuts and bread from the local children, who found us delightful as a steady source of small change! The people there were friendly and, if curious, also cautious. They treated us with the usual dignified reserve of Tanzanians. And the setting was superb; a wide, sweeping sandy bay backed by tall coconut palms and hills covered with enormous boulders. But we had spent two weeks already on the lake and were ready to move on, and to return to “civilization” (ie: a choice of foods to eat, rather than just what was supplied, shops which sold things like shampoo, mains electricity and perhaps even an internet café!)

An image that will always stay with me is at the beach, when I took the children swimming on our first full day at Mbamba Bay. There was a group of boys washing and playing in the water when we arrived. Although people there were generally used to seeing the odd intrepid traveller getting off the Songea, I think white children were something of a novelty. When Tom and Esther stripped to their underwear and splashed into the water, all the local children scrambled out of the water and back into their clothes, and formed a long line of spectators behind me on the beach. I felt a bit uncomfortable with them all sitting behind me, so I shuffled backwards to sit with them. Two or three small boys got up and ran away, but soon those who were left started chatting to me, trying out their English and laughing at my attempts at Swahili. Later some of those children played on the beach with ours, and we felt we had ‘made contact’.

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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