Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Travels in Malawi

This website will be a flurry of activity over the next week or two, as I attempt to catch up with everything that has happened while I've been on vacation.

My sister Miriam visited me for a much-too-short 10 days over the holidays. I am really blessed to have two incredible, cool sisters, and it was so great to get to share a bit of my life with Miriam.

Unfortunately we had a late start getting off on our travels, as we were still waiting for the paperwork on our car to be finalized when she arrived (every Malawian we asked said "Oh, it takes less than a day." I will tell you more about Malawi time and what that means on another day). Suffice it to say, when we took matters into our own hands, we were able to resolve everything within 45 minutes, and hit the road.

We spent 3 days driving down to the South of the country and back, visiting Zomba, Mt. Mulanje, and Blantyre.

Zomba is a shady, green city that was once the colonial capital of Malawi. It still retains many of its beautiful old brick buildings and charm. Rising over the town is the Zomba Plateau, a massive edifice with its own completely separate ecosystem. Driving up, we bought passionfruit, rhubarb, and peaches - all treats in this tropical country. We had lunch at the Ku Chawe Inn, an old hotel perched on the lip of the plateau, then hired a guide to walk us to a nearby waterfall. We literally walked up a dirt road for 20 minutes until we came to a sign saying "Waterfall," so I'm thinking the guide was a bit superfluous.

On the next day, we drove a few more hours south to Mulanje, where the third-highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Mulanje, is located. Dutifully following our guidebook, we drove past all the whistling would-be touts on our way to the forestry station. Upon reaching a detour sign, we thought it would be best to stop to make sure the road was OK. It seems that the recent rains had washed out the bridge ahead, so we went ahead and hired another local guide to take us to, well, another waterfall. It could be that this was all a scam to keep us from getting to the official government guides, but it all worked out I suppose.

This was no easy stroll through the woods. We walked for 90 minutes solidly uphill, in very high heat. I didn't think my legs were going to hold out. In the end, I copped out about 50 feet away from the waterfall, as getting to it entailed scrambling over a bunch of boulders, and I suspected that once I got down, I'd never get back up again. I blamed a dodgy tummy, but the truth is that I have gotten so out of shape since Hurricane Katrina canceled my very first attempt at a 5K race over a year ago. But it was a hell of a hike, too.

The exertion left me with a splitting migraine, so I had to stay home in bed while Miriam and Jorge went out to the best restaurant in the country, a steakhouse with the best filet mignon.

On the third day we did a bit of shopping in Blantyre, then drove back to Lilongwe, stopping in the town of Dedza, where there is a nice cafe and pottery shop.


Jesse said...

I am so glad you have this little home on the web, and I followed your path and created one too! I'm especially delighted to see all the pictures of you and your loved ones (hi Jorge and Miriam!).

My travel plans are finally in the year they'll be inacted. I won't be anywhere near you until...2009. Seriously. I am insane. But knowing you, you'll still be in some amazing place - and I WILL come visit!

Love ~ Jesse