November 13-16, 2008
From Cape Maclear we headed south. It was another 2 days of driving – things are even slower in Malawi. We took a break for the night in Zomba, the old capital, and by the second day we reached our destination: Mulanje. On the way we sat next to a police man who asked us if we can help him join the US army. And we also spoke with a priest who helped set up an orphanage in Blantyre (though from what he described some of these orphans have parents, so maybe we didn’t get the full picture).
Mulanje is the largest town next to the biggest mountain in Malawi: Mount Mulanje. We came here to get a dose of hiking in, and also in hopes of finding cooler weather at higher altitudes. We hired a guide (Lerson), we packed some supplies, and we settled into the Mulanje View Motel for the night. Funny thing – it was actually cheaper for us to take two single rooms than a single double room. We tried to point this out and to get them to reduce the rate for the double room, but they wouldn’t budge. So we went with two single rooms. Don’t worry – our relationship is fine 🙂
While we relaxed that evening we met a Danish couple who just returned from their hike up the mountain. They both work in the travel business and they booked an all-inclusive trip for their short vacation. They wanted to make some changes, to return to Blantyre a day early, and this turned out to be a huge headache. They spent 3 hours trying to contact a certain guy to approve their ride (a ride that only costs $3 / person, BTW). We thought it was ridiculous, and it reinforced our belief that it’s better to plan less.
The next morning we were off.
First day: going up
We got started at 6 AM, walking through the tea plantations at the base of the mountain:
The temperatures were cool for a short while, but things changed quickly. By 7 AM we were sweating hard and going up some steep inclines:
There’s a local tree that bears fruit called “masuku”. We’ve never seen it before, but we tried some of these fruit along the way and they were pretty good:
There’s not a whole lot of flesh to eat between the skin and the huge seeds, but what flesh you do find is very sweet.
Mulanje is not a single peak (like Fuji) but rather a small group of mountains. Eventually we reached the top of a ridge and entered a large plateau between the mountain peaks. There was even a small air field in this plateau. Lerson said that the very wealthy take flights up here instead of climbing up. Not us.
After about 5 hours we reached the CCAP hut, one of several huts on the mountain, where we parked ourselves for the night.
After a short rest we took a walk to some pools nearby. By this point it was getting chilly outside, but of course we had to go in (it was the only way to take a shower, and we needed one).
Second day: going down
For a while we toyed with the idea of staying on the mountain for a while. The temperature was so nice and there were lots of peaks to climb. But then we decided to try to hussle and make our way to a chimp sanctuary in northern Zambia (more on that later). So, on day 2 it was time to head back down.
On the way down we listened to our MP3 players. Pnina has her audiobook trying to repair the damage done by history teachers in America (check the reading list page for more). I was listening to NPR podcasts talking about Paul Newman’s passing away (I didn’t know he was a serious race car driver) and about how Flea of the Red Hot Chilly Peppers is now a freshman at USC.
We ended up in the nearby town of Likabula, from which we had to take a matola back to Mulanje. The matola ran out of gas part way through, and this is not the first time we had a vehicle stall for lack of petrol:
But finally we returned to the tea fields at the bottom of the mountain.
We grabbed our stuff from the hotel and started hustling westward.