Monday, February 05, 2007

Climbing Mt. Mulanje

This weekend we had a great trip climbing Mt. Mulanje, the huge massif in southeastern Malawi. We were told it was the second tallest mountain in Africa (behind Kilimanjaro), but I’m not sure if it’s taller than Mt. Kenya. We didn’t climb to the highest peaks (which require real rock climbing), but we did climb to the top (2300 meters or about 9000 ft). It was amazing. It was a tough hike, but the views were amazing. When we got back down, we all said, “We really climbed THAT!?” We didn’t get any good pictures of the mountain from the bottom – it was too big – but we’re hoping to find a good postcard that shows it all. We did get a good view from the car on the way home, but Dave and I were in the back and the back window was very muddy!

We were told by a friend from the Malawi Mountain Club that the road was out and he gave us a big detour. So we went off through the villages on a very bad road (and I know bad African roads) with lots of waving kids (very fun!), a number of wooden bridges (a bit nerve-racking) and some serious road erosion – just enough room for the vehicle with a several foot drop off (very nerve racking). But Liam did a great job driving and we didn’t flip Dr. Taylor’s car. Well, we don’t know if we missed a turn in the detour or what, but all of a sudden we ended up back on the main road and ended up going in the same way we would have without the detour. It was a nice side trip.

We got to the forestry lodge at the bottom of the mountain and hired a guide and 4 porters. These guys are amazing. They are local guys who work carrying people’s things up the mountain. One of them was barefoot, one had flip-flops and they still could make it up the mountain ahead of us, WITH all our stuff. I left my tennis shoes with one and another girl left her trail shoes with another. I was relieved because I didn’t know what I was going to do with mine and I went away knowing that they would be useful for him, for what life is left in them. Every year there is a porter’s race, where they run, climb and walk up the mountain in back. What we would do in 10-14 hours, they do in about 2.5! Yes, in ¼ to 1/5 the time we do. They are amazing.

It was about a 6 ½ hour climb up, with breaks every so often along the way. The views all the way up were stunning. We got to the top then had a bit of up and down across a few ridges to get to the hut where we were staying. The hut was really cute. It was built in 1899 and is owned by the Presbyterian Church. Missionaries use (used?) it for retreats. At the hut we had warm water for bathing (in a bucket, just like in the village). We had a pit latrine (with a very big hole and some of the other students still missed!) and candles and a fire by which to see. To me, it was all no big deal – just the same as I’ve lived in the village for nearly a year. But the other students couldn’t wait for a shower back home and couldn’t stand to use the latrine. I kept my mouth shut.

The trip back down took just as long overall. Our pace was slower, as it was steep and slick, but we didn’t stop so much to rest. We did have a nice long stop, though, at a waterfall with a deep pool near the bottom. The water was cold (nearly frigid), but it was very refreshing and good to rest our feet.

We had pizza at the local pizza place at the bottom of the mountain (which was very good) and got home just before dark. We slept very well last night and are a little sore this morning!

Wonderful trip. Would recommend it to anybody traveling in Malawi with a sense of adventure, strong legs and the will to make it.

Pictures from the village 2

Our boat trip across the river sans bridge (I'm in the front of the boat)

Almost there! (I'm in the boat on the right)

The children preparing a traditional dance for us (in the rain)

The spectators (i.e. the whole village)

Kids trying to stay dry!

Pictures from the village 1

(L to R) Alicia, Mia and Sarah giving out candy and pencils. Liam's in the back with the camera. The teacher is standing up trying to keep the kids organized.

The kids in line, trying to get their candy and pencils. It was interesting. I think it was worth giving them, but it felt a little colonial - making them stand in line to get a little handout.

Our group tour, given by the entire village.

I found a baby.

Sitting with the women while we listened to the chief. Much better than having a special seat!

Pictures from Lake Malawi

This is a house in the village - very typical.

These are the kids that escorted the icelandic girls and me through the village. They were really cute.

This is Chris. We bought 3 paintings from him. After a long negotiation, we paid 2200 kwacha ($16), this hat (which Dave was given in the village and couldn't take home), 2 pens, a stick of deoderant (used) and some shampoo for his sister. He was the most excited about the deoderant and the shampoo. We knew we could trade things, but we didn't expect those things. Fortunately, Dave put up with me being a little stinky on the way home!

Sunset on the beach over Lake Malawi. Enough said.

More pictures from the lake

Frank our bicyclist guide and boat tour operator.

Our boat where we docked for snorkling. Frank's on the boat and the other was the driver of another boat.

After snorkling, we went to feed the fish eagles. The guides have them very well trained. They whistle and hold up a small fish for the fish eagles to see. Then the toss it in the water and the fish eagles swoop out of the trees, careen down to the water and snatch their fish. It's definitely a thing for the tourists, but the birds were really cool.

The kids in the village all know "Hallo! Hallo!" They were really cute. Even all the kids in the water would stop what they were doing when we came by and wave and shout at us.

Pictures from Lake Malawi

This is a very happy driver who hadn't driven in a long time. Note that she is sitting on the right side of the car, meaning that she is driving on the left side of the road.

It was so hard to take this car back to the rental place. I so didn't want to give it up. I'm really looking forward to having my car back in a few weeks!

This was the view from my bed (twin beds in the room) with the door open. Not too shabby. And only $10 a night for the 2 of us.

Notice how clear and nice the water in Lake Malawi is.

This is Domwe Island, where the other students kayaked. We kayaked a bit around it. It sort of shows how the landscape is around the lake - steep green hills coming right down to the shore.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

New Posts

There are 2 new posts today, plus I fixed the link to the pictures from last week. Thanks John! I'll see how long it takes to upload a few pictures today. I'm on a different computer network and it seems slower, but faster now than when I started earlier.

Kids at the Hospital

I’ve started going with Cheryl this week over to the CURE hospital to play with the kids on the ward. They are SO much fun! They have a variety of problems – I’ll have to ask Bob to give you any idea what they are. They each have one guardian who stays with them and both the kids and the guardians have uniforms to wear. So far, we’ve colored, played with kitchen toys (I gave the kids pretend nsima – the local staple – and tea, and they got a real kick out of that!), played hand-clapping games, played with my hair, done puzzles, sung and played with stuffed animals. Kids are kids all over the world – they like to be like their parents. They all take cloths and want to strap the stuffed animals on their backs and carry them around like their moms.

They are all so beautiful. You look at their faces and see their innocence and enthusiasm and they are just so beautiful. I think at the hospital, they know they are loved, that someone thinks they are worthwhile. I think I’ll ask one day if I can take some pictures.

This is where I really wish I had more Chichewa. I needed a good book earlier in the 6 weeks. There is so much I want to say to the kids, but instead of saying things in English, I just gensture, grunt and use my bits and pieces of Chichewa. I know that if I had set my mind to it, I could have learned a lot of Chichewa in the last 5 weeks. I really wish I had. I’ll learn what I can this week and next, but that’s definitely one thing I would do over if I had the chance.

I’ll see if Bob and Cheryl want to write a bit about their experiences at the hospital. I’m still working on Dave too. He has some picture of the hospital now from one of the Icelandic students, so maybe it’ll get him going.

Love you all,

Lake Malawi

First, I have to say that the lake and the area around the lake are gorgeous! The lake is probably half the size of Lake Michigan in width and around the same length north and south. It’s big. Surrounding the lake are giant, steep, craggy, very green (at least in the rainy season) hills that come right down to the water. The water in most places is very clear. I am so glad that we were able to go.

I went to pick up the rental car Friday morning, and was a tad disappointed to find that it was automatic transmission instead of manual. We were told that all the cars had manual transmission, but I think they must have meant the reverse. I think it was probably good – one less thing to focus on (besides dodging goats, cows, kids, pedestrians, potholes, bicycles, other cars, etc) – but my left hand and foot were a little bored with nothing to do (yes, the gear change is on the left when you sit on the right). I got in the car and immediately felt comfortable. It felt totally normal to be driving on the left side of the road because I was in the middle of the road and cars coming the other direction were on the other side. It just felt like the rest of the car was on the wrong side of me. I took advantage of an hour with a car and went to the supermarket to pick up a few heavy things and stock up on some others when it would be easy to get it home.

The drive to the lake was about 5 hours, and very nice. The road was great up until the end and there wasn’t too much traffic. I’ve actually been very impressed with the roads in Malawi so far. The main roads are TONS better than the main roads in Kenya, but I do recognize that they see a lot less heavy traffic than Kenya. I think I read that the main road from Nairobi to western Kenya had something like over 4000 cars, buses and big trucks passing over it every day. That’s enough to wear out your roads pretty quickly.

Anyway, I had a blast driving! We felt so free knowing that we could go as fast or as slow (usually as slow!) as we wanted, could stay on our own side of the road and could stop whenever and wherever we wanted. The only downside for me was that I didn’t see as much of the countryside as I have on other trips because I was focused on the road and the miscellaneous things to avoid mentioned above.

We had been told that the last 20km to Cape Maclear were on an awful dirt road and that you could make it in a small car but that it was much better on a 4 wheel drive. When we got to the road, we thought they had to be kidding! It wasn’t any worse (and I think it was probably better) than the road in the village in Kenya. We were a bit concerned because we had a Toyota Corolla, but it was totally fine. We could have used a little higher clearance in a few spots, but it really wasn’t bad at all.

When we were getting into the village, I stopped to let a bicycle go by and he (Frank) stopped to tell us where we should stay and that if we wanted to go out on a boat to snorkel, he had one and could take us out. He said he’d let us get settled and then he’d discuss it with us. In the end, we followed him on his bike criss-crossing the village until we finally found the place where we were going to stay (the first one was closed.) We did go out with Frank on the boat the next morning and went snorkeling at a nearby island. I hadn’t been snorkeling since I was in Zanzibar in 2002 and did much better this time remembering to breath through my mouth. Dave hadn’t been since he was 5 or 6 and he had a blast. It was like swimming through a tropical aquarium. I think we’ll try to go again in Zanzibar when we’re there.

Both Saturday and Sunday morning we had “banana pancakes” on the beach (made by Justin), which were somewhere between a pancake and a crepe. You squeeze lemon juice on them, sprinkle them with sugar (good thing we got the lemon and sugar pancake things down with our British housemates already – we would have been a bit surprised) and then roll it up around the banana. They were quite good. On Saturday, we met up with some other students from Iceland that Dave had worked with at the hospital and had a barbecue with them on the beach (this time a la Steven).

Some of the other MSU students had also gone to the lake for the weekend and went on a kayaking trip to a nearby island. We decided just to stay at the Cape, and I’m so glad we did. First, we probably spent ¼ of what they did. Second, the island was much closer than we thought – it was almost an extension of the cape, and we kayaked partway around it Sunday morning. Third, we had a lot of interaction with the Malawians in the village. Besides Frank, Justin and Steven, we bought keychains carved by Isaac and his brother, didn’t buy anything from Lameck or Shakespeare but talked with them quite a bit, and wandered through the village with at least one child on each hand all the way.

One afternoon I was out walking in the village and came upon a lot of kids playing while their mothers played a local ball game. I picked up the toddler that walked up to me, then the older kids kept bringing more of them to me. So I held each one (some two at a time) until the big kids started picking each other up and trying to hand each other to me to hold. Then one asked for a hug, so I ended up hugging all 20 kids, most several times. Then one started playing a hand clapping game with me, so of course I did that with all 20 some kids as well, again most of them several times. Then I took a picture and they all yelled and screamed when they saw it on the camera screen. One of the women invited me to sit with them to watch the game, which I did for a bit before the sun started to set and I figured I should probably get back since Dave didn’t actually know where I was.

Before we left on Sunday, there were a few Australian guys who had been stuck at the lodge/camp for several days. When we found out that they were headed to Blantyre, we offered them our backseat and ended up giving them a ride all the way home. They are on a 6 month London to South Africa tour, which sounded like quite an adventure – maybe something to try some day! We had an interesting conversation with them all the way home. We also stopped 4 times on the side of the road – first for lunch (a very yummy but very slow chicken curry!), then for mushrooms, then for mangoes, then for pineapple. I didn’t stop for the tomatoes, but I should have because when we went to the market on Monday, they were twice the usual price! We had hoped to drive up onto the Zomba plateau, which was gorgeous from the bottom, but after our long lunch break, we didn’t have enough time to do it and still get home before dark. Maybe on our overland trip someday!

When we got home on Sunday evening, Dave’s parents were here, which was fun. I hadn’t seen them since June. Since we had a car and not much in the fridge, we went to the Italian restaurant for dinner. Cheryl joked over dinner that the arrived in Malawi and the first thing they had to eat was Italian food! I grudgingly took the car back Monday morning. I so didn't want to give it up!

So we had a great weekend, loved the lake and would recommend it to anyone else traveling in Malawi or Southern Africa.