Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cape Maclear to Zomba, Malawi . . . “Mulibwanji”

Back on mainland Malawi, our first stop was Cape Maclear, a small village by the Lake. We checked in to backpackers’ place called Fat Monkeys and explored the village. We were immediately accosted by locals all trying to sell us carvings, 'ganga' or boat rides. We decided to focus on water-related activities and asked about kayaking trips to Domwe and Mumbo islands – both a few kilometres from Cape Maclear. The guy selling the trips at Kayak Africa told us that (according to South Africa’s Getaway magazine) Mumbo Island was voted the 3rd most popular honeymoon destination in southern Africa. This prompted us to ask, in unison, what destinations were awarded 1st and 2nd place. Then, realizing that we weren’t making any friends, we shut up and booked a two day trip to Domwe and the illustrious Mumbo Island.

Both islands are deserted, apart from other guests staying in Kayak Africa’s accommodation – think Gilligan’s Island with luxury tents – and we had a fantastic time. Basically the trip involved kayaking between or around the islands and recovering with our fellow island inhabitants over dinner and drinks. The two days were over very quickly and we kayaked (well, mainly Phil - my arms were a bit tired) back to Cape Maclear.

After Cape Maclear we tore ourselves away from the Lake and went south to Blantyre to stay for a few days on our way to Mount Mulanje - the highest peak in South-Central Africa. We stayed at a place recommended by Troy (an Australian criminal lawyer doing a stint at the 'legal aid' equivalent in Malawi) who we met at Cape Maclear. Troy and his friend Allen (an English criminal lawyer also working in Malawi) took us under their wings, showing us around town and introducing us to Malawian nightlife at a bar called the Blue Elephant. For those of you wondering- yes - Phil did get on the dance floor and showed the locals a few of his moves. After a night out at the Blue Elephant we found ourselves heading to Mount Mulanje to begin a five day hiking trip – with shocking hangovers. Luckily it took us so long to get to the mountain that we were forced to stay overnight at the base of the mountain and start the hike the next day.

Mt Mulanje is a huge, isolated block of mountains of more than 640 sq kms situated in the south east of Malawi. The highest point is Sapitwa at 3002 m. Goal number one was to climb Sapitwa peak. We managed to get to the base of Sapitwa on the first day and planned to ‘summit’ the following morning (Phil is teaching me hiking-speak).

When we woke the next morning after a huge downpour overnight, I thought our plans would have to change. However, it seemed that our guide (Peter) was more optimistic than I was (which was not difficult after I found out that the word ‘sapitwa’ means something like ‘don’t go there’). Apparently unconcerned about the rain, Peter suggested that we try to climb the peak and turn back if it proved too difficult.

The first 30 minutes were fine, after that we were confronted with endless slabs of steep, slippery, smooth rock and nothing to grab onto. Obviously, I thought, this is a job for Spiderman, and relaxed as I waited for the turn-back signal from Peter. But once again I was too pessimistic. With some careful guidance from Peter and Phil I was actually able to negotiate my way upwards. After a few more hours of climbing, and what I viewed as near-death leaps from rock to rock, I came quite close to ‘spitting the dummy’ (which Phil tells me is the technical climbing term for my behaviour).

Peter, no doubt sensing my near tantrum, asked whether we would like to turn back or continue to the top. I could see that the true meaning of this question was: would you like to live or would you prefer to die? However, before I could respond Phil (who knows how may brain works) quickly convinced me that continuing did not mean certain death. And so we continued.

Four hours after setting out we made it to the top of Sapitwa peak and another 4 hours later we were back at the base of the Sapitwa with nothing more than a few scratches, sore hands (from gripping the rocks for dear life) and ripped shorts (from gracefully sliding down rocks on my backside).

As it had been raining for much of the day we were going to stay at the cabin at the base of the Sapitwa, but we arrived at about 3pm to find that it was already full. So we put our rain jackets back on and made for the mountains once more. This time it was a 4 hour walk to the next cabin through about fifteen rivers. At another time, the prospect of being swept away by the raging waters might have concerned me but I was so intent on getting to the cabin that I followed Peter and Phil thoughtlessly wading through – boots, socks and all. We finally arrived at the cabin after dark - completely exhausted.

It took me a while to psychologically recover from that experience so we spent the next few days on the mountain taking it relatively easy. We hiked from cabin to cabin and climbed one other peak which was a piece of cake after Sapitwa.

After five days on Mt Mulanje we went back to Blantyre for a few more nights with Troy and Allen. Then we left for a couple of nights on the Zomba plateau, another amazing mountain with great views of Malawi.

Having spent the entire month of March in Malawi, it really was time to leave so we hopped on a bus and began the long journey to northern Mozambique.

I am not sure when the next entry will be as I don't know how good the internet access is in northern Mozambique but I will post another entry in about a week if I find an internet cafe.

If you haven't checked Phil's Cape Town to Cairo Photos lately, Phil has the photos from Namibia up now, so you can click on the link and have a look - I think they are pretty good.


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