Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 27 June 2000

Hi All, Muli bwanji? or "How are you?" in chichewa, the local Malawian language.

We have been in Malawi for just over a week now and are having an excellent time. The start of our Malawian adventure was difficult as our Landi chose the most inopportune moment to give us trouble. As we crossed the Mozambican/Malawian border, our car started making the most alarming metallic clunking noise. After about 10 kilometres, the clunking had escalated to a violent grating sound. We stopped at a garage at a small town on the Malawian side of the border and Nev donned his overalls and crawled under the car to see whether he could locate the problem. He discovered that the universal joint at the end of the front prop shaft was badly worn and was literally hanging on by a thread. The only thing to be done was to remove the shaft and to try and make it to Blantyre and find someone to repair it. Removing the shaft was easier said than done and Nev spent a frustrating three hours under the car banging away at the bolts trying to loosen them so that he could remove the offending part. In the three hours we attracted an audience of all the kids in the village as well as some of the adults who were absolutely fascinated by Nev - I can't decided whether they were more curious about the banging or the stream of expletives that were issuing forth from under the car. I tried to shoo them away but only managed to cause even greater hilarity as a few of the braver kids started strutting around imitating my shooing noises. Not funny. Nev finally managed to loosen the last bolt shortly before dusk and we hobbled the last 100 km's to Blantyre.

Luckily we were able to find a Land Rover garage in Blantyre and the mechanics there were able to rebuild the universal joint and refit the prop shaft in record time so that we could be on our way again. From Blanyre we headed for the Mulanje Massif (read mountain range - I am still not au fait with the mountaineering lingo) which is near to the Mozambican border and on the eastern side of Malawi. We had decided that it was time for us to start our training for our Kilimanjaro ascent and Mulanje presented us with the perfect opportunity. We stayed in the Likabula village at a spot called the Forest Resthouse, which is run by two super Malawians called Burton and Friday, and booked ourselves on a three day "trek" in the mountains. As far as I can make out "trekking" is just a fancy new age word for what we call plain old hiking! It was recommended that we take a guide to show us the way up the mountain as the weather conditions can be unpredictable and it is apparently easy to get lost. We were allocated the services of one David, a 19 year old Malawian who was super fit. David agreed to carry our backpack up the mountain so we decided that all in all it was a good deal even if it did cost us 250 Kwatcha per day (just over R30-00).

We set off up the mountain early last Thursday morning, our backpack packed with all our new hiking gear. We were both sporting our guaranteed blister free combination of 1000 mile socks (special socks with two layers to prevent friction) and La Sportiva boots. I could throttle the salesman at Outdoor Warehouse who managed to persuade me to buy this combo - needless to say I could feel the start of blisters within half an hour of the start of the walk. After day one my heels were raw but this was the least of my worries! Nev and I soon discovered that we were completely unfit (I think our last visit to the gym was in early 1998) and we huffed and puffed up the mountain having to stop for regular rests and consuming large quantities of glucose and water. We sweated and cursed and prayed for death while our guide literally ran up the mountain without breaking a sweat (bear in mind that he was carrying our pack!). We could have pushed him over the side we were so frustrated - if only we had had the energy, that is. After an agonising 7 hour hike we arrived at the first hut where we spent an icy and unpleasant night sleeping on the floor. Our fitness and stamina improved slightly over the following two days which were slightly less strenuous. The mountain is absolutely stunning and although the walk was tough, the views and scenery were breathtaking (although I am not sure whether it was the views that took our breath away - I suspect it was our lack of physical prowess). We stumbled back to the Forest Resthouse and to the welcoming arms of Burton and Friday yesterday afternoon. After a shower we headed for bed and slept until this morning. We are SO stiff and can only manage a straight legged shuffle today. We are also covered in bites, scratches, bruises and blisters. We will need to do a lot of work if we ever hope to make it to the top of Kili.

I have been totally taken in by the Malawian people - they are some of the friendliest and most engaging people that we have met on our trip so far. Malawi is billed as the "warm heart of Africa" in all the brochures and nothing could be more true. Unfortunately, my being taken with the Malawians has meant that we have had to part with quite a bit of cash as I find it virtually impossible to say no to anyone. Our guide David spent three days explaining to us how he would have to drop out of school as he could not afford the fees. He made such an impression on us that Nev and I decided to give him the money for his fees even though it was almost double the normal rate for mountain guiding. Nev and I felt like we had really done a good deed and were most taken aback when David (quite unashamedly, I might add) handed us a piece of paper with his bank account details so that we could make further contributions to his education in the future. There was also Wesley, the most gorgeous 12 year old, who offered to take us on a walk to a nearby waterfall. When we decided at the last minute not to go, I felt so guilty that I felt obliged to give him the 140 Kwatcha (about R20-00) even though he did not do anything - of course he was delighted! We were also approached by another guide, Dennis, who was disappointed when we were allocated David as our guide and who offered to look after our car while we were up the mountain (for the bargain price of 100 Kwatcha). When we returned, Wesley informed us that Dennis had had to take clients on a four day walk up the mountain and had sent him (Weseley) to collect the 100 Kwatcha. It was only after I paid him that Nev pointed out that Dennis could not possibly have looked after our car as promised as he had vanished up the mountain with some other clients shortly after our departure. The last straw was when I got suckered into paying the equivalent of about R40-00 for 6 apples. Nev was horrified. I have now been banished to the car while all negotiations are taking place and Nev is in charge of all purchasing, negotiation, bartering and monetary affairs.

We headed for Zomba today. We had hoped to do some more hiking but judging by the state of our legs and feet we have decided to give it a skip. We had decided to camp on the Zomba plateau this evening but stopped at a smart hotel to enquire about whether they offered camping. Although the hotel did not offer any camping, it was virtually empty and they offered us a deluxe room for less than half price - a real bargain! Our room has a fire place and en suite bathroom and the hotel staff keep popping in to provide us with additional wood. They even did some laundry for us on the house. We feel like kings and it certainly has been a great reward after our three days of hell up the mountain. Tomorrow we head for Lake Malawi where we hope to chill out and lick our wounds for a couple of days. On the up side, our chichewa is improving - we have been "muli bwanji-ing" everyone we meet - the first chap we tried it out on almost fell on his back with surprise. We are hoping to try it out on some policemen or army officials who stop us periodically to ask us for our insurance papers.

Hope that you are all well

lots of love Penny and Neville

PS: We now have a Malawian cell phone number so you can call us if you like - its +265 934169 - if that does not work try 09265 934169 - you may want to check the Malawian code in the phone book.