We stopped in the town of Rumphi, just south of Nkiya national park in the north of Malawi. We stayed in a lodge attached to an orphanage and farm that we had been recommended but unfortunately we arrived late and had to leave early so we didn’t get a chance to look around much.
We had arranged with our guides that we would make our own way to the campsite at the top of the plateau and so next morning we jumped on the back of a truck and then waited and waited and waited as it filled up with more and more people and goods and finally we set off. The road we were taking would go north up to the Zambian border but also goes through the national park where we would get off at the junction and hope there’d be another truck going into the park itself or otherwise have to walk 18km to get to the campsite.
Normally I love travelling by pickups but this was the most uncomfortable three hours I’ve had yet with men falling asleep on my shoulder and pushing me into sleeping babies I was trying to protect while an old women restricted any possible movement of my legs while I was sat above the wheel with no suspension and feeling every jolt up my spine. Meanwhile Dave was sat up high on two comfy sacks of flour with the wind in his hair! I need to learn to get high early on in the packing process and hold my ground... But anyway when we arrived at the gates of the park we were called back by the young lad, Twembe, who worked the gates who had called our guide who was following some way behind since he was concerned that we’d not get a lift from the junction to the website and there was a risk of being found by poachers, hyenas or leopards and normally all visitors out in the open should be accompanied by a scout with a rifle. Twembe asked us to stay with him at the gate and we would be picked up by our guide when they arrived in a few hours.
So we waited. And waited. And bought some dried fish for cooking an evening meal, And waited. And it got dark. And we waited. And the park gates officially shut. And we waited. In the end we came to the conclusion that something had happened and so Twembe broke the rules, quite seriously for him, and allowed a timber truck through who were waiting outside the closed gates to bring a mechanic to a broken down friend inside on the condition that they took us all the way to the campsite.
We had an enjoyable 2 hours bumpy ride through the pitch black park, dropped of the mechanic and finally arrived at midnight. Woke up the unhappy warden, set up camp, put on all of our clothes cos at over 2000m it’s COLD, lit a fire, put on the iPod and finally sat down to our meal of fish, tomato, garlic, onion and some chilli powder and pasta at 1.30am. Many weeks wait to try this meal and we have to say it must be an acquired taste. The fish is a bit metallic and gritty tasting. Not terrible but not really tasty either. Still we felt chuffed to have accomplished this feat all by ourselves at last so it had an ultimate aftertaste of victory
The next morning Dave left our little tent for a wee and found a sunrise over the vast open hills in front of our site and four zebras grazing not 10m from our tent. Apparently I wasn’t to be woken without a sledgehammer so he managed to catch them on video – they stayed for ages he says.
Our guides finally arrived the next morning – the car had suffered two flat tyes and so they’d had to abandon it and walk 15km to the gate and then get a lift to the site in the morning. They were really worried we’d think they’d made off with our deposit cash but actually this hadn’t even crossed our minds. But in the end they were too late to organise the porter and scout and so we had a day to explore the closer areas of the plateau. So I hopped on a bike and dave by foot went out to see what we could see. For a seriously furious pedal in places I was rewarded with a small herd of zebras and some Roan antelope. I love the zebras; they trot off to a safe but still distance and then just stay staring back at you until one or other of you gets a bit bored and moves off. They didn’t seem bothered at all by the bike until I got off and they moved away. I wonder what they’d make of a unicycle, if i could master that perhaps I could pat one... I saw undulating grassy valleys, heather, patches of trees in little nooks, rocky crops. Wish I’d had the camera but maybe I can find a picture on the internet to show you. But no wonder they call Nyika the Scotland of Malawi.
I’ll skim over the hike because pictures always speak louder than words in these matters but it moved from the same vast open grassy plains we’d seen the day before to forests and through some picturesque and leafy villages on day two, over a river and ending on day two in a village market square, the edge of which, strangely, we made our camp and were allowed to use the toilet of a nearby family home. That afternoon, after our 5am start 17km hike, we were shown to the “where we could take a bath”. So we followed past the house, down a lane (okay...), out of the village (...!?), over a bridge, through some scrub and down to the river But what a bathroom view! And soooo refreshing for our hot feet and sore muscles. We had the place to ourself so dave even got nekkid oooOOooo (i didn’t look of course, i was too busy trying to keep my cup from floating away downstream)
On the last day, and another 5am start, we had a pretty easy dirt road walk up to Livingstonia past dozens of people filling in potholes and resurfacing the road with hoes as part of a self-help community project. We arrived about 10 so we had time for me to do some internetting and Dave wondered around the town.
Livingstonia is a strange place for a settlement really although it was successful for the missionaries in the sense that this was the first place they moved to where they didn’t lose everyone to malaria because of the healthy climate. It’s perched right at the edge of the pretty much vertical Rift Valley escarpment which leads right to the lake so the views are stunning but it’s only reachable from a truly terrible rutted dirt road. It’s a strange town as well with lots of colonial buildings widely spaced out and so as the guide book puts it “the impression is as if somebody started transporting a small Victorian village to the edge of the Rift Valley Escarpment, but got bored before they finished the job”.
After a stroll through the town we finished the hike by walking for another hour or so, stopping for a little break by a 100m waterfall. We passed under another kind of waterfall on the way – light rain seemed to be falling on us from a noisy tree and a local pointed out the large winged insects that we have heard making a very loud chirruping noise everywhere we go, and the “rain” is actually their excretion. Piss insects...nice. Fortunately we finished our hike in the pretty open air showers at the awesome Mushroom Farm – a place that people take pride in reaching even when they haven’t been walking for 3 days already what with it being inaccessible by public transport and up that 10km long and steep hill. They should make victory badges.