30/10/2010 - 31/10/2010
There are three famous plateaus in Malawi: Mulanje, Nyika and Zomba. We were planning to climb Nyika later in our trip to do a three day hike and we had only recently climbed Mulanje and so we decided to give Zomba Plateau a miss (sorry Steve – hello Steve!). However Zomba town itself was conveniently located for one of the other main lakes which we wanted to visit, and the town is described in the guidebook as “often claimed to have been the most beautiful capital anywhere in the british empire”. That was before the capital moved to Lilongwe of course. So we arrived late and found our motel lodge which itself backed onto a late night bar playing live music. Drawn to the ryddim we headed round to investigate and found a local band playing to an outdoor dancefloor full of only men dancing while the women watched on – an interesting role reversal . We sat in the garden to listen and watch with a beer and soon got talking to one of the locals who seemed to know everyone in the bar. He and a friend were very keen to take us sightseeing to the lake the next day so we made plan to meet for lunch and see then if it were possible.
The next morning we woke early for some sightseeing and hadn’t been out 5 minutes before we passed a pub decorated like a Chibuku Shake Shake carton and full of people drinking the same…at 9am! Chibuku Shake Shake is a local beer that is hard to describe. It’s sour and savoury and contains a sediment of grainy slush which is why you have to “Shake Shake” the carton. Ideal for breakfast obviously There is no alcohol percentage on the carton because each one is fermented separately so no one knows – I have heard of some cartons that have been almost spherical when they were served. The idea is that you slice the top off the carton and then share it around so it’s a very sociable drink. We stopped in to have a look at the decoration and because there was a toothless grinning and wrinkly old geezer playing his home made banjo encased in an outer guitar case and kicking his heels on a wooden box. At 9am! The price for a listen and a picture was a carton of Shake Shake so we sat for a while to listen and shared round the carton. At 9am!
Zomba was a very green and pretty town once you got out of the main shopping and market area. Leafy and relaxed at the foot of the plateau and full of old colonial whitewashed buildings. We strolled through the extensive botanical gardens/park, past the university campus, churches, archives offices and up to the grand old hotel looking out over the parks and golf courses. And then after a call to the friends we had met the previous night we went to the meeting place…only to be stood up. Without even a call! Hurumph! Humphrey and Matthew….shame on you. Never mind, we had provisions to buy and a pick up truck to find.
Our pickup ride was shared with a couple of super friendly and informative couple of guys called Alex, a business man/pick-up-truck-fare-collector and another guy but unfortunately I’ve forgotten his name, which is a shame because we’ll meet him again later… an ex-teacher turned currently unemployed social worker. So we spent the long journey being given a history of the area, learning about the struggles of businessmen/ pick-up-truck owners/social workers and told local stories of bandits and the spirits that are reported to live on the top of mount Mulanje.
We were finally dropped off by the harbour in a fishing village on the shore of Lake Chilwa and they offered to help us out by driving us to a local resthouse they knew, which of course we accepted. As is often the sting in the tale of the traveler we were then ripped off in a minor way by Alex who pretty much doubled the fare for driving us this extra kilometer but after such a pleasant journey we found it hard to make a stand so with a sad sigh settled up and said goodbye. I mention it because this sort of thing happens so often it’s part of our story but this one particularly saddened us. Still, from our small glimpse of the harbour, it felt very remote and very different from anything we’d seen so far so we were very excited to be here for the next few days.