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Chistmas cottage in the woods

Rachel - South Viphya forest reserve

Many places we have visited so far have had a serious problem with deforestation. There is little electricity here and cooking and heating rely on burning wood, as does building of course. With a rapidly growing population (a fourfold increase between the 1965 and 1998 censuses) making ever increasing demands of a depleted woodland wood has become a valuable commodity. 60% of the The Viphya forest reserve is planted with pine which makes it the largest artificial forest in the whole of Africa and is used to produce plywood and timber products. The other 40% is protected native trees.

An ex forestry building in the middle of the forest is now converted into an eco-lodge and base for outdoorsy activities such as mountain biking, climbing, canoeing and hiking so so we headed here for a backwoodsy break from the lake. When we arrived I thought we’d stepped into a Christmas film with classical and jazz playing on the stereo, a fairy light lit bar and a roaring fire and rocking chairs in the dining room. The dorm was a cosy wooden hut out in the woods and because we were over a thousand metres up the temperature was just right for a good nights sleep.

Unfortunately Dave managed to trip over a bag of maize flour when our bus broke down in the dark and hurt his rib on the back of a chair seat so he couldn’t go climbing, so we hired a couple of mountain bikes and went out to see the forest. I’ve not really been mountain biking before and it was such a nice way to see the outdoors but cover a lot of distance. The hills were pretty tough mind and the sandy ground caused me a slip and I fell pretty heavily and shredded my elbow and bruised my left side but nothing was broken and it didn’t spoil the day by any means – i’ve been back on a bike since and am now even more certain i’d like to make a cycling trip next.

Back in xmas lodge we spent a pleasant evening talking with the two volunteers based at the lodge and working on some projects in the nearby villages in which the lodge is heavily involved. The next big step is to install a bore hole and so Dave and I learned lots about how they work, answering some questions we’d been pondering for some time which was cool.

I mentioned in my first entry from Malawi that I had seen lots of “agricultural fires” and every night, wherever we have been, there have been big fires – on Chisi island we looked back to the mainland at night and there was a serious inferno that lit up the sky. The fires are often set to burn surface debris and old plants to allow new shoots to grow more easily, in Mulanje they were set to kill off the now unwanted pine. Viphya has a unique problem in that fire damaged wood fetches a lower price and so people purposely set fires illegally. Here, as elsewhere, the fires are often unsupervised once they’re set and so of course they get out of control and create serious damage. The volunteers had impressive photos of a huge forest fire that had gotten out of control and the forestry, lodge owners and volunteers had all helped to try and back-burn other sections of forest to prevent the fire jumping the road and causing even more damage. It looked frightening. One other sad thing is that in the case of the agricultural fires that method is old and now proven to be more disadvantageous in practice because the beneficial organisms and animals in the ground are killed off by the heat.

We weren’t ready yet to get back to the lake so we decided to head pretty much the furthest north we were going to get in terms of places we wanted to see - to the Nyika plateau where we could organise a three day hike to the town of Livingstonia. This hike is not only supposed to be beautiful but would join up two of the difficult to reach “want to see” circles on our map. Not many circles left now to fill in....

Posted by rachndave 12:24 Archived in Malawi Tagged trees

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