31.07.2009 - 02.08.2009
It probably wasn't the cleverest thing i could have done, i know. No, scrub that. I KNOW it wasn't the cleverest thing that I could have done, with my recent medical history. But I love walking, especially upwards, and had done very little serious exercise since long before Hamish came onto the scene. I was itching for it.
Within the first 300m after the turnoff, I was passed by 2vehicles who both offered me a lift, but i declined. It was a gorgeous day, and besides, it was only a 12km walk on a road up the side of an escarpment, so not as if it was a serious challenge. I had been told there were many shortcuts and cutoffs, and started experimenting down some of the more likely looking of the many trails and paths that headed off from the road, discovering quite rapidly that whilst (obviously) steeper, they did cut down the distance quite allot. As such, I was making pretty good time. In fact, the only thing that was slowing me down at all, was the slightly irritating kids, who I have now christened the 'give me' children.
The 'Give Me' children are just normal Malawian children from maybe 3-12years old, and almost universally cute looking. I m used to – and enjoy – the normal interaction with African kids, which tends to involve lots of waving, hand shaking/similar, saying of 'Hello' and repeated 'How Are you?'s' (this involves every kid around – even in groups of 30 or 40 – all asking 'How Are You' individually and repeatedly. One meeting with a group of a dozen or so lovely Ugandan kids probably involved us exchanging some 500 How Are You's), but in Malawi it seems a bit different. How Are You is generally missing, and Hello is only an occasional comment. Instead, there is a constant stream of 'Give Me's': Give me Bottle/pen/sweet/Kwacha (Malawian currency)/money, or sometimes more oddball things such as 'Give me balloon', and one memorable 'Give me Laptop' as i walked past.
The problem I have is that there is never anything resembling a please/thank you, and pretty much every 'No' or ignoring of their demand leads directly to the next give me. I am aware – acutely aware – that the people are very poor: many families live off a dollar a day or less, and I understand that as travelers we are stupendously rich in relative terms. But I dislike the fact that you can sometimes hear parents (which means it happens many times that you don't hear) instructing their children when they see a white person passing 'There's a mzungu, go and say “Give me....” to them', and the fact that despite the average Malawian speaking much better English than their East African counterparts, I have yet to hear a single 'Please' from a Give Me. I am happy to donate, and help out charities and locals where I can, but despite being probably stupendously wealthy in Malawian terms, I don't like being constantly seen/treated as a walking wallet even though I understand it. If you are going to beg or try and get stuff from me, just please be polite about it. Anyhow. Moving on.
Even now, i'm not quite sure exactly how I ended up scaling a 20m or so sheer cliff, and then
climbing up through a waterfall, even though it was blatantly obvious that I really shouldn't be were I was, and the short cut I had attempted to make really hadn't been a shortcut – or, really, a path – at all. A couple of hairy moments, some glorious views, a little backtracking, and some logical swinging through trees in the right direction (at that point, there really wasn't any path or even way through) and I stumbled Tarzan-ish-style back onto the road. And resolved perhaps not to attempt anymore shortcuts unless they were obviously very well used.
And so roughly 2hrs 20after starting off from Chitimba Beach Camp, I wandered onto the Mushroom Farm. It was only at this point that I discovered that most people don't walk up. They hitch. And it was only the very brave, stupid, energetic or mad that actually walk, especially without using local porters to carry bags &/or local guides to show ll the shortcuts and thus not end up, for example, climbing up waterfalls and sheer cliffs by accident. The Mushroom Farm is not a farm and does not have mushrooms, but is instead a small vegetarian hostel on the top of a huge cliff near Livingstonia, an old Scottish missionary station on the top of the plateau, and with amazing panoramic views out over Lake Malawi, the surrounding areas, and even across to Tanzania, and i had been told that i had to come here.
I loved it. The following day, I walked up to Livingstonia itself, another extremely pleasant walk, and was treated to the odd sight of 130year old British style brick buildings and streets which looked like they could have been plucked out of somewhere like the Ironbridge museum. The mission is still in operation to this day, though large chunks of the town are now part of the University (which was closed, as was the cathedral), and it was slightly surreal to walk around what in parts looked like a 150year old ghost town.
On the way back, I fended off some slightly, erm, enthusiastic monkeys and found a glorious waterfall to sit and look at. I ran into another couple of people who i got talking to, and who invited me to join them on a little wander round through some pools and into some caves behind another, from here hidden, waterfall.
I've only been in Malawi a couple of days, but already I am rapidly warming to it – the beauty of the country and friendliness of the people (bag snatchers and 'give me' kids notwithstanding) and think that I could finally start to relax here.