The Warm Heart of Africa continued…

Upon leaving Dedza I decided to arrive at the next destination by foot, with 3 of the lads from our group and a guide (who had kindly commented that we looked weak, and that he would charge us extra if he had to carry any of us). I laughed at this, but felt his seriousness kick in, only an hour into the 12 mile steep decent from Bembeki Cathedral to Mua Mission.

In the heat of the morning, my legs were turning to jelly, rocks were rolling down the mountain side, and my thoughts were racing…”Why oh why did I sign myself up for this!??? Accomplishment? What if I never make it!? Just leave me here on the cliffside to die….it’s fine! Honest!”

Even the trees looked as though they were clinging on for dear life!

“No, no, prove the guide wrong. You WILL make it! Stop being a princess and MAN UP B!!”.

I mean, I’ve reached the two highest points in the UK, and I thrive at the thought of a good challenge, but how on earth had the guide already walked up to the top to meet us, barefoot, and with no food or water?!

I still remember the feeling of…Hmm, how to word it without saying THANK **** FOR THAT!…

…relief. Triumph even, and that pure ‘oh my god I made it!’ feeling. We were the fastest people that the guide had ever taken on the route. YES!! High fives all round.

After watching the locals bathe in the river below our lodges, we were taken to the Mua Mission museum to watch 3 hours of traditional tribal dances. These were incredible! The women performed with their babies on their backs (the next generation of dancers), this and the singing voices, stomping feet, clapping hands, and clanging bells all emphasised the energy that was put into each routine. It was intensely unique. I couldn’t even get a clear photo!

It was time for a relax and a soak in the sun around the Malawian Lake. Here we took a boat trip, went snorkling, swimming and canoeing. The sun rose at 5am, so we pitched our sun loungers on the beach and gathered our blankets, ready to witness the beautiful scene that would be over in a couple of minutes – yes, the sun rises that fast over the mountains…and it was definitly worth the wait.

This accommodation was more luxurious, and had large buffets including fresh fruit, salads, and home comforts such as cereal – something my body was craving after so long. Although upper class, this did not keep away the wildlife of Africa! Baboons, pitched outside our room one morning, leaving us to miss breakfast due to being shut in our room, the cockroach, the ant infestation, endless amounts of spiders, and the bats that had kindly set camp in our ceiling beams.

After sampling the local gin one morning I decided to join others on a banana-boat ride…

…it’s safe to say I was sober after hitting the cold water at that speed! It is rumoured that Malawian Gin doesn’t contain the depressant that our gin does…so I took full advantage of that 🙂 Not that I needed an excuse.

Chambo was the main thing I ate at the lake; a beautiful coloured fresh water fish that is hunted for it’s delicious taste, as well as for the tank. It was one of the groups birthdays while we were there, and the hotel staff prepared a HUGE cake for the group…

…we each had a slice, and gave the remainder to the village people living just outside the complex. Which I think they appreciated.

Other exciting parts of the trip included a night in a safari park, where we got close to hippos, crocodiles, watched beautiful wildlife and went to the waterside for ‘sundowners’. Blissful.

On the last day at this location, I woke at 5am to go inside the gates on a tracking walk. After the elephant charge the night before I liked the feeling of risk, and was overly excited that this may happen again (we were warned to run zig zag through bushes, away from the elephant, if it did). But sadly it didn’t…Although, my friend did touch elephant poo! EWWW!

We were given the option of paying extra and going into the rhino enclosure. Bearing in mind that it is acre upon acre of land and the chance of us seeing one was slim to none; not even the park rangers had seen one so far that year, even at the minimal chance, I was totally up for it! Coming to the end of our tour around the enclosure, I was not happy, we had seen antelope, birds, other wildlife, but not so much as a giraffe! I love giraffes. I would have been satisfied paying more just to see one and happily give up on the rhino.

Then…we spotted a giraffe! After 10 minutes of watching this elegant creature striding through its’ natural habitat (Yes, I like David Attenborough) we decided to drive back to the rest of the group, who were waiting with our bags to move on to the next destination.

The truck suddenly jolted to a stop, and the park keeper told us to be quiet as he slowly rose his hand to point yet another antelope out to us…GREAT!

We followed the tip of his finger into the wilderness, and low and behold, behind the antelope was a rhino. The FIRST EVER sighting of that year!!! My tutor (Sara), in tears, had been in this enclosure 3 times before and had never experienced this. I wanted to savour this moment forever…but of course, had forgotten my camera. Sods law! Once back at the camp we raced out of the truck to tell the others. Well. Rub it in really.

We arrived at Lujeri Tea Plantation at about 6pm the same day, and settled in with a home cooked meal by Phil (one of my tutors) and the house staff.

Phil is one of those people that can provide fantastic conversation with anybody he meets, he’s down to earth, and likes to eat with his hands. His enthusiasm when teaching me gastronomy helped a lot towards wanting to become a food writer.

After dinner, we (the students) played ‘Ring-of-Fire’. I have never laughed at a drinking game so much, and after Geof was sick, he, like a man, carried on drinking.

The next day we took a drive through the tea fields to a mountain, watching the women pick tea leaves by hand was something new to me, it made me feel elated.

Why? I don’t know why…maybe it was the smell of tea in the air! I made sure that I brought two big bags of it home with me.

When we reached Mt Mulanji, we walked through trees, crop fields, villages, and paths that were a bit…”snaky” (full of snakes). Then we made our way over rocks that would have been in the middle of a gushing waterfall in wet season, and discovered, like the scene from The Beach, the fresh water pools that had been left drying out in the sun…although not warmed by it!

We had a dip, a quick dip. It was shockingly freezing! Since then, I have not wimpered when I dip my toes into cold water.

On our way back to Lilongwe we made a pit stop at Dedza Pottery, for their famous tea and a slice of cheesecake. Upon leaving, we purchased the Malawian delicacy (a stick of field mice)…

…Most people would be horrified at even the thought of eating these…they still have their eye balls, fur, guts and tail, but, the gannet that I am, I was willing to try them…but my tutor wouldn’t let me.

With one evening remaining the group were in low spirits; half couldn’t wait to get home, and the others just wanted to stay in Africa for the rest of their lives. I being one of the latter. I never expected to be so influenced by the African way of life. I’ve always been one who wouldn’t try anything new, and I felt as though I’d accomplished a life times worth of things in just 16 days. These experiences, along with the beautiful climate and scenery are surprisingly not what gives Malawi it’s name ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, but the people.

With their friendliness and warm smiles, they are what has the lasting effect on its visitors. What the country lacks in economical terms, they certainly make up for in riches of people…and with knowing that, this memory will stay with me forever.

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