Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Day 8: Blantyre to Mulanje

Mount Mulanje

I put my ear plugs in as I went to bed fearing that the nearby disco would keep me awake, but had a surprisingly good nights sleep. We had a leisurely breakfast (egg and chips for the third day in a row) and headed to catch a minibus just before 9am.

The journey across to Limbe was much quicker than yesterday even thought we got stopped a junction for around 10mins as the Presidential Motorcade swept past. It all seemed a bit over the top and several people in the minibus were tutting in disapproval.

Two police cars swept the road to make sure it was clear and then there was a long pause before a black Land Rover Defender, Hummer, Toyota Landcuiser carrying the President, Hummer, Defender, a small army truck carrying soldiers and then rather bizarrely a mobile home swept past. Malawi has felt like such a safe society I wondered what the point was, the PM and the Queen don't travel round so ridiculously back home.

The bikes were barely carrying any cargo compared with some we saw!

As soon as we were out of the minibus in Limbe we were straight into another one headed for Mulanje. The minibus was empty when we got in so we got the prime front seats and I even had the luxury of a seat belt! It took 40mins before we left Limbe. We pulled out of the bus station, did some circling of the main roads and then headed to a petrol station to pick up passengers. It was the first time I saw a driver pay touts for introducing passengers to the bus. (From then on I saw quite a few bus touts. The passengers were heading in the direction of travel anyway and I'm not sure what value the touts added and therefore why the drivers paid them. A form of protection money?)

I dozed slightly as we headed through the green countryside. At one point our minibus took a strange detour off the main road and then up a dirt track to rejoin it only a few hundred meters later. We didn't pick up or drop anyone off and I wondered what we were avoiding. We'd already passed a couple of police checkpoints that morning without hassle.

Not too long before Mulanje we stopped at th bustling market town of Nkando. It must be the bicycle capital of Malawi. There were hundred of bikes lining the roads and presumably for sale.

We arrived in the small tea town of Mulanje, checked into our hotel (which was incredibly cheap at £3 per person per night) and walked back up the main road to the previous town of Chitakale to organise a tea estate tour for tomorrow. Organising the tour was surprisingly easy considering some of the things we'd read in advance about how hard they were to find.

We had a drink in the towns expensive pizzeria (£8 a pizza!) and then went for lunch in a local restaurant.

Cycling next to tea fields

After lunch we had a walk through Chitakale's small market. All of the stalls seemed incredibly well stocked and you'd be able to find most things that you need there. After the market we walked back to Mulanje taking a few photos of the tea plantation along the way. The area was photo gold with bright shop fronts, market stalls, women washing clothes in the river, cyclists and people generally milling around, but something was making he hold back from taking photos. I didn't want to intrude on their lives.

We dozed / read for a while and then hiked 1.5km up hill to the former District Commissioners office, which is now the Kara O'Mala hotel. We had a couple of drinks sitting outside the hotel while we soaked up the views and watched the sunset. There were around ten Europeans / North Americans doing the same thing on the terrace of the hotel. It was a shock to see so many other white faces in once place as we had seen surprisingly few other tourists so far.

A sundowner at the Kara O'Mala

We had dinner back in hotel which seemed to be the social hub of Mulanje. A guy from Lilongwe who was working in Mulanje came to talk to us. His company is drilling bore holes in the area, a project partly paid for by a UK organisation. He said another part of the family business was into transportation and his brother had been to Blackburn a couple of times to buy trucks.

1 comment:

  1. I look like I am in an awkward position because I was worried about falling off the mountain!