Zomba Plateau

October 12th – Day Eighteen

The latest in a long line of days started early and this time we had our tent packed up before most people were out of their own for breakfast. The drive today was about five hours and would take us to a camp site above the old Malawi capital of Zomba on the Zomba plateau. The morning started early for most with waking being timed with the call to prayer from the local Mosque. This was closely followed by a chorus of dogs joining in with the call to prayer and the noise they made was neither pleasant of in tune and enough to wake up anyone who was still sleeping.

As we left Lilongwe I noticed that most of the signs for business in this town are hand painted, which probably explained the large signs for paint I see every now and again. I also noticed that the children we drove past were as happy to see us as they normally are but I’ve never written about this as yet. Most children who see the truck driving past will smile, a large percentage will wave enthusiastically and every now and again they are so excited they’ll run around their house, building, lean-to or tree to wave at us some more. The teenagers and adults are generally more reserved, staring being the extent of their effort. The landscape around Lilongwe is quite hilly tending towards mountainous in places thought the heights are restricted to individual monoliths of stone that rise from the undulating land. Farming seems to be more organised here as well with the land between villages well cultivated, fields of furrowed earth abound, I’m guessing they’ll be planting crops soon. I kept expecting to see cattle tethered to ploughs turning the soil but quickly realised the work was done by people with rudimentary hoes, most fields had at least one person slowly working along a line of upturned turf, often it would be a woman brightly dressed while her children sat and watched or played in the already worked earth. The working men tended to have more natural coloured trousers and no shirts while working, to a man these people are toned and muscular and writing this I can’t remember seeing an overweight person, or not in the small villages or fields anyway.

The view from the first toilet stop on our travel towards Zomba.
The view from the first toilet stop on our travel towards Zomba

A lot of rest and sleep was taken on the drive and we eventually drove into and through the old capital of Malawi, Zomba. We turned off the main road and started up a mountain road which snaked up the mountain, taking us very close to the edge which had the benefit of giving us a constant changing view of the Zomba plateau. After twenty minutes or so we levelled out and came across a large dam holding back a lake from the valley below. At this point the road was no longer tarmac so we continued on the dirt road around the lake. We had a short problem at the start of another incline, the truck not taking well to the rather steep ramp up but some careful driving took us onward without much scrapping of bumper. From the bottom of the mountain had been following signs for a ‘le Meridian’ hotel and the more fanciful thought that maybe this was our destination. Any such thoughts were soon quashed as we came out of a pine forested area to turn into what on first impression looked like a grassy clearing in the surrounding scrubby forest. The clearing was our camp site for the next two nights, the forestry commission forest camping ground.

Ablutions were provided in two small blocks at either end of the camping site, each containing one toilet and one shower in separate rooms. One block had hot water for the shower but no toilet seat, the other cold water only but did have a seat for the toilet. The hot water was at times quite dirty, people coming out clean but covered in a fine red dirt. While it was basic it was nice to get away from civilisation for a time. There were a couple of people on site to keep the donkey stoked and also to guide us when we wanted to go for a walk. Shortly after arriving local people started arriving and arranging their local wares for us to buy, in the end there were nearly as many of them as there were people on the bus. A few items were bought but not a lot and we never saw these people again after the first night.

We all spread out and tents were set up over the length of the area, the flat grassy spots being plentiful. We had lunch and then the afternoon activity was a walk down towards the lake and take photographs of a waterfall that emptied into the lake. Loaded with gear we made our way downhill following our guides directions and then spent an hour or so taking instruction from Jacques on techniques for photographing water with slow shutter speeds to obtain misty, fairytale like shots. It was entertaining, a few people finishing early to walk back to camp. Those that were left were guided back along the stream, passing some attractive pools and mini-rapids that would become the subject for a similar workshop the following day.

Helen's foot becoming an abstract bubble photo prop.
Helen’s foot becoming an abstract bubble photo prop

We arrived back and dinner was prepared. After eating there was a further workshop around the campfire demonstrating the use of flash and a reflector around the campfire, Steve and his guitar the subject. This continued for a time and was followed by a late desert of fire roasted marshmallows. We sat and ate and talked, eventually everyone going off to bed.

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