A Travellerspoint blog

Mt. Mulanje

3 days trekking to the highest point in Central Africa.

sunny 22 °C


Greetings again from sunny Neno, Malawi. After some heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday of last week, the weather has returned to mostly clear skies, sunshine, and beautiful sunsets. I played one game of sloppy, muddy football in the pouring rain. It brought back many childhood memories of playing in adverse weather conditions. My shoes took 3 days to dry completely!

Last week was generally pretty slow again. It can get frustrating at times, but it is a good lesson in patience. We had hoped to have a site visit with the contractor and architect at the beginning of this week, but we were not able to schedule it until tomorrow, Friday. Hopefully this is the meeting we need to get everybody fully on board and push the project to start.

This past weekend we took full advantage of our current schedule and headed off to explore Mt. Mulanje. Along with Cosman, Steve, Alex, Margot, and George, Marco and I tackled the massif over three days. Margot, Marco, and I left Neno Boma early Friday morning and spent the day in Lisungwi, about 30 minutes from where we live, where there is another hospital PIH is associated with. While we waited for our afternoon transport to Zalewa, Marco and I gave ourselves a walking tour of the small town.


In the mid afternoon, Alex, Margot, Marco, and I caught a ride to Zalewa. From there it was all minibuses to our final destination. Overall, it took us about four and a half hours of knees in the backs of seats, chicken on laps, bumpy riding to reach Chitikale. By the time we arrived there is was dark, about 6:30pm, and we were told we should stay at a local hotel instead of searching for a ride to our lodge. Luckily, there was an available pickup, I mean taxi, and its bed had plenty of room.

The rest of our crew arrived a few hours later. They had been able to get a ride with a fellow employee of PIH and stopped at Shoprite to pick up our food rations. For the next three days the majority of our diets would consist of PB&Js, granola, apples, and peanuts. At the lodge, Alex, Marco, and I had decided to camp. This was a great idea to save a few dollars but also resulted in my carrying my tent for the duration of the hiking.
Our hiking began the next morning with little relief from the vertical ascent to the plateau of the mountain. Day 1 included 11.5km and 3155m of total elevation gain. Once we reached the plateau, there was little flat ground to be found. We were constantly climbing, just to reach a ridge and go back down. After six and a half hours or so, we reached Chisepo Hut at the base of Sapitwa. We would spent the night here before heading to the summit in the morning. The night in the hut proved colder than most had expected, with clear skies overhead and the fire doing little to provide warmth.


While there are many peaks on Mt. Mulanje, Sepitwa is the highest, at 3002m, and also the most infamous. There are multiple legends that surround it. The name literally means "don't go there." The views from the trail were breathtaking and continued to improve as we rose about the surrounding land. It got a bit eerie when clouds started to roll in, but our guide kept us on track and we never had anything to worry about. Supposedly at sunrise you can see all the way to the Indian Ocean. Alex and I had thought about camping at the summit just to catch that view. Unfortunately it would have thrown our schedule off too much. Not camping also meant we could leave the majority of our gear at the hut, which my shoulders and back were thankful for as the climb included just over 1000m in elevation change over 3km.


From the peak, we returned to the hut for lunch. We then continued to Chambe Hut for our second night. This set us up for a shorter third day of hiking back to the lodge. Day 2 was another 13km and 3400m of elevation change. Our legs were grateful that much of the elevation was tackled while climbing Sapitwa, without heavy packs. Our second night was spent at the base of Chambe Peak, home to the longest rock climb in Africa. It didn't show many signs of being actively scaled, but it sure looked like it could be a climber's paradise.


Day 3 we headed back towards the lodge. It was by far the easiest day of the three and included a nice stop for swimming at a waterfall and pool. While the water was beyond cold, after not bathing for a few days, it was embraced. From there we strolled back to the lodge, settled our bill, and started our journey back to Neno. The drive back to Chitikale looked much different in day light, with huge views of the towering mountain and driving through amazingly green tea plantations. Before piling back into minibuses, we made a well deserved stop at Mulanje Pepper Pizza for lunch. Whether it was actually amazing, or had to do with exhaustion and eating the same thing for three days, it was delicious.


Four hours later, we were back in Neno, and I had no running water at home, and not enough in buckets for a bath. Thank God for the river swim!

Posted by tylerwein 04:02 Archived in Malawi Tagged trekking malawi stars mulanje sapitwa chambe mt_mulanje wave_the_flag Comments (4)

The Calm Before the Storm, I hope

A slow week in Neno, as we slowly move towards beginning construciton

sunny 26 °C

As a week, it did not go by slowly, but there were a few days that seemed to crawl along. While I love being able to take the time to explore the surrounding area by foot, I am more than ready to get our project started.


Between a couple of runs and a couple long walks, I have now covered most of the major roads in and out of town. The highlights of these excursions were walking down to the nearby creek, and also finding a great vantage point for views of the valley. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me for the second one, so I will have to return to take pictures. My walk down to the river started with a general sense of where I was headed and an endless downhill path ahead of me. The weather was cool and it was a wonderful day for a walk.


There were few people walking on the road, as it was the middle of the day, but the ones I did pass seemed confused by my general wandering. Once I arrived at the creek, a man asked if I was lost. I replied simply that I was found because I had arrived at my destination. I stayed for some time admiring the beauty and taking a few photos. A child caught my taking a picture up the creek at one point and struck a pose right in the middle of the shot. After taking a few more I humored him by snapping more of him, as he and a friend continuously struck martial arts poses.


I've been taking some pictures in my time here with varying focuses of the same subject. At first it was simply to play around and see how it changes the dynamic of the photo. But while going back and editing them, it has been a reminder of the necessity to shift perspective and view issues from a different angle. This has been especially import as we continue to get preconstruction work done on our project. Simply put, things don't work the same as they do back in the States.


Walking back up the hill to town I passed a couple of groups of kids I first passed walking to the river. They were calling at my in Chichewa and I figured it was just their typical interest in the foreigners. Than a gal carrying water pointed at my camera and told me they wanted their pictures taken.


It happened twice on that walk. My camera hung around my neck basically acted as an invitation to pose.


Thursday we spent a lot of time on the roads getting a look at a couple clinics in the area to have a frame of reference for our project. We also visited Mwanza to get price quotes on a variety of items that we will need for construction. During lunch, I finally ate nsima for the first time. Being the local staple food, I am surprised it took me so long. You eat it with your hands and dip it in the various relishes, beans, greens, and meat. I'm not sure how to best describe it. Maybe as a slightly less viscous version of polenta, as it is similarly a maize meal porridge.

This week looks to have a big impact on the project as we have a meeting tomorrow with local officials to get details finalized. If all goes well, I will have less time to explore next week. I won't be posting anything next weekend, as a group of us are headed for a few days hiking on Mt. Mulanje, a couple hours to the east. Hopefully next week or the following weekend I should have some good pictures up from the trip and will be able to report on a successful start to the project.


Posted by tylerwein 04:42 Archived in Malawi Tagged africa malawi mulanje cfc neno Comments (0)

The First Week in Neno

Welcome to the rural beauty of Neno, Malawi

overcast 23 °C

Hello from the beautiful rural scene that is Neno. Save from a few short strips of asphalt, the entire district is off tarmac. This has nothing to do with an airport, it's simply a paved road. A friend asked me to describe it to her earlier in the week and I hadn't taken any photos yet so I was forced to try and use the power of words. This is what I wrote:

All of the roads are dirt, the houses are small and mostly brick in town. As you leave town you also see thatched roof huts. The town sits in the hills above the shire river valley, but not to the top of them. Our main view is to the west and the south at the higher hills, where there appears to be endless ridges and valleys. It's green, and red, with blue skies partially blocked by rolling clouds. The sunset tonight I cannot do justice. When the ball of fire hit the ridgeline, rays of light fanned out and reflected of the clouds above.

She told me it was poetry, I still believe the pictures tell a much better story.


Marco and I arrived to Neno last Friday, the 11th, and have used the past week to get a acquainted with life in general. The first weekend, was pretty slow. I spent a lot of time wandering the streets and the market, just trying to get a feel for everything. Cindy, who works with PIH, was kind enough to show us around some on Friday evening, so we weren't completely clueless. She also introduced us to Aunt Love's, one of a few local restaurants. What we've found, and had heard before arriving, is the local cuisine is nothing to write home about. The staple is nsima. It is a maize, porrige, dough ball, kind of thing that is eaten with beans and vegetables and a small portion of meat, likely fried chicken or goat. I hear nsima is extremely filling and bland, but I've yet to try it, as rice is a readily available substitute. A typical meal costs around K800, K950 with a Coke. That's between $2 and $2.25, and results in almost a meal a day there.

I am staying in a house with a kitchen so I also cook my own meals from time to time. So far, everything has come local from the market. Bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, red onions, rice and eggs are some of the staples that seem to be available daily. I have also been able to find carrots, eggplant, habaneros, and avocados. I haven't yet bought greens, as I am unsure what they actually are.

Volleyball and football are the two most played sports here. The first full day we were here, Cindy invited us to play volleyball and we ended up with a pretty good since group playing. It was highly competitive, but it was fun and last for a couple hours. The last two evenings Marco and I have joined in with the local football team at the stadium. After two days, it is a success simply that my knees and ankles are still functioning as the pitch has varying grass heights and random bumps and dips. I think we will try to continue and play as much as possible, as it is good exercise and a good way to meet people.


Work wise, we've spent a lot of time with introductions. Steve Mtewa is in charge of infrastructure with PIH and showed us the ropes. There can be a lot of challenging things with travel and working abroad, but my biggest struggle is remembering new names. I'm not talking about new people's names. That's a challenge for me everywhere. I mean new names. Tuesday morning we ventured out to the Nsambe area, where are project site is located. It is higher into the mountains and unfortunately there was a heavy layer of misty clouds enveloping the ridges that morning. Needless to say the amazing views I have heard about were not available. As we continued our ride, along dirt and clay roads with heavily worn tire tracks, we descended below the clouds and we're able to see through the valleys. I can only imagine how beautiful it is from the top.


We arrived in town just as PIH is transitioning people. It sounds as though over the next month most of their Fellows will be finishing their terms, and their replacements will be arriving. It has been awesome to get to talk with them about their experiences in the area, and also things to do in Malawi outside of work. I also look forward to meeting the new people that arrive, some that already have, and hopefully making new travel friends.
Today is Saturday here, and locally will be quite because it is a heavily Seventh Day Adventist community. Two of the PIH Fellows leave next week so they are having a party tonight. I guess we'll see what a Neno party is like.


Posted by tylerwein 06:32 Archived in Malawi Tagged sunset africa malawi cfc neno pih Comments (4)

Blantyre For a Few

Four nights in Blantyre before heading off to Neno


I had planned on posting sometime during the past week, but then things got a bit hectic. Besides, I haven't been taking many pictures as we are still settling in and we weren't in Blantyre to necessarily see the sights.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we missed our flight to Malawi thanks to a delay in London. Most of our bags decided they didn't want to catch the flight we were supposed to catch, or the flight we did end up catching. When we landed in Blantyre, only one of our six checked bags was also at the airport. Thank the big guy upstairs, I packed a spare pair of underpants, and even a pair of shorts, in my carry on. I would need them, as my bags did not arrive until two days later. Having to deal with airline customer service and the luggage handling company was, uhh, an experience. We'll leave it at that. One bag of Marco's is still in the wind, but rumor has it, it never even made it out of London. Sometimes you just have to role with the punches life throws at you.

Our week was spent at the Hostellerie de France, on the outskirts of Blantyre. The rooms were satisfactory, and the showers were hot. Not a lot more I could ask for. They also had a great view from the deck of the pool, which looked refreshing. Unfortunately, my trunks were missing with the rest of my clothes, and the weather wasn't what most people think of when they think of Africa. It felt like a week out late September in Seattle. Warm when the sun is out, chilly at night, and one in 5 days is completely gray and misty.

To start the week, we needed all the help we could get to figure out the minibus system. It is organized chaos at its finest. A ride was typically 150 or 200 kwacha, in the ballpark of 40cents. One bus that Marco and I caught into town from our hostel had 19 people, plus 2 babies in laps. We ran all over town shopping for supplies for our coming adventures. Multiple trips were made to Shoprite, the get-all local supermarket. We also took a few efforts to fully figure out the phone service and how to add minutes to our SIM cards.

On our last full day in Blantyre, Marco and I took the minibus to Limbe, a township of Blantyre. It seems to be more industrial, and we walked from hardware store to hardware store, trying to get the lay of the land. What materials came from which shops, and also a general range of prices. We spent a lot of time on foot going from end to end. At the edge of town was, I think, an Islamic compound of some sort. The mosque was located in the center of town, so I am not sure what exactly it encompassed. It caught my eye because of a brick tower in the corner closest to town.


After Limbe, we went to the bus depot to figure out our options to get to Zalewa, where we would be collected on Friday. With our bags, we decided minibus was not a great option. The coach buses had options that left at specific times, but only early in the morning. We decided we would go for the chaos of the coach buses that left when full throughout the rest of the day. We also observed a group of men playing a game that resembled Mancala, but I had absolutely no luck following it. I think it might be called Bao.

A short walk from the bus depot is the St Michael and All Angels church. It was finished in 1891 at the Scottish Blantyre Mission site. One of the most fascinating tidbits about it to me is it was design by Rev D.C. Scott, who had no architectural or construction training. While clearly worn, the building still looked in relatively good condition. Plus Wikipedia tells me there have been very few renovations done to the structure.


While staying at our hostel we met Ervin. He works for Oracle and travels all over Africa working with banking systems. He had some great stories about his travels and it was really interesting talking to him. He generously bought drinks one night and let us watch the Germans dismantling of Brazil in his room. Since he had a tele. He also treated us to dinner on Thursday, our last night in Blantyre. We went to an Indian owned Italian restaurant that was a tourist/expat haven. It was a great last meal before heading out to Neno.

Friday morning we had some last minute shopping to do, before we packed, said farewell to Malia, who was headed to Phalombe, and taxied to the bus depot. Luckily, the bus was nearing departure when we arrived, and we did not have to wait long before we left. Zalewa is a pit stop on the way to Lilongwe, in the north, where most people continue on to. Knowing our ride was not going to be there for a few hours, we found a little restaurant, grabbed some lunch, fried chicken and chips, and made ourselves comfortable. I have slowly learned from past travels, and am trying to utilize the waiting times to read and to write. From this bit of travelling I've realized chips, the British kind, are a staple of the local diet. I had originally assumed it was only at western targeted restaurants, but they are everywhere from the markets, to roadside stops, to an Ethiopian restaurant we ate at.

While I could begin to go into talking about Neno, where I am currently, I think I'll wait until I have photographic evidence of it beauty.

Posted by tylerwein 15:01 Archived in Malawi Tagged malawi minibus chips blantyre limbe hostellerie_de_france Comments (5)

Malawi Bound!


And so the adventure begins. In case you missed it, I am travelling to Malawi with Marco and Malia, volunteering with Construction for Change. Malia will be working on a project with Ekari, while Marco and I will be working with Partners in Health on the construction of a new health clinic.

The first leg of the journey was a 9 hour flight to Heathrow. Marco and I were both lucky enough to have aisle seats, with the middle seats next to us unoccupied. Hard to beat that to start the trip. We both had nice gals in the seats closest to us, which made for friendly conversation to help pass some of the time. It's amazing how much more enjoyable a long flight is when you're not fighting for control of the armrest and the people around you are pleasant.

Since we had a 7 hour layover at Heathrow, we decided to take the Tube into London. We arrived at Green Park, finding a lot of Tour de France activity. Stage 3 of The Tour was the next day, so there was fanfare set up and streets already closed off. We walked down to Buckingham Palace and along St. James's Park, past the Houses of Parliament, to Big Ben and the River Thames. We then walked along the river, and stopped for lunch, shepherd's pie for myself, and a pint. I could have used a bit more time to wander around, but we wanted to play it safe getting back to the airport.


The next leg of our flight was an 11 hour jaunt south to Joburg. The problem was, it was delayed for logistical items I won't go into, and then delayed again because undercarriage door was not secured. Needless to say, after a long flight of off and on sleep, we arrived at 9am local time, not enough time to make our 10am flight to Blantyre. Nobody quite seemed to know how to help us initially, but we were eventually able to get ourselves booked onto a different flight to Blantyre a few hours later.

This is where the past meets the present. Marco, Malia, and myself waiting in the terminal at the Johannesburg airport. Now it's on to Blantyre, where we will spend a couple of days before heading to our sites.


Posted by tylerwein 19:41 Archived in South Africa Tagged london cfc joburg Comments (1)