Posted by: Caroline | March 13, 2010

Living Low-Tech on Mulanje

I used to say that completing my senior genetics thesis was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

But that was before I came to Africa. Here, the phrase seems to lose all meaning because each day brings a fresh soul-testing difficulty.

Not that these struggles are without their rewards. Although climbing the largest mountain in Malawi was the most physically draining task I have ever faced, the views–both of the top of the mountain and of the towns below–were well worth it.

Mulanje features a network of paths that link nine mountain-top huts. You can piece together a customized trail based on what village you want to start in and what kinds of walks you want to do on top. We decided to do a three-day hike so that we could ascend and have a break the next day to explore the surrounding area.

The path begins innocently enough, winding through rolling tea estates and past small streams.

Then the path becomes a phyiscal struggle through dense, sometimes sharp growth. I definitely regretted not wearing long pants today.

But even that was an annoyance hardly worth mentioning once we reached the steep, practically vertical granite path halfway up the mountain. Such an ascent seems like it would be difficult in the dry season; during the rainy season (in full swing now), the climb became close to impossible over the slick rocks. Unfortunately neither of us have any pictures from this part of the journey because we were so focused on merely surviving it.

Because of Mulanje’s slippery reputation, the first thing Malawians say when you tell them you’ve climbed Mt. Mulanje is, “I hope you had a guide!” Thankfully, we did have a guide–Juma, a tourism student–as well as a porter, Stanily, to lug our clothes and food for the next few days. How humbling to be out of breath and about to collapse after scaling an impossible granite face, and he is right behind you–basically sprinting up the mountain with a 25-pound bag on his back.

I wish I could say I felt some sense of achievement once we finally arrived at the top, but I had no time to even digest the accomplishment because an intense storm arrived. Suddenly we were soaked, and the wind was so powerful our skin looked badly sunburned at the end of it.

Finally–the cottage that would be our home for the next two nights!

The cottages are basic, with outhouses (NEVER EVER thought I would use one of those!) and bathing rooms where you pour heated water over yourself. Each has a caretaker who builds fires and heats water for you. As soon as we arrived–soaked and dispirited–our caretaker got a kettle going so we could have some tea.

Later I cooked our rice dinner over the fire.

The next morning, we went on walks to the Linje pools and a few waterfalls.

Alex near the Linje pools.

Crossing the stream to Linje.

We stopped at a nearby government hut where Juma and the caretaker explained the African game Bawo.

Waterfalls near the Lichenya hut.

We were luckily able to see the sunset…

… the day before had been too cloudy, and a storm that night led to the destruction of this outhouse.

We took the slightly easier Nessa path to descend and got to see (but mainly hear) monkeys along the way.

Shortly after seeing the monkeys, we heard people yelling and assumed they were in some sort of trouble. But Juma told us these are farmers who are scaring monkeys away from their maize fields, impossibly situated on the steep slopes nearly an hour’s slippery climb from the village below.

We also saw pineapple fields.

At the bottom of the mountain, we found ourselves in the village of Nessa. Everyone wanted to say hello to us, and we inadvertently disrupted a lively church service–children started crowding the door and spilling outside once they saw us. Malawian children love to yell, “WHAT IS MY NAME, WHAT IS MY NAME.” This was confusing at first–should I know your name?–but then realized they had just picked up on the wrong pronoun and wanted to know our names.

Finally at the bus stop–and with some cassava to eat, too!


  1. Your trip is amazing!!! Jim and I are living vicariously through your blogs. Every few evenings I read them aloud to him in bed, and we marvel at your incredible journeys. Most of the time my mouth is agape, and Jim just keeps repeating “Oh my God, oh, my God!!” The photos are incredible, and both of your descriptions of times, places and happenings make it seem like we are experiencing the real deal. Stay safe, enjoy, and persevere! Love, Sherri

  2. Tourism student! It makes me think of “The Mona Lisa and many more.”
    Seriously though, so jealous of this trip. Everything looks unreal it is so beautiful. Also, your (Caroline) hair looks really blonde. It must be all the sun.

  3. See, when you splurge for a guide the high end travelling can finally begin! A seriously beautiful volcano.

  4. […] for being our lowest carbon-footprint day, well, probably of our whole lives (although I think Mulanje, without electricity, can compare). The home-cooked dinner was, without a doubt, the best food we […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: