Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mt. Michiru

So the hike this morning was fun... it was only 2 hrs or so (I thought it would be longer) and only about a 500m (1500ft) elevation gain, but it was nice still, and the views were amazing.

When we got to the gate of the Michiru Conservation Area (the guidebook claimed there was a 'visitor centre'... all we found was a locked gate), my taxi driver and I waited for something to happen. He didn't speak a lot of English (I've found that for being an official language, along with Chichewa, not as many people here speak English as did in Uganda), so I just kept staring out the window, looking at the trees. Pretty quickly, a man ran up and began speaking with the driver. All I heard during this time (about 5min) was, "...*chichewa*....... conservation area.........*chichewa*............*more chichewa*.........conservation area... (some pointing)....*more chichewa*....." The taxi driver then asked me if I wanted to climb the mountain, and I said "sure". "...*more chichewa*...." "Ok, let's go."

I walked up to a little guardhouse, paid 50 Kwacha for the park entry fee (the equivalent of about 40 cents), and I was off.

My guide (armed with a shotgun, though, I'm not sure what for) walked up the dirt road for about 15 min before we turned off on a trail. It seems as though the only two things that people around the mountain come there for is 1) collecting firewood (they have to pay K10 for the permit... and yes, it's a conservation area, but like in most of Africa, there are concessions made to local people trying to maintain their way of life near the park) and 2) to visit a large christian shrine halfway up the mountain. We saw many signs for "The Way of the Cross" and a few fancy looking metal pieces of art (almost) depicting scenes from the stations of the cross. (probably related to the very large, very fancy, and very new-looking christian church I saw in the taxi on the way... it kind of upsets me that people come in and build these churches (as if people in Malawi need a new church more than clean water, or mosquito nets, or jobs for that matter - but don't get me started. At least at this one there was a "workshop" next door). In the background though through this first part of the hike (and again coming down), we could hear women (and men) singing in Chichewa and occasional drums. It was beautiful.

My guide was super nice. (maybe b/c we could really understand each other that much) I saw a lizard on a rock... and got a little excited - stopped and took a few pictures. When I caught up with my guide he made a motion like "what was it?" and I held out my two fingers about 6 inches apart "A lizard". "Oh, a snake...?" Close enough. I did find out that he has been working at this conservation area (about 10-20 sq miles, pretty small) for 17 years. He didn't look too much older than me, but I think people tend to be older than they look here. I imagine he knows the park pretty well.

Walking up the trail, every now and then he would point at a smaller trail and say "A shortcut". We took a lot of shortcuts, and he was definitely in better shape than me. Occasionally, I would stop and "take pictures", to catch my breath. He would also end almost everything he said with "Sure, sure"... as in, "these are natural trees, and those ones are pine... sure, sure". "Are there many animals in the park?" "Yes, we have many animals, sure, sure." ........ "What kinds of animals do you have?" "...Excuse me?" "Which animals are in the park?" "We have many monkeys, yes, many monkeys, sure, sure". I didn't see any monkeys today, but I did see a few pretty cool lizards.

We got to the top pretty quickly, and he pointed out everything you could see from the amazing view. "Over there is <> township, and over there is Chileka airport (the one I came in to), and waaaay there are the mountains of Mozambique." Awesome.

Back at the bottom, I gave him K2000 ($14) for the 2hr hike. I don't know how much I should have given him (they didn't say... but the K50 entry fee was a bit crazily low) - but that's how much I paid for dinner last night. Seemed appropriate.

On the way back to Blantyre city, I took my first "matatu" ride since I arrived. In Malawi, these overcrowded means of public transport are simply called "minibus". At most, there were only 8 people in my minibus (stated capacity of 15) - I think the record back in Uganda was 22.

So, now I'm back again, just 4 hrs after I left. Good trip though.

the road up the mountain

the "trail" and my guide

the first viewpoint

blantyre from above

lizard #1 (he blends in so well!!

lizard #2

carrying firewood

mountains in the distance... "natural trees" in the foreground

from the top


Jennifer said...

Sounds like a nice morning!

Anonymous said...

MUCH smoother than your Rwanda hike! :) And no, I'm not jealous.