So I had a natural prejudice against the south which was reinforced by the fact that the furthest south I had been was Lilongwe, a city that it is not easy to take to. I talked previously about the contrast between the Old Town and the Capital City but, unless you are in a particularly charitable mood, it is difficult to see that either has much going for it. The town is divided into Areas that are numbered not on the basis of location but how recently they were built - so it is impossible to find your way around. Crime is seen as a problem - although I never witnessed it - so the only safe way of getting around after dark is considered to be car. It's in a part of the country that has little in the way of geographical features of interest. And it's the base for a government that finds it difficult to deliver what Malawian people need. But maybe I am being over-critical. The Sunbird Hotel in Capital City which we stayed in on the way south and the way back was comfortable, good value and, as with everywhere we stayed, had welcoming and friendly staff. We had a wonderful host, Cecilia Cruz, who ferried us and our luggage around, welcomed us in her home, and took us to the Four Seasons complex which is an oasis of calm in the middle of Lilongwe. All the taxi drivers we used - Elson, Bester, and Rhodrick - made sure that we didn't at any stage have to master the complex Area system.
Lilongwe is in the central region and the south itself was a revelation. I don't know why - I knew about Mulanje as one of the highest standalone peaks in Africa and the Zomba plateau as an impressive geographical feature - but I had the idea that the south was going to be a lot less interesting than the north - generally low lying, featureless, very dry, and overpopulated. It wasn't like that at all. Our first experience of the south was the coach journey from Lilongwe to Blantyre. The first major town we passed through was Dedza which lies about 70 km south of Lilongwe; a fellow passenger told us it was the highest town in Malawi, with significant amounts of rainfall and with snow not unknown in the winter (June to September) months. South of Dedza, the road runs along the border with Mozambique for quite a long way. with rolling hills stretching out to the west across Mozambique and to the east across Malawi (the south of Malawi is wedged into Mozambique with a western, southern and eastern border). As we approached Blantyre, we moved into generally flatter country but with large hills dotted across the landscape.
Blantyre lies at the foot of at least three of these standalone hills and just about anywhere you are in the city you have a view out onto at least one of them. The Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel where we stayed (Sunbird were doing special offers and we stayed in them in most places we visited!) was right next to the commercial centre of the town and had a busy city feel at its front - but from the back we had an idyllic view across open land to hills. Blantyre has also developed organically as a city and there is none of the confusion caused by the artificial Area development structure in Lilongwe. The centre of the city is the old corrugated iron roofed buildings from the original Scottish settlement which is one of the oldest European settlements in Africa. The modern developed commercial centre, including the Malawi stock exchange, is on Victoria Avenue which runs north of the old city centre. Haile Selassie Road, which runs east from the old centre, is a more traditional African commercial centre, with lots of small shops and a whole phalanx of tailors busy making and mending clothes on the pavement outside the shop fronts. Victoria Avenue, Haile Selassie Road, and Glyn Jones Road, which also has commercial buildings on it, form a compact central triangle of roads which encompass the main parts of the city. There is a totally separate part of Blantyre, Limbe, which was developed in the early 1900s as the railway terminus and is some 6 km east of the city centre - but even this seems a logical development to meet the growing transport needs of what was at the time becoming an important commercial centre for the tobacco and tea trade. Blantyre also had a special significance for Nya Kaunda. The town is named after the small Lanarkshire town that David Livingstone came from and where Nya Kaunda's mother was born.
|'Old Boma' in Blantyre - the orginal colonial administrative office at the junction between Victoria Avenue and Haile Selassie Road|
|Tailors lined the pavement of Haile Selassie Road|
|View from our bedroom in the Mount Soche Hotel - the front of the hotel faced on to the busy Blantyre commercial centre|
|St Michael's and All Angels' Church in Blantyre - headquarters of the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) in southern Malawi|
From Blantyre we travelled east to the tea growing area centred on the town of Thyolo. Here the green tea growing fields stretch as far as the eye can see - it feels like being in the middle of a wine growing area in the south of France. We stayed in Huntingdon House on the Satemwa tea estate which is one of the smallest in the area but still employs up to 2,600 people between January and May, when the tea plants grow fastest, and around two thirds of that number at other times of the year. The estate was the first in the area to achieve fair trade status and this is reflected in the the work it does to ensure that people on the estate have educational opportunities, health facilities and other community activities. But life for workers on the estate is very hard. They get paid 17 kwacha (around 2 pence) per kilo of leaves collected; 100 kilos in a day gives them a wage of 1,700 kwachas which is about double the minimum wage in Malawi but still amounts to less than £2 per day. In addition, changes to weather patterns, with later and lower rain fall, are affecting yields which has a knock-on effect on the ability of workers on the estate to make a living. There is also of course a wider political undercurrent about the legitimacy of the original tea estate concessions and measures that might be taken to rectify what are seen as historical injustices.
|Huntingdon House on the Satemwa Tea Estate|
|Tea pickers in the Satemwa fields|
|Tea tasting at the Satemwa factory|
|Waterfall part way up Mulanje - a dip in the pool allowed us to cool off|
|View of the Mulanje Massif|
|Hotel Masongola - built in 1886, it's the oldest building in Zomba|
|Mathews, who we had first met in Nkhata Bay, showed us round Chancellor's College where he is studying Economics|
The Zomba plateau itself is magnificent. It's a huge mound rising out of the surrounding countryside. We spent two nights in the Ku Chawe Inn which is on the plateau and has beautiful views down to Zomba town and across the Malawian plains. The Zomba plateau is the place that foreign dignitaries are taken to admire the Malawian landscape and we had a walk which took in Queen's view, where the Queen Mother was taken on her visit in pre-independence 1957, and Emperor's view where Haile Selassie was taken on his visit shortly after independence in 1965.
|Emperor's or Queen's view - you pays your money and you takes your chances|
|Sunset - view from our hotel, Ku Chawe Inn, on Zomba Plateau|
|Looking back at Zomba Plateau from the road to Liwonde|
|The Shire river|
|Hippo (and friends) grazing on the banks of the river|
|Elephants wallowing in the river|
|A crocodile cools off in the river|
|The Saddle Billed Stork - some beak!|
|Matthews, our guide, serves sundowners on the game drive at Mvuu Lodge|
|View from Addis Ababa's equivalent of the North Circular Road|