The drive to Zomba took 5 hours in a packed ‘which is which tours’ minibus. It’s around 250km on a good surfaced road,but takes so long because of the amount of stops so all the passengers can do their weekly shop from the roadside vendors. Stop for bananas, stop for onions, stop for cabbages, eggs, nuts etc etc. No need to ask the price, everything is 100 kwacha.
Zomba was the capital of Malawi until 1975 and there’s a few British colonial style buildings dotted around town. The botanical gardens is a nice place to walk around for a few hours to see plenty of vervet monkeys and baboons. My fondest memory of Zomba town will be drinking with Philip, the head of the police in a local bar before been accused of being a spy by a drunken and aggressive Malawian CIA agent just for taking a photo of the TV. As romantic as it sounds, two scruffy looking guys from Newcastle are hardly James Bond material. Just as well he didn’t ask to see in our bags as he would’ve found some expensive birdwatching binoculars and telescopes.
The Zomba plateau is an isolated syenite mountain that towers over the town to a total elevation of 2000 metres, and forms part of the Southern escarpment of the Southern Shire valley. Camping is available on the plateau at a trout farm which doesn’t seem to farm trouts anymore. There’s only one very expensive hotel up there to eat at, looks like it’s peanut butter and pork paloni sandwiches for the next few days.
Zomba plateau has some nice hiking trails through the forests and some great views of the surrounding area. We were guided by Erin, a 69 year old former policeman, personally sacked by Hastings Banda for taking a nap during a police convoy. The guy hastily hobbles along with his walking stick and easily managed the 6 hour hike with no water, wearing is wool hat and sweater.
Chingwe’s hole is a natural hole hidden by trees. Locals reckon it is at least 60 metres deep and full of bones from when ancient tribal chiefs threw their enemies into the pit to rot. Chingwe means ‘rope’ in Chichewa after the first European who abseiled down there.
Zomba plateau is Malawi’s oldest forest reserve, that doesn’t stop loggers illegally cutting it down. Higher up on the plateau, the sound of chainsaws is blatant and the local carrying the logs away is just outright depressing. Five years ago Zomba was apparently a lot greener and denser than it is now. Police bribery and political corruption are letting this happen, if nothing is done soon then it won’t be too long before there’s nothing left. Seen as I’m a spy now maybe I should sneak into the Malawian parliament and leave a different kind of log on the desk of the bent fool who is supposed to be dealing with these matters.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average national wage being less than a dollar a day. Erin asked if we had any spare clothes we didn’t need once we left Zomba, we gave him a whole new outfit. Bet he can’t wait to get back to his village wearing his brand new ‘John’s Stag Do Berlin 2017’ T-shirt.