Thursday, 24 September 2015

MALAWI TRIP - Week 1


So if you follow me on social media then you'll already know that I've just come back from a 3 week trip to Malawi in Africa. Africa is always somewhere that I've wanted to go since I was little, purely for the fact that elephants are my favourite animal ever! However, as I've gotten older, I've wanted to visit Africa for many more reasons than just to see the elephants. The culture fascinated me, always seeming to be so bright and colourful with the different foods and clothing and I've dreamed of immersing myself into that. But as we all know, Africa is a continent that suffers from many different problems such as poverty, famine and poor health. Of course there are pockets of wealth in every country, but as a whole they have little resources and facilities. So when the opportunity came up with my university to go to Malawi for 3 weeks with the charity AMECA to do some voluntary work, I obviously jumped at this once in a lifetime chance. 

AMECA is a small charity that aim to improve the healthcare in Africa by funding small projects in local communities and villages (www.ameca.org.uk). They are based mainly in Malawi which is a very small country in terms of Africa's size, but still one that suffers greatly from poverty and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our 3 week trip was divided into sections and was fully jam-packed! So I thought I'd write three different blog posts instead of one massive one, and give a run down of each week separately. 

Week 1 - Climbing Mount Mulanje 
(we fundraised to do this so that we could raise awareness for the charity)

Now, I'm not an outdoors kinda girl usually. I mean, I've gone to festivals before, gone on camping holidays when I was younger and obviously go for dog walks regularly. However, I'm not the hiking/trekking type...I prefer just to work out in my gym a couple of times a week and occasionally go for a run. So I knew that climbing to the highest point in Southern Africa (3002m) was going to be my biggest challenge yet, and I was right...but knowing it was for charity made me more motivated to do it. 

Day before the trek began - There were 11 of us all together in the group (all girls which was nice) and then our 2 leaders which worked as freelance expedition leaders and so they were very confident in trekking! The day before the trek we went on a 2 hour training walk to some waterfalls which were absolutely beautiful, especially watching the sunset from them (there's nothing else that comes close to an African sunset - totally amazing). But during this 2 hour trek, with the blazing sun and uphill terrain, I did start to really worry and think 'will I be able to do this tomorrow'. I pushed through and realised that once you get going on the walk, you start to get into it a lot more! The sun sets at 5:30pm in Malawi which means it's dark by 6pm and so for the last part of the walk back, we had to use our head torches which was a bit scary going downhill on bumpy ground. Unfortunately, one of the girls had a bit of a fall on the way down and banged her elbow quite badly, meaning that she wouldn't be able to join us for the rest of the trek. She went to volunteer in some schools instead for the 5 days. 



Day 1 of the trek - Today we woke up at sunrise which is 5:30am so that we had maximum walking time before it got dark at 6pm. We met up with our two local guides who we're going to be leading us up the correct way, they were both really friendly. We also met our porters (in Malawi it is rude to go up the mountain without porters) and these people were there to carry our large rucksacks up the mountain for us which was easy for them as they're used to it, but would have been impossible for us. 

When we started the hike, we knew that today was going to be really tough. None of us were used to trekking on uphill terrain and also in this heat. Half an hour in and my whole body was already aching and the sun was getting hotter. Luckily, nearer the bottom of the mountain there are lots of trees like a forest, and so this was shading us. After 3-4 hours we stopped for lunch at a lovely waterfall (different one to yesterday) and had our cheese and tomato sandwiches that we made the night before. At this point we were over half way which we were all happy about!


Another 2 hours of forest trekking uphill and we finally made it to our first mountain hut! The mountain huts are open to all trekkers on a first come first serve basis and luckily we arrived in good time. The toilets were basically a shed with a hole in the floor (called a long drop) and there only running water around was the river outside. For dinner we had a lovely vegetable stew with rice which was just what we needed after a long day! I did some washing down by the stream and we re-filled our water ready for the morning.



Day 2 of the trek - Today was much like yesterday except the terrain wasn't as steep and there was more flat land (yay). However, it was a longer walk than yesterday. The heat was more unbearable than yesterday as there was less trees to shelter us the further up the mountain we got. The views were incredible and it wasn't until today that I realised just how high we were going up and also how big this mountain was. Oh and it's also an extinct volcano which makes it even cooler! After about 6-7 hours of walking, we made it to our second mountain hut which was similar to the first one but a big bigger. We had a team chat after dinner underneath the stars and they were incredible. We saw so many shooting stars and they're all so clear. Tomorrow was summit day...the hardest day yet to come. 



Day 3 of the trek - Summit day has arrived! The aim of today was to reach the summit and then walk back down to the same mountain hut we stayed in last night. Doesn't sound too bad right? WRONG. We started our walk very early morning, and I could already notice that it was a lot steeper than before. The temperature has dropped though which was good because of the altitude. I looked back at the views after about an hour in, and I noticed that we were way above the clouds (scary!). As the terrain got steeper, it also became very flat and slippy. We basically had to scramble on all fours up towards the summit and I started to freak out a little. I'm usually okay with heights, but the fear of slipping backwards sent me into panic mode. Our leaders were amazing and made sure each of us were going up as safely as possible. After I pulled myself together and got over the mentality of falling, I was okay again. It took us about 3 hours to reach the summit and even though there wasn't much of a view due to the mist, the feeling was amazing!! I couldn't believe that I'd actually reached the summit of Mount Mulanje, something I would have laughed at in disbelief before. It was freezing cold at the summit though due to being so high up and so the wooly hat came out and the gloves were on. We sat and had lunch together whilst taking numerous photos of course. 


The decline down from the summit was also super scary because we had to climb down those steep flat surfaces which was a lot harder than scrambling up them. I mostly slid down on my bum, which probably looked hilarious to most people but all dignity went out the window at that point...I just wanted to get down! It took us about 2 hours to get down, and back to the hut! I've never felt so relieved to be on flatter ground.


Day 4 of the trek - Today was a good day, as much as I'd enjoyed getting to know the girls a bit more and challenging my comfort zone, I was reading for a day of walking down the mountain compared to going up it. As I said before, this isn't really my kind of thing. I found today much easier than yesterday because even though it was steep going down and sore on the knees, it was quite rocky which meant it was easier to grip onto things and find places for your feet to step. We walked for about 5 hours today which was the majority of the walk down. Obviously trekking down a mountain is quicker than going up! We stayed at our last mountain hut, and this one was really nice. It was very large and was the newest mountain hut in the range. We sat out on the balcony after dinner and played card games as it was one of the girls birthdays!

Day 5 of the trek - Yaaay last day of trekking! I'm totally proud of myself for climbing this mountain, and can't believe I've actually done it. It was one of the hardest challenges I've ever had to face but it was worthwhile achieving the goal for all of the people that sponsored me to do it and for the charity of course! But today I was really happy because we finally got down to the bottom again! It only took us about 4 hours which was a lot quicker than expected and we came across some more waterfalls in the last hour and we thought we'd stop off for a swim seeing as we were all baking hot and we had almost completed the journey. The water was so clear and refreshing (freezing at first) but was really nice to cool down! 


The day after the trek -  We travelled to a town called Blantyre which was quite a journey away, but we were all glad just to sit down (even if we were all crammed into a minibus/van). We arrived at a hostel called Doogles and were able to have hot showers (luxury) and relax by the pool for the afternoon! Tomorrow would be the first day of the next section of the trip....
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