Day 312: Climbing Up That Hill

Fri. 21st June 2013

Don't we make a lovely couple?My (and Steve’s) date with Kilimanjaro is now less than 2 weeks away. Given that the last real exercise I had was back climbing Mt Kinabalu in Borneo over two months ago and that for most of the last week I’ve been sat on my backside in Sabie, I really need to get some training in. The campsite offers local guides for hikes up to the town of Livingstonia as well as for the longer climb up to Mount Chombe. Given that this latter is a 5 or 6am start with a return perhaps around 8pm we opt for Livingstonia – especially as Duncan assures us that we don’t need a guide.

...and all of it uphillWe get off around 7:15, after raiding Sabie for cereals and toast and making a quick (reserve) pack lunch of jam sandwiches. We are joined by Wouter (but we call him Walter) from the Netherlands and head off out of camp on to the main road. Sure enough 1km or so further on there is the signpost to Livingstonia with a sign telling us we have 15km to get there.

How do they do this?As we turn off the main road, we lose the tarmac and as we start climbing the hill the surface becomes quite rocky and lumpy in places – I wouldn’t like to bring my car down here. Soon it starts to zigzag up the mountain and we can see paths off to the side taking a more direct route up. Ahead of us, we can see a couple of locals taking one, so we decide to follow suit. Yes, shorter but also steeper and, as we found to our cost later on, not all of the paths rejoin the road but go to nearby houses.

The shortcuts are a bit of a scrambleWe end up taking some shortcuts and leaving others trying to make a judgement as to how much of a scramble it is going to be and whether or not it cuts out a big loop of road. Its definitely good exercise – not as demanding as Kinabalu (and at a lower altitude) and nowhere near as hard as Pinnacles. After a couple of hours, we meet two girls walking the other way. They turn out to be British medical students doing their elective in the hospital in Livingstonia. They’ve also been walking for a couple of hours (we’d hoped we were closer to the top than that) but they do enthuse about the coffee shop in town so that spurs at least one of us on!

Looking down and ot over Lake MalawiA butterfly that paused long enough for a good photoThrough gaps in the trees and bushes we can see out over to the lake which, to all the world, looks just like a sea. It is quite a hazy morning but we can just about make out land at the far side of the lake which I assume to be Mozambique. Then we get to what we hope is the top. We can hear children’s voices from a school that has ‘Livingstonia District’ in its name. But sadly there’s too few people here and only a few scattered house (and no sign of the coffee shop).

Not sure I would be that brave!So we keep on walking. We see the turnoff for a waterfall and decide that we’ll visit it on the way back (you know what happens don’t you!). We follow the road working our way round in what seems to be a big loop and climb another hill. And then, we get to some more buildings and this time it really does look like a street – houses, shops, a ‘super’ market (or two) even a barber’s – and at the very far end of the street, opposite the ‘Technical College’ no less, is the fabled coffee shop.

Doesn't look like much on the outside!It’s by  no means Starbucks, but they do serve real plunger (cafetiere) coffee and it does taste really good after our exertion. The cafe is being run to support an orphanage and so it is all in a good cause as we tuck into scones too! From the waiter and from some of the leaflets left in the cafe, we learn a little of the history of Livingstonia. The town was founded by missionaries in 1894, 21 years after Livingstone’s death, in honour of his missionary work. The hilltop location was chosen in order to reduce the incidence of malaria.

Dried fish on sale in Livingstonia marketRefreshed and feeling the need to head back (it took us the best part of 5 hours to walk up here), we start down the hill back through the town stopping at some of the monuments to Dr Robert Laws the founder of the town. We also pay a visit to the local market which is small by any standards but I was intrigued by the small piles of dried fish on offer – though the fresh bananas to supplement my lunch were much more practical.

Sadly, the recharge is for phones, not peopleWe decide to take a shortcut out of town to hopefully cut out the big loop that we walked around on the way up. The path across the fields is well defined though it forks a few times and we have to be pointed in the right direction by the locals. Eventually, we get back to the road right by the Primary school which we first rashly thought marked the start of Livingstonia. This was a good saving in distance but we are now below the waterfall. Janet and I were of the view that we’ve done waterfalls on our trip and so don’t need to see this one. Wouter doesn’t want to miss anything and so he heads off back up the hill to go and check it out. An hour later, he comes running (yes, running!) past us as we are sat at the ‘recharge’ hut having our lunch. These (young) mad Dutch. Muffkettle, we’d have said in Borneo.

Young pineapple fruitIts still a slog going downhill and our legs and knees (Janet’s especially) feel the strain. We mostly stick to the road as the slope is more gentle and the surface better making it easier to keep a rhythm going. Occasionally, we take a shortcut either for variety or because it looks to cut out a long stretch of road. Gradually, the lake comes closer to us and then we can see the main road in the distance getting nearer. Eventually, the road flattens out and we grit our teeth, put our heads down and trudge the final couple of kilometres back to the campsite returning just after 5pm, almost exactly 10 hours after setting out.

The view from the top Lake Malawi and Mount Chombe in the distanceWe think that we must have walked somewhere between 25km and 30km  and vertically perhaps 500m – 1,000m during the day and our legs are certainly feeling it. This is just the walk that I needed pre-Kili. If only there was an opportunity to do it another couple of times over the next few days! We are, though, very, very glad we didn’t go for the longer Mount Chombe climb. Sam and Helen, who did go for it and set out an hour before us, arrive back an hour later pretty much exhausted and have a very early evening.

With Ben and AlenaThis is nearly the end of our Acacia trip and our opportunities for having our fancy dress party are running out and so the consensus is that it has to be tonight. There is much amusement as we all present the clothes that we bought to our victim and then even more amusement as we return having changed. Compared with some of the others, Janet and I escape relatively lightly – Janet apparently just missed out on having a French maid’s outfit (to my disappointment at least). I think that I look quite fetching in my leopardskin print waistcoat and baggy slave pants. Good fun and many laughs as we try not to think about the two hard days of travelling that we have ahead of us.

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