Tuesday, June 21

Two months in Malawi: Zomba Plateau

I have bought Coca-Cola in Malawi. I like it more here than in the States. It is less sweet and has more flavor. I have seen my first knock-off jersey for the U.S. national soccer team in Mangochi. It was a red sash on a black background. I have seen here, too, authentic jerseys for the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs because I can’t believe that there’s enough of a market to make knock-offs of them. I have watched the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs play on ESPN on satellite television. And yet none of these things have reminded me of the States so much as our hike up and along the Zomba Plateau this past weekend.

The hiking trail to the top is wide and well used. Pine trees line it. They are not indigenous and their needles are long and soft, but they are the first pine trees I have seen in Africa. There are small waterfalls. There are raspberries and strawberries in the underbrush. There are duikers that can be mistaken for a small deer at a glance. There is a cool breeze, and the air smells heavily of mint. Halfway up we felt we could have been on any trail in the Rockies.

Not that we would have forgotten that we were in Malawi. Locals passed us carrying pine logs balanced on their heads. We passed a group of vervet monkeys scampering up the trees. Those were unusual in that they were the first we had seen so far outside human habitat. At the pinnacle we saw that we were not within a mountain range, just “an isolated syenite protrusion,” as the guidebook put it, rising up from the Upper Shire River Valley, and we could see few other lonely hills on the plains.

Much of the pleasure in travel for me comes in escaping the familiar and discovering the new. I enjoy seeing new landscapes and tasting new foods, but I was glad to take a familiar hike on the plateau.

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