In mid-June there was a public holiday in Malawi, and Cathy and I decided to take advantage of it. We were looking for an easy getaway, and two choices presented themselves. There was Bunda hill, small, bare, chewable. And there was Nkhoma, a bit bigger, with more vegetation and right on the fringes of Lilongwe, the Capital City. So after a quick open invitation failed to yield any positive response, my wife Cathy and I took off for Nkhoma Hill.
Nkhoma Hill is beautiful throughout the year. I have covered it before on this blog. In fact, it was the first hill which I hiked this year. The views are incredible, the air fresh and the interaction with nature, magnificent. However, Cathy has always hesitated to go there on the account of one misadventure that took place in 2016. That time, I was preparing to go to Kilimanjaro, and Nkhoma was one of the hills I was trying to explore for the first time. I wanted to gain experience by visiting different hills and mountains. It was an excellent strategy.
When I got to Nkhoma for the first or second time, some insect sprayed venom on my neck. It created a ring of burning torture, and peeled off the skin. I was in pain for over a week, and it took months before my skin could return to normal. That spooked my better half, and since that time she has always skirted around any invitation to the hill. So on this particular day, it was exciting to see that she had finally overcome her fear for the mysterious sprayer. She happily and bravely accompanyed me to this scenic hill.
Sugar and Salt for Mountain Hut Guards
Our initial pace was aggressive. We wanted to reduce the time on the trial and spend more time at the peak. On the way up we came across the mountain hut that belongs to Nkhoma Hospital. The guards that look after the camping facility have lovely stories to tell. My favorite guard is Mr. Viremu. And on this day we had brought him sugar and salt. Unfortunately, he had left a shift earlier. Instead we met Mr. Enos Kalichero, who turned 73 in July. He’s still energetic, and was able to recall our previous meeting. We left him with the sugar, but asked to keep one packet for Mr. Viremu.
Then we took time to inspect the facility. There are two rooms each fitted with two single beds. There’s also extra mattresses in case you have brought in a large group. The rooms are at each end of the hut, and the mid section contains an open lounge with a fireplace. A pantry sits at one of the corners, and it has enough utensils for a group of ten, and perhaps even more.
It has been on our radar to bring up the little ones here for a night of camping. It will be their treat and the first taste of cabin camping. Anytime outside the rainy or cold seasons will perfect.
The Peak and Its Obstacle Course
Nkhoma Hill is small in terms of altitude. What it misses in height it doesn’t lack in character. The trail has pleasant twists and turns. However, the section going towards the peak is something else. It packs a punch and guarantees a sweat. There are boulders that must be negotiated. Thick shrubs line up the trail and offer a shade of sorts.
This is the section that makes hiking the hill worthwhile. Variety is key in keeping return visits to a hill fresh and interesting. In the case of Nkhoma, the pieces of rock that stand in your way offer a fresh perspective on each new visit. I truly wish there were many places that could hold your attention like the way this section does.
On our way up, we met a pair of foreigners making their way down. And other than the pleasantries that we exchanged, the only other thing that was expressed by one of them was how difficult this part of the hill was. We certainly appreciated sharing mutual respect for the terrain.
And as usual the peak was a beautiful reward. Cathy was beaming like a little girl who has just been given a bar of exotic chocolate. She took it all in one sweeping glance, and settled in by the trig pillar to enjoy the incredible view. The air is always fresh regardless of the time of the year. And on this day, it was no different,
German Shoes vs African Thorns
One special attention on this hike was a set of hiking shoes we had just ordered from Germany. My foot companion that I have used since 2016 is now showing signs of aging. It has faithfully stood by my feet, but now effects of the African sun, wind, and dust have taken their toil. The same story was happening to Cathy’s hiking shoes.
The new pairs were rather pretty, light and came with a fantastic grip. My pair was everything I would look for in a hiking shoe. And I was happily gliding along the trail until a sharp pain from my foot woke me from my blissful state. I let out a shriek and limped to a halt. What could have possibly pierced through both skin and flesh with such intensity?
My eyes followed down my leg that was painfully suspended in the air only to find a troop of thorns hugging the sole of the new shoe. One member had managed to pierce through what I had assumed to be the rugged base of the shoe. Its menacing tip was now lodged deep in my foot. I could not believe it. For all the great praise we shower on German engineering, the African thorn had just proved itself untamable.
Being non-discriminatory, the thorn had easily defeated the first world engineering marvel and sent an alert to me at the same time. The message was loud and clear. Despite all the advances in science and technology, the wild still remains aloof above man’s achievements. At a moment’s notice, it is able to demonstrate, rather cruelly, just how much still needs to be done to guarantee man’s safety and comfort.
I pulled it out. I examined the damage and proceeded with the hike, a bit more cautiously of course. And after a while, the pain subsided, the beauty of surroundings took over, and soon I was back into my blissful state again.
Wrapping Up First Half in Style and Looking Ahead
Come to think of it, this was our last adventure in the first half of the year. It had started with a visit to Nkhoma Hill, and ended up with a return to the same hill. The third quarter of the year has been planned to be a resting period. And once the body has taken care of all aches, burns and tears, it will be time to resume a return to the wild.
Malawi, just like most parts of the world, has a lot to offer. And in the second half, we intend to explore the northern parts of the country. There is the Elephant Rock in Mzuzu, Hola mountain in Mzimba, Misuku Hills in Chitipa and the escarpment in Karonga.
There are also a few interesting places in Ntcheu in the Centre and Machinga in the South. So let’s see how many we will be able to visit in the coming three months.
In the meantime, I’m extremely proud of Cathy for overcoming her fears, and at the same time I have my respects to the thorn that cheapened the superior German engineering.
This is the tale of Nkhoma Hill, whose turns and twists will never cease to evolve as long at the Earth stands on its orbit, and the sun continues to give us light and warmth.