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Day 139 – The First Attempted Break-In

8th February 2012


We’d been even more tired than we’d realised and stopping had been essential. The road quality improved a little and we made easy driving of the remaining distance to the town of Zomba and the plateau which rose above it.

We drove through Zomba town and up the very steep road to the top of the Plateau. The top was largely forested with several businesses offering accommodation, several stalls offering tat and several guides offering their services. The tar ran from the bottom, up to the top, past the dam and on to the big hotel; a dirt road ran around the perimeter offering access to waterfalls and the summit. After three days of being nannied up a mountain, (“You must ask me before you touch anything,” Anthony had told us; I’d wondered if that included my scratching my arse,) we now wanted the pleasure of only our own company. We tried to tell the potential guide that but he insisted on running around with us trying to earn some business. We eventually settled on a picnic spot down by the dam. We’d bought some fresh raspberries and passion fruit and still had melon, camembert and mangoes. There was a boom preventing access to Redvers and so we parked next to it with the intention of investigating further. As we did, two young men approached and suggested that for one hundred kwacha each they would raise the boom and allow us down. We told them that we’d rather walk down for free and with that they marched off.

After our two nights on the mountain and the hard driving immediately after Post was quite keen to spend the night in a swish lodge; the Zomba Forest Lodge ticked all of the boxes and came under the sub-heading of ‘Exclusive Lodges’ in the Bradt guide; this was one up from the ‘Upmarket’ section. Furthermore, Post had decided that it would be his treat to us both which was incredibly generous. At the dam we wound up the sat phone and made contact with a man named Roland who was the proprietor of the Zomba Forest Lodge and confirmed a booking for that evening.

Amidst our decadent lunch and satellite phone calls to luxury lodges the two men who had asked us for a hundred kwacha each had returned stating that there was a hundred kwacha fee per person for picnicking at the dam. We smiled and said it would be no problem, they just had to bring us a receipt for three hundred kwacha and we would. Unsurprisingly the ‘boss’ was in town until five o’clock and he had the keys to the office. They protested and we protested back, once again it was principles and a overwhelming desire not to be conned that ruled our actions, the money was less than two dollars in government terms and about one in real terms. But getting conned feels horrible and one dollar or one thousand dollars we weren’t handing over money without at least a receipt. They disappeared off for an hour before returning to restart the argument. We gave them the address of our lodge that evening just in case the ‘boss’ should return from ‘town’ and still require payment. They insisted on us handing over the money and, by this point we were tiring of the game, we retorted more sternly that they were spoiling our camembert and they should actually stop harassing us and get out of our sight as we’d done all we could to live by the rules. They skulked away and we turned back to our books reiterating that it’s the principle not the money.

Another half hour passed and we decided that our afternoon would be better spent in our fancy lodge; we packed up and headed back to Redvers. As I walked up the hill I noticed that one of the rear windows was ajar and a white plastic bag was protruding from it. Getting closer, we discovered that the rear window had been forced open two inches and something had been half way through pulling out a bag of wet clothes that needed washing after the mountain climbing. Another window on the left hand side was open an inch, there were no fingerprints or footprints on the car or the window that would indicate monkeys or baboons and the bag wasn’t shredded in good baboon style. Whoever had been getting inside, we’d interrupted them and they hadn’t managed to get anything. We looked around and saw one of the two ‘the boss is in town’ guys wandering down the road. I shouted to him hoping he’d seen something; the idea that he may have been the culprit did cross my mind. He wandered back up to see what was going on but we were in rude form. We didn’t want to hang around and so the doors were closed and we drove away.

It had been a lesson for us. It was our fault that someone had been able to open the windows and we’d been lucky. Around the corner we secured the windows, one catch needed changing but we had spares, and took some pictures of the incredible views out over southern Malawi. We turned off onto a narrow, grassy, forest path with a very steep drop to our left and meandered our way to the lodge daydreaming about three course meals and nice wines. Roland had told us he wouldn’t be around until five or six o’clock but we were greeted by his staff firstly and then the dog, ‘Patch’ a sketchy cross between a Great Dane and a Labrador by parents who weren’t so pure bred themselves. Laura’s bag, my ramshackle pile of clothes and Post’s entire life were taken to our rooms and ‘greens’ were served to the boys and a ‘G and T’ served to the lady. We sat in a garden bound on one side by the small lodge and on three sides by forest, with all the noises you’d expect from a tropical forest; monkeys and cicadas combined with a symphony of bird calls from tweets to caws and from the melodious to the alarming.

The lodge wasn’t what you’d imagine for an ‘exclusive’ affair, rather than minimalist clean lined surroundings with polished wood, marble and granite, it was a converted forest warden’s abode whose forte was a homely, comfortable and cosy feeling that left us feeling relaxed and loose gulleted as far as the drink was concerned.

Roland arrived after we’d had a few beers and the smells coming from the old warden’s lodge were making our bellies groan and taste buds tingle. Roland was a seasoned traveller, originally from Cape Town who had lived in Malawi for nine years. He was a superb host and the evening raced with great conversation, brilliant food and superb wine. The latter of which he gifted us a fine bottle on discovering our recent engagement; what a gentleman. The conversation turned to the day’s events and it turned out that our tight fistedness had been entirely appropriate. It was true that a 100 Kwacha fee did exist for using the dam-side facilities (a thatched hut) but there have been multiple issues with the administration. No one official seems to be able to oversee the affair and the guys we’d met would have pocketed the money for themselves. The ‘boss in town’ excuse was a regular one and the horse riding school that used to use the dam wall have since changed their route due to short sighted demands from the officials in charge. Roland himself had been taken to court when his dog had jumped the lead and gone for a swim thus presenting a ‘risk to public health.’ This satisfaction only encouraged our drinking and we eventually retired to bed having all but drawn up a solution to the world’s problems.

Posted by ibeamish 02:15 Archived in Malawi

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