Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: A logging industry without chainsaws, and the beautiful shores of lake Malawi. (March 12-15)

Current Location: Nanchengwa, Malawi.
Highlights: Cutting planks with an 8 foot saw, hippos at night, and beautiful Lake Malawi.
Upcoming: Spear fishing in the Lake, feeding fish eagles, and Tanzania and Kilimanjaro in about 2 weeks!
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S14 14 LONG: E35 5

From Blantyre our goal was to get to the Lake, but we decided to first camp the night in the mountains at Zomba which I am glad we did. Zomba is where the president lives and is a cool small town at the base of a mountain range where timber is grown, cut down, and saw into planks incredibly without the use of any machinery. It was a nice drive up to the forestry campsite (50 Kwacha each = US$1) along muddy wet roads as it had been and raining. As son as we arrived the security guard cut wood for the water boiler so we could have a hot shower and sold us wood so we could make a fire. It rained most of the night but thankfully stopped by morning and the sun came out. We decided to go for a hike to see some waterfalls close by and I am very glad we did.

We found the falls and as we sat by the river saw a trickle of local people cross the river and head further up into the mountains. We wondered where they were going so followed the we worn path up. Just short distance we found the logging camp. It is pretty amazing what we found there. Pine trees are grown for saw timber used in construction and for fire wood. On our drive up we saw an endless stream for men with bicycles coming down the wet muddy road in bearfeet loaded with a enormous stack of wood on the back which dwarfed the man and his bike. In this logging camp, the large pine trees are cut down manually with two-men hand saws. Then somehow moved using a series of branches as levers by a team of 5-6 men to a saw frame where the trunks are cut into perfect planks again, with a two man hand saw. The huge trunk is kept in place on two other trunks using wedges. The saw lines are marked along the trunks using a piece of string dipped in powdered charcoal from the fire that is strung taught then "pinged" back onto the trunk where it leaves a perfectly straight black line. Two men, one standing on top of the trunk, and another on the ground beneath cut the trunk into planks along the lines they have marked with a HUGE 8 foot saw. As they cut, they drive a wedge into the trunk to open up the cut so it does not bind the saw. Its absolutely incredible how accurately they can cut the trunk first into a square are rectangle, then into perfect planks of what look like 2x8s, or close to it. Although we did not see this, apparently, they transport the sawn planks down the mountain by carrying them on their heads for about US$1 per plank.

We left Zomba ad decided to break up the drive to the Lake by staying the night at Liwande. This was a really cool old lodge that had seen better days and probably more people right on the banks of the Liwande River. That night we drank some beers and listened and watched the hippos just off the banks. Apparently the hippos often come up into the campsite to graze on the grass, but we didn't get to experience that!

We set off quite early for a campsite at Nanchengwa just south of Cape MaClear. This was a charming little campsite run by the Long Family which has thatched A frames and a bar right on the beach next to a village. We drove the Landy onto the beach and set up camp 10 meters form the waters edge. What an incredible place, peaceful warm water, a slight breeze and beautifully sunny weather. We stayed here for the next two nights and its probably the first time of the whole trip where I felt completely relaxed and could unwind. On our left was a small local fishing "port" where local fishermen would set off at night and return in the moring with their catch. It also served at the village bathtub, and sink to wash post and pans. It was really nice to watch the kids play in the warm water without a care in the world.

The next day however I awoke to a flat tire and spent the next two hours changing the flat. Let me tell you, its no fun jacking up a vehicle as heavy as the Landy on sand even with two jacks and wooden blocks! Next I decided to use the satphone to send and receive e-mail. If you wondered why the pictures on the last two diary entries were so small, its because they were send using the satphone. Land lines and internet hook-ups are very few far between in Malawi. The messages were sent without a problem and I decided to download e-mail sent to me which although went without incident took a long time so was very expensive!

That morning an older guy called Steven asked if we wanted a ride on his boat out to an island, 7 kms off the shore. He comes to the lake from Zomba where he lives for about 2 days a month to fish. Steven turned out to be a fascinating character of about 65 years old. He was a farmer who was booted out of Uganda by Idie Armine and had to leave behind thousands of acres of tea, and other crops. These days he lives in Zomba and among his accolades are: adviser to the UN and World Bank on agriculture issues, Governor of Imperial College London, on the board of directors for several NGO's, and book writer. He dropped us off on the island where we snorkeled and watched the fish eagles. I think he is/was a Brit and I really enjoyed chatting with him after he picked us back up to join him in some fishing form his boat on Lake Malawi.

We had a perfect few days, but it was only to get better...

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