Moving on again this morning…this time to Chitimba, another location on the edge of Lake Malawi. It's supposed to be a short drive further north along the edge of the lake and this afternoon, when we arrive, there is the possibility to hike to a nearby waterfall. The itinerary describes it as a "short hike" but Mandla has warned us that this is misleading as it's actually a 2 hour hike up a nearby mountain which is apparently very steep! That's not including the 1-2 hours back down again!
The itinerary also states that the drive today is only 4-5 hours meaning we should get most of the afternoon to hike but Mandla warned us that it's unlikely we would have time!
Driving along we found ourselves in a wood, only the trees are all planted in straight lines like the fir trees back home. They also had little bags tied around their trucks about 2ft off the ground. These trees are rubber trees and each one has a deep gouge spiralling down the trunk to near the bottom where the bags are. The sap leaks out of the cut, down the spiral and into the bags where it is regularly collected. On the roadside some men were selling footballs made from the rubber. It had been strung very thin and then wound up like a ball made of elastic bands. Stefan bought one but as we drove off I wished he hadn't! The thing stunk! It got thrown around the truck a bit but when everyone realised their hands were also starting to smell bad they stopped catching it.
About an hour or so later Mandla stopped again but this time even he wasn't sure why. Vincent had told him to stop because he had stopped here on a previous tour. It isn't part of the itinerary but why not!
Not really knowing what to expect we were led by a group of very enthusiastic locals to a little hut. Whereby a very eccentric old man proceeded to give us a brief history of a local bamboo bridge! He told us the hut is the local museum but it was so small we were all cramped inside and out the door. The hut itself was filled with all sorts of bits and pieces, some were clearly tools used for farming.
The eccentric man dressed up and told us that his people are very intelligent and that they invented various items before the "westerners" had heard of them. One of them was a 'gramophone' as he called it. It was just a piece of wood with a small needle and a wind up handle and there is no way on earth this thing would ever work. But he was just having fun as he talked us through the various items in his possession.
He also liked to hold eye contact with each of the women (particularly the younger ones) for an uncomfortable amount of time and was clearly a little bit mad. He didn't mind being laughed at anyway which is probably a good thing!
As soon as he had finished we were taken to a small hut around the corner which contained some statues that depict their gods. We left a small donation to get out of there and away from this strange man that liked to invade body space and practically ran back to the road as fast as we could!
But, thankfully, this isn't why we had stopped. Vincent wanted us to see the local bridge that is used to cross the river and, as it's starting to become more and more of a tourist attraction, the local villagers set up the "museum" as a way of getting the tourists to leave donations.
Walking across the road we were surrounded by the local children once again. These little people aren't quite so used to seeing white people though and some were quite shy. The families were also intrigued and crowded round to watch us.
We walked down through some local crops along a very small path until we reached the river. From there our overenthusiastic friend told us all to wait and that we could cross the bridge in small groups of just 2 or 3 at a time.
From where we were stood we could only see a strange bamboo structure that climbed up steeply towards some nearby trees. We could barely see the river let alone the rest of the bridge so we still weren't sure what to expect or what makes this particular bridge so special.
Adam went across before me so that I could take some pictures and it was at this point that I followed Mandla into the crops to get a better view of what it was they were actually crossing! I couldn't believe it and only the photos will give some idea. This bridge is literally made entirely of bamboo poles and is the most insecure and dangerous structure I've ever seen. It waves around in the slightest breeze and is even worse when you actually walk on it. There are no rails to hold onto so you rely entirely on balance. The locals literally run across the bridge every day but each of us was taking our time slowly trying not to trip, slip or fall on the bamboo. Any slip would undoubtedly result in falling straight into the river below which is very deep and very fast flowing!
When it was my turn Mandla took my camera to take pictures. I think he's wanted to have a go with it since he first saw it and gladly took a few quick technique tricks from me.
Walking across our hyperactive friend made us go one at a time and held our hands the whole way. Even those who wanted to walk on their own couldn't escape his iron grip. Once on the other side we all sat and admired the little children nimbly running across to say hello and waited for each person to have their turn before heading back again.
It was an experience I'll say that. The bridge itself is a fascinating work of art and breaches just about every health and safety law known to man and for that alone it was well worth the stop.
By this time we were very hungry and wanted to stop for lunch but there is nowhere around to set up the table and make our usual feast. Mandla mentioned this to a few of the villagers who speak English and recommended that they clear a space near the road where the truck can stop and set up a few picnic benches which they can easily make with local materials. This means more tourists can stop longer meaning more income for them. They're going to consider it.
We had no such options though and had to keep driving for another hour or so. Many of us were dying for the toilet but could hardly go in the village surrounded by locals and were hoping our next stop would be just around the corner. No such luck.
Mandla found a nice spot eventually, a clear space under a large shady tree with plenty of long grasses and nearby bushes for bush toilet visits. No sooner had we all relieved ourselves and made our way back to wash our hands for lunch when what seemed like 50+ children descended upon us from apparently nowhere.
There were some local houses around but not what you might think is an actual village. It's hard to believe that so many small children and a few teenagers can live in such a remote area but they clearly do. And what's more they are not used to seeing white people!
They crowded around us and watched us eat every scrap of food. It was actually quite uncomfortable but Mandla asked us to just ignore them saying they mean no harm but would like some food if there is any left over.
After lunch, whilst we were clearing up our chairs and washing the dishes Mandla broke up 2 loaves of bread into small chunks and gave a small piece to each of the children. They were extremely well behaved and each took their turn taking just a tiny piece and walking away to allow the next child their share. There was no pushing, shoving or fighting and only one of them tried to get more than one piece although he was spotted!
Another child was so shy he hung around at the back and nearly missed out completely until I pointed him out to Mandla. He was almost too afraid to take his bread. When that ran out Mandla found a packet of sweets to give to the very small children. These were no more than 3 or 4 years old and were very grateful for their 1 sweet each. The older children didn't seem to mind that they only got bread whilst the young ones got a sweet. So different from what you'd see back home!
We finally arrived at our campsite quite late, around 5pm, and given the hike to the waterfall takes 3-4 hours in total we all decided against it and crammed into the bar instead for a well-deserved drink.