Ntchisi Forest Lodge

The last few blog posts have been negative, so for this post, I thought a change of tone was in order. One of the things I really like about Malawi is the variable and interesting landscape. I experienced a new part of Malawi’s landscape with a weekend trip to Ntchisi Forest and the Ntchisi Forest Lodge. (Fair warning: getting to Ntchisi Forest is quite an adventure and involves some pretty treacherous roads. Once there, however, it is awesome.)

Since one of my housemates is leaving soon, we wanted to go away for the weekend. Another friend, also leaving in the next few weeks, joined the three of us for our foray into the unknown. We piled into the truck and left Lilongwe around 10:30 AM on Saturday morning; after reaching Mponela an hour later, we decided to take the “scenic route,” which led us by dirt roads through rural Malawi.

Though the directions were a bit dodgy, the roads were actually pretty decent – at least for a time. Bouncing along in the back seat reminded me of Sunday drives “to see the crops” with the parents, so I shot some photos so I could provide you with the Malawi Crop Production Report for 28 Feb, 2009. Obviously, this is less scientific than what is produced, by say, the USDA. (I haven’t seen crop production reports produced by the Ministry of Agriculture here, so cannot compare.)

Tasseling corn

Tasseling corn

The corn is tasseling and setting on ears. There are pretty obvious differences between fields that are fertilized and fields that aren’t, mainly plant height and color. I’d guess some of the difference can also be attributed to local versus hybrid varieties, but have no facts. This Iowa farm girl was surprised at how short some of the tasseling plants were, but I’d say about 85 percent of what we saw is tasseling.

Not-tasseling corn

Not-tasseling corn

Tobacco harvest has started, and we saw lots of tobacco being air dried under grass huts and the (grass) eves of houses. Tobacco is the main cash crop for most farmers here (if they have a cash crop), but it’s often intercropped with other things. I saw several fields of corn and tobacco together, which I wouldn’t think would be a great combination, since they both require so much nitrogen. I plan to further investigate this phenomenon.

Groundnuts (foreground) and tobacco (background)

Groundnuts (foreground) and tobacco (background)

In lesser quantities than corn and tobacco, we saw groundnuts, soybeans, and chiles. I was impressed with how clean some of the fields were; undulating fields of soybeans here are not a product of Round-up Ready varieties and copious amounts of pesticides, but rather a lot of manual labor!

As we neared Ntchisi, the land got a lot hillier, but that doesn’t stop farmers. They merely farm the slopes. You can also see that despite the amount of deforestation that has occurred in Malawi to clear land for farming, some trees remain. (Many are mango trees.) Since the vast majority of farming is non-mechanized here, trees aren’t as much as an inconvenience as they are for Western farmers. (And I imagine the laborers actually enjoy having a little shade in the middle of the day!)

Fields on hills, nearing Ntchisi forest

Fields on hills, nearing Ntchisi Forest

I should also note that as we neared Ntchisi Forest, the roads got increasingly worse. It had rained earlier in the day, turning the dirt roads into slippery, muddy messes. Due to 4-wheel drive and the competent driving of my housemate, however, we managed to get through it without incident. The rain was definitely the enemy, as the roads were much better (though still heavily rutted) the next day on the way back to Lilongwe.

We arrived at the lodge around 1:30 PM; the 2 hour travel estimate had been a bit optimistic. After a quick look around, we set up our tent, which we had borrowed from friends. There were no instructions.

How many muzungu does it take to set up a tent?

How many muzungus does it take to pitch a tent?

By the time we had successfully constructed our humble abode and put together a little lunch, it was mid-afternoon. We killed some time reading on the lodge’s veranda, which faces east; the view extends to Lake Malawi and the mountains of Mozambique on the opposite shore.

View from the veranda

View from the veranda

Around 5 PM, we set out for sunset rock, a short walk from the lodge, to (duh) watch the sunset. Perched above the valley, those with fancy cameras took lots of photos, and the others (include me) watched the “sunset.” The combination of clouds and mist did not make for a very colorful sunset, but the view was great.

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

Among the tree tops

Among the tree tops

We capped the evening off with a fantastic meal and a fireside chat with some of the other guests staying for the weekend. I had heard that this was the best food in Malawi, and though I was prepared to be disappointed, I wasn’t! It was definitely the best food I’ve HAD in Malawi, anyway.

The next morning began early, with an attempt at watching the sunrise. We were again largely thwarted by clouds. After a few more hours of sleep, breakfast, and tent deconstruction, we headed off for the main attraction, a hike through Ntchisi Forest. It is a protect forest reserve, and contains some of the last indigenous rain forest in Malawi. (Driving toward the forest, it is easy to identify: the forest is dark green, while the surrounding hills have all been cleared for farmland.)

Sliver of sunrise, over the lake

Sliver of sunrise, over the lake

The first half-hour of the hike is straight uphill and exposed to the sun, and we were all sweaty and gross within 15 minutes. Once in the forest, though, the path is significantly flatter and cooler. I had an odd sense of de ja vu, and I finally figured out it was from the rain forest in the Henry Doorley Zoo. In Ntchisi forest, however, the vines are real and the trees aren’t made of concrete. The flora and fauna were amazing, and since pictures are worth a thousand words, here you go:

An interesting, succulent flower, seen before we got into the rain forest

An interesting, succulent flower, seen before we got into the rain forest

Trekking through the rainforest

Trekking through the rainforest

These snails were hanging (by a slime thread) from trees, moving toward the forest floor.  We all spent untold amounts of time trying to get decent photos.

These snails were hanging (by a slime thread) from trees, moving toward the forest floor. We all spent untold amounts of time trying to get decent photos.

One of many huge trees, reminiscent of the fake ones at the Henry Doorly Zoo

One of many huge trees, reminiscent of the fake ones at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Another tree, with me for scale

Another tree, with me for scale

We later had mushroom tart for lunch

We later had mushroom tart for lunch

Playing Tarzan

Playing Tarzan

These strands looked like pop beads to me

These strands looked like pop beads to me

A goldfish plant - in the wild!

A goldfish plant - in the wild!

Ruts on the way back to Lilongwe - going up when the road is dry is much easier than down when the road is wet!

Ruts on the way back to Lilongwe - going up when the road is dry is much easier than down when the road is wet!

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Ntchisi Forest Lodge”

  1. Nancy M Says:

    Obviously the designers at HD Zoo did their homework, because their fake trees really resemble the real ones you show in your photos. Besides the snail did you witness other insects, butterflies, etc? I loved the pop bead comparison. I hadn’t thought of those for ages.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Amy!!

    Those trees are huge!! I will be sending you an email shortly here. I have much to tell you. It looks like you had such a fun excursion!

    Rachel

  3. LoveLetterstoMiddleEast Says:

    Oh my goodness, I just had so much fun looking at your photos! Beautiful!

    My favorite one is of everyone trekking through the rainforest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: