“We’ll see you at Mushroom Farm,” Paul said when he and the group left for Livingstonia that morning from Nkhata Bay.
After a few nights gigging at Mayoka Village where we had all been staying, Hope and I hit the road to reach the Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, some 120 K’s north and about 1,450 meters above Lake Malawi. After breakfast we hiked down to the main area of Nkhata Bay in order to reach the police roadblock and hike towards Mzuzu. I was stopped by a few stall vendors that I had befriended who wished us well on our journey before we hit the market area where a truck was slowly trudging along. Behind it, was a bakkie driven by an Afrikaner.
“Mzuzu?” I asked, pointing up the hill.
He pulled over and we hopped in. “Where in Mzuzu do you need?” Desmond asked as he raced the vehicle past villages and heavily-fruited mango trees.
“The immigration office,” I said. A visa extension for my last 30 days in Malawi beckoned.
We were dropped off at the office, thanking Desmond, bidding him farewell. After the quickly applied extension, Hope and I hit the road where we hitched a ride with Benedict to Chilamba, the small village at the foot of the Chombwe Plateau and the road that leads up to Livingstonia.
It was 14:30 when we were dropped off and, unable to get a ride from the base, we decided to sit in the shade of a fruitless mango tree to await the sun to drop behind the mountain. By 16:00 I was too restless.
“Let’s head up,” I suggested.
And so began the 8-K hike up to the Mushroom Farm. My eyebrows were useless, sweat pouring down my forehead and into my eyes. Locals guided us up some shortcuts after we accomplished the steepest ascent (out of 22 bends). Although it saved us hiking the entire length of the road, some of the shortcuts were steep enough to make me wonder if they were actually shortening the cut.
I refused any assistance in carrying my bags from the locals or Hope. I saw this type of physical torture as not only satisfying in a sadistic kind of way but as training for my future hikes up Mt Meru, Mt Kenya, Mt Sinai, trekking the length of Israel on the Israel National Trek and, of course, the Himalayas somewhere in the next four years.
At bend number 7 we took what appeared to be a vertical wall as a shortcut. Just as we clambered onto the road I missed the last step. I felt myself going over the side. I threw my guitar as far over my back as my pack would allow and grabbed at air before my fingers wrapped around a rock as though it were a lifeline in the middle of an ocean.
Hope caught me out of the corner of her eye and came running to help me. I looked down at the vast tumble I had just avoided.
“Jesus,” I breathed heavily, pausing for a few minutes of gathering myself.
Around bend number 9 the sun had already extinguished all light. Not the best time to discover that my head lamp’s batteries had died. Just as we were taking the first steps of a shortcut steep enough to have you wondering why you didn’t pack climbing rope, a diesel engine echoed up the road. Hope hopped back down just as headlights appeared and managed to flag it down to a stop.
Jo, a volunteer midwife in Blantyre and her friend Em visiting from the UK, were on their way to the lodge, saving us the remaining 3-K uphill hike.
Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge is owned and operated by the American sibling duo of Cameron and Maddy. “During the rainy season this mountainside is covered with mushrooms,” I overheard Cameron explain to one of the guests where the name was derived from (Malawi is famous for its huge, dog-sized edible mushrooms, found only in this tiny African country).
The lodge itself has no running power, rather lanterns that operate on solar-charged batteries as are the lights in the rooms and chalets. The stars were out, spread across the clear night sky above us. Below, lights of fishing canoes dotted Africa’s 3rd largest fresh water lake. I wondered what kind of view would await us in the morning.
After dinner we chilled with our friends before retiring for bed, the 04:30 rising of the sun was on our itinerary.
The sun came up over Tanzania on the far shore, illuminating Lake Malawi as it gently washed onto long stretches of sandy beaches. A forest of green stretched from the shore all the way up to the Mushroom Farm and beyond.
I was watching the scene from the entrance of the dorm room. Take another four steps and I’d be standing on the edge of the cliff of which the Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge seemed to be hugging.
What appeared to be a 200-meter cliff-side drop (could be more, could be less) dropped beneath me to tiny villages waking to the morning. Noticing some hammocks strung up on the edge of the precipice, I strung up my Ticket to the Moon hammock by the cliff edge with the intent of sleeping under the stars that night.
The day was spent hiking and exploring Manchewe Falls and gorging at Mr Banda’s restaurant. That evening Hope sang while I played guitar to the diners as they chowed on a sumptuous meal.
Later we sat in the fire pit, jamming on guitar with Major (a moustached member of the missionary group with one lone Canadian). Earlier in the day he may have quite possibly broken the world record for the longest flight of a paper airplane. Throwing his simple aeronautical design from the cliff-side we watched as it glided gently down just shy of the main road, some 10 K’s out and below us.
I called it a night as Hope and I were going to hike a 10-K roundtrip to the Chombwe Plateau. I carefully climbed into my hammock. I stared up at the stars, grinning in anticipation of the morning, knowing the view that would await me when the sun would show itself again at 04:30.
I just needed to remember not to get out on the wrong side of the hammock to avoid impersonating Homer J. Simpson tumbling down the cliff-side.