The Long Walk to Livingstonia

We awake in Chitimba to a few unpleasant sights. First is the light sprinkling of rain that threatens to prevent us from walking up to Livingstonia. Second is a glimpse of the curious combination of flags displayed at the bar of the campsite.

The road to Livingstonia rises up from Chitimba, cut into the escarpment through a series of sharp bends. Livingstonia was the first successful mission in Malawi, established in 1894 by the Free Church of Scotland at 900m above Lake Malawi after its previous two attempts had failed due to malaria. For travellers, Livingstonia is known for its spectacular viewpoint on the Lake. Besides hitching a ride on a passing vehicle or hiring a private 4×4, the main way to arrive at Livingstonia is to walk. It’s 15km up the steep escarpment road.

We wait awhile and by noon, the light rain has stopped. We start the climb to Livingstonia. The first hour’s climb is of stifling heat, climbing the steep path upwards.

Then the rains begin. Then the thunder rumbles. Then a massive storm falls on our heads. We see nothing but rain, we feel nothing but wet. The road seems endless, and the “shortcuts” we had previously been using transform into flash flood waterfalls.

After approximately two hours of trudging up the mountain, we encounter a 4×4 going up. It drops us one kilometer from Lukwe Eco Lodge, where we intend to stay. We think: just a short walk further and we will be done! However, once at the lodge… it is probably nice when sunny, but an eco lodge with outdoor compost toilets isn’t that appealing in the pouring rain. We decide to continue on the final 5km to Livingstonia, to stay in the missionaries’ old Stone House – which sounds nice and dry and warm. After the rain subsides slightly and we are encouraged by the lodge’s receptionist that the final kilometers are straight and flat, we resume our walk.

However, the path never becomes flat and the rain never stops. Even worse, the path changes from stony to sticky and muddy. Each step becomes an immense effort, as the mud sticks to our shoes and then compounds until each foot is a red sticky heavy glob. Next to us, locals walk lightly and barefoot. The final part of the hike is painful but we finally make it to Livingstonia and the Stone House just before dark.

The viewpoint on the Lake? Obscured by the clouds.