Our intrepid team of 16 International triathletes have returned after a 10 day adventure in Malawi to take on the Tri Malawi Challenge.
Malawi is affectionately known as "the warm heart of Africa" and every member of the team would testify to the wonderful reception we received wherever we went in this stunning part of the African continent.
We were all there to take part in a momentous (and for myself life-changing) challenge we knew as the Tri Malawi Challenge which would see us cover 400km of the country by kayak, bike and on foot.
24 hours of exhausting travel was forgotten in a heartbeat as we gazed upon the stunning beauty set before us at Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. Fellow challenger Jean quickly made friends on the beach with some of the local children who always seemed happy!
Day 1: The 10km Kayak
Today we kayaked from the shores of Cape Maclear to Mumbo Island, a deserted tropical island. We’d paired up and set off on a day of blistering heat, but equally blistering beauty. Rowing in time was a struggle for most of us which gave significant balance issues with our kayaks. Ultimately, my team mate Gill and I were the only ones to capsize. On a day as hot as it was, Gill and I maintain that we did of course mean to upturn! How beautifully cooling it was when we did.
I’m told this lake, some 350 miles long, 10 times longer than Loch Ness supplies tropical fish to the world - and in the beauty of our brief snorkelling session we could see why! Delighted to complete the first leg of our challenge, but even as I nodded off that evening everything was rocking and rolling!
Days 2 & 3: The Bike Rides
We saddled up on our bikes to set off on our remarkable 2 days cycling through rural Malawian villages where we really experienced the warm heart of Africa. We cycled over some very undulating and challenging terrain to Liwonde – a distance of approximately 65km which included, in the cooler later stages of the day, a very steep ascent to the top of the Zomba Plateau at some 1500 metres. What a view from here!
On reaching the summit refreshments were a welcome sight. It was a treat to chat to a couple of Glaswegian lads at the bar from a Scottish renewable energy company (their accent drew me to chat!) and find one of their brothers was best mates with Nathan Edgar in our group! What an incredibly small world.
‘What a wonderful day our TriMalawi team had in the saddle today - joy, laughter and some tears I think as some climbed the Zomba plateau at over 5000 feet. It was hot, the wind blew in our face but it couldn't diminish our great team spirit and wonderful achievement from absolutely everyone.’
The next day’s cycle took us around 100km from Zomba to Likhubula. This cycle route passed through a great many villages where you really felt you were experiencing the real heart of Africa. We arrived at our comfortable mountain chalet, our base for the next 4 nights.
Days: 4 & 5 The Climb
At 7am, and after a hearty breakfast, we began our hike early up to Lichenya the plateau (1974m). Many of us were wielding our newly acquired carved walking poles bought from traders at the foot of the slopes. Making the most of the cool of the morning we began our meaty 7 hour hike to the top of Mount Mulanje and our magnificent log cabin for the night.
The walk was intense, steep, undulating and while these early stages of the hike were in shaded woods path, by around 10am we were out and into the open with frequent water stops and time to apply more sunscreen.
When we go to the top it truly was the most majestic of sights. Jaw dropping. (I could scarcely stop taking photographs!)
A number of us found relief in the icy cool river – quite a shock to the system but after much un-manly screaming from us guys (the girls seem to just get in without fuss?) was hugely refreshing after so many hours walking in the blistering sun.
The team time spent in the mountain lodge – looking up at the stars in sky without light pollution was incredible. Indeed the whole time spent at the lodge - the food and fellowship and sleeping out under the stars was probably the most memorable time of the trip for me.
We returned the way we came the next day after our now routine warm up exercises under guide leader Henk’s instruction. The challenge took its toll on a number of us but we were glad to celebrate together and some sparkling bubbly was open to celebrate our achievement and the challenge’s end.
The visit to Mulanje Mission Hospital
On Saturday 27 August we visited Mulanje Mission Hospital to see the impact our sponsorship was making through the life-saving work of EMMS International’s partners.
We listened intently and fascinated to a presentation from hospital director Ruth Shakespeare. What they are achieving with a staff as skeleton as there’s is absolutely remarkable. It was very encouraging to hear how our sponsorship will improve healthcare and ultimately save lives.
We toured the hospital’s clean but VERY basic facilities. For example there is no radiation treatment for cancer in Malawi. The country’s cycle of poverty seems hard to break and the droughts this year have brought an ensuing food crisis and are further crippling the country’s development.
EMMS International have launched an emergency appeal to help stop the hunger and assist Mulanje Mission Hospital and others to help the most vulnerable people through this crisis. www.emms.org/foodcrisis.
The Malawi 175 Thanksgiving Service
Today was a very special day when we took part in a special Vision and Thanksgiving service with EMMS’ partners in Malawi, Mulanje Mission CCAP Church at a 7am service, the service in English. There are around 300 in the church hall and we are made to feel ever so welcome. An inquisitive monkey scrambling around behind the stained glass windows is a curious distraction during the service!
A poster outside has introduced us as a group of international triathletes to the mirth of some in our group yet an accolade we are happy to accept after completing the sometimes gruelling challenge!
Rounds of handshakes later, some extraordinary singing from a variety of choirs within the congregation including my favourite The Sweet Harmonies a male vocal trio we emerge back onto the sunshine and onto lunch at Revd Billy's home. This is a special treat for us all, wonderful hospitality and some of the tastiest food we have experienced all week.
‘The Mulanje Mission Hospital visit was a highlight of the trip. What they achieve with the limited resources they have is amazing. Ruth Shakespeare is an absolute inspiration. The 175th anniversary service was also very moving (and funny in places).’
Afterwards we are on the bus to after a stop at the market to buy some beautiful linens, and more to take home to our families and friends back home as we start our journey home.
This shared adventure with EMMS International was incredible and one I will never ever forget. Everyone I spoke with they had their own challenge highlights. I won’t try to list them all but for Naomi it was cycling up Zomba plateau (Naomi won our team title ‘Queen of the Mountains’). For Nathan it was sleeping under the stars at the hut at the top of Mulanje Mountain. For his dad, Johnny, it was seeing the stars from the same hut and our astronomy talk from Henk.
Everyone had something different to tell. For myself it was experiencing something quite new, I had really never been to Africa. Seeing such startling beauty, tempered by witnessing heart breaking inequality. Yet I leave with a sense of the optimism over the incredible opportunity there is to help and make a difference in this land. As EMMS are doing right now.
Have your own Malawi Adventure in 2017 on Malawi Pedal&Pray
You can be a part of that change! I would encourage every one of you reading this to prayerfully consider a trip like this for 2017. It was last week that TriMalawi team member Nathan messaged me to say “I can’t believe it’s over” and I think that is probably how we ALL felt. It was such an incredible shared experience that for 48 hours after returning home I have to admit I felt a sense of melancholy that was best offset for me by planning a future visit! It is a remarkable land and EMMS are a remarkable charity. I would recommend their trips to you wholeheartedly.
The next challenge is Pedal and Pray next July 2017. What are you waiting for? Go for it!
I will leave you with a quote from a team member which I think best sums up the trip for the team,
‘The best week of my life. It exceeded all my expectations. The physical challenge pushed us to the limit, the beauty of Malawi, the welcome and kindness of its people were amazing. Already saving up for the next trip. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I will never forget my time there.’
Ian Black, August 2016