As Kate just posted, Gardner and I had a fabulous trip to Malawi. We enjoyed every single second of our time with Sandy and Kate, and loved getting to know the country they have called home for this last year and a half.
It is a little daunting to guest-blog about our trip in general. Who can generalize about a trip that included SO much? I am afraid of falling into the habit of using generic adjectives to describe things that are so not-generic. You should see our trip journal. Everything was “amazing” and “beautiful” and “awesome.” So, I’m going to try to describe just one part of our journey, and I apologize in advance for the generic adjectives that I know will flow freely from my typing hands.
Soon after arriving in Malawi, we packed our bags and headed for a one-night excursion to Huntingdon House, which is a colonial-era tea estate turned bed and breakfast.
Here’s a glimpse into our journey to and our time at Huntingdon House:
We drove, well Sandy drove, for about an hour and half….and when I say “he drove” I really mean “he dodged.” We joked that driving in Malawi is a bit like those arcade driving games where you floor it, then you slam on the breaks, then you dodge things that are in your path. Except, in those games, the things in your path aren’t goats and people on bicycles. He has become an excellent Malawian dodger.
Roads like that soon turned into views like this as we came closer to Mulanje mountain, a giant (3000 meters high), towering mountain.
We ate lunch at a great little pizza place in the town of Mulunje. Halfway through my Hawaiian pizza, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that we were in Africa eating wood-fired pizza with Sandy and Kate. I think I imagined myself in a tent, wrapped in a mosquito net with binoculars in hand, desperately hoping an elephant would walk by… and while we DID see elephants AND sleep under mosquito nets, I think I mis-imagined our trip and Africa in general.
Leaving Mulunje, we saw these cute little tots who let me take their picture (this began a small obsession with taking pictures of cute African children):
Shortly beyond Mulunje, we started seeing scenes like this.
Before the trip, I’d read Kate’s blog posts about the tea plantations, and I’d heard she and Sandy say how green it all is. But I’m pretty sure that until I saw the green in person, I didn’t really understand. At this point, I started to sound like a broken record with the generic adjectives again. “ohhh, ahhh” “wow!” “beautiful” “awesome!”
We turned on the dirt road to Huntingdon House, which is about 3 miles long, and we wound our way through the maze of incredibly green tea leaves. The smell was ridiculously good and our excitement was definitely building (3 miles on a dirt road doesn’t take 3 minutes).
When we finally arrived at the estate, we were greeting with champagne glasses filled with chilled tea. How perfectly appropriate and refreshing! Then we were shown to our rooms, and by rooms I really mean massive suites with private porches. We all felt as excited as small children who had just learned that we would be allowed to eat unlimited ice cream sandwiches forever. We tried to act cool, and pretended we were accustomed to this kind of treatment.
So, what does a person do on a colonial tea estate in Africa when the tea doesn’t need picking, the gardens don’t need tending, and the dinner doesn’t need cooking? You RELAX. You sit on your private porch and have tea and/or cocktails, you admire the beauty around you, you play croquet (like an American who’s never held a mallet in your life), you wander aimlessly through tropical gardens, and you enjoy the company of your family…
Once we were good and relaxed, after we’d chatted and walked and smelled the roses (literally), dinner was ready. We were escorted to a grand dining room, for which ALL of us were terribly underdressed (my fleece and tennis shoe get-up was probably the most offensive of all), and served the most delicious meal we’d had in Malawi to date.
With dinner, we were served a bottle of red wine with no label. When Gardner asked about the bottle, we were told it was a red blend. We didn’t pay very much for it, so we didn’t ask too many more questions. We all guessed it was a Cabernet and Syrah blend, and assumed it was from South Africa. Whatever it was, we’re sure it was a bargain because it tasted divine. After dinner we played board games late into the night and enjoyed being together.
At 6:30am, we received our wake-up call. And any other time I’ve ever had a wake-up call, especially at 6:30am, I’ve been annoyed, but NOT this time. Why? Because the wake-up call is delivered with a tray of freshly brewed tea, made with the pickings of THAT morning, for you to enjoy on your porch. You should have seen me spring out of bed for that tea.
The tea is loose, which I’m not incredibly familiar with, but it came with this nifty little contraption that allowed you to continuously pour the tea and catch the leaves. I have got to find one of these in the states.
A full English breakfast was served at the very reasonable hour of 8:30am on the front patio of the estate. Fresh bouquets of the estate’s flowers donned every place setting and became a natural target for close-up photos, as did the food.
After breakfast, we played a competitive round of croquet with the other guests, who just so happened to be some of Sandy and Kate’s good friends from Blantyre! We played in teams, and not surprisingly Gardner and I lost – big time. In croquet, which maybe most people know, you go around in a big circle before going to the middle. Well, Sandy and Kate AND their friends were lapping us. So we came in last place, but after competing with Sandy my whole life, I’m pretty used to losing.
Pretty soon it was time to pack up and leave… but one of the main highlights of the Huntingdon House trip, was that at the end of our stay we got to meet Redson. Redson is an artist, a curios vendor, a man who makes and sells his goods crafted from the wood of the Mulunje cedar trees. I had heard about Redson before – he met my dad and Sandy when they were in Mulunje 6 years ago. At that time, they bought some goods and Sandy gave him an Old Navy fleece and some tennis shoes. Redson arrived WEARING the fleece and shoes from 6 years ago. He didn’t know we were going to be at Huntingdon, he was simply hoping that after walking the 3 miles to GET to the estate, there would be guests who wanted to buy his artwork. It was an amazing coincidence and I loved meeting him. Gardner and I bought some of his things and gave him some of Gardner’s clothes. No doubt he’ll wear them for years to come.
After making our purchases, we gave him a ride back to the main road, for which he seemed very grateful. Can you imagine hauling a bag full of cedar boxes 3 miles down a dirt road? Interacting with him was a nice reminder that we were in fact in Africa, that poverty was all around, and that we are very very blessed.
This is only a small glimpse into 24 hours of our trip. We spent 12 amazing days with Sandy and Kate and will never forget what an incredible experience we had – the people, the landscape, the food and the wildlife all made us use wayyyy too many generic adjectives…but they changed our lives and we won’t ever forget our time in Sandy and Kate’s awesome country.