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Weather

The Great Invasion

Like northern France in early 1944, Malawi waits.

People speak of an imminent and great invasion. But when. For clues we look into the sky and the heavens and we measure the signs. Like the English Channel in those days in 1944, the weather is a key. Today I heard that the heat now is like none in living memory. I doubted.

Like 1944 as now the weather was a source of uncertainty and disagreement. It was a sign of something more than itself. Now we await not the clash of the forces of good against evil. Now we wait for the great clash between the two great seasons of the year. In one measurable moment the hot and wet season will invade the hot and dry season at the pinnacle of its power. If the invasion is sustained then the old season will be gone and the new will be here. The third season, the cool and dry, seems so puny in comparison to these powerful giants of nature.

Only yesterday we baked under the oppression of the sun. Looking at the weather online was like observing a Ron Paul opinion poll result – you look at the number and think – ‘that can’t be right’. In vain we looked into the sky for the sign of a cloud no greater in size than a man’s fist. Surely the heat itself was sign enough that change is at the door.

At night last night change could be sensed. The night was hot but later and before dawn a noticable coolness was in the air. Forgotten duvets were sought and found. Today, change again. Much cooler than before but still hot. Gathering clouds loom above. Is this it? Or was this another decoy, like Kent and the model tanks. Tonight we step outside in the noticable cool as a great storm of powerful winds buffets the high trees all around. Great forces are at work above and around.

The rains come in the form of great storms. Thunder and lightening and heavy downpours turn dirt roads into rivers and rapids. The approach is measured as the time gaps between flashes of lightening that you can see with your eyes closed, and the great roll and roar of the thunder, narrows. Fear stikes momentarily as lightening and thunder strike at the same time and you know it was yards away. Children are ordered away from the windows.

The weight and intensity of the rain, the power of the raging rapids where there was once a road, and the deafening sound of the downpour heard from under tin roofs, provides a sense of awe and wonder.

When will this time come? I do not know, but tonight we listen to the sounds of the great trees swaying above us. We wonder, and we wait.

……………………………………………

MORNING UPDATE – 3 November 2011

We awoke to the sound of rain. Not heavy rain however, nothing like the description above. So what is this? A decoy or is it the advance party in gliders landing behind enemy lines in Normandy? Well, it was certainly an arrival at night from overhead.

Today is cool, very cool. I am in shorts and a t-shirt but I do almost feel cold outdoors. Clouds above.

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Hot & Dry Season

There are three season in Malawi: hot & dry, hot & wet, and finally cool & dry.

We have planned a lot of what we do around these seasons. We had plans to be up in the northern higher lands of Nyika and Livingstonia or Vipya and Mzuzu with close access to the northern lakeshore but we find ourselves in Blantyre. It is hot.

The rains (heavy spectacular thunder storms) are due to arrive in November. This is certainly something to look forward to. As a child I loved to hear the deafening sound of heavy rain in a storm beating down on our tin roof. The best time was at night as the sound was not only very loud but was also extremely relaxing. There is something about water…

But now it is hot, very hot. It is the perfect time of year for swimming in The Lake (Lake Malawi) or plunging into mountain streams & pools.

For the sake of this post I had a look at the weather online. 38 Celsius which I calculate at 100 looks like the high for today. Interestingly thunder & lightning is forecast for tomorrow.

If I organise tours to Malawi I will organise them according to the seasons.


October Weather & The Jacaranda Tree

It is now October. October is the hottest month of the year in Malawi…or at least that is the reputation. My parents spoke of October as the hottest month. I have the impression that some think of November as the hottest month. November however is the month when the rains are scheduled to arrive. Strangely we have already had a bit of rain. There was a little bit of a downpour in some parts on Friday which was the last day of September. I noticed a big increase in mosquitoes a couple of days later. [Rain and mosquitoes are connected]. My landlord assures me that these Blantyre ones are not thought to be carrying malaria. Still, we do not take chances and the little ones are in bed under nets by 7pm.

In the hot and dry season you see the Jacaranda Tree flower in purple

Given the thought that some may regard November as the hottest month I decided to ask Rev Chimesya the other day. As you may see from other blog posts we have visited a few places over the last few days. “October.”

So that is it settled – October is the hottest month.

The big jacaranda tree I decided to photograph with a Blue Gum Tree in the background.

The weather is hot, or at least it is warm. However, here in Blantyre, by the pool as I write, it is certainly not oppressively hot. I commented to Amelia about this and she agreed. There has certainly been nothing so far to fall under the ‘oppressive heat’ category. We have probably got similar weather to the UK just now. I read that they have just had the hottest October day for 100 years. It is an unusual year when the weather in the UK and Malawi is the same in October.

There are boulevards of jacaranda trees in Blantyre but I set on photographing this one in Phoenix International School with these palm trees in the background

Of course we are up here in the Shire Highlands. While the altitude here is not exactly Himalayan we are high enough up to be somewhere where the altitude makes a difference. The Shire Valley is probably quite hot just now.

Another October photo of the jacaranda tree. I read that it is not native to Africa. Is that correct?

July is the coldest month of the year in Malawi. July is not that long gone and I can say that the weather was pleasant in July. There were certainly plenty of swimming pool days in July. However, we did have the coldest weather I have experienced on this trip in Malawi in July. Ironically that was down in the Shire Valley in Majete Game Reserve on an early morning game drive. It was very very cold that morning – we cannot have been a million miles from a frost.

The purple and the green. Photo taken at Phoenix Primary School, Blantyre, Malawi

So far the weather in Malawi has proved to be quite good. Most days are warm and sunny without being oppressively hot. Rainy days are great as the rain is short, heavy and spectacular and the countryside turns green. The cold weather was not usually that cold.

This year so far the weather has been good. I wonder what the rest of October has to offer. Given that July is the coldest month and given that November competes with October on the heat front it does not take any great leap of the imagination to understand that the end of October is likely to be much hotter.

Trees at Phoenix International Primary School. My mother taught in these buildings before I was born and before it was Phoenix School. I went to school here. Now my daughter goes to nursery here.

……………………..

Update.
It is now the 6th of October. Yesterday we had a big rainstorm. The rains should not be this early. Today it is cold or at least cool. The security guard at our house is wearing a jacket. Other Malawians are wearing jackets and I am in long trousers and a fleece. I still feel cold.

I have heard that if the rains keep up then the jacaranda trees will lose their colour.

The jacaranda is native to South and Central America


Mulanje Mountain Day 3 – The Chapaluka Pools

Morning sunshine: Eerik and Matthew enjoy porridge for breakfast

The new day began with Chambe’s East Face bathed in the morning sunlight. Soon however clouds were in evidence.

Matthew went to speak to some Malawians nearby who were working for the forestry department. Eerik set up his hammock to read. With Ruth I followed Matt and soon we agreed to pay someone to guide us to the pools.

Take the right fork within sight of France's Cottage on the main track

Soon we were all (except Eerik) off to the pools. Eerik had by now returned to the inside of France’s Cottage and next to the fire as a kind of retreat in the face of the advancing clouds. He was reading my borrowed ‘Europe Since Napolean’. For some reason, despite the weather, I took my swimming stuff. Chambe’s current bleakness matched the weather and there was a certain mysterious, misty beauty to the place.

The turn off to the left is about 30 mins walk from the cottage on a track that looks like this

After about thirty or forty minutes of walking I took a photo at the turn off from the main track (from France’s Cottage and Chambe Cottage) where we head left for the pools. Straight on would take us to the edge of the plateau and down the Skyline or Chambe Path. The path to the left was actually the top of the Chapaluka Path, an alternative route down to Likhubula below.

Cross the stream on this path and head on

Turn left here for the final approach to the pools

Soon after our first crossing of the Chapaluka Stream we found the pools and waterfalls on our left and the guide departed.

Just downstream from the pool

Family Photo

Matthew was for swimming. I was thinking of it but uncommitted. All I’d decided was not to touch the water before going in as that might put me off. What I did do was get changed and scout around the pool for the best way out so that I could strategically place my emergency towel. For some reason nothing was going to stop me going in to this mountain pool on a cold ‘winter’s’ morning. Perhaps it was because it was Mulanje and Mulanje has that kind off effect.

Really daddy?! OK, we are your fan club, we are right behind you.

In and then straight to the exit

Actually, it is not that bad.

Matthew and I jumped in and I immediately swam to the edge for my towel. However, on getting to the side I realised that the experience was not nearly as bad as I had expected and I was soon announcing my second swim. Actually, it felt great. No worse, I thought, than swimming in the sea off the Scottish coast. On the plus side it was physically exhilarating, an experience most probably enhanced by the walking on the previous days and that morning. David had said that he would consider swimming if the sun came out but I knew that swimming on a foggy and murky day actually feels better.

We returned to find Eerik next to the fire and still reading about the history of Europe.

The wanderers return. Matt is still wearing a towel.

Eerik enjoys Mulanje in a different way

Perhaps that day we could also have climbed on the Chambe bumps. But it was too cloudy and we did not bother. Our final full day on Mulanje Mountain was coming to a close.

Just before sunset the clouds cleared for some nice views.


Thinking of you back in Europe

There are times in Malawi when ones thoughts float back to those of you working hard in the Republic of Europe. I know it is hard work striving to bail out the banks that loaned a lot of money to the Greek government. But hey – sometimes I think about you. One such occasion was yesterday when I went over to the Mount Soche Hotel swimming pool at lunchtime.

We have become members of the swimming pool at this top Blantyre hotel. The three month family membership is the equivalent of about £22 or about 25 Euros.

I must admit, I needed the rest as not everyone in Malawi is a Malawian. Malawians are warm, sincere, gentle, polite and welcoming people. Most westerners here are actually along the same lines.

A brief swim, a coffee with cake and an apple pie sorted out my blues. This is supposed to be the ‘cool season’ weather wise. I’ll settle for this kind of winter.


Cold Weather

The temperature has dropped a long way in the last 24 hours. Yesterday evening Ruth complained about being cold and by 5am this morning I had found a blanket to pull over the thin sheet that had until now been quite enough – or more than enough. I even decided to put a fleece on when I got up this morning around 6.

I have seen some Malawians wearing thick woolly hats and big jackets. I would not go that far myself.


Real Malawi Rain

My dad said to me that the rainy season officially ends at the end of March. I said that I hope that the clouds have put that in their diary.

Rain in Malawi is quick and can be quite a spectacle when you are accustomed the the British weather

It has not rained for a few days here in Blantyre (since Saturday when Malawi beat Togo 1-0 and we went swimming at Mounte Soche Hotel) and today is 1st April.

So what happened? We got a proper downpour after lunch. The clouds have a sense of humour. It was good to watch even though there was no thunder or lightening, that I sensed.


Malawi Colours

We sense the world through our five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. I thought of doing a blog entry, or series of blog entries, on experiencing Malawi via each of these senses.

Just now Malawi is green with various other bright colours complementing the view. The bright blues of lake and sky defy any saying that ‘blue and green should not be seen’.

Normally I dislike the word ‘lush’ – probably because it is or was a misused trendy teenagers word. However, a lot of Malawi now can we well described just now with that word.

So, a good start for the experience of Malawi via the sense of sight….and I have not even got into details on the vegitation; never mind the mountains, lakes, forests, animals, birds and people.

Of course there are times when Malawi’s is dustier and the African ground reveals more browns and reds. The upside to that time of year is that it is easier to spot the wildlife and big game near the rivers and watering holes.