Ed and I in the tea plantations
We got up just after 8am and had breakfast in our hotel (no chips for the first time in four days). After breakfast we walked across to Chitikale in plenty of time for our tour of the tea plantations at 10am.
While we were waiting for our tour another Brit turned up. Julie is a researcher from Leeds University who has spent her last ten summers in different parts of Africa studying deforestation and was hoping to see the tea estates on her day off. Oddly we were split into two groups for the tour. Ed and I headed off with our guide Simon.
Simon didn't say much during during the tour, but it was good to have a brief chat with a local Malawian. It made me realise that it was the first time we'd had a proper chat with a native Malawian. He asked us about school in the UK. As far as I could make out, in Malawi education is free until 8 years old, then there is secondary school up to 12 years old and then college which sounded more vocation and lasts between four years (mechanic) and six years (doctor / lawyer) depending on what you study. Simon told us secondary school fees were around £100 per term for a government run school which sounded like a lot of money compared with the average wage to me.
We started in a privately owner tea estate and then crossed into the government run Chitikale estate. They were growing two types of tea, a smaller leafed Malawian variety and the large leaf 'Indian' tea. The government estate wasn't in as good as condition with the private estate with weeds growing in between the tea plants. We were told the government company didn't have enough money to pay the staff.
Cows grazing in the tea fields (eating weeds not the tea)
They prune the bushes back hard every five years and let them regrow. Simon told us that every fifty years they replace the bushes completely, but we saw some fields which had tea plants older then that.
As we walked we saw cows eating the weeds / grasses in the government run plantation, women washing clothes in the river and it was good to pass through some villages off the main roads that we hadn't had the chance to see before.
Our tour ended in Mulanje and after a quick rest we went for lunch at the only other hotel in town. The service was very slow, but it wasn't a bad beef stew. After lunch we went for a walk through Mulanje village via the bus station / market and found the World Bank sponsored internet cafe (which was closed on a Sunday). The walk took all of the 30mins, Mulanje is a small place!
We spent most of the afternoon lounging in our room reading. Around 5pm we headed back to the hotel where we had lunch (which seemed to delight our waiter) for a beer to watch the sunset.
It was then back to our hotel for dinner and a couple more beers. While we were having breakfast I saw a local turn up with a couple of chickens tied to the handle bars of his bike and try (unsuccessfully) to sell them to the hotel owner. Inspired by some local produce I ordered the 'local chicken' which appeared to be code for a tough old bird. It raised the question where all of the other chicken we have been eating comes from? Do they have battery farming in Malawi?