Malawi, 2017

Why Africa? Why not? I've given up being too analytical about my travelling decisions.

But, having narrowed this decision down to a continent, I did spend hours researching where would be safe and wonderful - for a woman wandering about on her own. It took a lot of faffing before I settled on Malawi.

Everlasting.

And no, I had no idea where it was before I started studying the continent. So this is for those of us whose African geography is rudimentary: Malawi is long and narrow, stretching the length of Lake Malawi on its eastern border. It's landlocked, with (roughly) Mozambique to the south, Zambia to the west and Tanzania to the north.

So you can see I was pretty ignorant, stepping off that plane in Lilongwe with my luggage and optimism and six weeks exploring ahead of me.

Who knows where I'd have ended up without Everlasting?

He was there at the airport in Lilongwe, and by my side for most of the trip. We went up mountains together, took boats up rivers together, strolled around dusty villages together.

Viphya.

And he told stories (you'll have to read the ebook to find those!)

We didn't spend long in Lilongwe. Instead we headed north up the M1 to the Viphya Forest Reserve. And yes, this should look like a forest.

Deforestation is a huge problem in Malawi, no more so than in this vast pine forest.

But we stayed in a lodge where they are beginning to tackle the problem. I visited their nursery where they are nurturing hundreds of seedlings which will one day grow into vast indigenous trees. It's not enough - trees are being felled faster than these can be grown, but it's a start.

Coffee on the Nyika Plateau.

Our next stop was in the far north of the country, in the wilds of the Nyika Plateau. I knew it would be a challenge to get there - dirt tracks in mountains are interesting at the best of times, but in the rainy season anything can happen!

But it was worth every second of the journey. For the plateau is remote, and beautiful, and home to thousands of animals - bushbucks, road antelopes, zebras ... and leopards!

I spent hours in trucks there, watching animals wandering in their own worlds. And, occasionally, we stopped for coffee - Everlasting and another guide produced a picnic table and thermos from the back of the truck and we sat with our coffees in style!

Beside Lake Malawi.

It was time to relax by the lake. This is taken at Chintheche - where I stayed in a lodge by the lake and woke to this view every morning.

Weaverbirds flitted busily in and out of the trees. Lizards scampered across the path. The sand was hot and gritty. The lake shushed along the shoreline. Small boys led cattle to graze on the scrubby grass.

Dugout canoe.

I wasn't totally idle. I went to the museums in Karonga and Mua. I visited a small village and a school.

Why no photographs of the schools? Because almost all those photographs are pictures of people. They had not problem with my camera-happy, but have not given permission for their images to be on the internet.

Sorry, and all that.

You see, life isn't easy for Malawians who live here. They earn a meagre living by fishing - using dug-out canoes like this. (And often using mosquito nets, provided by the government. They make great nets, but with such a tiny weave that baby fish cannot escape and the fish stocks risk running low. It also leave families at risk of catching malaria.)

Malawian hut.

Or they spend every minute of the rainy season tending to their maize crops, grown on small patches of ground, and hoping they can produce enough to see them through nine dry months.

You can see how dry the ground is - and I visited in the rainy season. Persuading anything to grow in this dust needs endless hoeing and looking at the sky watching for rain.

And when the work is done, this is where people sleep. I went to a village where they are setting up a Homestay - an opportunity for tourists to stay in a hut and catch a glimpse of life in a village. Visitors are provided with a thin mattress (a sop to our western comforts - Malawians sleep on the ground) and mosquito net. The toilet is a long drop (and sweet smelling!). The shower - a jug of water to pour over your head.

A way of life, a cultural tradition, to be preserved? Or a level of poverty that is unacceptable in our affluent world?

Cave Paintings.

Most of my time in the south of Malawi was spent in National Parks, gawping at wildlife.

But on my way back to Lilongwe I had a stroke of luck - in spite of the rains the track to the cave paintings was clear enough for us to visit them.

These were painted about ten thousand years ago, by people who sheltered in these caves during the rains. There are images of hoes (so we know they worked the ground and grew crops), and of spears (so we know they hunted).

And there are picture of animals, even handprints from children, so we know that some of these images were there just for fun.

Which makes me look at the pictures on my own walls in a whole new light.

After all that, I can't go to Africa and not give you pictures of animals, can I? I've got thousands, so this is just a taster!

Hippp.

Zebra.

Crocodile.

Monkeys.