Starry night in Africa


Once, long ago, I was travelling in Malawi and came to the Zomba Plateau.  This rises some 2000 metres above sea level and at the time was reached by a dirt road with numerous hairpin turns. I stayed in a guest house which had a small museum with original photos of early African explorers and even a letter written by David Livingstone to his family after his wife died.

I remember one photo in particular of a group French explorers who drove what appeared to be half-track truck. They were without doubt the best-dressed explorers in the whole of Africa, and judging by their attitude, they knew it!

I think this is the same guys – can’t have been many French half-tracks around Africa!









I went to visit a group of people I had met at another guest house about a kilometre away and stayed there chatting until well after dark before heading back. Within 10 metres of leaving the guest house I was in total darkness, the blackest night I have experienced. I could not see my hand in front of my face. And then I looked up. The sky was ablaze with light and all the glory of the Milky Way was laid out above me. I realised how detached from the world and universe we have become in our well-lit cities. Deep in Africa and at that altitude every star could be seen.

It is no wonder that night seemed a deep and mysterious place to our ancestors. With no light and surrounded by absolute darkeness, the night is a scary place to be. It took me almost an hour to find my way back to where I was staying, mainly because I kept stumbling off the road as I was looking at the sky. It is perhaps fortunate that cavemen didn’t have cats, because they always manage to jump out and scare the bejesus of you when it is dark! Cats that is, not cavemen.

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