Mulanje Mountain is a very famous massif in Malawi, towering above the rest of the mountains in the country with fables that are even taller and grander. It is supposed to be a giant even beyond the borders and boasts of the largest escarpment in Africa. Standing majestically at 3000 meter above sea level, or 3000 masl as those in the know would put it, it stands guard between Mozambique and Malawi. Its highest peak is called Sapitwa by the locals, which means not-accessible. The mountain has its own weather system and has rainfall regularly. As a result, it has a rich flora and fauna ecosystem. It is also famous for Mulanje cedar, which does not grow anywhere else in the world as an ingenious tree.
So you can understand my excitement when a former boss and friend, Mazunzo, invited me for a weekend up Mulanje Mountain. His brother, Dr Masautso aka Mas, who was based in the UK at the time, was organizing a tour with his family members that were in diaspora. This was back in 2011 and it was right in the rainy season. Undaunted, I unconditionally accepted the invitation and set to prepare for the hike. I borrowed hiking pants from a friend, and fixed a pair of old sports shoes that would serve for hiking. I was told that we would spend one night on top of the mountain at the Thuchila Hut, one of the handful huts dotted across the plateau.
On Christmas box, we set off from the base of the mountain taking the Thuchila trail. This is a four to six hour trail with a gentle meandering ascent. It cuts across several streams with clear waters. During rainy season, most rivers swell from the rains but with it comes silt and mud. As a result, most rivers will be dirty brown, carrying away essentials top soil from surrounding fields. But not the streams coming from the mountain. These, in contrast, are not susceptible to water pollution. In fact, the water from the streams is safe to drink, which we ended up doing later on during the hike.
At that time, I was fighting a losing battle against obesity, which seemed to thrive each time I thought of food. At the slightest touch of an innocent chocolate bar, or a teeny-weeny scoop of sugar, the gastronomical engine within me would amplify and optimize the storage of fats, liberally keeping all the saccharides and their derivatives around my face, tummy and any empty slot around the body. A desk-bound career and a settled married life complimented the efforts to keep me in tune with our ever-expanding universe. In the end, the effects of less than an active lifestyle came to a head on this trip. I remember at one particular moment, I bonked and just slumped to the ground without an ounce of strength left in me. I was subsequently surrounded by calls of encouragement and it worked the magic. I pressed on, and step by step, inch by inch, the trail took us to the plateau.
Despite the gigantic effort to hike, the apparent beauty surrounding us did not escape my attention. Halfway into the hike, our group was immersed in a forest of green. The chirping of the birds was everywhere, and the air was so very fresh. Each lungful was like a massage at the hands of a professional masseur. Being a range, the little hills spanning away from the main mountain jump into the charming-of-souls game. They looked like green bubbles pulsating with tranquility. This was reflected throughout the mountain. At one point, we came upon a brook with singing cascades. It sounded like a trained opera outfit happily going about with a celestial song. Oh! This just so resonated with my heart. I wanted to be there forever, moving from one wonder to the next.
We had our first taste of the mountain rain. It was icy cold. And it became immediately clear to me that if one was caught in these rains, alone without a source of heat, hypothermic conditions would quickly set in with disastrous consequences. Fortunately, when we got to Thuchila hut at the top of the mountain, we were greeted with a fire on a hearth, and a hot bath. Ah! This was good life, far removed from the tremendous physical effort just few hours before. We quickly settled in and prepared our supper by the fire. Mas is a great storyteller, and filled the night with juicy anecdotes about the mountain.
At some point, I ventured outside and looked up to the sky. I am a big fan of stars, and have a few favourite constellations, thanks to my friend and mentor Dr Tilera, or Bro T as I fondly call him, who instilled the love for astronomy back in college and decoded the stars for me. My all-time celestial friend is Orion, a group of stars with outstanding attributes. Being in the southern hemisphere, Orion would pass by directly over our house in Blantyre. So this time around, I wanted to see if I could trace it from the top of the mountain. What I saw instead shocked me to the core. The sky was filled with over-grown, jumbo-sized stars! They were so bright and so sparkly. They seemed to pulsate with a life of their own. So many of them filled up the black canvass. I had never seen anything like that before, and never since. I could not even manage to make out the familiar constellations. Of all the wonderful things I have seen in my life, this remains one of the most outstanding moments.
The following day we woke up to a fresh dawn from the top of the mountain. The spirit was refreshed and the soul sang a silent serenade to God my maker. I thought of the beauty of life, and the endless splendor nature has to offer. After breakfast, we had to pack and go. It was a great experience.
It had taken many years from the first time I had longed to go up Mulanje Mountain to the day of the invitation. It was a slow cooking dream and it was delivered as a five-star, seven-course gourmet meal to my body and soul. I returned to Mulanje Mountain in 2015 with the same group of friends, but using a different trail this time around. And I hope I will go back to the mountain, again and again, as long as there is breath left in me to appreciate once more the sheer beauty God has given mankind.